1. HONEYMOON - James Patterson and Howard Roughan
Plot: After her second murder, black widow killer Nora Sinclair draws the attention of an FBI agent who tries to catch her by pretending to be a sympathetic insurance investigator. His investigation is compromised when he falls under her spell.
Gist: James Patterson has mastered the craft of today's bestsellers: short chapters, inventive plot twists, graphic sex, some bad language, and suspense. The characters are cartoonish and the plot is improbable, but fans keep coming back for more.
2. 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, while moving away from the legal thrillers that earned him fame, continues 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.
3. 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 (25 million copies to date) 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.
4. THE RISING - Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Plot: The Rising, the first of three prequels to the Left Behind series, introduces the back-story of several prominent characters from those books, most notably Nicholae Carpathia, who was conceived with bio-engineered sperm and raised to become the Antichrist.
Gist: Better-written and giving more attention to character development than the typical Left Behind book, this book will not disappoint readers of that series who want to know more about Carpathia and Rayford Steele.
5. 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.
In the spotlight
C.S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock that the antidote to becoming culture-bound is "to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books." In From the Library of C.S. Lewis (Waterbrook, 2004) James Stuart Bell pulls together excerpts from those "old books" that apparently helped Lewis break away from the Oxford orthodoxies of his age.
The excerpts are organized in topical chapters that range from "God's Love" to "Fantasy and Imagination." Some of the books that Lewis wrote about, or had in his library with comments scribbled in the margins, are familiar: Luther, Calvin, Chesterton, McDonald. Others are not: Austin Farrer and John Woolman. Those who have already read the "old books" will not need this volume, but those looking to wade before diving in, or requesting a guide, will not find a better one than Lewis.