1. OLD MOUNTAIN, by Charles Frazier, Atlantic Monthly, $24
The American Civil War is the shattering force that disrupts and rearranges the lives of the characters in this richly rewarding first novel. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, turns his back on a war that has robbed him of any illusions about military glory. He sets off to find his way home to Ada, the woman he hoped to marry. Frazier's writing style is aptly reminiscent of the mid-19th century but not distractingly antiquated. By Merle Rubin
2. THE GHOST, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte, $25.95
After his marriage collapses, Charlie heads for New England to lick his wounds and whine about the unfairness of life. His plan is derailed by three women: an elderly widow who faces life alone with cheerfulness and grace; her ancestor, who came to the US fleeing an abusive marriage and whose journals impress Charlie with her bravery; and a single mother and former model (of course!) destined to be the love of his new life. No surprises here, but fans will enjoy the positive message and requisite happy ending. by Yvonne Zipp
3. CAT & MOUSE, by James Patterson, Little Brown & Co., $24.95
Detective Alex Cross is at it again, proving that "sooner or later almost every police investigation becomes a game of cat and mouse." As if tracking down mass murderer Gary Soneji isn't enough, he finds himself on the trail of an international serial killer, "Mr. Smith," whose handiwork is even more gruesome. When the evil hijinks cross paths, he starts putting pieces together - all the while being the loving family man and falling in love for the first time since his wife's death. By Kirstin Conover
4. The LETTER, by Richard Paul Evans, Simon & Schuster, $15.95
Evans's final entry in the "Christmas Box" trilogy is a gentle tale of love, heartache, and hope as he revisits David and MaryAnne Parkin in the twilight of their lives. "The Letter" unravels the story of the Parkins' great love and the challenges that besiege it. Evans's latest effort won't join the annals of classic literature or be known for breaking new literary ground, but it transports one to a world where good wins, compassion serves as a guide for action, and love is the most powerful force of all. By Kristi Lanier
5. ANOTHER CITY, NOT MY OWN, by Dominick Dunne, Crown, $25
This novel by a Vanity Fair writer is an unabashed vehicle for name dropping and retelling the rumors he heard at dinner parties while covering the O.J. Simpson trial. Seemingly unconstrained by journalistic standards of accuracy or checking the credibility of his sources, Dunne simply recounts gossipy stories, such as that O.J. Simpson confessed his guilt to a minister while in jail. Hiss flashes of thoughtful analysis of the culture of celebrity do appear but they're rare.
By Abraham McLaughlin
6. A CERTAIN JUSTICE, by P.D. James, Alfred A. Knopf, $25
The doyen of British mystery writing takes her first look at crime in the Law Courts and London legal community. It is not convincing, at least for the high expectations one brings to anything written by P.D. James. An aggressive, but highly successful woman barrister has made a career of defending some of the most heinous criminals in England. She is stabbed to death in chambers. Not even her daughter is sorry. Unrealistic motives and a contrived perpetrator undercut this Dalgliesh mystery. By Jim Bencivenga
7. THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, by Arundhati Roy, Random House, $23
It's easy to see why first-time author Arundhati Roy's novel has captured so much attention. This tale of a deeply troubled family in the south Indian state of Kerala is ambitious - shuttling between past and present and juggling a host of characters, from seven-year-old twins Rahel and Estha to their English cousin, Sophie Mol. But in the end, despite the unfolding tragedies, the story may leave some readers feeling strangely empty.
By Suzanne MacLachlan
8. THE WINNER, by David Baldacci, Warner, $25
Baldacci continues to come up with clever, thriller plots. In "The Winner," however, the violence is overdone and the descriptions of the main character are repetitive. The National Lottery is exploited by a smart, yet vicious psychopath who fixes the winning numbers and then selects the winners. He invests their money, creating billions for himself. His twisted plans are foiled by LuAnn Tyler (readers will not forget Tyler, she is smart, sexy, and strong) who enlists the help of a former FBI agent to expose the fraud. By Janet Moller
9. COMANCHE MOON, by Larry McMurtry, Simon & Schuster, $28.50
"Comanche Moon," by Larry McMurtry, is the prequel to "Lonesome Dove," (made into the popular TV miniseries). Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae become captains in the Texas Rangers. They pursue the renegade villain Blue Duck and his father the great war chief Buffalo Hump. There is drinking, whoring, scalping, killing, and various methods of torture on all the pages of this book; it is not for the weak stomach. By Carol Hartman
10. THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN, by Robert Ludlum, Bantam, $27.95
So the CIA has nothing left to do since the end of the cold war? Wrong! Now, in this era called the "cold peace," an organization known only as the Matarese seeks global domination. CIA top-agent Cameron Pryce is assigned to stop them. He joins retired deep-cover agent Brandon Scofield (a.k.a. Beowulf Agate) and his lovely partner, Antonia, to find and destroy the Matarese leader. The story is violent and filled with strong language. An up-all-night book. By Janet Moller
11. VIOLIN, by Anne Rice, Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95
After her second husband dies, a New Orleans woman finds herself haunted by a ghostly violinist who uses her misery to feed his music. In retaliation, she steals his violin and the two set off on a time-traveling trip through 19th-century Russia, Austria, and present-day Brazil. The novel decomposes into a mishmash of overblown grief and self-indulgent prose that not even appearances by the ghosts of Beethoven and Paganini can save. Even die-hard Rice fans will want to wait for her next book. By Yvonne Zipp
12. LUCKY YOU, by Carl Hiaasen, Alfred A. Knopf, $24
Hiaasen returns to the backwaters of Florida with his usual carnival of contemptible characters leading a larcenous chase after a $28 million jackpot. As usual, Hiaasen laces his farcical mystery with megadoses of profanity and depravity, plus his own politically correct commentary about rednecks, militias, and small-town promoters. It gets extremely tedious, as do the shallow, unlikely characters. As a reader, you either enjoy this brand of exaggerated nonsense, or you don't. Most probably won't. By John Dillin
13. WOBEGON BOY, by Garrison Keillor, Viking, $24.95
Radio listeners to "A Prairie Home Companion" will be pleased with some aspects of Keillor's novel, which features John Tollefson, who has left Minnesota for New York. This Lake Wobegon son now runs an upstate public-radio station and falls in love with a historian from Columbia University. Keillor's protagonist has a cynical tone when he takes aim at his new surroundings; academe, support groups, talk radio, city life, even Midwest virtue are not spared but readers may find humor among the sourness. By Leigh Montgomery
14. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, by Jonathan Kellerman, Bantam Doubleday Dell, $24.95
Alex Delaware is back. In his latest outing, the psychologist with a penchant for detective work gets himself embroiled in a particularly warped murder case. A mildly retarded girl is found dead, her grieving father is inconsolable, and the LAPD is unsurprisingly stumped. Delaware and a bevy of likable sleuths set to work to uncover a gruesome conspiracy. If you're a psychological- thriller fan, then Kellerman will keep the pages turning. But delicate readers beware: the subject matter is disturbing and often grisly. By Kristina Lanier
15. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden, Alfred A. Knopf, $25
Golden's debut novel unlocks the world of a traditional geisha. Told through the voice of Sayuri, a young girl sold into the near-slavery of a geisha house in the early 1930s, the story offers a historically enlightening glimpse of this age-old element of Japanese culture. Tracing Sayuri's emergence from lowly maid to geisha of renown, Golden shapes solid, but predictable, characters. Sexual situations are handled tastefully. By Kristina Lanier
FERMAT'S ENIGMA: THE QUEST TO SOLVE THE GREATEST MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM
By Simon Singh
Walker & Co.
315 pp., $22
Andrew Wiles, a mathematics professor at Princeton University, has become an unlikely media star. Simon Singh tells us why in his book "Fermat's Enigma: The Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem."
Wiles succeeded in 1995 in solving a problem set more than 300 years before by the great French amateur mathematician Pierre de Fermat.
He proved what was considered the most complex mathematical theorem by using the full set of modern mathematical tools unknown to Fermat. No one has yet been able to determine whether the problem could have been solved in the 17th century. The world's greatest mathematicians have attempted this intellectual Everest and were defeated. Until now.
The amazing achievement of Singh's book is that it actually makes the logic of the modern proof understandable to the nonspecialist. More important, Singh shows why it is significant that this problem should have been solved.
The efforts to solve the problem resulted in the development of techniques that have had a tremendous impact on other fields of knowledge. The final achievement, like a great novel or a magnificent symphony, must be valued among the profound works of the human imagination. Wiles's effort is featured in a PBS science special entitled: "The Proof."