Featured Stories

Booksellers offer their picks

'The Da Vinci Code'

by Dan Brown

Word of mouth has pushed this top-notch thriller onto best-seller lists throughout the country, and the word is right. The intelligent, deftly plotted story is the best that the thriller genre can offer.

If you take it to the beach, watch your sun block, because 'The Da Vinci Code' really is un-put-downable. The story follows the adventures of Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of religious symbolism. While visiting Paris, Langdon is taken by the police to the site of a grisly murder at the Louvre.

The murder victim left a series of clues that Langdon needs to unravel. It soon becomes clear that the police consider Langdon a suspect. He teams up with Sophie Neveu, the dead man's granddaughter and a professional cryptologist. The two escape from the police, and the plot moves into overdrive as they chase the clues and the police chase them.

Along the way there are encounters with a murderous albino monk, secret societies, mysterious Swiss banks and a whale of a conspiracy theory involving the Roman Catholic Church, the works of Leonardo da Vinci and the Knights Templar, to name a few.

'The Da Vinci Code' is chockablock with fascinating historical detail (the true meaning of the pentagram, for example) that doesn't slow the action but draws the reader into the story. The 'code' and all the clues are a true joy, giving this thriller the extra stuff that raises it above being just another spy and chase story.

$24.95; 400 pages; Doubleday Books

Kathi Kirby, purchasing manager at Powell's City of Books

'The Final Confessionof Mabel Stark'

by Robert Hough

If you ask a bookseller, 'What is your favorite book for summer reading?' invariably that bookseller will look at you and say, 'How much time do you have?' Summer is one of the seasons when publishers release a plethora of excellent literature.

That said, I whittled through many of the newest books and chose 'The Final Confession of Mabel Stark' by Robert Hough for my favorite summer reading choice.

In this fiction piece, Hough re-creates the life of Mabel Stark, who was one of the best tiger trainers to work the circus circuit in the early 20th century. Mabel is a fiery, sharp outlaw who married five men over a lifetime and couldn't give a hoot about what society expected of her as a woman.

The novel opens with an older Mabel, now working at an animal theme park and close to retiring. As she reflects upon her life, we are drawn to her and her many misadventures, from her time as a nurse to her stint in a mental institution and onward through her rowdy life with men and tigers. In the end, we have gotten to know an amazing woman who lived a wondrous life in the vibrant, magical world of the circus.

This is an inventive piece of fiction and an excellent summer read.

$24; 430 pages; Atlantic Monthly Press

Alissa Haslam, bookseller extraordinaire at Broadway Books

'Mortals'

by Norman Rush

If Iris Murdoch were more political, Graham Greene saucier, Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King obsessively in love and Alexander McCall Smith inclined to drop his heroine Mma Ramotswe into the pit of hell É and they all collaborated, you'd have writing with some of the riches and delights in Norman Rush's new novel, 'Mortals.'

The setting is turbulent Botswana in the 1990s. The triangle of main characters are Ray Finch, an American contract CIA agent with cover as an English professor; Iris, his beloved wife of 17 years; and Davis Morel, a black holistic physician. Morel's self-described mission is to 'lift the yoke of Christian belief from Africa.'

Iris seeks Morel's help for a medical problem and becomes attracted to him and his cause. She ardently wishes for a more ideal life of service to mankind, one without Ray's connections to the intelligence community.

Ray's double life, which has previously been satisfying, begins to haunt him and estrange him from Iris. He makes a significant misjudgment in his undercover work and heads out to the northern desert to make amends. There he joins forces with Morel, who he suspects has been having an affair with Iris, and comedy and mayhem ensue.

Ray is intelligent, sexy, funny and so irascible that he ranks with Henderson as one of the most memorable characters in modern American fiction.

This summer, while the children of the world are reading 1,000 pages of the new Harry Potter, adults can read their own substantial story of love and intrigue.

$26.95; 715 pages; Knopf

Pat Burns Balmer, bookseller at Annie Bloom's Books