1. A MAN IN FULL, by Tom Wolfe, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27.50
Wolfe's panoramic study of Atlanta - from the ghettos to the corporate palaces - suggests the fundamental issue in America is the relationship between whites and blacks. Filled with memorable characters of Dickensian proportions, the story ingeniously brings the paths of divergent players together while wrestling with the challenges that modern life presents. Only a writer who can handle wit and cynicism as deftly as Wolfe could pull off such a daringly moral novel. (Full review 11/12/98) (742 pp.) By Ron Charles
2. WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, by James Patterson, Little, Brown, & Co., $25
The bestselling author of suspense thrillers "Cat and Mouse" and "Kiss the Girls" has left the streets of Washington for the mountains of Colorado. In his newest adventure, a recently widowed young veterinarian crosses paths with a FBI agent who's working a case he's been told to leave alone. This story is about murder, betrayal, romance, and flying children - yes, flying children. While it's true that in today's world, genetic engineering is not so far-out, Patterson's novel is. (432 pp.) By Anne Toevs
3. THE PATH OF DAGGERS, by Robert Jordan, Tor Books, $27.95
"Path of Daggers," Book 8 in Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series, is a tiring, esoteric account of a medieval fantasy realm crawling with elves, wizardry, knights, and epic battles. It's all reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythological sagas. Jordan, however, is no Tolkien, whose mastery of old English gave his books a gospel sense of authenticity. The complex plot makes this a difficult series to enter late. (604 pp.) By John Christian Hoyle
4. THE VAMPIRE ARMAND, by Anne Rice, Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95
Get out the garlic. The latest entry in Rice's Vampire Chronicles traces the life of the vampire Armand (a recurring character from Rice's earlier works) from 14th- century Venice to present-day New Orleans, combining dark sensuality with breathless prose and an anemic plot. Readers who haven't read the previous books are likely to find it hard to follow the action. It may be past time to put a stake in this increasingly overwrought horror series. (384 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp
5. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, $27.50
Kingsolver's story rotates through a series of monologues by the wife and four daughters of a Baptist preacher who's determined to bring his version of salvation to the Congo in 1960. The Rev. Price fails to convert even one soul, but refuses to let his family leave. The daughters react in strikingly different ways, but Kingsolver's success at portraying them is uneven. Still, the strands of history and politics woven through will make for particularly good discussion. (Reviewed in this issue, Page 20.) (546 pp.) By Ron Charles
6. 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. (560 pp.) By Lane Hartill
7. MIRROR IMAGE, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte Press, $26.95
Olivia and Victoria are a pair of predictably lovely identical twins whose personalities couldn't be more dissimilar. One is headstrong, the other staid and dependable. Set in the early 20th century, their comfortable, upper-class lives are turned upside down when one gets involved with a philandering married man. Unfortunately, the jacket cover tells it all. The story is formulaic, sappy, and offers no surprises. (384 pp.) By Kristina Lanier
8. ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $17
Clark's latest effort is the perfect wintertime offering. It's as light and airy as the proverbial snowflake - and about as substantial. The story concerns a beautiful child given away by a stereotypically heartbroken young mother. Clark glides through this Christmas tale of a will gone mysteriously awry as easily as an ice skater skims across the pond. Although harmless, the story does little to draw readers into the characters' dilemmas. (160 pp.) By Julia A. Hansen
9. HAMMER OF EDEN, by Ken Follett, Crown Publishing, $25.95
The members of a commune in northern California, hidden away from society for years, discover their valley will be flooded by a new dam project. Their leader, a somewhat charming thug, devises a plan to save them by threatening the government with a man-made earthquake. His nemesis is a smart, attractive FBI agent who must overcome the obstacles set out for her by her boss, who hates her. Follett creates interesting characters, but you know how the story will conclude by the end of the first chapter. (416 pp.) By Tom Regan
10. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden, Alfred A. Knopf, $25
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. (416 pp.) By Kristina Lanier
11. 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. We've seen plague attempts and attacks on the protagonist's loved ones from Clancy before. When a terrorist is deliberately shot in the gut to cause slow death, you have to wonder who Clancy thinks the good guys really are. (800 pp.) By James Turner
12. 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. (Full review 10/8/98) (480 pp.) By Ron Charles
13. 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. (416 pp.) By Janet Moller
14. 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 Lamb's thoughtful, intelligent writing and the exploration of family and redemption. Contains much physical abuse, rape, and profanity. (Interview 7/23/98) (901 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp
15. THE HUNDRED DAYS, by Patrick O'Brian, W.W. Norton & Co., $24
In the reserved, distinctly British maritime vernacular of the early 1800s, the characters of this historical novel trade barbs, witticisms, and knowledge of the sea during their meanderings through the Mediterranean. "The Hundred Days" entertains with its dialogue between the sailors and those they encounter on their travels, but the seemingly random parade of battles and ports-of-call from Spain to modern-day Turkey and everywhere in between leaves one somewhat seasick. (288 pp.) By Carleton N. Cole
THE HANDY BUG ANSWER BOOK
By Gilbert Waldbauer
308 pp., $19.95
"Ewwwwww," my kid sister Amy used to squeal at the sight of a tiny roach scampering across the kitchen linoleum.
She was an older brother's dream: Dangle a worm and she'd run screaming to mother. Casually mention the bee in her hair (imaginary or not) and she'd metamorphose into a windmill, swatting assiduously.
After my boyhood run-ins with insects, I couldn't put down "The Handy Bug Answer Book" by Gilbert Waldbauer. It's made up entirely of questions and answers about every creeping thing that crawleth upon the earth - from aphids to yellow jackets. And it's also infested with neat, yucky pictures.
The book discusses the biology, functions, and behavior of insects in a conversational manner that will beguile young and old.
Best of all, it answers the most perplexing questions about bugs. For instance, why are dead insects almost always found lying on their backs?
Answer: "When an insect dies its legs curl up on its underside. The curled up legs are not a stable base, and consequently, the dead body rolls over onto its back, which is usually flat and is a stable base."
Another question that's kept me up at night: How do mosquitoes know what to bite? Answer: "If [an object] gives off heat ... she will land on it. If it also gives off carbon dioxide ... and if its smell and taste suit her, she will insert her piercing-sucking mouth parts and suck its blood."
I liked the book so much, I bought another one - Amy's Christmas present.
- John Christian Hoyle