Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Fiction

1. PLUM ISLAND, by Nelson DeMille, Warner, $25

This is a summer vacation book. Suspense, love interest (modest, and no long-winded descriptions), great characters, and humor - a welcome touch when murder is the subject. John Corey, New York city cop and a male-chauvinist to his core, is convalescing from gunshot wounds on the far northeastern shore of Long Island. Two of his new acquaintances are found murdered and the local police chief asks him to be a consultant on the case. By Janet Moller

2. 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 Erle 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

3. PRETEND YOU DON'T SEE HER, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $25

A murder mystery without sexually explicit scenes and dialogue that is not limited to four-letter words highlight this excellent new book. A host of characters living in Manhattan and Minneapolis are linked by a talented young actress who is killed (or some say murdered) in a wintry car wreck. The chapters become shorter as the book's tempo increases. Tense to the end, this is a page-turner's page-turner. By Janet Moller

4. THE TENTH JUSTICE, by Brad Meltzer, William Morrow, $23

While "The Tenth Justice" is frequently witty and occasionally suspenseful, it is also too often predictable and trite. Hero Ben Addison, a law clerk at the Supreme Court (clerks are known as the tenth justice), mistakenly tells the wrong person about the outcome of a key case. His life, and the lives of his three closest friends, are thrown into chaos. Reads too much as if it was written for the screen and not the printed page - a common phenomenon these days. By Tom Regan

5. LONDON, by Edward Rutherford, Crown, $25.95

This Chaucerian romp follows successive generations of eight families whose destinies intertwine throughout London's history. The story line jumps abruptly from century to century, rather like watching television when someone else has the remote, skipping to a new program just when you're getting into the old one. The most intriguing character is the city itself, which molds its inhabitants even as they build it. Should be read with a map by your side. By Barbara Petzen

6. MASON & DIXON, by Thomas Pynchon, Henry Holt & Co., $30

This is a "big ideas" book. Enlightenment rationalism impaled on "Catch-22" absurdities. Pynchon mimics the form of 18th-century novels la Tristram Shandy. His convoluted imaginings squirm around a fictional account of Charles Mason (1728-86) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-79), British surveyors sent to map the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1763. Tedious and solipsistic, maybe English lit. majors will plow through its 773 pages. By Jim Bencivenga

7. UP ISLAND, by Anne Rivers Siddons, HarperCollins, $24

Molly Redwine is the perfect wife/mother until her husband's affair wreaks havoc. Efforts to piece together her life prompt an escape to Martha's Vineyard. There she takes a job and gains newfound perspective. "Up Island" shows initial promise with telling descriptions of Atlanta's executive social circle and how divorce can disrupt one's place in it. But this tale of a woman's rebirth trips over clichs and falls flat. Disappointingly predictable. By Joanna P. Angelides

8. THE PRESIDENT' S DAUGHTER, by Jack Higgins, Putnam, $24.95

A fast-moving plot does little to redeem an otherwise passionless story revolving around the kidnapping of the president's illegitimate daughter by Israeli extremists. Lack of romance, interchangable characters who never display the slightest tinge of self-doubt, and convenient coincidences whenever needed to advance the plot make this tale a bland read. At least Tom Clancy's characters make a wrong guess once in a while. By James Turner

9. SNOW IN AUGUST, by Peter Hamill, Little, Brown & Co., $23.95

This wannabe of a "Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for guys strains credulity. It is a coming-of-age story for a young Irish-American boy confronting the twin evils of racism and anti-Semitism in 1947. Michael's father died at the Battle of the Bulge. His mother could have been a nun. Clichs, albeit warm, wholesome ones about family, race, and creed, predominate. Hamill grew up in Brooklyn. The Dodgers and Jackie Robinson are a symbol of America overcoming anything. By Jim Bencivenga

10. 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

11. LADY OF AVALON, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Viking, $24.95

Reading this prequel to the bestseller "The Mists of Avalon" is much like gazing upon a Celtic knot: exquisite, intricate, continuous. Set in Roman Britain, its high fantasy features three priestesses and elements of Arthurian legend. History and mythology are woven into the plot, most notably the conflict between Christianity and paganism. Fans of Bradley's will be pleased, as will King Arthur enthusiasts. A map and key to all the characters provided. By Leigh Montgomery

12. CHASING CEZANNE, by Peter Mayle, Knopf, $23

Peter Mayle's latest, "Chasing Czanne," is an improbable mix - equal parts detective thriller, farce, romance, and love letter to France. The result is a wickedly funny romp through the high-stakes world of international art that makes for perfect summer reading. Mayle's women tend to be little more than decorative, but his finest creation might just be the hilariously shallow and venal magazine editor, Camilla Jameson Porter. Take this one to the beach. By Nicole Gaouette

13. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON: A NOVEL, by Norman Mailer, Random House, $21

Norman Mailer has never shied away from tackling large subjects. This time, perhaps he should have. In "The Gospel According to the Son," he takes on the story of Jesus' life and tells it in the first person. The result is a choppy and unexciting telling of a tale we already know well. He uses pseudo-biblical language that makes the story and the character of Jesus seem stilted. Mailer's portrayal of Jesus' doubts and fears are rarely convincing. By Nicole Gaouette

14. NIMITZ Class, by Patrick Robinson, HarperCollins, $25

A military thriller in the Tom Clancy vein. A Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier - the most sophisticated in the world - is suddenly vaporized in the Arabian Sea. It at first appears to be an unprecedented accident. But, complete with political spin, a media feeding frenzy, and page-flipping suspense, the yarn turns into a global search for a nuclear terrorist. The book explores nuclear proliferation in the post-cold-war era and the US peacekeeping role. By Faye Bowers

15. LOS ALAMOS, by Joseph Kanon, Bantam, $25

This murder mystery takes readers back to 1945 and the super-secret Manhattan Project. The brutal death of a security officer could have been a personal rendezvous gone wrong - or something far more dangerous jeopardizing the secret project. The narrative is engaging but the writing is dense. Despite its fast paced action - the conclusion is unsatisfying. Be prepared for much sexual matter - both homosexual and adulterous. By Terri Theiss



By Nicholas Kilmer 255 pp., $22.50

If you've ever loved a house that is crumbling around you faster than your wallet and weekends can plug up the breaches, Nicholas Kilmer has written a book for you.

There are names for such houses: fix-'em-upper, money pit, "Nightmare on Elm Street," and - in extreme cases - marriage wrecker. To these, add Kilmer's "A Place in Normandy."

What's wrong with the Kilmers' 15th-century family farmhouse in Normandy, France? Start with rotting beams, crumbling plaster, a sunken kitchen you can't climb out of, a shower you can't stand up in, and a driveway that turns impassable with the first soupon of rain.

The house is an ocean and at least one culture away from Cambridge, Mass., where the author and his far-from-convinced wife must decide whether to take over the 50-acre inherited property full time.

In the end, the house is more than the sum of its structural woes. It's also cuckoos and nightingales, cows chewing grass soaked with the night dew, lungfuls of grassy air, armloads of purple foxglove and yellow broom hauled out of the woods to brighten a dining room, a daughter singing lullabies to spiders in the billiard room.

This is a book where family, friends, and a sense of place count. It isn't to be read for the plot. You read it if you've ever had to laugh your way through an impossible situation or want to learn how.

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