A Monitor guide to the bestsellers

1. The Lovely Bones

Last Week: 1

Weeks on List: 38

by Alice Sebold

Little Brown, $21.95

Available on tape

In the first chapter of this runaway bestseller, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is enticed into a cave by her neighbor, who rapes and dismembers her. For the next seven years Susie describes, from heaven, how her family and friends - even her murderer - cope with her absence. Relief only comes through the hard work of learning to care for the living again. As her father eventually realizes, "You live in the face of it." It sounds mawkish, but Sebold has done something miraculous here. (288 pp.) (Full review July 25, 2002) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

NY: Unfavorable review

2. The King of Torts

Last Week: 2

Weeks on List: 5

by John Grisham

Doubleday, $27.95

After a stalled start to his legal career as a public defender, Clay Carter is tipped off to a lucrative lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company. He soon gets caught up in a whirlwind of questionable ventures that make him a multimillionaire. His spending increases as the stakes become less certain. And his mysterious inside source, Max Pace, turns out to be more than he appears. The predictable plot is stretched with unnecessary contortions, but the book is nonetheless a quick, entertaining break. (376 pp.) By Katie Nesse

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

3. Jester

Weeks on List: 1

by James Patterson and Andrew Gross

Little Brown, $27.95

Available on tape

This fast-paced tale of a daring everyman, set in the period of the First Crusade, is a readable mix of derring-do, battle brutality, and true love. When the hero returns to his French fiefdom from fighting in the Holy Land, he finds his home destroyed and his family missing. In the guise of a jester, he pursues the villains, fighting a wild boar and two beastly dukes. When the clever fool organizes a vassals' rebellion, he wins not only freedom but also the heart of the high-born heroine who helped him. (400 pp.) By Ruth Wales

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Seattle Times: Favorable review

4. Life of Pi

Last Week: 3

Weeks on List: 20

by Yann Martel

Harcourt, $25

Available on tape

An Indian boy is lost at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger. That device - in turns bloody, beautiful, and just plain crazy - is only half the excitement. Pi Patel's spiritual test of his "ultimate purpose" - full of suffering, humor, epiphany - grips and gratifies. Tossed by currents of fear and faith, the hero comes to the grim but ultimately life-affirming realization that he must face his nemesis - even care for it - in order to save himself. Last year's Booker Prize winner. (336 pp.) By Clara Germani

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

LJ: Favorable review

5. The Dante Club

Last Week: 13

Weeks on List: 3

by Matthew Pearl

Random House, $24.95

Available on tape

You don't have to be a Dantean to join "The Dante Club." Matthew Pearl's debut novel describes a series of murders in Boston in 1865. The killer mimics torments from Dante's "Inferno," a pattern recognized by trans- lators of the "Commedia" - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, J. T. Fields, and James Lowell. The scholars race to find the murderer before suspicion falls on them. The crime scenes are grisly and not for the faint of stomach, but the hunt for the murderer is thrilling. (372 pp.) By J. Johnson

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Book List: Favorable review

6. The Master Butchers Singing Club

Last Week: 7

Weeks on List: 5

by Louise Erdrich

HarperCollins, $25.95

Available on tape

Erdrich's latest novel turns from her native American roots to her European heritage. She follows a German sniper from World War I who comes to America as a butcher and raises a family in North Dakota. There the novel expands to include the unlikely story of a bisexual acrobat and his wife, whose harmless father is accused of murdering an entire family in the cellar. It's a testament to Erdrich's remarkable talent that she can make all this seem horrible and normal and wonderful. (448 pp.) (Full review Feb. 6) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Book List: Favorable review

7. Drop City

Last Week: 8

Weeks on List: 2

by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Penguin, $25.95

Available on tape

Maybe Boyle's most sophisticated work to date, this rebuke of hippie culture follows a young woman who's escaped her stultifying Midwestern suburban parents to join 60 cool "chicks" and "cats" in a free-love commune in California. A Dickensian genius at the portrayal of hypocrisy, Boyle zeroes in on the human tendencies that complicate this social experiment, even while portraying characters' simple yearnings with real tenderness and sensitivity. (464 pp.) (Full review Feb. 20) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Star-Ledger: Favorable review

8. I Don't Know How She Does It

Last Week: 4

Weeks on List: 22

by Allison Pearson

Knopf, $23

Available on tape

When we meet Kate Reddy, working mother, it's the middle of the night, and she's tapping store-bought pies with a rolling pin to give them that "homemade" look. This "Bridget Jones with children" has many funny scenes, though the hilarity is laced with pain. Also, Pearson stacks the deck too much to create her indictment of modern society. The ending will seem depressing or fairy-tale neat, depending on where the reader falls in the working-mom debate. A little contrived either way. (352 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Mixed review

SF: Mixed review

9. Pattern Recognition

Last Week: 6

Weeks on List: 5

by William Gibson

Putnam, $25.95

Available on tape

Cayce Pollard is a sought-after "coolhunter," co-opted on an assignment in London to track down an unknown moviemaker whose enigmatic film snippets have generated worldwide buzz online. Gibson pulls the reader into a monochrome "mirror-world" that explores the "loneliness of things" and the ways in which humans unconsciously seek meaning in pattern. This book is a rarity, adding depth to both the story and its characters through a filter of technology and wonderfully crafted language. (357 pp.) By Tonya Miller

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

MN: Unfavorable review

10. Dating Game

Weeks on List: 1

by Daniel Steel

Delacorte, $26.95

Available on tape

Connecticut homemaker Paris Armstrong is quite content with her suburban life - that is, until her husband of 24 years tells her there's another woman and he wants a divorce. After a period of grief, Paris is determined to enjoy life again. She moves to California to be near her grown children and rediscover happiness. This, Steel's 57th book, reads much like a daytime drama teleplay: every character is rich and gorgeous. (400 pp.) By Laurel Caswell

The Christian Science Monitor: Unfavorable review

11. Flashback

Last Week: 5

Weeks on List: 4

by Nevada Barr

Putnam, $24.95

Available on tape

Park ranger Anna Pigeon has rejected a marriage proposal and gone off to reflect by accepting temporary assignment in the remote Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Shortly after arriving, her interest is piqued by a packet of her ancestors' correspondence about Fort Jefferson, a gritty 19th-century coastal fort. Pigeon finds herself investigating a disastrous boat explosion. Two stories in one book, same location past and present, combine in an intriguing entanglement with great regional detail. (400 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

12. The Last Detective

Last Week: 10

Weeks on List: 3

By Robert Crais

Doubleday, $24.95

Available on tape

In Robert Crais's latest Elvis Cole novel, the private investigator is thrust into a case that's a little too close to home when his girlfriend's 10-year-old son is kidnapped. The kidnappers claim to be exacting vengeance on Cole, who's forced to revisit his painful military past. Joe Pike, Cole's enigmatic sidekick, is back and as brutal as ever. A brilliant plot twist complicates efforts to find the boy, and makes for an action-packed conclusion. (302 pp.) By Michelle Babineau

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Washington Post: Favorable review

13. Songbook

Last Week: 9

Weeks on List: 4

by Nick Hornby

McSweeney's, $26

Nick Hornby, who wrote a witty novel about categorizing one's record collection with "High Fidelity," takes us on a tour of his own favorite songs in this volume of short essays. One need not be a fan of these songs to enjoy his light and witty take on loving music. Also, included in the book is a fairly melancholy companion CD that includes 11 of the songs mentioned. People who can remember where they were when they first heard a favorite song: This book is for you. (147 pp.) By Sasha Brown

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

SP: Favorable review

14. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman

Weeks on List: 3

by Elizabeth Buchan

Viking, $24.95

Available on tape

This delightfully witty book chronicles the middle age of Rose Lloyd, who over the course of a particularly bad weekend loses both her husband and her job at a London paper to a younger, freer-spirited woman. With as much grace and aplomb as one could be expected to muster under the circumstances, Rose carries on with her life. As her marriage and career unravel, what remains of the hapless Rose is neither neat nor tidy, but not entirely hopeless. An older generation's Bridget Jones. (368 pp) By Teresa Méndez

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

USA Today: Favorable review

15. Tail of the Tip-Off

Weeks on List: 1

by Rita Mae Brown

Bantam, $24.95

It's not cabin fever but basketball fever that's gripped the snow-clad town of Crozet, Va. After a local contractor drops dead post-game, everyone realizes they have season passes to foul play. This 11th whodunit from Brown and her beloved cat lays out a clever trail of clues. Fans will enjoy sniffing around with Brown's detective and her animal-sidekick sleuths. Newcomers may cling to the character guide to sort out the action, and the animal "dialogue" is cutesy, but it scores as a light-hearted murder mystery. (320 pp.) By Deborah Bloom

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

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