by Walt Becker

Nothing missing here: This debut novel smoothly mixes Indiana Jones-style adventure with X-Files spookiness to create an irresistible sci-fi thriller.

In West Africa, paleoanthropologists Jack Austin and Samantha Colby unearth an artifact that explains why ancient cultures were able to build pyramids and chart the stars and why so many of them share similar legends. It's a history-making find—if the pair survive attacks by superstitious tribesmen, a greedy arms dealer and some centuries-old booby traps left by aliens to make their discovery public. Becker bogs down his dialogue with wordy scientific soliloquies. But Link's awe-inspiring premise—and the obvious research that went into it—make for a close encounter of a very cool kind. (Morrow, $25)

Bottom Line: Crichton-caliber fun

The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency
by Al Franken

If it is truly better to laugh than cry in the face of crisis, then America truly needs this witty send-up of Presidential politics by Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live writer who scored a hit with 1996's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot and Other Observations. This time, Franken chronicles his own fanciful bid for the White House in 2000, with hilarious spoofs of campaign ads, memos, news clips and the candidate's diary. Running a single-issue campaign based on opposition to cash-machine fees ("ATM=America's Terrible Menace" goes one slogan), the candidate hits a snag when he learns that New Hampshire has no more than five ATMs, but miraculously, he emerges triumphant—only to self-destruct in office. Merging Tip O'Neill's adage ("All politics is local") with the James Carville slogan ("It's the economy, stupid"), Franken concludes, "It's very simple. 'All politics are the local economy, stupid!' " Though the premise is stretched a bit thin over 289 pages, Franken proves again that he's one of our savviest satirists. (Delacorte, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Deserves your vote

by Sandra Bernhard

Could it be that Sandra Bernhard, queen of the perpetual sneer and sarcastic jab, has reformed? To judge by this collection of musings and poems, something (new motherhood, perhaps?) has caused the comedian to trade in her signature spitefulness for a calm and centered spirituality. The surprise here is how skillfully and sweetly she manages to weave her message of love, truth, patience and, yes, kindness, into a series of anecdotes—whose subjects range from a trip to Morocco to keeping watch over a sleeping lover—without sounding sappy. Even the comic bits about celebrities who ignore her (such as Streisand and Oprah) have been toned down. Where the old Bernhard would have torn into someone like Courtney Love for her perfect looks, here the new Sandra is a pussycat: "You know, Courtney, you may live to be a hundred, and never have a wrinkle.... But what plastic surgeon is going to sew up the wounds in your heart?" (Rob Weisbach/Morrow, $24)

Bottom Line: Bernhard buries her talons—and, for once, not in anyone's back

by Kenneth C. Davis

Move over, Cecil B. De Mille and The Prince of Egypt: When it comes to enlivening the Bible, Ken Davis is the real miracle man. In the latest of his Don't Know Much About books he again shows a knack for making esoteric ideas (like empty piety or original sin) understandable, with powerful results. In addition to clearing up several little mysteries—such as why the Hebrew and Christian bibles are arranged differently, or whether Jesus was born on Dec. 25 (he wasn't) and the real difference between a disciple and an apostle—the author throws in plenty of information about the discoveries of biblical scholars and about historical events taking place during the millennium it took to assemble the book we call the Bible. Davis makes clear that he has no religious agenda, and he never condescends. Reading him is like returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had. (Eagle Brook/Morrow, $25)

Bottom Line: Great look into the Good Book

by Bret Easton Ellis

Glamorama is a pretty funny 250-page novel that loosens its belt, puts up its feet and lingers for 482 pages, growing so violently nutty that you feel like tiptoeing away and hiding. Initially, the satire is clever, the observations wicked fun. Actor-model Victor Ward wafts through fashion-crazed downtown Manhattan as aimlessly as Ellis's plot, his brain a gossip-column dump of celebrity names and Top 40 song lyrics, his friends "debating the color yellow" and proving they have as much substance as their designer waters. At times the intentionally affected style veers from smart to smarmy, especially when Ellis (author of 1985's Less Than Zero) pays homage to himself by dropping in the names of his own real-life pals and of characters from his other novels, but it's hard not to chuckle at the trés Holly Golightly Victor—who, after pleading that "life is tacky," is told, "But you don't need to win first prize." Then people's limbs start getting blown off. Gears clanking, Ellis lurches into a ridiculous, gory and tiresome Euro-anarchist terror plot (Bret, hel-lo? You aren't John le Carré) as Victor is forced to plumb the depths of his own shallowness. (Knopf, $25)

Bottom Line: Promising satire becomes Gen-Xecrable

by Michael Connelly

Page-turner of the week

Days before Howard Elias's latest suit representing an alleged victim of police brutality goes to trial, the LAPD is dreading the battle against the charismatic African-American attorney. Then they're hit with an even more pressing problem: Elias's bullet-riddled body is discovered on a historic downtown railway.

Suddenly police brass finds itself under the gun to break the case before the racially volatile city explodes. However, since Elias has sued so many cops on behalf of his clients over the years, the call to head the investigation goes to a less than politically, optimal candidate—veteran homicide detective Harry Bosch.

As aficionados of Connelly's previous mysteries featuring Detective Bosch already know, he's a dogged, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kind of guy. His struggle here to get a grip on this slippery, potentially career-breaking case—while wrestling with personal problems, including a disintegrating marriage—makes for compelling reading, though not with quite the haunting power of the author's previous Blood Work or The Poet (both, as it happens, departures from the Bosch series). Although Angels rarely takes wing, it's still a flight well worth taking. (Little, Brown, $25)

Bottom Line: Classy L.A. cop-fidential

>ALL I NEED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED FROM ROMANCE NOVELS Victoria M. Johnson Finally, a self-help book that reveals how an ordinary person can achieve all the heat, passion and moral fervor of a dime-store novel. Really. (General Publishing Group, $12.95)

RAY CHARLES: MAN AND MUSIC Michael Lydon An exhaustively researched, movingly written biography of Brother Ray, the man Frank Sinatra once called "the only genius in our business." (Riverhead, $27.95)

BREASTS Meema Spadola Inspired by the 1996 Cinemax documentary of the same name, a collection of interviews with women on the physical and emotional significance of their most public private parts. (Wildcat Canyon, $13.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Sanz,
  • Thomas Fields-Meyer,
  • Victoria Balfour,
  • Amy Waldman,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Pam Lambert.