Fiction Bestsellers

1. THE RUNAWAY JURY, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95

This book has it all: mystery, legal maneuvering, behind-the-scenes views of a trial, jury tampering, and plenty of other skullduggery. Taking a page from today's headlines, Grisham takes us to Biloxi, on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and the latest tobacco trial. It is no civics-textbook trial. Both sides are trying to fix the jury, but that panel seems to have a mind of its own. Grisham draws a finely detailed, realistic picture of the action and the characters. By Lawrence J. Goodrich

2. HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK, by Terry McMillan, Viking, $23.95

People who enjoyed McMillan's 1992 bestseller "Waiting to Exhale" may want to skip this surprisingly uneven follow-up. Gone are the well-drawn characters and storylines from the previous book, the author's third. Instead, readers get a tensionless tale about a black divorce in her 40s and her relationship with a Jamaican man half her age. Besides its weak plot (based on events in the author's life), the novel features one-dimensional characters and often wince-worthy dialogue. By Kim Campbell

3. THE TENTH INSIGHT, by James Redfield, Warner, $19.95

Redfield's sequel to his successful bestseller "Celestine Prophecy," is also a poorly written, thinly disguised allegory. The book centers around the discovery of a 10th Insight that he says is necessary for "implementing these Insights, living them,...fulfilling destiny" (and selling more books). Redfield dabbles in spiritual healing, reincarnation, energy levels, and dimensional travel. There are glimmers of - forgive the pun - insight, but the whole is a mishmash of religion and new-age thinking. By Yvonne Zipp

4. A CROWN OF SWORDS, by Robert Jordan, Tor, $27.95

To understand the mythical power struggles of this book, it is necessary to read the previous six books in the Wheel of Time series. Rand al'Thor - the Dragon Reborn - draws ever closer to the Last Battle as a killing heat grips the world. The scenes lack nuanced detail and fail to stimulate the imagination. There is a complex hierarchy of authority (the use of mental channeling by special classes of women to get what they desire and to destroy opponents) all in a fierce quest for power. By Jim Bencivenga

5. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, by James Redfield, Warner, $17.95

Well-intended but poorly written, the plot is a cross between "Indiana Jones" and a self-help book. The hero is on a quest for a recently discovered Peruvian manuscript that details the progress of spirituality at the end of the 20th century. At different stages of the journey, he and his fellow searches discover spiritual "insights," nine in total. Rather than profound, the book is awash in such clichs such as the need to "become conscious of the coincidences in our lives." By Yvonne Zipp

6. MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $24

The latest from Mary Higgins Clark is an eminently readable mystery, with an intelligent voice and an eye for detail. The protagonist is a gutsy photographer who must solve the tragic murder of her stepmother and sudden deaths of two of her stepmother's friends. Set in Newport, R.I., the action concerns romance and riches, both hidden and displayed. The ending is a bit predictable but does not detract from a stylish story.

By Terri Theiss

7. I was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn, Simon & Schuster $18

The author has composeed this novel as a sequence of short, sparely written, almost visionary passages. Third-person descriptions of Earhart and Fred Noonan (her hapless navigatior) alternate with first-person accounts in Earhart's voice. They reflect the thoughts, memories, emotions, and longings that propelled this woman into a life of flight. The writing throughout is terse, austerely lyrical, and the emphasis is on the subjective and psychologocial. It is a paean to the ultimate escape. By Merle Rubin

8. THE FOURTH ESTATE, by Jeffrey Archer, Harper Collins, $26

Fast-paced, thinly disguised fictionalization of the rise and fall of media baron Robert Maxwell - intertwined with the rise and near-fall of Maxwell's successful global competitor, Rupert Murdoch. Seven decades of history, destructive chutzpah, clever business strategy, and outsized egos are on parade. Archer is a better story teller than his more famous British MP literary forebears, Disraeli and Churchill. His hallmark: seamless interweaving of action and thinking, realistic characters. By Earl Foell

9. SUDDEN PREY, by John Sandford, Putnam, $23.95

After a bankrobber named Candy is killed by police, her husband swears to avenge her death by killing the police officers' families. John Camp, who writes under the pseudonym John Sandford, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and veteran author. He has a keen eye for detail and provides his trademark graphic and sensual descriptions. Violence and coarse language pervade this otherwise well-written and suspenseful book.

By Abraham McLaughlin

10. MALICE, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte, $24.95

The latest novel from the romance author is more polemic than poetic. The story of Grace Adams's recovery from childhood abuse and an unjust prison stint is clearly intended to sway readers on the subject of domestic violence. It presents a woman who rises above her own situation to help other women and children overcome theirs. But the drawn-out writing about her horrors overwhelms the plot, which races almost cursorily through its most interesting twists and turns near the end. By Terri Theiss

11. ANYTHING CONSIDERED, by Peter Mayle, Knopf, $23

This is truly summer reading. Mayle's clear style allows the reader to easily envision his characters and locations. For some it might be too smooth a read, almost like a screenplay (which would be terrific). The hero's vacation goes from simple to dangerously complicated as an innocuous briefcase becomes the prey of mobsters and cops gone bad. By far the best facet of this novel is the omission of sexual situations, foul language, and violence - even kids can read it. By Janet Moller

12. ACCORDION CRIMES, by E. Annie Proulx, Scribner $25

The design of this novel by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is grand: to paint a panorama of America's complex, often poignant, immigrant heritage, linking cameo portraits of Italians, Germans, French, Mexicans, Irish, Africans, Norwegians with the hand-me-down history of a small button accordion. But the execution, while elegantly written, is a catalog of gruesome death and meaningless doom, described in bizarre detail on almost every page; ultimately, it is both ludicrous and depressing. By Ruth Wales

13. CHANCE, by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, $21.95

Fans of Robert Parker mysteries featuring private eye Spenser will find the latest, "Chance," more - and less - the same. Spenser, his pal Hawk, and psychiatrist girlfriend, Susan, are still a trio. The dialogue is still lively and profane, but the action sometimes lags. Set in Boston, with scene shifts to Las Vegas, the plot starts with a search for the missing son-in-law of a local mobster, wanders into ethnic turf wars in the murky world of disorganized crime, and erupts in gratuitous killings. By Ruth Wales

14. The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, Delacorte Press, $23.95

The storyline is formulaic, clich laden, and noticeably influenced by "The Bridges of Madison County." It depicts a strong tight- lipped Montana rancher able to see into the "soul" of horses, and a British-cum-New York successful magazine editor who experiences a midlife crisis when her daughter-on-horseback collides with a semi-truck. The editor finds herself in an extramarital affair with the rancher. Parental guilt about putting career first emotionally tugs throughout this soap opera. By Jim Bencivenga

15. Gods and Generals, by Jeffrey M. Shaara, Ballantine, $25

This wonderfully engrossing book follows four Civil War personalities - Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Union officers Winfield Scott Hancock and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - in their transformation from prewar soldiers and scholars into wartime heroes. The characterization is fascinating and insightful. It's a novel, but one resting on events that surpassed anything anyone could have imagined - including the principals in this narrative. By Keith Henderson

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