5 The Notebook
Despite the fact that this is Nicholas Sparks with no unusual twist, we’re leaving it on the list because we believe that the fans of clichéd-romantic-tearjerkers deserve something from their genre in 2004 as well as any other year and this one has come to typify the genre, particularly in its movie incarnation. Noah and Allie are from two different sides of the tracks but spend wonderful summer falling in love only to be separated for the next fourteen years. When they next see each other, we are left to wonder if Allie will choose to stay with her rich, respectable fiancée or abandon him for passionate Noah. Don’t worry, no spoilers.
4 The Rule of Four
Depending on who you ask to summarize this book, it could be a mystery thriller, a friendship and coming of age story, or a book of riddles more obscure than those to be found in the Da Vinci code (with which it is frequently compared). It tells the story of four college students, at least a few of whom have an obsession with an ancient manuscript and the secrets it contains. Then throw in passionate rivalries, a campus murder and typical relationship troubles and you’ve got plenty of bang for your buck. In fact, sometimes you may just wish that the authors (best friends since they were eight) would just calm down a bit as they seem to get a little bit overexcited and their characters can get lost in florid phrasing.
3 The Last Juror
Of course we can’t have a year go by with John Grisham making the bestseller list. This one fills all the requirements to make it one of Grisham’s usual legal thrillers but it brings with it a lot more humanity that is usually found in thrillers. Don’t get us wrong, there are still multiple murders, an explosion and plenty of courtroom drama. But they are narrated by a character who actually grows as a person and the story takes place in a town with some real personality. Grisham’s style has clearly grown from his recent forays into different genres and we’re happy to see that he populated this novel with people who we can actually like.
2 Angels and Demons
Even though this was actually published a few years before the Da Vinci code, it didn’t really take off until after the Da Vinci code dominated bestseller lists in 2003. When the Illuminati murder a scientist at CERN and take off with a container of highly dangerous material, who are you going to call? Swiss Law Enforcement?Interpol?Ghostbusters? No, apparently the first person to call is a professor of religious iconology. And so Robert Langdon embarks on his quest to follow clues hidden in various works of art in order to solve the conspiratorial mystery, catch the bad guys and save the world. All with a brilliant hottie by his side. The beauty of this series of books is that while you get to solve some of the puzzles along with Langdon, mostly you just get to be there for the ride. The suspense isn’t quite creepy enough to turnoff people who don’t normally like the genre, so they’re a good way to stick your toe in the waters of popular action novels.
1 The Secret Life of Bees
Although not defined as such, The Secret Life of Bees is an almost-fantasy about racial tension in South Carolina in the 60s. The main character, Lily, runs away from her abusive father and follows clues among her late mother’s belongings that take her to a pink house inhabited by three sisters who take her in. Don’t expect this to be a treatise on the history of the civil rights movement because you’ll be very disappointed. Instead, the focus is on Lily’s search for a mother figure. While the metaphors are a bit heavy-handed and many characters are just a bit too eccentric to be believable, you’ll be willing to forgive it because it reads like a fairytale: full of color and strange near-magical rituals.
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