The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers

Hardcover fiction

1. THE FOURTH HAND, by John Irving, Random House, $26.95

Much of Irving's latest reads like a parody of misogynist preoccupations. Devastatingly good-looking Patrick Wallingford lost his hand to a lion during a TV interview in India. Now, he's looking for love in a world of tricky, manipulative women. He eventually meets Doris Clausen, who volunteers to give Patrick her husband's hand. Irving's satire of crass TV journalism is on target but sadly unoriginal. "The Fourth Hand" is sometimes grotesquely funny, but mostly just grotesque. (368 pp.) (See full review June 28) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Newsweek): unfavorable

Audio available

2. SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS, by James Patterson, Little Brown, $22.95

When Matt takes off, he leaves no explanation for his girlfriend Katie, other than the diary his wife, Suzanne, wrote for their son. Katie's reaction: What wife? Katie turns the pages, reading of Suzanne's love for her own boyfriend and tries to piece together the thoughts of the man who swore he adored her and her only. Even when dealing with the ins and outs of Suzanne's serious heart condition, the story is too full of puffy white clouds to be taken seriously, even for a romance novel. (320 pp.) By Christy Ellington

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Newsweek): unfavorable

Audio available

3. BLUE DIARY, by Alice Hoffman, Putnam, $24.95

Ethan is a eugenic hero Hoffman creates by crossbreeding Superman, Jesus, and Brad Pitt. He's kind, dependable, and the most handsome man anyone has ever seen. He loves his beautiful wife. "Their union" - you guessed it! - "was a miracle." If only Ethan hadn't raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl. When his past catches up with him, he claims he's no longer that man. The side scenes are moving, but the main plot is clogged with corny, shallow writing. (336 pp.) (See full review Aug 2) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Buffalo News): unfavorable

Audio available

4. CANE RIVER, by Lalita Tademy, Warner, $24.95

Tademy, a former Sun Microsystems VP, left her position to research her genealogy. The result is the story of four generations of women born into slavery in Louisiana. It is not entirely a work of fiction, as these characters are based on the author's own family history. At times, the the book reads like a historical romance, but Tademy was determined to bring the story of these women and their children to light. Correspondence and photographs provide additional touches of realism. (418 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (Chicago Tribune): favorable

Audio available

5. BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS, by Anne Tyler, Knopf, $25

Tyler fans will recognize all her familiar themes and characters. Beck Davitch can't fathom how she ended up the center of this needy family. All she has is a crumbling mansion her husband left and the care of his ancient uncle. Her grown daughters depend on her to keep the family ticking, and they treat her like a trusty old clock. Beck decides to search for her high school sweetheart, but finds she can't "return to that place where her life forked and choose the other branch". Charming. (256 pp.) (See full review May 3) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (St. Louis Post Dispatch): favorable

Audio available

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6. A TRAITOR TO MEMORY, by Elizabeth George, Bantam, $26.95

London detectives have their work cut out for them figuring out who's responsible for a spate of hit-and-runs in the latest Elizabeth George suspense novel. But what do the crimes have to do with a violin virtuoso's loss of his ability to play? George unfolds the investigation and the virtuoso's troubles in alternating chapters, which can be confusing at times. Her style is intelligent and engaging, but finding out whodunit takes patience: At 719 pages, the book is the "War & Peace" of murder mysteries. (719 pp.) By Kim Campbell

The Christian Science Monitor: mixed

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: mixed

Selected reviews (New York Daily News): mixed

Audio available

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7. HOW TO BE GOOD, by Nick Hornby, Riverhead, $24.95

A novel that hits the funny bone but bruises the conscience. Katie is a hard-working doctor and a loving mother - "a good person," she keeps reminding us. But she's very unhappily married to a bitter, acerbic man. On a whim, he gets involved with a spiritual healer and decides to be good. In every way. Who could live with that? Hornby allows absurdity to grow exponentially. Despite some great moments of brutal, over-the-top comedy, there's a tenderness that runs through the story. (305 pp.) (See full review July 5) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (Washington Post): unfavorable

Audio available

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8. TELL NO ONE, by Harlan Coben, Delacorte, $22.95

This carefully crafted thriller marries larger-than-life characters and fated love. One thought dead may not only be among the living, but may also be trying to help solve her own murder. Widowed eight years ago, Dr. David Beck is suddenly thrust back into the horrific mystery of his wife's death. You'll want to turn the pages and immerse yourself in the delicious, if unchallenging, weave of this suspenseful who-done-it. (352 pp.)

By Tonya Miller

The Christian Science Monitor: mixed

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Times Picayune): mixed

Audio available

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9. PARADISE LOST, by J.A. Jance, William Morrow, $25

Now that the heroine is married off, J.A. Jance provides the most compelling portrait yet of tough-but-human Sheriff Joanna Brady. Far from making her life easier, juggling a new family amid tangled plot twists only makes Joanna seem more vulnerable than ever. After her 11-year-old daughter finds a gruesome corpse, she is kept under lock and key until the murderer is found. The story is full of Jance's characteristic diversions, and the ending truly surprises. Her best work yet. (384 pp.) By Eric C. Evarts

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Publishers Weekly): favorable

Audio available

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10. THE WIND DONE GONE, by Alice Randall, Houghton Mifflin, $22

In this controversial parody of Margaret Mitchell's classic, the illegitimate daughter of a white plantation owner and a black enslaved housekeeper is never fully embraced by either race. She craves her mother's love, steals the heart of her white half-sister's husband, and falls in love with a black congressman. Because the novel focuses on the vague self-musing journal of one central character, the possibilities of exploring the complexities of an antebellum community are lost. (224 pp.) By Kendra Nordin

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): mixed

Audio available

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11. HOSTAGE, by Robert Crais, Doubleday, $24.95

Los Angeles S.W.A.T. negotiator Jeff Talley departs the emotional overload of hostage negotiation for the serenity of small town police work. His serenity is short-lived as events collide, hoisting Talley into the hostage negotiation of his life, with his estranged wife and daughter as the bargaining chips in a tangle of small-time crooks, a psychopath, and the mob. A smooth read with a nicely integrated subtext of an emotionally damaged hero's personal growth. (384 pp.)

By Tonya Miller

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: mixed

Selected reviews (Atlanta Journal): favorable

Audio available

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12. RISE TO REBELLION, by Jeff Shaara, Ballantine, $26.95

By telling the story of America's birth through a compressed cast of characters, Shaara heightens the role individuals play in great historical events. Here, the eyes used to portray history belong to people like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, and George the III, among many others. No matter how many times you've heard and read the story, it's still possible to be amazed that the colonials pulled it off, finally throwing off England's imperial embrace. (448 pp.) (See full review June 28) By Keith Henderson

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): favorable

Audio available

13. MISS JULIA TAKES OVER, by Ann Ross, Viking, $24.95Combining elements of the "Andy Griffith Show," "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Steel Magnolias," and "Driving Miss Daisy," this comic Southern novel is frothy fun. When Hazel Marie Puckett disappears, Miss Julia Springer hires a private investigator to find and bring her home. Thus begins a wild chase across North Carolina that sees this proper lady (think Aunt Bee with attitude) outdriving the bad guys on a NASCAR race track. Much of the plot is improbable, but that doesn't matter; you'll end the book with a smile. (288 pp.) By Judy Lowe

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Publishers Weekly): favorable

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14. A YEAR OF WONDERS: A NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE, by Geraldine Brooks, Viking, $25.95

When the Plague arrives in the English village of Eyam, the local priest persuades his flock to quarantine themselves to protect neighboring communities. Their containment succeeds, but not before more than half of the villagers succumb. Based on a true story, this engaging yet tough novel is narrated with perhaps too much literary flair by the priest's maidservant. Through countless heartbreaks, she finds new courage and at last sees enough signs of hope to describe the experience as a "year of wonders." (304 pp.) By Ruth Walker

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Washington Post): favorable

Audio available

15. HEMLOCK BAY, by Catherine Coulter, Putnam, $24.95

Coulter's newest effort features the return of FBI husband-and-wife special agents Dillon Savitch and Lacey Sherlock. This time their job seems pretty run-of-the-mill, tracking a cross-dressing telepathic psychopath, until the mystery leads them closer to home, and Savitch's sister Lily may be in danger. The book echoes some perennial suspense-novel lessons: Steer clear of love-lorn Swedes, shady art dealers with old-money names, and bloodthirsty transsexual hypnotists possessed by ghouls. (432 pp.) By Mary Wiltenburg

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (Booklist): mixed

Audio available

The Book Sense(TM) bestseller list is based on sales from independent bookstores across America. 1-888-BOOKSENSE

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