1. THE DA VINCI CODE - Dan Brown
Plot: A curator at the Louvre is murdered, but before he dies leaves clues that send his granddaughter (a police cryptologist) and his colleague (a Harvard professor) on a search for the killer.
Gist: This goddess-worshipping conspiracy tale continues to sell its weird theories of biblical interpretation and a profane premise: that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a daughter. Many new books expose this as nonsense.
2. THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN - Mitch Albom
Plot: An old man dies and in heaven meets five people whose lives were intertwined with his.
Gist: The bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie has a knack for description, but his fable about what happens after death flows poorly and drips with clichés. Aphorisms like "in heaven you get to make sense of your yesterdays" compete with Jonathan Livingston Seagull's wisdom.
3. THE BROKER - John Grisham
Plot: A convicted Washington, D.C., power broker gets a presidential pardon and a new identity in Italy, then discovers he's being used as bait to lure international bad guys who want him dead.
Gist: Mr. Grisham is moving away from legal thrillers but continuing to write clean novels that entertain. This espionage thriller set in Italy allows him to combine leisurely travelogue, action, and an exploration of themes like family reconciliation and the nature of success.
4. STATE OF FEAR - Michael Crichton
Plot: Greedy environmentalists distort the evidence to push their global-warming theory and kill people who get in the way.
Gist: One cheer for a politically incorrect book that fights the conventional wisdom of global warming pushed by what Mr. Crighton calls the "politico-legal-media complex." But this book would be warmer if it did not have one-dimensional characters and gratuitous foul words and sex scenes.
5. CHAINFIRE - Terry Goodkind
Plot: In the ninth book of a "Sword of Truth" fantasy series, some characters spend 672 pages looking for other characters, giving speeches, and using or abusing Subtractive Magic.
Gist: Those who dive into the series at this point are likely to be utterly lost and undesirous of being found. The philosophy of the series is vaguely Ayn Randian, and the style includes larger-than-life characters who practice rhetorical overkill.
In the spotlight
Bible Wars, Episode 3, opens this week at a bookstore near you, as Zondervan's degenderized Today's New International Version hits the shelves. In Episode 1 (1997), the Zondervan empire tried to sneak past theological guards a revision of the popular NIV, but the outcry forced Zondervan into retreat and a promise to leave the NIV alone. In Episode 2 (2002), Zondervan did what it had planned to do with the NIV New Testament but called it the TNIV New Testament. For the new episode, Zondervan has produced its version of the whole Bible and is spending millions on marketing.
The big company, a unit of the bigger HarperCollins, which in turn is a unit of the Rupert Murdoch empire, can obviously outgun the TNIV critics. But this rebel alliance has on its side the best book on the issue, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (Broadman & Holman, 2004). Seminary professors Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem critique the TNIV, list 900 examples of TNIV New Testament translation inaccuracies, and explain why "gender-neutral" Bible translations have become trendy. If you want to understand past and present controversies, this is the book to get.