December 29, 2003 12:00 PM

Harry Cast a New Spell

But Da Vinci was da rage and Moneyball hit a grand slam

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling

Harry is getting to be as stressed-out as any other teen, but what’s a boy wonder to do when he finds himself under the spell of a girl? His growth as a character is just one of many pleasing surprises in a book bustling with action, a seemingly limitless array of mystical characters and the looming evil of Lord Voldemort. Rowling, who is now richer than the Queen of England, is the reigning monarch of the book world.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Many a time-travel book has fallen apart trying to fill in the logical gaps, but maybe that’s because they went for slam-bang sci-fi. Niffenegger’s breezy charmer, though, will keep you smiling, because this is a love story through and through. The new twists are that the time traveler, a librarian named Henry DeTamble who keeps getting flung naked from one period to another, has no control over his next destination, and that being chronologically challenged causes serious problems in his long-running romance with his wife, Clare. Wisely, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston snapped up the film rights; here’s hoping they make the movie.

The Great Fire

by Shirley Hazzard

Love and war face off in Hazzard’s meticulous dissection of a British veteran’s move to postwar Japan, where he falls for the daughter of an Australian major. The country has been devastated by its folly, and so have Aldred Leith, the numb British ex-soldier, and Helen Driscoll, the teenager whose brother is dying. Hazzard won the National Book Award for the year’s best novel.

The Da Vinci Code

by Dan Brown

Leonardo knew about it. So did Walt Disney. It’s the secret about Christ that Brown says the Vatican has tried to bury for almost 2,000 years, and for 4 million breathless readers following a delectable trail of clues from the Louvre to Scotland, from the Holy Grail to Sleeping Beauty, this is the page-turner of the year, if not of A.D.

Moneyball

by Michael Lewis

The story of how iconoclastic Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane ignored a hundred years of baseball expertise to put together a first-place team with less than a third of the budget of the New York Yankees is already legendary. The best book of the year, it already feels like the most influential book on sports ever written. If you’re a baseball fan, Moneyball is a must.

The Known World

by Edward P. Jones

A shattering and morally complex historical novel, The Known World transports readers back to the world of antebellum slavery in Virginia. Jones examines the horror from an unsettling angle: that of Henry Townsend, a black man born a slave who winds up owning slaves himself.

Random Family

by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

LeBlanc spent more than 10 years finding out what life is like among the urban poor. In following two Bronx teens and their extended families, whose lives decay into a haze of drugs, public-assistance agencies and prison, LeBlanc doesn’t spare us the bitter truths. Doing something about the inner city starts with understanding.

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

by Robert Dallek

Many a JFK biography has come and gone, but what makes Dallek’s work stand out is his voluminous research into the President’s previously much-whispered-about medical problems. Dallek, making public for the first time the files held by Kennedy’s personal physician, reveals the details about the battles with life-threatening colitis, for which he was prescribed steroids, plus Addison’s disease and prostatitis. Dallek is a respectful biographer who argues that Kennedy would not have pursued his Vietnam policy into disaster, but there is also plenty of new information about JFK’s compulsive womanizing, including the details of the President’s affair with a 19-year-old White House intern. Dallek didn’t identify her, but the woman, Marion Fahnestock, later stepped forward to confirm the relationship.

Mr. Timothy

by Louis Bayard

Thanks to a little boost from old Uncle N—that would be Ebenezer Scrooge—Tiny Tim is all grown up, though unsettled by memories of his dead father, Bob Cratchit, and the brutal slayings of two London girls. The fun begins when Timothy turns detective to solve the crime. In scope, in setting and in heart, Bayard proves to be a worthy successor to Charles Dickens.

Train

by Peter Dexter

Train is the nickname for golf caddy Lionel Walk, but it’s the taut language that has the force of a locomotive in Dexter’s noir. It’s Los Angeles 1953, and Train, who is black, is carrying clubs for white golfers who aren’t fit to replace his divots. A police sergeant and duffer named Miller Packard recognizes Train’s talents, but both men are heading into the rough: Train loses his job and Packard gets involved with a beautiful widow whose husband has been murdered in an attempted yacht hijacking. Train is grim, hard-boiled stuff, with a wicked sense of humor.

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