The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers


1. THE RIVER KING by Alice Hoffman, Putnam, $23.95 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

Hoffman's gothic romance about the snobby Haddan School is frontloaded with clever surprises, magical moments, and biting social criticism. Perhaps in a story fixated on suicide, it's appropriate that this promising novel takes its own life halfway through. Once a misfit student drowns and a hunky detective arrives to investigate, the novel dives into the shallow waters of romantic comedy. A compelling story of teenage grief is overwhelmed by the kind of silliness that gives "women's fiction" a bad name. (Reviewed July 13) By Ron Charles

2. WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith, Random House, $24.95 (Last week 1, Weeks on list 13)

For this ambitious ode to multiculturalism, 24-year-old Smith has become the summer's literary wunderkind. Set in North London, the novel tracks war buddies Archie and Samad over nearly three decades - from Bangladesh to Jamaica, from Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls to mosques, from the brink of suicide to the elation of a new birth. Despite her laudable attempt to evoke the nuances of gender, class, religion, race, and a general sense of "other," her prose tends to be too self-conscious. (448 pp.) By Elisabetta Coletti

3. NORA, NORA by Anne Rivers Siddons, HarperCollins, $25 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

For Peyton McKenzie, joy is as rare as a rainbow in the Sahara. Living in a small Georgia town in the 1960s, the adolescent's primary source of happiness comes from a club called "Losers" - a place where members trade tales of humiliation and woe. When Peyton's cousin Nora arrives, she brings levity to a home darkened by the deaths of Peyton's mom and brother. But Nora's past escapades in Miami and Cuba clash with the Southern ways of a segregated town. A simple, melodramatic tale. (320 pp.) By Stephanie Cook

4. FRIENDSHIP CAKE by Lynne Hinton, Harper, $20 (Last week 11, Weeks on list 3)

A cupful of community, a helping of hope, and a dash of Southern inflection make this book a sweet story about the lives of five women in a small North Carolina town. Drawn together to compile a cookbook for a church fund-raiser, the disparate group is challenged by their differences and life choices. Each chapter is preceded by a recipe that reflects the personality of each character. The author, herself a pastor, has illuminated the values of belonging to a church and sustaining friendship. (176 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery

5. GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier, E.P. Dutton, $24.95 (Last week 14, Weeks on list 29)

This affecting story is told by Griet who finds work as a maid in the home of Johannes Vermeer. Like the 17th-century Dutch master, Griet is fascinated by the play of light and the suggestive power of details. Chevalier's quiet, sensitive story shares some of the striking qualities of Vermeer's paintings, but at times her style seems self-consciously rich. Her poor narrator sounds like she has a master's degree in creative writing. That aside, Chevalier re-creates daily life with stunning authenticity. (Reviewed Dec. 30) (240 pp.) By Ron Charles

6. OMERTA by Mario Puzo, Random House, $25.95 (Last week 5, Weeks on list 3)

Puzo makes an offer that one can refuse. The final installment of his Mafia trilogy ("The Godfather," "The Last Don") is about the crime of breaking omerta, the code of silence. Raymonde is an aging don who has raised his three almost squeaky-clean children and is also the guardian of the late Don Zeno's son. It's a conflict between a modern-day Mafia family and an ancient system of loyalty. The novel isn't as atmospheric as the "Godfather," but one redeeming element is its wicked playfulness. (316 pp.) By Suman Bandrapalli

7. ANIL'S GHOST by Michael Ondaatje, Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (Last week 3, Weeks on list 13)

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

8. HOT SIX by Janet Evanovich, St. Martin's, $24.95 (Last week 2, Weeks on list 5)

This latest installment in the Stephanie Plum series finds the bounty-hunting heroine tasked with the capture of her mentor and sometimes-romantic interest, "Ranger." Plum is, of course, reluctant to take the assignment. Complications continue as she begins to peel this onion of a case. The story is populated with colorful, albeit one-dimensional characters. Clearly written for humor more than intrigue, this is an entertaining light read. Too bad real bounty hunters aren't so likable. (320 pp.) By Phillipe Salazar

9. BEE SEASON by Myla Goldberg, Doubleday, $22.95 (Last week 4, Weeks on list 8)

Eliza is an unremarkable girl in a brilliant Jewish family. But she captures her father's attention by winning her way to the national spelling bee. The members of Eliza's family slowly spiral away from each other in increasing disconnect. As the Naumann family unravels, Goldberg's debut novel invites us to ponder language, religion, human connection, and the difficulties of adolescence. Her prose includes flashbacks and jumps between characters that propel the story along to its surprising climax. (274 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

10. THE HOUSE ON HOPE STREET by Danielle Steele, Delacorte, $23.95 (Last week 6, Weeks on list 3)

Grab a box of tissues if you read Steele's latest. While not all the characters are well developed, the storyline is thoroughly thought out and engaging. We follow the anguish of Liz Sutherland as she watches her husband die and her five children deal with the aftermath. Liz forces herself to attend to the unending duties of playing both mother and father, while she finds love and then loses it again. A sentimental book that nevertheless propels the reader through to the end. (240 pp.) By Rita Castillo

11. OPEN HOUSE by Elizabeth Berg, Random House, $23.95 (Last week 8, Weeks on list 2)

A short breezy read, perfect for an afternoon in the chaise lounge with a large ice tea! The story is a popular topic these days: A woman suddenly finds herself without a husband, and we watch her try to figure things out. The heroine of "Open House" does it in less than six months. If this were real life, she would be in the Guinness Book of World Records. Berg's use of imagery is good, and the story has some funny moments that culminate in an upbeat, though predictable, ending. (256 pp.) By Jan Moller

12. FIERCE INVALIDS HOME FROM HOT CLIMATES by Tom Robbins, Bantam, $27.50 (Last week 13, Weeks on list 5)

CIA operative Switters runs errands to the Peruvian Amazon for his grandmother, lusts after his adolescent half-sister, and teaches Internet skills in the Syrian desert to a former Matisse model now turned - what else? - a renegade nun. Robbins's writing blends a Rabelais taste for language with a Hunter Thompson taste for irreverence. Often inventive, sometimes earthy, his humor may be most enjoyable to the young and rebellious, or those children of the '60s wishing for a return trip. (415 pp.) By Tom Toth

13. JULIE AND ROMEO by Jeanne Ray, Harmony Books, $21

(Last week 10, Weeks on list 5)

It takes great wit and creativity to turn a centuries-old tragedy into such a captivating modern romance. Three generations of Rosemans have been feuding with the Cacciamani family over something that happened so long ago that no one remembers what it was. When fate brings together 60-year-old divorce Julie Roseman with 60-year-old widower Romeo Cacciamani, pure love has to face off with both clans ready for battle. This is a charming, smart love story with interesting characters and great laughs. (384 pp.) By Anne Toevs

14. JIM THE BOY by Tony Earley, Little Brown & Co., $23.95

(Last week 7, Weeks on list 6)

Earley's debut novel is the story of a 10-year-old boy in Aliceville, N.C. It's essentially the tale of how a moral person develops in the care of loving adults and a reminder of the wonder of life before hopes and fears are clearly demarcated, when everything is raw and dazzling. The genius of this novel is Earley's trust in the purity of his style and the plainness of his story. The melody here is so simple that a single wrong note would disrupt the whole tenor of the story like breaking glass. (Reviewed June 1) (227 pp.) By Ron Charles

15. BEOWULF by Seamus Heaney, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $25 (Last week 9, Weeks on list 22)

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. 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


*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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