PLOT Susie Salmon, 14, is murdered. From "heaven" she watches the effects of her murder on family and friends.
GIST Heaven in this novel has no God, but is a place where what you want, you get. Susie experiences vicariously through her sister the milestones of growing up. Eventually she sees her friends and family rebuild lives shattered by grief.
CAUTION Language, violence, and sexual situations; graphic opening chapters.
PLOT Jack Mullen, a law student at Columbia, is convinced his 19-year-old brother was murdered. The police won't hunt the bad guys, so Jack must.
GIST Short chapters, outrageous plot, sleaze, and non-stop action make this a sure-fire summer bestseller. Turns out that little brother led a nasty life ("but he never hurt anyone") and Hamptons multimillionaires killed him to keep their secrets safe.
CAUTION Language and sexual content.
PLOT Book 10 in the Left Behind series finds the characters one month into the Great Tribulation and fighting against Nicolae Carpathia.
GIST Something about the name Nicolae Carpathia is so ridiculous: It brings to mind a campy vampire saying, "I vant to suck your blood." These books are spiritually encouraging to many. But they are so badly written, it's embarrassing to place them next to a theologically silly but deftly written book like The Lovely Bones.
PLOT When his judge father dies, Talcott Garland, a black conservative law professor at an Ivy League University, uncovers corruption in high places.
GIST It's refreshing to read a thriller where conservatives are smart and the author is sympathetic to the pro-life side of an argument. Stephen Carter, a real-life professor of law at an Ivy League university, opens up the worlds of politics, academia, and the law while writing an engaging thriller.
PLOT An NYU student becomes a nanny for a Park Avenue couple.
GIST Written by two ex-nannies, this funny novel skewers the lifestyle of wealthy parents who have children and don't know what to do with them. Mr. and Mrs. X hire Nanny, who fills in for mommy everywhere, even at "Mommy and Me" class. Despite ever-increasing demands, Nanny can't quit; who will hug the 4-year-old boy if she does?
CAUTION Language and sex.
A story in Publishers Weekly about the success of No. 1 The Lovely Bones, written by first-time novelist Alice Sebold and published by Little, Brown, shows how publishers, book outlets, and reviewers all play a role in a book's success. Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch told Publisher's Weekly that watching The Lovely Bones reach Oprah status without Oprah has given him a sense of the power of "the bookselling, publishing and reviewing community in this country."
The book was No. 1 at Amazon.com six weeks before it was published, due in part to an appearance by Anna Quindlen on Today in which she said, "If you read one book this summer, it should be The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold." That was followed by positive reviews in Time and The New York Times, and on CBS Sunday Morning; Seventeen serialized the book. Now with 925,000 copies in print after 11 printings, Publishers Weekly says the book "has outpaced the sales of any other first novel in memory." The Lovely Bones evidently satisfies a certain theological craving among the smart set for a me-centered heaven. Which makes it all the more impressive that the Left Behind books have achieved their success without the benefit of support by the prestigious reviewers.
Scoring system: 10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for tenth, on the lists of the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), Publisher's Weekly (General bookstores), and the Los Angeles Times (Bookstores in southern California).