The Monitor's monthly guide to hardcover fiction bestsellers

From the March 7, 2002 edition

1. THE SUMMONS, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95

After taking a two-book break from legal thrillers, Grisham cranks the formula back up. Grisham provides his usual greedy lawyers, as well as a protagonist looking for the truth while fearing for his life. This time, a crusty, small town, Mississippi judge dies, leaving a surprise for his law professor son: $3 million stacked neatly in the closet. Was it from gambling, bribes, or something worse? Grisham fans will race through this one quickly, but find the ending far less satisfying than his past works. (384 pp.) By Seth Stern

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

Los Angeles Times: Favorable review

2. UP COUNTRY, by Nelson Demille, Warner, $26.95

Investigator Paul Brenner may have resigned his military commission at the end of DeMille's "The General's Daughter," and again in the John Travolta film based on the book, but now he's back in action. On an espionage mission to Vietnam, Brenner seems more consumed with war flashbacks and the company of an alluring expat than collecting evidence in the 30-year-old murder he's come back to solve. Fortunately - or unfortunately - for him, these interests don't turn out to be entirely unconnected. (720 pp.) By Mary Wiltenburg

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Unfavorable review

3. THE CORRECTIONS, by Jonathan Franzen, Farrar Strauss & Giroux, $26

Bristling with energy and erudition, this omnivorous comedy about a Midwestern family dealing with chronic dysfunctions radiates with dark insight. The Lamberts are a Norman Rockwell portrait in acidic hues. While the retired patriarch wrestles with Parkinson's disease, his wife throws herself into one last Christmas at home with their three adult children - each a facet of personal failure. A wonderful sendup of biotech hype, Wall Street hucksterism, and consumer anxiety. (576 pp.) (Full review Sept. 13) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

The Guardian: Favorable review

4. THE HUNTING SEASON, by Nevada Barr, Putnam, $24.95

Barr has brought back park ranger Anna Pigeon with masterfully balanced attention to detail and a fast-paced, grisly plot. The story follows a homicide investigation of a large male body displaying evidence of a sex crime. It doesn't take a university professor to know this will shake a tight-knit, conservative Southern community to its roots. Beware: This action-packed story, peppered with vivid imagery and remarkably believable characters, is also laced with graphic, violent detail. (320 pp.) By Steven Savides

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

Seattle Times: Favorable review

5. THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA, by Susan Vreeland, Viking, $24.95

The subtle shading of "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," Vreeland's novel about a Vermeer painting, is replaced here by primary colors. Artemisia Gentileschi was a remarkably talented painter in Renaissance Italy. She was also the first woman elected to the Accademia dell'Arte, and to dare to portray large historical and religious subjects. Her life provides all the drama of an opera, and Vreeland sweeps from trauma to triumph in an entertaining narrative that's sometimes heavy on feminist cant. (320 pp.) (Full Review Jan. 17) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed

Washington Post: Unfavorable review

6. TISHOMINGO BLUES, by Elmore Leonard, William Morrow, $25.95

Dennis, an aging daredevil high diver, lands a job at Mississippi's Tishomingo Lodge. Within days, he witnesses a murder from his diving board and lands in the center of a uniquely Southern maelstrom: the Dixie Mafia. When Robert Taylor, part blues historian/part Detroit gangster, shows up with his own agenda, he recognizes in Dennis a risk-loving man approaching life's crossroads. This sparkling dialogue is a compelling trail for one seeking a smart, smooth read. (256 pp.) By Tonya Miller

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Star-Ledger Newark: Favorable review

7. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, by Sue Monk Kidd, Viking, $24.95

Kidd's story of 14-year-old Lily Owens, living scrawny and motherless on a South Carolina peach farm in 1964, weaves fragments of memory with Lily's awareness and the brutality of her grieving father. Haunted by having accidentally killed her mother, furious at her bigoted town, and chasing the blur of her past, Lily escapes with her caretaker to a wondrous trio of black beekeeping sisters. This is a novel obsessed with the lure of memory and human warmth. (320 pp.) By Christina McCarroll

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

USA Today: Favorable review

8. JOURNEY THROUGH HEARTSONGS, by Mattie Stepanek, Hyperion, $14.95

Stepanek, the 11-year-old poet celebrated on Oprah and the Today Show, writes about his battle with a rare disease and the deaths of his four siblings. He looks unflinching at mortality and urges readers to find their own faith and inner song. But the comments that can sound profound on TV often fall flat on the page. The poems are consistently heartfelt, but their power arises not from fresh, brilliant writing, but from conventional wisdom that can be mistaken for genius when it comes from the pen of a child. (80 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

Baltimore Sun: Favorable review

9. BASKET CASE, by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, $25.95

The sum of many clever parts is greater than the whole. I could discern no "whole" in this murder mystery of a '70s rock star (murdered); his gold-digging wife (half his age and lacking in the kinder aspects of human nature); the rock star's sister (a porn purveyor on the Internet); or our hero, Jack Tagger, a crackerjack investigative reporter, reduced to writing obits because he's an iconoclast who falls for his new boss (half his age). The 'X-files' has more credible endings. (317 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

The Christian Science Monitor: Unfavorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

Buffalo News: Favorable review

10. BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS, by Sijie Dai, Alfred A. Knopf, $18

Obviously a lover of literature, Sijie Dai (himself having been reeducated from 1971-74) has created a captivating story of two boys sent to the mountains of China to be reeducated by the villagers during the ruling days of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. Sijie is at times too good at creating graphic images of intimacy and brutality, yet his words reveal a thread of light that continues to trickle through the boys' lives as their minds and hearts find ways to educate themselves. (208 pp.) By Christy Ellington

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Los Angeles Times: Favorable review

11. A MULTITUDE OF SINS by Richard Ford, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

These stories really address just one sin: adultery and its various stages and effects. In one, a wife, on the way to a dinner party, confesses to an old affair she had with the host. In another, a man runs into the husband of an old lover in Grand Central Station. Ford crafts his stories with precision and an impressive attention to detail. Most, however, leave the reader cold, and the characters start to look remarkably alike. These stories can be admired for the author's mastery of his craft, but then forgotten. (304 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

Boston Globe: Favorable review

12. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF JACKIE ONASSIS, by Caroline Kennedy, Hyperion, $21.95

Jacqueline Kennedy loved poetry, and she shared that love with her children. Now, Caroline is sharing her mom's favorite poems and her own fond memories of reading poetry as a child. The poems are lovely, if a bit predictable. Most can be found in any basic literature text. But the book comes alive with Caroline's warm essays at the beginning of each section, giving readers a sense of what poetry meant to her family, and showing why poetry might become a treasured part of your family activities. (192 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

13. THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER: MY LIFE AT ROSE RED, by Joyce Reardon, Hyperion, $22.95

"Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts," is the mantra you'll repeat as you make your way through the sensually driven world of Ellen Rimbauer. Rose Red, the mansion Ellen's less-than-gentlemanly husband builds for the family, sits upon an Indian graveyard. You can imagine the horrors that follow this violent and sexually active couple through their newlywed years on through the bearing of two children. This is the setting for Stephen King's upcoming ABC miniseries by the same name. Stay clear. (252pp.) By Christy Ellington

The Christian Science Monitor: Unfavorable review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

Globe and Mail: Favorable review

14. THREE WEEKS IN PARIS, by Barbara Taylor Bradford, Doubleday, $24.95

"Three Weeks in Paris" is just the ticket for fans of Bradford's women-in-wonderland novels. Four graduates of a Paris design school head back for the birthday of their 85-year old (but still vibrant) mentor. They carry with them the baggage of fractured friendships and loves lost or in limbo. All of them are beautiful, of course, and glittering with professional success. Lots of classy cliches, nuggets of knowledge about great moments in history and art, and plenty of improbable perfection. (323 pp.) By Ruth Johnstone Wales

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: No review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: No review noted

15. ROSCOE, by William Kennedy, Penguin, $24.95

The seventh of Kennedy's novels about Albany, NY, opens as WWII closes. Albany's young mayor returns from battle to defend his city from the Republican party. Rosco, the comically corrupt Democratic boss, doesn't know if he has the energy to fight anymore, but duty - and love - come calling. Kennedy perfects a hybrid voice that's as likely to mock these gangsters as celebrate them. Clearly, they've won him over, as they do us. At times, the narrative rises into fits of surrealism that are pure delight. (296 pp.) (Full review Jan. 10) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Globe and Mail: Favorable review

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

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