The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers


1. THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON by Tom Clancy, Putnam, $28.95 (Last week 1, Weeks on list 1)

What happens when the world's most populous nation borders one with the world's largest undeveloped landmass? Might it be war? Tom Clancy has put together another of his incredible geopolitical thrillers. This time the US finds itself defending the declining Russian state against an expanding Chinese one. One flaw: Tom, it used to be a long kiss was hard to find in your novels. Do we need to know all the details that go on in the bedrooms of spies? Write for your readers, not movie directors. (1,028 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

2. OPEN HOUSE by Elizabeth Berg, Random House, $23.95 (Last week 3, Weeks on list 3)

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

3. WINTER SOLSTICE by Rosamunde Pilcher, St. Martin's, $27.95 (Last week 2, Weeks on list 5)

Fans of Rosamunde Pilcher will find her latest feel-good fiction true to form. "Winter Solstice" provides a warm interlude on the cold coast of Scotland. Five lost and lonely souls, marooned in a grand estate house by a blizzard, find one another and love. The plot is predictable, the scenery delectable, and the details are specific right down to labels on the clothes and food to pack for a picnic. Just in time for the Christmas Eve conclusion, all the loose ends are tied up like a perfect gift. A real tea-cosy tale. (464 pp.) By Ruth Wales

4. PURPLE CANE ROAD by James Lee Burke, Bantam, $24.95 (Last week 4, Weeks on list 5)

Detective Dave Robicheaux's conscience is making him help a Louisiana girl about to be executed for killing the man who molested her and her sister as children. In his attempt to make good on the past, Robicheaux trips over information linking the death of his mother to crooked cops involved with his young client. This is a book for insiders to Cajun color, cop lingo, and Robicheaux's history. If you haven't read him before, go to the beginning and catch up, or you'll be as lost as a Northerner on a backwater bayou. (352 pp.) By Anne Toevs

5. GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier, E.P. Dutton, $24.95 (Last week 9, Weeks on list 35)

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. FRIENDSHIP CAKE by Lynne Hinton, Harper, $20 (Last week 14, Weeks on list 9)

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 fundraiser, 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

7. HEARTSONG OF CHARGING ELK by James Welch, Doubleday, $24.95 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

As a young Sioux boy, Charging Elk saw the massacre of General Custer's forces at the Little Big Horn. Now, on a tour of Europe as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the 1890s, he's become stranded in Marseille, France. Desperate to find his way back to America, he encounters characters, circumstances, and choices that are challenging and sometimes harrowing. Like "Fools Crow," Welch's earlier novel, this work is more than a tale about a single native American. It reveals the human heart and spirit. (352 pp.) By Brad Knickerbocker

8. FAITH OF THE FALLEN by Terry Goodkind, Tor, $27.95 (Last week 5, Weeks on list 2)

The sixth in the "Sword of Truth" series follows hero Richard Cypher, the only wizard with the gumption to take on The Order, an evil collective bent on world domination. The story crawls up a dry, humorless mountain of dialogue and then makes a shambling, clumsy foray into anti-communism that makes Ayn Rand's prose seem like a gossamer thread of pure reason. Horrific scenes of sexual violence help build what may be one of the most remarkably bad pieces of literature in any genre. (512 pp.) By Jim Norton

9. NORA, NORA by Anne Rivers Siddons, HarperCollins, $25 (Last week 10, Weeks on list 7)

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

10. WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith, Random House, $24.95 (Last week 7, Weeks on list 19)

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, race, and a general sense of "other," Smith's prose tends to be too self-conscious. (448 pp.) By Elisabetta Coletti

11. JULIE AND ROMEO by Jeanne Ray, Harmony Books, $21 (Last week 14, Weeks on list 11)

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

12. THE RIVER KING by Alice Hoffman, Putnam, $23.95 (Last week 8, Weeks on list 7)

Hoffman's gothic romance about the snobby Haddan School is frontloaded with clever surprises, magical moments, and biting social criticism. Perhaps it's appropriate that a promising novel fixated on suicide takes its own life halfway through. Once a misfit student drowns and a hunky detective arrives to investigate, the novel dives in 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. (304 pp.) (Reviewed July 13) By Ron Charles

13. WILD JUSTICE by Phillip Margolin, HarperCollins, $26 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

Margolin has created a book as gory as the infamous horror film “Seven.” If you couldn’t sit through that one, picking up this slasher in hardback may be an impulse to resist. The story takes us into a world of insane medical doctors as it digs up a trail of organ donations and tortured bodies. The plot points its detective finger at Vincent, a drug-addicted, abusive doctor, but of course what first seems an obvious answer, never is. In the end, Margolin remains a trained surgeon of horror fiction. (384 pp.) By Christy Ellington

14. MORGAN’S RUN, by Colleen McCullough, Simon & Schuster, $28 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1)

This is a sweeping, richly detailed, thoroughly researched tale about the birth of Australia in the form of a convict colony. Richard Morgan, the hardworking son of a Bristol tavern-keeper, becomes an unwitting victim of the British penal system. He finds himself among the first British convicts sent to Australia, a harsh land with few comforts. There, this educated, thoughtful man finds the will to survive. In this novel, the author of “The Thorn Birds” opens the door on a country many know little about. (324 pp.) By Julie Finnin Day

15. ANIL’S GHOST, by Michael Ondaatje, Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (Last week 15, Weeks on list 19)

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.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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