A Monitor guide to the bestsellers

1. The Da Vinci Code

Last Week: 1

Weeks on List: 17

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

by Dan Brown

Doubleday, $24.95

Available on tape

The body of a murdered museum director sprawled on the parquet floor of the Louvre starts an international chase in which a Harvard professor and a brilliant police cryptographer must flee the crime scene to prove their innocence. The trail literally becomes a quest for the Holy Grail, spanning 2,000 years of history and hidden in codes within codes. Brown's retelling of the Grail myth is as much a pager-turner as the manhunt - and you'll never view "The Last Supper" the same way again. (454 pp.) By J. Johnson

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

Book List: M

2. To The Nines

Weeks on List: 1

by Janet Evanovich

St. Martin's, $25.95

Available on tape

In Evanovich's ninth episode featuring Stephanie Plum, a Jersey girl with a gift for grabbing gangsters and a penchant for pitfalls, Stephanie and her sidekick, Lula, leave the "burg" for the Vegas strip to ferret out an Indian contract worker. It's a whole new world - e-mail and visa bonds. New for the plus-size Lula, too, who continues to crash through doors and the latest diet fads - from counting points to eating pounds of bacon. The usual cast of characters all appear. It's a laugh a page, a great escape. (320 pp.) By Faye Bowers

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Book List: Favorable review

3. The Lovely Bones

Last Week: 2

Weeks on List: 56

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

New York Review of Books: Unfavorable review

4. The Lake House

Last Week: 3

Weeks on List: 6

by James Patterson

Little Brown, $27.95

Available on tape

A brilliant yet twisted doctor hunts down a group of six extraordinary children for a science project he claims will advance mankind. These youngsters aren't exactly human: Biologists melded bird DNA with human zygotes and implanted the embryos in their mothers' wombs. Consequently, they have wings and fly. Patterson paints gruesome scenes in the doctor's evil laboratory. The seemingly silly premise still yields a page-turning read, and ubiquitous pop-culture references make the story seem real. (384 pp.) By Emily Palm

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Publishers Weekly: Unfavorable review

5. The Devil Wears Prada

Last Week: 4

Weeks on List: 13

by Lauren Weisberger

Doubleday, $21.95

Available on tape

Weisberger's roman à clef, based on her experience as assistant to the editor of Vogue, would make a better short story than novel. It takes only a few chapters to see why her alter ego, Andrea Sachs, works for the fictitious, Prada-clad Miranda Priestly at a fashion glossy, rather than at The New Yorker, where she'd rather be. And why, when she finally quits in a flurry of profanity, she ends up freelancing for Seventeen. In Sachs, Weisberger creates a character about as unsympathetic as the devil herself. (360 pp.) By Teresa Méndez

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Book List: Unfavorable review

6. The Dogs of Babel

Last Week: 7

Weeks on List: 6

by Carolyn Parkhurst

Little Brown, $21.95

Available on tape

Carolyn Parkhurst's debut novel gracefully tackles some difficult questions: How does voice change us? How is silence a force? How can parsing loss bring solace? After his wife's death, linguist Paul Iverson tries to teach their dog to talk, so that he may learn whether Lexy died by her own hand. Parkhurst's portrayal of their marriage is fanciful and touching, but at times tiresome - a love story that shimmers, but dances through the shambles of suicide with steps that seem sometimes too sprightly. (272 pp.) By Christina McCarroll

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

Library Journal: Favorable review

7. Trading Up

Last Week: 8

Weeks on List: 3

by Candace Bushnell

Hyperion, $24.95

Available on tape

Deceit, jealousy, duplicity: Janey Wilcox, Victoria's Secret model and social climber, spends her time calculating how to use people to advance another rung and measuring her revenge on her many enemies. Bushnell reveals her despicable characters as pathetically human, but surprisingly three-dimensional - with more depth and complexity than you might expect from players in a materialistic, party culture. While this novel is not as light as "Sex and the City," it is an interesting character study. (404 pp.) By Katie Nesse

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

Entertainment Weekly: Favorable review

8. Villa Incognito

Last Week: 9

Weeks on List: 11

by Tom Robbins

Bantam, $24

Available on tape

"Villa Incognito" is classic Tom Robbins. It begins as a parable featuring a pleasure-loving badger in 19th- century Japan who offends the gods by fathering a human child. Before long, we're with three American MIAs in Laos who decide to stay missing after they're released. But when were Robbins's books ever just about the story? There's plenty of the requisite irreverence for authority and hype, and lots of Rabelaisian riffs. This may not be Robbins's best book, but it's an easy read for summer fun. (256 pp.) By Tom Toth

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Book List: Mixed review

9. The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith, Pantheon, $19.95

Last Week: 10

Weeks on List: 11

Available on tape

Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is often called the Miss Marple of Botswana. But Ramotswe has far more faith in humanity than that Victorian spinster - as does McCall Smith. There's an unfailing graciousness to his stories, which are less about solving mysteries than about delicately repairing lives. Here, Ramotswe helps a man right wrongs committed when he was in college, deals with the rebellion of her adoptive son, and keeps a watchful eye on the love life of her assistant. (192 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Los Angeles Times: Favorable review

10. Lucia, Lucia

Last Week: 11

Weeks on List: 2

by Adriana Trigiani

Random House, $24.95

Available on tape

It's 1950, and New York City glitters with postwar opportunities for career girls like Lucia Sartori. A beautiful and skillful seamstress and the only daughter of an Italian grocer, Lucia struggles between choosing a family life that will please her traditional parents, and her passion for working in the Fifth Avenue world of debutante gowns. This brightly written novel is full of the bittersweet lessons that come with love deferred and lost. Modern-day "career girls" will appreciate its lessons. (272 pp.) By Kendra Nordin

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

USA Today: Favorable review

11. The Curious Incident of the Dog

Last Week: 6

Weeks on List: 5

by Mark Haddon

Doubleday, $22.95

Available on tape

Christopher Boone, the autistic narrator of this book, has a simple but engaging voice that sounds a bit like Hemingway obsessed with math instead of machismo. He's a 15-year-old British boy unable to understand emotion, metaphor, and many of the ordinary events of daily life. When he's blamed for the killing of a neighbor's dog, Christopher sets out to solve the crime. Not only does he succeed, but he uncovers his family's troubles as well. A darkly funny and moving story. (240 pp.) By Joel Abrams

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

12. The Probable Future

Last Week: 12

Weeks on List: 4

by Alice Hoffman

Doubleday, $24.95

Available on tape

The Sparrow women each have an unusual gift: Elinor can instantly identify lies, Jenny dreams other people's dreams, and teenage Stella can tell how someone will die. When she begs her dad to warn a woman who's about to be murdered, he winds up the No. 1 suspect. Midway through, the plot switches from magic and murder to romance, and the novel sags. Hoffman's witch's brew is more like peach soda - light, tasty, but a little too sweet. (336 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Library Journal: Favorable review

13. Ten Little Indians

Last Week: 15

Weeks on List: 6

by Sherman Alexie

Grove/Atlantic, $24

Available on tape

In these 10 little stories, Alexie explores once more what it means to be native American. And of course, it means no one thing. His narrators unravel the sometimes romantic, often racist myth of the Indian, but ultimately they are regular people - lawyers, teachers, forest rangers - who even struggle with their lack of distinction. In his most successful and telling portrait, a college student recognizes: "If she lived with a white person, Corliss knew she'd quickly be seen as ordinary, because she was ordinary." (243 pp.) By Teresa Méndez

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

14. Seizure

Weeks on List: 1

by Robin Cook

Putnam, $24.95

Available on tape

Daniel Lowell is a brilliant researcher with a fear of failure. Sen. Ashley Butler is a demagogic politician with Oval Office dreams and a secret that could derail his aspirations. The two form a secret partnership - unlikely, since Butler was the man pushing for legislation to ban Lowell's new cloning procedure - and a supposedly routine process with enormous benefits for both men quickly turns tragic. Though needlessly filled with scientific jargon, Cook's novel is a compelling and intriguing read. (384 pp.) By Peter Gordon

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Publishers Weekly: Unfavorable review

15. White Death

Last Week: 5

Weeks on List: 4

by Clive Cussler

Putnam, $26.95

Available on tape

Protagonist Kurt Austin finds himself battling a horde of murderous fish-farming Inuit in his latest adventure. The principal settings of this unlikely imbroglio - the wilds of Canada and the Faroe Islands - are so lovingly described that they almost become characters in their own right. That's fortunate, because the human characters are the same flat stereotypes you'll recall from any number of Hollywood B-movies or Saturday-morning cartoons. Despite the exotic premise, you've heard this story before. (448 pp.) By Darren Abrecht

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Book List: Mixed review

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