The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers


1. BEFORE I SAY GOODBYE by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $26

(Last week 1, Weeks on list 2)

When the yacht holding Adam Cauliff and many of his closest business associates explodes, it leaves more than just a few questions in the air. As his wife, Nell, investigates the business dealings of her husband and the architects with whom he dealt, she faces recurring questions about how well she actually knew her husband - if at all. Clark holds the reigns the whole way through this tale of mischief and secrets, allowing us to unwind her labyrinth of hidden clues only as she wants them to unfold. (320 pp.) By Christy Ellington

2. BACK ROADS by Tawni O'Dell, Viking, $24.95 (Last week 2, Weeks on list 5)

This is a sad story about sad people in a sad land. Harley's young life is altered when his mother goes to prison for killing his abusive father. The young man works heroically to support his three sisters and maintain their home, but as he uncovers the truth about his father's murder, his grasp on reality slips, and by the end his heroism turns tragic. O'Dell's first effort - the Oprah choice for March - is brilliant. The book's murder, sex, and abuse is graphic, but never seems gratuitous. (338 pp.) By Jan Moller

3. THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison, Random House, $15

(Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

Morrison's first novel (1970) tells of an 11-year-old black girl gone mad (Oprah's selection for April). Bearing the brunt of her parents' disappointments and pregnant with her father's child, she is convinced that if only she had blue eyes, her family would find peace, and she herself would be noteworthy. Through her poignant portrayal of each character's loss of innocence, Morrison moves readers beyond pity and blame to compassion and self-examination. A primer on love, hope, fertility, and futility. (224 pp.) By Trudy Palmer

4. THE BRETHREN by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95

(Last week 4, Weeks on list 13)

Three federal prison inmates, former judges, design a mail scam to prey on people's most intimate secrets. Their victims, closet homosexuals hoping to find something special with a fictitious character created by the Brethren, are willing to hand everything over to keep their secrets from getting out. Soon, these con men catch the biggest fish of all - the front-runner for the upcoming presidential election. Grisham has done a great job with this story of politics and extortion. (366 pp.) By Anne Toevs

5. THE WEDDING by Danielle Steel, Doubleday, $26.95

(Last week 3, Weeks on list 4)

As an attorney for the stars, Allegra Steinberg deftly supports those who stand directly in the glare of fame. But as her fragile personal life starts to crumble, she learns to turn her attentions inward. When she meets a sincere, handsome writer, she finds true love and discovers compromise. Steel uses Hollywood as an exaggerated backdrop for marriage, the dreams and fears it holds for all of us. But her artificial descriptions (especially of Allegra's beauty) are like plastic figures on a wedding cake. (401 pp.) By Sara Steindorf

6. HUGGER MUGGER by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, $23.95

(Last week 6, Weeks on list 4)

Spencer takes on what first appears to be a mystery for an after-school special. The Boston private investigator is hired to solve a random horse shooting on a Georgia ranch. Of course, the Encyclopedia Brown/Pet Detective plot quickly thickens when the gun points away from the animals and toward their owners. Spencer continues to charm his fans, while Parker remains a cool glass of simplicity in a genre that can be easily overheated by wordy authors. (320 pp.) By Christy Ellington

7. DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE by Isabel Allende, HarperCollins, $26

(Last week 8, Weeks on list 15)

This Oprah book-club selection (Feb. 2000) is an engaging story of self-discovery. A young Chilean girl makes her way to California at the height of the Gold Rush in search of her lover. It's a story in which social class loses out to passion, self-reliance, and true friendship. Allende is wonderfully thorough in her description of the period, the challenging conditions of emerging San Francisco, and the relationships between these characters. A must read. (Translated from Spanish by Margaret Peden, 399 pp.) By Anne Toevs

8. RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow, Viking, $24.95

(Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow's latest roman clef is a biographical memorial to his late friend, cultural critic Alan Bloom. The names have been changed, but for those familiar with Bloom's work, these private details fill out the picture of a complex scholar full of curiosity and wisdom. For readers coming to this book as a novel on its own terms, it may seem like manipulative gossip. A masterly piece of writing that should make anyone who has ever spoken to Bellow nervous. (Reviewed Apr. 20) (224 pp.) By Ron Charles

9. BEOWULF by Seamus Heaney, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $25

(Last week 5, Weeks on list 8)

Like other great epics, Beowulf embodies a theme that transcends ethnic and geographical boundaries as the hero defeats monsters that are incarnations of moral depravity. This rousing new translation makes accessible to everyone the first supremely great poem to be written in the English language. Seamus Heaney's singularly handsome verse not only captures the somber grandeur and mythic vigor of the Anglo-Saxon original, but also reflects the English we speak today. (Reviewed Apr. 9) (213 pp.) By Colin Campbell

10. THE HEIR by Johanna Lindsey, William Morrow, $24

(Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

A sole heir of two grandfathers, the Scottish hero of this tale is surprised to find his future mapped by family promises. He breaks an engagment with the beautiful but malicious woman selected for him in favor of a Plain Jane with an unsuitable background. Their romance goes through classic misunderstandings. The characterizations in this historical romance are stereotypical, but the main players are appealing. The period context is weak and repetitious, but the Scottish voices are great fun. (384 pp.) By Martha Turner

11. ANIL'S GHOST by Michael Ondaatje, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

(Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

A forensic anthropologist returns home to investigate human rights atrocities on the war-torn island of Sri Lanka. Whom can she trust to help her? Laced through this gripping detective story are anecdotes from the characters' pasts, scenes from elsewhere on the island, and random acts of violence. The novel is at once gorgeous and ghastly. You'll have to remind yourself to keep breathing. Ondaatje is a master at portraying unconsummated desire - for love, truth, and peace. (Reviewed May 4) (320 pp.) By Ron Charles

12. BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON by Helen Fielding, Viking, $24.95 (Last week 9, Weeks on list 9)

The second foray into the dating wilderness of Bridget's life pokes fun at the absurdities and vulnerabilities of the thirtysomething Londoner as she embarks on a new relationship with the gallant Mark Darcy. When a tall lithe blonde attempts to snag Mark away, Bridget tries to perfect the complex art of attracting men while playing hard to get. It's the familiarity of Bridget's predicaments that makes her so endearing. We laugh, but not without a hint of self-knowledge. (Reviewed Mar. 9) (240 pp.) By Susan Llewelyn Leach

13. HORSE HEAVEN by Jane Smiley, Alfred A. Knopf, $26

(Last week 7, Weeks on list 4)

It's all about racing, but "Horse Heaven" conveys the sensation of time passing slowly as we meet a herd of loosely related characters who own, breed, and train horses. Smiley is good at describing the way people cling to painful relationships and unsatisfying jobs because they're anxious about change. But the plot of this long book rides off in all directions. Horse romantics may find the detail engaging, but others will look this gift horse in the mouth and see an old nag. (Reviewed Mar. 30) (576 pp.) By Ron Charles

14. THE PATIENT by Michael Palmer, Bantam Doubleday Dell, $24.95

(Last week 12, Weeks on list 4)

Lots of bodies but little suspense in this tepid thriller. Neurosurgeon Jessie Copeland finds herself the unwilling doctor of (who else?) an archcriminal so secret the CIA isn't sure he exists. Toss in nerve gas, experimental surgery, a hospital janitor in disguise (didn't Harrison Ford patent that in "The Fugitive"?), and lots of death - on and off the operating table. Palmer, a former doctor, clearly knows his way around a hospital. Unhappily, his knowledge of dialogue, pacing, and character is rather more sketchy. (304 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

15. CAROLINA MOON by Nora Roberts, Putnam, $24.95

(Last week 10, Weeks on list 8)

After surviving an abusive childhood and the brutal, unsolved murder of her dearest friend, solitary Tory Bodeen returns to her roots in South Carolina. She's determined to find solace from her "spells" of haunting memories. A romance blossoms between Bodeen and the murder victim's older brother. But Tory faces a new chilling horror: The killer is lurking nearby. Roberts is in her element, weaving murder mysteries with handsome heroes that reel in readers, but her writing lacks profundity. (438 pp.) By Stephanie Cook


*Denver Post; LA Times; Boston Globe; Dallas Morning News; San Francisco Chronicle; Plain Dealer; Washington Post; Business Week; Charlotte Observer; Buffalo News; New Yorker; Salon Magazine; USA Today

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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