1. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, by John Berendt, Random House, $23
This zany portrait of Savannah, Ga., sings with original characters. It tells the universal tale of small-town life in which neighborly rivalries and gossip are pastimes. But Savannah's characters are even more outrageous - sometimes more sensuous - than those of most small towns: from a good-natured con-man who invites the town to raucous parties in other people's houses to "The Lady Chablis" - a drag queen who crashes debutante balls. By Abraham T. McLaughlin
2. ANGELA'S ASHES: A MEMOIR, by Frank McCourt, Scribners, $23
"Angela's Ashes," Frank McCourt's brilliant and tender memoir of his miserable Irish Catholic childhood in Limerick, Ireland, is a deeply moving story and a very funny book. Angela was McCourt's mother. The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression as she tries to hold the family together; later, because of his father's alcoholism the family is forced to return to Ireland, where McCourt discovers Shakespeare and language. It is a book of splendid humanity. By Devon McNamara
3. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Warner, $17.95
A spiritual self-help book for the "modern woman," a how-to book that offers to overcome stress and assist in self-discovery with topical readings on gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy. There is a reading for each day of the calendar year. Like modern gold-mining - 30 tons of shoveled dirt to find one ounce of gold - there are pages of platitudes before one hits an original insight. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" spotlighted this book. By Jim Bencivenga
4. The JOY OF COOKING, by I.S. Rombauer, et al., Scribner, $30
The outward appearance of this cooking classic has not changed much in the past 22 years. But the innards have been updated, rewritten, and in some cases, discarded, due in large part to earnest efforts to make it a contemporary encyclopedia for cooks of all abilities. Illustrations that were line drawings are now stippled and three-dimensional. The simplicity of the drawings demystifies the more exotic ingredients and laborious preparation processes. One loss though is the original version's touches of humor. By Evan F. Mallett
5. INTO THIN AIR, by Jon Krakauer, Villard, $24.95
Krakauer writes compellingly that he wanted his personal account of a guided tour up Mt. Everest to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty, and it does. On May 10, 1996, nine of his fellow climbers, including three guides, were killed in a storm that swept the mountain. Krakauer hoped "that writing the book might purge Everest from my life. It hasn't, of course." Readers of this book will never think of the world's highest peak in quite the same way again. By Suzanne MacLachlan
6. CITIZEN SOLDIERS, by Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, $27.50
Following up on his triumph with Lewis and Clark ("Dauntless Courage"), Stephen Ambrose has written another superb book that weaves history into compelling human drama. The front-line soldier, often still in his teens, tells the story. His heroism and the brutality of his fox-hole-bound existence are unstintingly portrayed. So are the failings - sometimes shocking - of his superior officers. This book is an eye-opener, showing both the heights of character forged by war, and war's depths. By Keith Henderson
7. THE PERFECT STORM, by Sebastian Junger, W.W. Norton, $22.95
"The Perfect Storm" serves as both title and metaphor recounting the once-in-a-century phenomenon in which major weather systems converge into one awesome storm. A meditation on and an adrenaline-pumping account of weather gone awry, the book integrates meteorological observations into accounts of the lives and deaths of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail. What ultimately makes this unique and admirable is its overriding humanity. By Judith Bolton-Fasman
8. THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT, by Seymour Hersh, Little Brown & Co., $26.95
Seymour Hersh's latest investigative book, "The Dark Side of Camelot," is not for the squeamish. It wallows in the muck of the sexual improprieties, political corruption, and coverup that appear to have permeated the career of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. What's new is that Hersh has found sources who have told him the whys and wherefores, thus apparently documenting (some) charges. The result is a one-dimensional picture of the slain president, his family, and his associates. By Lawrence J. Goodrich
9. THE MAN WHO LISTENS TO HORSES, by Monty Roberts, Random House, $23
Roberts talks the language of horses, and they listen. Equus is the name he gives this silent language, developed over a lifetime of tireless reading of the body movements of "flight" animals such as the horse, mule, and even deer. This very detailed autobiography reveals the love, patience, and endurance of one man who has been able to coax horses to voluntarily step out of their wild natures into a working relationship with people. Roberts lays out how his own life mirrors the cruelty and drama of horse breakers. By Jim Bencivenga
10. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I, by Neale Donald Walsch, Putnam, $19.95
Written in a very simple, accessible style, this book is based on what the author, the founder of an Oregon-based organization called ReCreation, describes as a three-year conversation with God that he transcribed. It contains some substantial insights and flashes of humor. God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being, who is constantly communicating with all people. Prayer is described as a process, not a petition. First of three books. By Abraham T. McLaughlin
11. DIRTY JOKES AND BEER, by Drew Carey, Hyperion, $22.95
"Dirty Jokes and Beer" is harder on the eyes than Drew Carey's crew cut. With few exceptions, Carey starts each chapter with a crass joke and moves on to discuss everything from his troubled childhood and being booted out of college twice, to his checkered private life and his love for greasy food. It's heavy with profanity and sexual innuendo, and readers walk away (gladly) wondering how the comedian cleans up his act for his prime-time sitcom, "The Drew Carey Show." By John Christian Hoyle
12. TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, by Mitch Albom, Doubleday, $19.95
A beloved college professor who is dying agrees to meet each Tuesday with a former student and discuss life and death. The 14 "classes" are recorded by Mitch Albom, a well-known sportswriter, with his former teacher, Morrie Schwartz. Religion, family, friends, and work are carefully considered. Schwartz (now deceased) was interviewed at home by Ted Koppel and appeared on "Nightline." What keeps this uplifting book from being maudlin is Albom's crisp writing - and the generous heart of Schwartz. By Jim Bencivenga
13. THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, Longstreet, $22
After two decades of analyzing wealth, professors Stanley and Danko provide extensive demographic profiles of Americans with assets of $1 million or more. They conclude that lavish spending habits are the stuff of Hollywood myth. Most millionaires, they say, have succeeded through business efficiency as well as frugality, not inheritance. In summary: To amass wealth, one must invest well and spend less. By Leigh Montgomery
14. DON'T WORRY, MAKE MONEY, by Richard Carlson, Hyperion, $15.95
Carlson, a stress consultant, has written a dozen books, most of which focus on self-realization and personality. In his latest, he offers 100 short essays on how to create wealth and abundance in daily life. But don't expect any hot financial tips. His advice is purely psychological and filled with platitudes. His oversimplified theme: By changing your approach to life you can choose a happier, richer one. By Shelley Donald Coolidge
15. MAKING FACES, by Kevyn Aucoin, Little Brown & Co., $29.95
Maybe you're not a diva, but you can certainly look like one with the right tools and makeup. Whichever face you desire (there are more than a couple of dozen to choose from), "Making Faces" will help transform your look. It includes instructions from how to apply lipstick ("a lip brush is essential for accuracy") to tips on curling lashes ("very important to open up the eyes"). Exquisite photos of celebrities and everyday people, large diagrams, and step-by-step directions show that with makeup, anything's possible. By Lisa Parney
By Charles Frazier
Atlantic Monthly Press
The American Civil War is the shattering force that disrupts and rearranges the lives of the characters in Charles Frazier's richly rewarding first novel, "Cold Mountain."
Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, turns his back on a war that has robbed him of any illusions about military glory and sets off to find his way home to the woman he hoped to marry.
Hungry, tired, traveling on foot, uncertain of his way and fearful of being arrested as a deserter, he encounters more than a few strange characters and bizarre adventures on his long journey home.
In the meantime, Ada, his intended, struggles to survive on the farm she has recently inherited from her father, a scholarly minister who had acquired the place for atmospheric rather than agricultural purposes.
Accomplished, well-educated, and widely read, Ada has no idea how to perform the most basic domestic task: getting an egg from the henhouse puts her at the mercy of an angry rooster.
Gradually, with the help of an illiterate but high-spirited and savvy mountain girl, Ruby, who agrees to work, not "for" but "with" her, Ada learns how to make do and forges a sound friendship in the process.
Alternating between Inman's story and Ada's, Frazier paints a wonderfully convincing, finely detailed portrait of two people living through a period of hardship, uncertainty, and dislocation. His writing style is aptly reminiscent of the mid-l9th century but not distractingly antiquated.