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The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

Hardcover fiction

1. HANNIBAL, by Thomas Harris, Delacorte Press, $27.95 (Last week 1, Weeks on list 5) Harris's newest thriller features the darkly brilliant psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lechter, whose desire to consume his patient's cares earned him the moniker "Hannibal the Cannibal." It's delectable, but this excellently crafted and nuanced work is not for the faint of heart. Harris explores, with frightening deftness, the darker propensities of humanity - revenge, torture, mutilation, and violence. But in the end, this richly textured story is worthy of its discriminating protagonist.

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2. WHITE OLEANDER, by Janet Fitch, Little, Brown & Co., $24 (Last week 2, Weeks on list 10) Fitch's vivid first novel, recently chosen for Oprah's book club, comes complete with conniving characters and dramatic twists. The heroine of this strangely enticing story is 13-year-old Astrid, the daughter of a beautiful Hollywood poet in prison for poisoning one of her boyfriends. Struggling to construct her own sense of identity and morality, Astrid often acts out her dreams, not realizing their harmful outcome. The high level of romance and hope makes the book an engaging read.

3. GRANNY DAN, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte Press, $19.95 (Last week -, Weeks on list 6) Steel's writing dances and entrances in her latest book; but although living up to her reputation, it's romance lacks substance, leaving the reader uncommitted to its characters. Individually, each character is fascinating, but the romance lacks a genuine spark. Sickness is used repeatedly as a means to bring the couple together, wearing on the reader. Set against the backdrop of World War I Russia, the affair seems to feed off tragedy and illness, instead of thriving in spite of them.

4. MOTHER OF PEARL, by Melinda Hayes, Hyperion, $23.95 (Last week 3 Weeks on list 1) Melinda Haynes weaves the lives of a young black man and a teenaged white girl together in pre-civil rights era Mississippi. Both are poor and lacking parents. Both seek family and find it in different ways. Many other characters and issues such as race, rich versus poor, male/female relationships, and female/female relationships are brought in. Too many. The dialogue in the book is top-notch, totally believable. But the symbolism and poorly written similes and metaphors detract from the tale.

5. THE TESTAMENT, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95 (Last week 6, Weeks on list 23) After Troy Phelan throws himself from the 14th floor, the heirs of the world's 10th-richest man circle over his estate like vultures. Only one problem - the will. All the money is left to an unknown figure. Washington lawyer Nate O'Riley, who's lost just about everything to alcohol, travels the rain forests of Brazil to unravel the mystery of the missing heir and the tangles of his own tormented, faithless life. Grisham takes us through every emotion and around the world, but the book gradually loses its power.

6. THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON, by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster, $16.95 (Last week 5, Weeks on list 14) Being lost in the woods can scare the tar out of you. Just ask Trisha McFarland. The sweet nine-year-old gets separated from her family on a New England hiking trip. As she wanders and slips in and out of consciousness, the only thing that keeps her going is the vision of Tom Gordon, the Red Sox closer whom she idolizes. While King's writing is visceral - and at times gruesome - the story loses steam and could use more plot twists.

7. THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, by Melissa Bank, Viking, $23.95 (Last week 8 Weeks on list 7) With disarming and witty insight, Bank writes of a woman's coming of age in this remarkably honest debut novel. Seven short stories follow the fiery, misunderstood Jane from gawky adolescence to gawky adulthood. The often slapstick episodes of disoriention and discomfort hit with a hunter's precision, without wandering into flip territory. Bank laughs in the face of the self-doubt and wallflower awkwardness from the days of curfews and double-dates to mortgages and parenting.

8. MCNALLY'S DILEMMA, by Lawrence Sanders, Putnam, $24.95 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1) "McNally's Dilemma" has a dilemma, indeed. The book isn't actually written by Sanders, despite the publisher's effort to pawn it off as his book. (Sanders died last year.) If the reader can move beyond this deception, then McNally's latest (I doubt last) adventure is an entertaining read. This time the private investigator is uncovering the murder of a socialite in his Palm Beach town; soon he's tangled in a web of lies and blackmail. Written with gusto and wit by Vincent Lardo ... whoever he is.

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9. WE'LL MEET AGAIN, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $25 (Last week 7, Weeks on list 12) After six years in prison for murdering her husband, Connecticut socialite Molly Lasch still has no memory of what really happened that night. With help from an old schoolmate, now an investigative reporter, she is committed to learning the truth. It's Molly's friend who is first convinced of her innocence when she starts to investigate a string of suspicious deaths at the local hospital managed by an HMO that Molly's husband started. Clark has woven together a mystery that's fun to the end.

10. STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE, by Terry Brooks, Del Rey, $25 (Last week 10, Weeks on list 10) Brooks novelizes the movie script of Part 1 of the popular "Star Wars" series: a story of power struggles, epic space battles, and a young slave boy aspiring to become a Jedi knight. It takes about 100 pages for the narrative to stop sounding like a transcription and really take off. Several scenes aren't in the film, but this bonus material is the book's strength, especially the insights into Anakin (a.k.a. Darth Vader). The main weakness is that the special effects don't work as well in print.

11. TRUE AT FIRST LIGHT, by Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, $26 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1) On the heels of Ralph Ellison's posthumous novel, comes a creation exhumed from Hemingway's unpublished papers. In a brief introduction, son Patrick explains that he's "licked" the manuscript "into what I hope is not the worst of all possible shapes." So much for Papa's perfectionism. Presented as a "fictional memoir," the story records Hemingway's safari in Kenya with his fourth wife while dangerous rebels lurk in the darkness. Great authors take note: Burn your papers before you leave (see page 17). (

12. HAVANA BAY, by Martin Cruz Smith, Random House, $24.95 (Last week 13, Weeks on list 4) A body, presumed Russian, turns up in Havana Bay. Arkady Renko, a Russian cop and the George Smiley of Soviet police, flies in from Moscow to identify it. Two more murders, an attempted suicide, and much psychological violence later, readers sense that Cubans view their former Russian patrons as little more than targets. Not for the weak of stomach. The terminally seedy world of post-cold-war Havana is laid out, literally, on the autopsy table by Smith, author of "Gorky Park."

13. A VERY STRANGE TRIP, by L. Ron Hubbard, Bridge Publications, $25 (Last week -, Weeks on list 1) In this science-fiction novel based on an unpublished screenplay by the late founder of the Church of Scientology, time-travel pushes the light-action comedy from present-day to the Jurassic era and many periods in between. Although there are interesting portrayals of periods in American history, the book reads like a special effects blockbuster without the special effects. The novel is burdened with shallow characters, gratuitous sex scenes, and a simplistic plot. A very strange trip, indeed.

14. DANGEROUS KISS, by Jackie Collins, Simon & Schuster, $25 (Last week 14, Weeks on list 6) Collins's latest installment of the Lucky Santangelo chronicles gives lightweight romance a bad name. The Hollywood plot is so well hidden behind clichs that it's unfathomable. When Lucky's niece is kidnapped and her sister-in-law is murdered, the dangerous movie producer vows to exact her revenge. The shallow characters seem more like caricatures of celebrities than the dynamic individuals they're meant to represent. It's also a treasure trove of obscenities and sexual obsession.

15. LAKE NEWS, by Barbara Delinsky, Simon & Schuster, $24 (Last week 15, Weeks on list 3) Lily Blake has seen brighter days. A deceitful reporter has wrongfully accused the Boston singer of having an affair with a newly appointed Roman Catholic cardinal. Blake escapes from loud headlines, lost jobs, and finger-pointing by retreating to her lakeside hometown. There she meets John Kipling, a member of the paparazzi who has mended his yellow ways. But as Kipling strives to help Blake prove malicious libel and recover her good name, he falls for her. A tale that will satisfy romance fans.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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