Top 10 most popular fiction books, spring 2011

Judith Stokes
Electronic Resources/
Serials Librarian and
Associate Professor

Continuing a series that began in 2008, Judith Stokes reviews selected books from Adams Library’s Browsing Collection. In April, she will look at the 10 books of fiction that have been borrowed most frequently (as of spring 2011). In May, she will comment on the 10 most popular nonfiction books, and in June, she will review 10 of her favorites.

We hope you will enjoy reading these informative descriptions, and perhaps some of these titles will find their way onto your personal reading list.

Top 10 most popular fiction books, spring 2011

1. “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown does it again. “Symbologist” Robert Langdon leaves home to help out some nice, brilliant, wealthy friends of his, and ends up being presented with mysterious symbols and historical arcana which he must decode to save himself and others. The city is Washington, D.C., the institution is the Masons, and the question is why the CIA is involved.

2. “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” written by Stieg Larsson and translated by Reg Keeland, is a suspense-filled mystery, the second in Larsson’s trilogy, "The Millennium Series." Expert hacker, Lisbeth Salander, returns to Stockholm after a long vacation, planning to avoid emotional ties (meaning especially her former lover, the famous investigative journalist, Michael Blomkvist), and to privately enjoy her new financial independence. Soon she finds herself wanted for murder, hiding from everyone, and meanwhile trying to solve the crime of which she is accused. Michael is shocked when details of her past are uncovered, but he is loyal, and the reader is hooked. This thriller is perhaps even more compelling than the first in the series, and looking ahead, the last one, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest” is the best of the three. If you have not succumbed to all the buzz about this trilogy by now, perhaps skipping right to the last one may be enough for you.

3. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett was one of our favorites, last year, for the way it offers up the gritty realities and the social humiliations that empowered segregation in the American South of the early 1960s. Stockett tells the story of three women in Jackson, Mississippi, with such extraordinary intimacy and intensity that the fate of these three keeps the reader in constant suspense, echoing the racial tensions of the time. An aspiring writer wants to write about the lives of black domestic help, the women who love and raise white children, to collect the good and the bad stories about how they are treated by the white women who depend on their labor. The act of telling true stories, down home in-the-home stories, even anonymously, is at once liberating and terrifying for everyone involved.

4. “Shanghai Girls: A Novel” by Lisa See begins with a pair of pampered sisters, fashion models in 1937 Shanghai, accustomed to the high life, and completely unprepared for a change of fortune. That their father actually has sold them into forced marriages, in order to satisfy his gambling debts, is too horrible for them to believe until gangsters actually arrive on the scene, prepared to enforce the bargain. Still attempting to flee that fate, they discover they have to flee the Japanese invasion first, and ultimately they arrive at notorious Angel Island, the San Francisco immigrant-internment center, with their best remaining hope of survival invested in the marriages they had hoped to evade. Life in Los Angeles is a whole new story of immigrant and discrimination issues, family troubles, sisterly loves and jealousies and then, somehow, a cliffhanger of an ending appears. It seems to fit the story, but uneasily. Will there be a sequel perhaps?

5. “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford is as bittersweet as promised, weaving a touching coming-of-age tale with a star-crossed romance. Behind the fiction is the real history of the venerable Panama Hotel that was so large and architecturally unique that it remained boarded up for decades after Seattle's substantial Japanese district was evacuated in 1942. The discovery, in a basement storage room, of the belongings that 37 interned Japanese American families had to leave behind inspired this moving look back at wartime America through the memories of a widower.

6. “Handle with Care” by Jodi Picoult is loaded with issues, as her novels always are. This one is about motherhood: from adoption to abortion, malpractice to “wrongful birth,” spontaneous mutation, osteogenesis imperfecta, family life with a severely handicapped child, truth, friendship, bulimia and baking pastry (recipes included). Interweaving the narratives of the major characters, Picoult will wring your heart, provoke your outrage, try your patience, and then do it all over again. And again.

7. “Caught” by Harlan Coben is a thriller full of plot twists and turns. It’s a quicker than quick read, and just when you think you know all, it will surprise you. The protagonist is a mom and a news reporter who has created a TV program, “Caught in the Act,” that has exposed dozens of pedophiles by working with police to set up sting operations. After social worker Dan Mercer is caught with incriminating evidence, it seems as though he must be guilty of more than molesting teenagers. If golden girl Haley McWaid was not lured away and killed by Mercer three months ago, what happened to her?

8. “The White Queen” by Philippa Gregory follows Elizabeth Woodville to the throne and after. Reputedly the most beautiful woman in England, able to stop Edward IV in his tracks just by her looks, this queen gives Gregory material for some deliciously romantic moments. But the War of the Roses means brutal battle scenes as well, and Elizabeth's sons by Edward were the Princes in the Tower we remember from Shakespeare's “Richard III.” Gregory does not make Richard a hunchback, but she does paint an ugly picture, filling in imaginatively whenever the facts are unknown.

9. “First Family” by David Baldacci is number four in his Michelle Maxwell and Sean King series. Michelle still has issues, the First Lady's niece has been kidnapped, and Sean and Michelle, former Secret Service agents, are the private investigators she chooses to call in to find the missing child. The FBI seethes, the Secret Service simmers, and the first family's flaws are rife. Meanwhile, Michelle's mother is murdered, and the suspense never lets up, cover to cover.

10. “Just Take My Heart” by Mary Higgins Clark is no romance. It is a heart-pounding suspense novel. The title references the heart transplant that saved the life of the beautiful young widow, Emily Wallace. Since her husband's death and her recuperation from heart surgery, the 32-year-old assistant prosecutor has thrown herself into her work. Rewarded with the prosecution of the headline-making murder case of a famous Broadway actress, she diligently works every angle, oblivious to the danger in her life.