5 The Historian
The Historian has the usual bestseller suspense, conspiracy and mysterious hints but with a twist. Instead of just riding the wave of Vampire popularity by creating sparkly and sexy bloodsuckers, this one goes back to the roots by researching (and writing about people who are researching) Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Rumor has it that he’s alive and kicking and in fact may secretly have been controlling events in Eastern Europe for the last six hundred years. We’ll grant you, the characters that aren’t gruesome and creepy are a little bit pretentious but there’s still enough action to make this a perfect airplane book. Assuming you’re not on your way to Transylvania.
The fact that this is the second in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance seems to imply that the series is here to stay. In case you haven’t read the first one we’re talking young adult fiction in the oft-seen dragon riders, elves, dwarves and warriors genre. We have the epic journeys, battles for honor, the call of duty and the fight between good and evil. There’s nothing particularly impressive about the writing here, unless you want to count that it was done by a 21 year old (he wrote the first book at age 15) in which case it’s actually pretty good. And the plot and characters are exactly what you would expect in straightforward epic fantasy but for this genre, that’s already a big compliment. Dragons, dwarves and elves go back thousands of years and to make a new story out of them is a challenge. There are plenty of writers out there who try too hard to put a new spin on it and end up weighing their characters down with magic that doesn’t make sense in the universe they’ve created, or half-baked religious philosophies. Paolini is no Tolkien but Eldest is pure and thoroughly enjoyable.
3 The Mermaid Chair
Like Sue Monk Kidd’s debut novel the Secret Life of Bees, which brought her to the bestseller list the first time, this novel is also an whimsical and poignant story of Southern life. It’s a novel of self-discovery which deals with a lot of the same themes as Kidd’s earlier non-fiction about spiritual journeys. Like in the Secret Life of Bees, the atmosphere is almost fairy-tale like and the symbolism is given free reign. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work as well here. In the Secret Life of Bees, the main character is still mostly a child and so the fairy-tale aspect is more believable. Here however, the heroine is a middle aged mother of a college-student married to a psychiatrist. Instead of the innocence of childhood we are asked to accept mysticism and whimsy from a sexually stifled adult. That makes the heavy handed symbolism a lot more apparent and a lot less forgivable. Nonetheless, the genre that Sue Monk Kidd writes is a small one (so small we’re not even sure what to call it) and so if that’s what you like, then this book is still a good read.
2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
In the second to last installment of the Harry Potter series, we start to see a lot of the loose ends being prepared for tying up and things start to get significantly darker. Already from book #4, the books have been longer and the plots have been more complicated and #6 takes a big step along that path. The books may have started out as a tale about a magical school boy but the world we’ve been introduced to is quickly turning into a war zone. Harry and his friends are older and act more teenage. Granted, Harry doesn’t seem to throw as many temper tantrums as he did in Order of the Phoenix but angst and sexual tension still abound. You may like this less than the earlier books or you may like it more but if you’ve gotten this far into the series it’s definitely worth finishing it up.
1 The Broker
This Grisham thriller is more political than legal. Our hero is a corrupt lobbyist who is caught trying to broker a deal for spy satellite software. The CIA gets the president to issue him a pardon and only later does he realizes that he’s being used as bait. The CIA knows that whoever created the software will want to shut down the broker and so in order to find out where the software is coming from, they’ll just need to watch him die. As far as Grisham goes, this isn’t one of the best and as political thrillers go it may not be one of the best either. But it sure is fun.
If you think that the newest James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks novels should have beat out Harry Potter here’s the chance to make your case!