The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers ; Hardcover Fiction

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1. THE FOURTH HAND, by John Irving, Random House, $26.95

Much of Irving's latest reads like a parody of misogynist preoccupations. Devastatingly good-looking Patrick Wallingford lost his hand to a lion during a TV interview in India. Now, he's looking for love in a world of tricky, manipulative women. He eventually meets Doris Clausen, who volunteers to give Patrick her husband's hand. Irving's satire of crass TV journalism is on target but sadly unoriginal. "The Fourth Hand" is sometimes grotesquely funny, but mostly just grotesque. (368 pp.) (See full review June 28) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Newsweek): unfavorable

Audio available

2. SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS, by James Patterson, Little Brown, $22.95

When Matt takes off, he leaves no explanation for his girlfriend Katie, other than the diary his wife, Suzanne, wrote for their son. Katie's reaction: What wife? Katie turns the pages, reading of Suzanne's love for her own boyfriend and tries to piece together the thoughts of the man who swore he adored her and her only. Even when dealing with the ins and outs of Suzanne's serious heart condition, the story is too full of puffy white clouds to be taken seriously, even for a romance novel. (320 pp.) By Christy Ellington

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable

Selected reviews (Newsweek): unfavorable

Audio available

3. BLUE DIARY, by Alice Hoffman, Putnam, $24.95

Ethan is a eugenic hero Hoffman creates by crossbreeding Superman, Jesus, and Brad Pitt. He's kind, dependable, and the most handsome man anyone has ever seen. He loves his beautiful wife. "Their union" - you guessed it! - "was a miracle." If only Ethan hadn't raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl. When his past catches up with him, he claims he's no longer that man. The side scenes are moving, but the main plot is clogged with corny, shallow writing. (336 pp.) (See full review Aug 2) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (Buffalo News): unfavorable

Audio available

4. CANE RIVER, by Lalita Tademy, Warner, $24.95

Tademy, a former Sun Microsystems VP, left her position to research her genealogy. The result is the story of four generations of women born into slavery in Louisiana. It is not entirely a work of fiction, as these characters are based on the author's own family history. At times, the the book reads like a historical romance, but Tademy was determined to bring the story of these women and their children to light. Correspondence and photographs provide additional touches of realism. (418 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (Chicago Tribune): favorable

Audio available

5. BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS, by Anne Tyler, Knopf, $25

Tyler fans will recognize all her familiar themes and characters. Beck Davitch can't fathom how she ended up the center of this needy family. All she has is a crumbling mansion her husband left and the care of his ancient uncle. Her grown daughters depend on her to keep the family ticking, and they treat her like a trusty old clock. Beck decides to search for her high school sweetheart, but finds she can't "return to that place where her life forked and choose the other branch". Charming. (256 pp.) (See full review May 3) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (St. …

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