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The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Fiction

1. THE PARTNER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95

John Grisham's latest involves a young law partner who fakes his death in a car crash, then absconds with $90 million from his firm. This thriller-cum-morality-tale has the hard edge of a Raymond Chandler; the brilliant legal maneuvering of an Earle Stanley Gardner; the surprise ending of an O. Henry or an Agatha Christie. People pay for their deeds, and friendship counts for something. Fans and new readers won't be disappointed. By Lawrence J. Goodrich

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2. 3001: THE FINAL ODYSSEY, by Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, $25

Arthur Clarke, astronomer and physicist as well as science fiction grand-master, concludes one of the landmarks of science fiction literature with his third sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey." The series continues 1,000 years later with the reappearance of 2001 astronaut Frank Poole. Clarke's tale is less a final chapter than a futuristic vision of society - including education, entertainment, and theology in the fourth millennium. By Leigh Montgomery

3. EVENING CLASS, by Maeve Binchy, Delacorte, $24.95

Irish writer Maeve Binchy's latest book is peopled with her usual engaging characters. A bit lighter than some of her previous novels, including "Circle of Friends" and "The Glass Lake," it tells the story of a group of Dubliners who are all linked by a night class in Italian, and, they discover, in other ways as well. Keeping the various students, teachers, relatives, and lovers in order can be a task at times, but Binchy delivers a good read just the same. By Kim Campbell

4. A THIN DARK LINE, by Tami Hoag, Bantam, $22.95

Here's Tami Hoag's recipe for a jambalaya thriller set in Cajun country: a freed killer (because of inadmissible though compelling evidence); a detective with a dubious past; and a determined female deputy. Cook on lukewarm for 496 pages. Stir plot every hundred pages or so with the "thin line" that separates obsession and attraction, law and justice. Mildly engaging, but for first-time readers this is not the best introduction to Hoag. By Suman Bandrapalli

5. THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner, $16.95

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"The Notebook" proves that good things come in small packages. It is all that "Love Story" wasn't. Sparks has a winning combination of style and story. It's a classic tale of love found, lost, and regained that maintains respect for the characters. Poetry and metaphoric description course through the book like the creek that runs alongside the couple's house. Prediction: It will be on this list for months, not weeks. By Janet Moller

6. TOTAL CONTROL, by David Baldacci, Warner, $25

This thriller combines blackmail and murder with high finance and hi-technology to manipulate the federal reserve and control the Internet. Fast-paced and engaging, particularly when explaining the business practices and computers used in the skulduggery. But while Baldacci asks intriguing questions about money and information, his concluding chapters unfortunately slip too close to predictability. Be prepared for some violent kill scenes. By Terry Theiss

7. CHROMOSOME 6, by Robin Cook, Putnam, $24.95

Again we find the New York Medical Examiners team of Laurie Montgomery and Jack Stapleton in trouble with the N.Y. mob. Only this time the inquisitive examiners have themselves flying to a remote African jungle to solve the puzzle. The plot is a conglomerate of other bestsellers: "Jurassic Park" and "Almost Adam." It's too bad Cook can't apply his easy-read style to an original plot of his own. By Janet Moller

8. SANCTUARY, by Nora Roberts, Putnam, $23.95

This novel from the romance/mystery writer Nora Roberts basically takes her last book about forced homecomings and unexpected love and moves it from a Montana ranch to a Georgia island. Unfortunately it does not work as well the second time. There is still solid writing and pacing and insights into relationships among women. The mystery involving a rapist-murderer has some unpleasantly sharp edges. Several explicit sex scenes. By Terri Theiss

9. SOLE SURVIVOR, by Dean Koontz, Knopf, $2

If only thriller writers would stick to writing thrillers. Unfortunately, Dean Koontz wanders off into new age fog about the after-life, ruining an otherwise gripping tale about an ex-reporter who loses his wife and two children in a plane crash. He discovers that there might have been a government plot behind the plane's destruction. It centers around a woman named Rose, who claims to be the sole survivor of the fatal flight. Much violence and profanity. By Tom Regan

10. HORNET'S NEST, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95

A bisexual, psychopathic killer is sexually abusing then murdering businessmen in downtown Charlotte, N.C. He lives in a van and drives around all day and night with a prostitute who is a version of a Charles Manson groupie. No one on the police force can figure it out. No one in Charlotte can figure it out. A young police-reporter stumbles into the murderer. Nitty gritty police work, especially by women officers, is the

11. THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Viking, $23.95

This is a straightforwardly written account of a bizarre misfortune that spawns countless complications. A mother of three, decides to take her children along with her for a short trip to her 15th high school reunion. Carrying her infant daughter as she registers at the front desk of a hotel filled with her former classmates, she tells seven-year-old Vincent to look after three-year-old Ben. Ben disappears. A realistic portrait of one family's crisis. By Merle Rubin

12. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, by James Redfield, Warner, $17.95

Well-intended but poorly written, the plot is a cross between "Indiana Jones" and a self-help book. The hero is on a quest for a recently discovered Peruvian manuscript that details the progress of spirituality at the end of the 20th century. At different stages of the journey, he and his fellow searchers discover spiritual "insights," nine in total. The book is awash in such clichs as the need to "become conscious of the coincidences in our lives." By Yvonne Zipp

13. AIRFRAME, by Michael Crichton, Knopf, $26

Crichton couldn't have picked a better - or worse - time to write a thriller about an airline accident and how television covers it. An international flight has a few moments of terror 35,000 feet in the air over California. Three people die and several others are injured. An attractive, made-for-the-movies heroine figures out what happened. Coming on the heels of the ValuJet and TWA tragedies, it's a bit macabre with a message: Re-regulate the air industry. By Faye Bowers

14. RAGE OF A DEMON KING, by Raymond E. Feist, Avon Books, $24

The third volume in the Serpentwar Saga continues with soldier Erik von Darkmoor and his comrade, the merchant prince Roo Avery, defending the kingdom of Midkemia against an invasion by demons from another world. The medieval fantasy-epic of war, valor, and sorcery is quite dramatic and action packed, with pitched battles against giant serpents. A decidedly specialized read and anyone other than a Feist enthusiast may find it less than engaging. By Leigh Montgomery

15. ACTS OF LOVE, by Judith Michael, Crown, $24

This romance novel involves a theater director and a once-famous, now-reclusive actress. It thoughtfully considers individual identity and the healing power of love present in deep friendships. Much of the dialogue comes from letters between two female characters. It also considers the lessons that result from affairs. The action is predictable and is more pleasant than thrilling. There are a few brief sensual scenes that do not detract from the overall tone. By Terry Theiss

Monitor's Pick


By Fred Rogers Penguin Books 185 pp., $9.95

During nearly three decades as America's "television neighbor," Fred Rogers has won the hearts of children and parents everywhere. His calm manner and gentle smile invite intimacy and encourage dialogue.

Many viewers - small or tall - find themselves longing to move into "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." In the end, they settle for writing letters to him asking advice, sharing worries or good news, and simply being friends.

"Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?" is a collection of these letters culled from decades of correspondence. Rogers takes pride in answering every one that arrives at his office, and the book includes many of his replies.

For most children, the magic of television is a source of constant confusion, and this shows up in the letters. "I wish you accidentally stepped out of the tv into my house so that I could play with you," writes five-year-old Danny.

This short book is a testament to the power Fred Rogers has to connect with children. He obviously sparks their imaginations and gives them the freedom to wonder and ask.

Every one of these letters comes from a deep yearning to spend more time with a trusted friend. Four-year-old Amanda comes right out and says it when she writes: "Please come for dinner. I will cook. Thank you."

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