The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Fiction

1. THE PARTNER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95

John Grisham's latest involves a young law partner who fakes his death in a car crash, then absconds with $90 million from his firm. This thriller-cum-morality-tale has the hard edge of a Raymond Chandler; the brilliant legal maneuvering of an Earle Stanley Gardner; the surprise ending of an O. Henry or an Agatha Christie. People pay for their deeds, and friendship counts for something. Fans and new readers won't be disappointed. By Lawrence J. Goodrich

2. 3001: THE FINAL ODYSSEY, by Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, $25

Arthur Clarke, astronomer and physicist as well as science fiction grand-master, concludes one of the landmarks of science fiction literature with his third sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey." The series continues 1,000 years later with the reappearance of 2001 astronaut Frank Poole. Clarke's tale is less a final chapter than a futuristic vision of society - including education, entertainment, and theology in the fourth millennium. By Leigh Montgomery

3. SOLE SURVIVOR, by Dean Koontz, Knopf, $2

If only thriller writers would stick to writing thrillers. Unfortunately, Dean Koontz wanders off into new age fog about the after-life, ruining an otherwise gripping tale about an ex-reporter who loses his wife and two children in a plane crash. He discovers that there might have been a government plot behind the plane's destruction. It centers around a woman named Rose, who claims to be the sole survivor of the fatal flight. Much violence and profanity. By Tom Regan

4. TOTAL CONTROL, by David Baldacci, Warner, $25

This thriller combines blackmail and murder with high finance and hi-technology to manipulate the federal reserve and control the Internet. Fast-paced and engaging, particularly when explaining the business practices and computers used in the skulduggery. But while Baldacci asks intriguing questions about money and information, his concluding chapters unfortunately slip too close to predictability. Be prepared for some violent kill scenes. By Terry Theiss

5. EVENING CLASS, by Maeve Binchy, Delacorte, $24.95

Irish writer Maeve Binchy's latest book is peopled with her usual engaging characters. A bit lighter than some of her previous novels, including "Circle of Friends" and "The Glass Lake," it tells the story of a group of Dubliners who are all linked by a night class in Italian, and, they discover, in other ways as well. Keeping the various students, teachers, relatives, and lovers in order can be a task at times, but Binchy delivers a good read just the same. By Kim Campbell

6. THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner, $16.95

"The Notebook" proves that good things come in small packages. It is all that "Love Story" wasn't. Sparks has a winning combination of style and story. It's a classic tale of love found, lost, and regained that maintains respect for the characters. Poetry and metaphoric description course through the book like the creek that runs alongside the couple's house. Prediction: It will be on this list for months, not weeks. By Janet Moller

7. THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Viking, $23.95

This is a straightforwardly written account of a bizarre misfortune that spawns countless complications. A mother of three, decides to take her children along with her for a short trip to her 15th high school reunion. Carrying her infant daughter as she registers at the front desk of a hotel filled with her former classmates, she tells seven-year-old Vincent to look after three-year-old Ben. Ben disappears. A realistic portrait of one family's crisis. By Merle Rubin

8. HORNET'S NEST, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95

A bisexual, psychopathic killer is sexually abusing then murdering businessmen in downtown Charlotte, N.C. He lives in a van and drives around all day and night with a prostitute who is a version of a Charles Manson groupie. No one on the police force can figure it out. No one in Charlotte can figure it out. A young police-reporter stumbles into the murderer. Nitty gritty police work, especially by women officers, is the focus of this B-rated movie script. By Jim Bencivenga

9. SMALL TOWN GIRL, by LaVyrle Spencer, Putnam, $23.95

In this modern-day romance, the town's most famous native is dragged home to care for ailing Mama and is surprised by love with the now grown-up boy next door who has a grown daughter. The heroine is clearly patterned after country superstar Reba McEntire, but that is deliberate and does not take anything away from a warm, insightful, and deliciously funny book. Two short sensual scenes do not detract from the quality of a well-told story. By Terry Theiss

10. SILENT WITNESS, by Richard North Patterson, Knopf, $25.95

A call from a friend he hasn't seen in almost 30 years resurrects attorney Tony Lord's past - the murder of his high school girlfriend and the hostility of the small town that was convinced of his guilt, though he was never tried. When his closest friend, Sam Robb, stands charged of an eerily similar crime, Tony returns to defend him and face the ghosts of another time. A gripping story with skillfully drawn characters. Unfortunately, the ending is a little weak. By Nicole Gaouette

11. The CAT WHO TAILED A THIeF, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Putnam, $22.95

Even Koko, that intrepid Siamese cat, can't save this tepid mystery, the latest installment in Braun's hugely popular "The Cat Who..." series. Moose County is stunned when a local banker is murdered on a trip to the big city. Newspaperman James Qwilleran and his prescient cat solve the mystery - but alas, not in time to save a pillar of the community. Readers can tell whodunit just by reading the book jacket, thereby saving themselves the price of the book. By Yvonne Zipp

12. THE LIST, by Steve Martini, Putnam, $24.95

The perfect airplane book. Steve Martini has created a believable (and for once) smart heroine who has finally gotten a big publishing house interested in her manuscript. To ensure her novel's acceptance and success, she creates a pen name complete with an actor to do the book signings. When the actor becomes her lover, she realizes that no one involved with this book is the person he or she seems. Not just the book's success but her own life is in peril. By Janet Moller

13. VENDETTA: Lucky's Revenge, by Jackie Collins, HarperCollins, $25

This latest work from the Hollywood-culture author is thin on plot and heavy on filth. Readers might want revenge themselves after wasting several hours slogging through gutter language and graphic sexual scenes in search of some storyline. This is the latest in a series about a mob princess turned film-studio head. Not recommended reading for anyone with a functioning intellect or reading standards. By Terry Theiss

14. AIRFRAME, by Michael Crichton, Knopf, $26

Crichton couldn't have picked a better - or worse - time to write a thriller about an airline accident and how television covers it. An international flight has a few moments of terror 35,000 feet in the air over California. Three people die and several others are injured. An attractive, made-for-the-movies heroine figures out what happened. Coming on the heels of the ValuJet and TWA tragedies, it's a bit macabre with a message: Re-regulate the air industry. By Faye Bowers

15. A THIN DARK LINE, by Tami Hoag, Bantam, $22.95

Here's Tami Hoag's recipe for a jambalaya thriller set in Cajun country: a freed killer (because of inadmissible though compelling evidence); a detective with a dubious past; and a determined female deputy. Cook on lukewarm for 496 pages. Stir plot every hundred pages or so with the "thin line" that separates obsession and attraction, law and justice. Mildly engaging, but for first-time readers this is not the best introduction to Hoag. By Suman Bandrapalli


CREATING A FAMILY GARDEN: MAGICAL SPACES FOR ALL AGES, By Bunny Guinness Abbeville Press 168 pp., $29.95

Bunny Guinness, author of "Creating a Family Garden," designs gardens with children in mind. For anyone who as a youngster was scolded for trampling Mother's peonies, this book is a welcome surprise. Guinness urges that children be given a stake in designing outdoor spaces, and encourages adults to give special thought to child-friendly features in the garden.

In pages of lavish photographs and colorful plans, she explains how to build sand pits, tepees, playhouses, treehouses, and wading pools. She addresses safety issues and points out that gardens can provide one of the few safe areas for children to play in with less supervision.

For parents who have plenty of inventiveness but not a lot of time or money to build fancy structures, Guinness's book touches on the qualities in gardens that can enhance children's play. These include a sense of whimsy (think funny animal sculptures), privacy (secret hiding places), engineering skills (a chance to build things), smaller scale (child-sized garden implements), and creativity (imaginative games).

Guinness unabashedly promotes the idea of family togetherness away from indoor toys and video games, which, she points out, "become discarded all too quickly." While her focus is mostly on structures to enhance the garden, she includes a section on suggested plant types. The photographs demonstrate her ingenuity.

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