While we just aren’t in love with the Twilight saga in the same way we adore the other four books on this year’s list, Eclipse made it high enough onto all the bestseller lists that it just can’t be ignored. If you’re into angsty teenage mooning then this book’s for you. And that’s probably the best we can say about it. With the exception of one good action scene at the end the plot is slow. More of a turn off than the slow plot however is the self-absorbed “romance” which seems to imply that if a guy threatens to suicide if you turn him down then you know him must really be in love. Don’t try this at home kids.
4 The Children of Hurin
If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies then you know that they take place in a beautifully well-developed universe with impressive back story. But unless you’re truly geeky, you may not have realized how far the back story really goes. Besides The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien also published the Silmarillion, a book that reads almost as a biblical narrative as it follows the generations of humans and elves settling Middle Earth and setting the stage for the war of the rings. In that book, the stories of Hurin and his son Turin are briefly mentioned. This is their story. Although Tolkien didn’t get the chance to complete it before his death in 1973, his son Christopher Tolkien was able to edit the existing manuscripts into one book whose officially title is Narn I Chin Hurin (that’s Tolkien Elvish for those of you who haven’t been keeping up). Even Tolkien neophytes will enjoy this epic saga which is simply a better story than the Silmarillion, which is more of a history book. But the readers who will get the most out of Narn I Chin Hurin will be the Tolkien devotees who will recognize their own haunting grounds and will probably be able to pronounce the title in Elvish.
3 The Yiddish Policeman’s Union
Take the classic cynical drunk-detective type and put him into an alternate universe where the State of Israel collapsed at birth and the Jewish population of Europe that remained alive after WWII was given temporary autonomy in the frozen Alaskan panhandle. Now, the Sitka district is set to revert back to Alaskan control and the Jews are expected to scramble to make new arrangements for themselves. But drunk, lonely Detective Meyer Landsman just can’t seem to stop investigating his final murder case and as he does so he starts to discover that it may lead him far deeper into the politics and scarred dreams of Sitka than he ever meant to go. The author, Michael Chabon, captures an entirely new voice in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union than he has in earlier books. His sentences become the brisk and cynical self-referencing comments of film noire as opposed to the intricately crafted rambles of his earlier works. So while he invokes the feeling of a mystery novel, he also brings things much closer to home. His alternative history of WWII, the United States and the Middle East is almost more believable than the truth and he follows it to a terrifyingly believable conclusion.
2 A Thousand Splendid Suns
This is Husseini’s second novel about life in Afghanistan to make the bestseller charts and the more mature of the two with a more natural flow. While it still has a few soap-opera tendencies, Husseini has sensationalized less in this book instead choosing to use stories straight out of Kabul headlines. So while both books were pictures of life in Afghanistan during times of political turmoil, A Thousand Splendid Suns seems more to be a story of Afghanistan itself while The Kite Runner is more about an individual’s personal redemption. While that may sound like it would be harder to relate to, the women here are actually much easier to sympathize with. Of course they’re flawed people but they really are doing the best they can with what they’re given and you begin to feel proud of their choices even as you grieve for them.
1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Did you really think that the final Harry Potter book wasn’t going to top any list of bestsellers? In the seventh volume all of the strands are finally woven together and most mysteries are solved. Certain patterns continue to hold true. Like the last three, this book is clumsier than the earliest and significantly darker. It’s filled with imagery straight from the Nazi Holocaust (it stops just short of getting THAT dark) and at least ten characters we are acquainted with are killed with the implication that a hundred others may have died as well. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is depressing and upsetting but is just what it should be: An epic ending to a rising battle between good and evil. In a stroke of mercy with those of us who just wouldn’t have been able to stand not knowing, J.K. Rowling also includes a “19 years later” epilogue. It may be a bit too neat and almost saccharine but it answers all of our hopes and is just what we all wanted.
Look at that! A year when neither John Grisham nor Tom Clancy made our top five! Think that’s because we missed something? Let us know here.