1. BAG OF BONES, by Stephen King, Scribner, $28
Mike Noonan, a well-respected writer, loses his wife in an accident that turns his world upside down. He returns to their eerie lakeside vacation home only to become embroiled in a child-custody lawsuit and a small town's haunted past. Amid all these problems, Noonan finds he can't write anymore. King's novel boils in parts but barely simmers in others. The supernatural elements are overdone (malevolent refrigerator poetry?) and detract from what starts off as a well-crafted plot. By Lane Hartill
2. RAINBOW SIX, by Tom Clancy, Putnam, $27.95
In this bloody tale, John Clark returns as the head of a new counterterrorist group battling an international conspiracy of ... ecologists?! Not only is there no sense of morality on the part of the characters, but there's nothing new plotwise either. We've seen plague attempts and attacks on the protagonist's loved ones from Clancy before. When a terrorist is shot in the gut deliberately to cause slow death, you have to wonder who Clancy thinks the good guys really are. By James Turner
3. THE LOOP, by Nicholas Evans, Delacorte Press, $25.95
Author of the highly successful "The Horse Whisperer," Evans is back using many of the same ingredients. The novel is set in fictitious Hope, Mont., where the abundant wildlife is a constant threat to cattle ranchers, causing the town's most powerful man to go to battle with the Federal animal control staff. The book is a satisfying read because most of the characters find healing for their emotional wounds. Evans's descriptions are vivid, particularly in scenes of animal trapping and extermination. By Janet Moller
4. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, by Wally Lamb, HarperCollins, $28.50
Meet Dominick Birdsey, an emotionally troubled man, trying to save his paranoid-schizophrenic twin from both himself and the state. His family history is a catalog of every horror known to postwar America. While the sheer volume of catastrophes strains credibility, what raises this big, wrenching novel from "Jerry Springer Show" status is Wally Lamb's thoughtful, intelligent writing and the exploration of family and redemption. Contains much physical abuse, rape, and profanity. By Yvonne Zipp
5. TELL ME YOUR DREAMS, by Sidney Sheldon, William Morrow, $28
Literary workhorse Sheldon has turned out another lightweight whodunit. This time, three beautiful young women are implicated in a series of weirdly connected murders, but nothing is as it seems. The story could easily have dissolved into an affirmation of what the reader already suspects, but to his credit Sheldon keeps the intrigue going with fresh twists. Readers should be aware that the book contains harsh language and depictions of violence and sexual abuse. By Kristina Lanier
6. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden, Alfred A. Knopf, $25
Alfred 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
7. FIELD OF THIRTEEN, by Dick Francis, Putnam, $24.95
The first rule of writing is "Write what you know," and Francis has made that his motto. What he knows is the world of horse racing. In fact, this bestselling mystery author's first career was as a champion jockey. "Field of Thirteen" is Francis' 37th work of fiction, but his first collection of short stories. The 13 stories, eight old and five new, are like a Whitman Sampler of Francis' characters and plots: They don't differ widely from one to another, but Francis enthusiasts are sure to enjoy them. By Phelippe Salazar
8. NO SAFE PLACE, by Richard North Patterson, Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95
Kerry Kilcannon grew up in what is today referred to as a "dysfunctional family." But through the guidance of his godfather, Kerry becomes a respected lawyer, then a senator, and finally a candidate for president. Several plot twists pattern real-world events and spice up this thriller, including an assassination attempt on Kerry's brother and an extramarital affair that threatens his political career. This departure from Patterson's past courtroom dramas delivers interesting, easy reading. By Edna L. Marsh
9. SUMMER SISTERS, by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press, $21.95
This novel, by the well-known young-adult author Judy Blume, is a tale of summer friendship. It strives to capture the innocence between best friends who can't imagine their friendship ever ending. The writing is at best early in the story when Blume defines the very different characters in their teen years. But the plot is drawn out and uneven. It has a swift, sad ending, as if it were time to end the book. Blume is also preoccupied with sexual discovery and activity, the cause of rifts between the friends. By Terri Theiss
10. MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner Books, $20
A book for the beach. The ocean spray will obscure the salt tears dripping on the pages. And you can run your fingers into the sand to get back to reality when the mush is too much. Beautiful newspaper columnist, single mother, finds a passionate love letter in a bottle on the shore. She publishes the letter, then tracks down the writer, a man whose wife died. They have an affair and then fall in love - perhaps - before tragedy strikes.
By Ruth Johnstone Wales
11. THE FIRST EAGLE, by Tony Hillerman, HarperCollins, $25
Tribal detective Jim Chee and retired sidekick Joe Leaphorn must solve three murders. Two Anglo medical researchers take totally different views on how to deal with bubonic plague-infected prairie dogs. Do you kill the rodents and save lives now? Or preserve them for future study of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Complicating matters, a Navajo policeman arrests a young Hopi man illegally capturing eagles for a religious ceremony. Resolution of conflicting "goods" makes for a vintage Hillerman ending. By Jim Bencivenga
12. A NIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR, by Jewel Kilcher, HarperCollins, $15
This book sells because of who's on the cover. As one teenage boy told me, "Of course I'll buy it; Jewel's gorgeous." But being gorgeous doesn't make one a poet. The popular singer-songwriter does show promise in these poems about love, sex, childhood, and her travels. But most of the work contains just one good stanza or image. Her poetry is typical of beginning writers, and her young- angst wisdom will underwhelm most people over 23.
By Elizabeth Lund
13. THE DAY OF CONFESSION, by Allan Folsom, Little, Brown & Co., $25
Brothers, separated for years by a troubled past, are reunited when the younger - a priest serving one of the pope's Cabinet members in the Vatican - frantically calls the older - an entertainment lawyer in L.A. - for help. A tale of international trade, terrorism, and wickedness in high places unwinds from the US to Italy, Switzerland, and China. It's written like a movie: The chapters are short, action-packed, and fast moving. CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour may not be pleased with her likeness! By Faye Bowers
14. TROUBLE IN PARADISE, by Robert B. Parker, Penguin USA, $22.95
This is Parker's second detective novel featuring Jesse Stone, chief of police for Paradise, Mass. Ten years ago he left L.A., his wife, and a drinking habit, hoping for some peace and quiet. But life in a small town becomes complex when ex-con Jimmy Macklin and his cohorts plan a heist in a nearby gated community. Also, his ex-wife has followed him East, leading to further romantic complications. Tough-talking dialogue and continuous drinking throughout.
15. WELCOME TO THE WORLD, BABY GIRL! by Fannie Flagg, Random House, $25.95 In this shamelessly sentimental and wonderfully entertaining novel, Dena Nordstrom, America's most popular female newscaster, struggles to find happiness, her long-lost mother, and herself in the corrupt world of TV journalism. With the help of a psychiatrist, she makes some progress, but in the presence of Flagg, we know what this woman needs is a big dose of small-town America. And she gets if from her kooky, homespun relatives back in Elmwood, Mo. By Ron Charles
By Jim Lehrer
262 pp., $23.95
For his 11th novel, Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS's "NewsHour," put his tongue firmly in cheek to write "Purple Dots," an amusing spoof on Washington politics and Central Intelligence Agency peccadilloes.
Charlie, a retired CIA spy who runs an upscale bed-and-breakfast in the West Virginia panhandle, learns that a fellow spook, Joshua Bennett, is up for Senate approval as new director of the agency. It should be a shoo-in: Bennett is popular and has a whistle-clean record.
But a triple play of political favors negotiated between the Intelligence Committee chairman, Senator Simmons, and the president threatens his confirmation.
Playing straight man in Lehrer's farce is the senator's assistant, Martin Madigan, who cannot make much sense out of the shenanigans on both sides, does all the dirty work, and dreams of the day when he will be a new breed of senator himself, above petty politicking.
Lehrer satirizes Washington with glee as Marty dutifully accompanies his boss on his reach-out-and-touch-the-voters rounds.
Challenged by the perfidious plot, Charlie and chums get out their old bag of spy tricks and indulge in fun and games to save their man. With the help of a secret weapon (too secret to reveal here), the aged agents triumph and return to their peaceful pastoral pursuits, only dreaming of their cloak-and-dagger days.
Lehrer had fun writing "Purple Dots," and his readers will have a good time, too.
- Ruth Johnstone Wales