Hot Books I – 2010

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 2010). In May, she will comment on the 10 most popular nonfiction books, and in June, she will review 10 of her favorites. Perhaps among these selections, you will find some to put on your personal reading list.

Top 10 most popular fiction books in the Browsing Collection, spring 2010

1. “Change of Heart” by Jodi Picoult is loaded with issues, as her novels always are. This one involves the death penalty, restorative justice, organ transplantation, prison life, religion, and miracles, and several minor issues, as well. Picoult’s fans will be delighted, and she does bring it all together, even the miracles. Moving the story by interweaving the narratives of several major characters does not always work well, because the characterization is weak, but the suspense is so strong that many readers will not even notice.

2. “Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana” by Anne Rice is her second novel imagining the life of Jesus. Opening with awkward scenes in his life as a mature, but unmarried, carpenter in a family intensely aware of the signs and prophesies of his youth heightens the drama in scenes that follow. Rice calls Jesus “Yeshua,” in a bow to Hebrew pronunciation, but since other names are not similarly rendered, it sounds odd read aloud, e.g., “Yeshua bar Joseph.” Her daring use of first-person narrative, however, lends an intimacy and excitement to familiar scenes from the New Testament.

3. “Chasing Harry Winston” by Lauren Weisberger surprised some “The Devil Wears Prada” fans with this “Sex and the City”-ish story. Three Manhattan girlfriends, approaching 30, take stock of their lives. Only Leigh is on track for a Harry Winston diamond from the perfect boyfriend, having already landed her perfect job. The other two challenge one another to change their lives. Promiscuous Ariana resolves to land the wealthy, successful, older man who will enjoy indulging her expensive taste and settle down, while monogamous homebody Emmy considers a job that will require lots of travel, meeting lots of men.

4. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson and translated by Reg Keeland is a suspense-filled thriller, the first in Larsson’s trilogy, "The Millennium-Series." Lisbeth Salander, autistic hacker girl of the eponymous tattoo, meets crusading investigative journalist, Michael Blomkvist, and helps him solve a mystery. Meanwhile, Michael’s partners in the magazine he publishes are struggling to keep the business afloat while under covert attacks from the powerful international financier whose criminal activities they had attempted to expose. Two intriguing personalities bring very different skills, and also different experiences of power, morality, and justice to the struggle.

5. “Where Are You Now: A Novel” by Mary Higgins Clark is a suspenseful crime novel in which a young Manhattan lawyer takes it upon herself to try to find her brother, who has been missing for ten years, only to discover he is suspected of being a serial killer. Plagued by the police and the media, who assume she has found her brother and is protecting him, she connects with her brother's 10-years-ago best friend. It turns out that he owns the nightclub where the latest victim was last seen (most conspicuously, at his table), so they join forces and try to identify the real killer.

6. “The Senator’s Wife” by Sue Miller explores the depths of two marriages at opposite ends of life. A young couple moves in next door to a retired senator’s wife. When the young woman finds herself pregnant, she has to deal with memories of her own neglected childhood, as well as her concerns about how her marriage and her self-image will be changed. When the famous elderly senator is suddenly taken ill his wife throws herself into caring for him during the emergency. Reflecting on painful years of “staying together” because of his career, while actually living apart because of his habitual philandering, the senator’s wife takes on his long-term care, with some help from her neighbor.

7. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is the “Reading Across Rhode Island” book for 2010, and it is as delightfully entertaining as it sounds. Even better, it finds meaning in the real experiences of Guernsey Islanders during the German occupation, along with the role of books and reading in their lives. It was written as an epistolary novel, i.e., an assemblage of letters and other documents, so it has many voices, but the young author, our protagonist, holds it all together with good humor and sympathy.

8. "The Appeal" by John Grisham tells the tragic story of fictional Bowmore, Miss., aka “Cancer County,” where Krane Chemical Corporation denies having illegally dumped the carcinogens that contaminated the local water, before abandoning the plant to exploit cheaper labor South of the border. Pitting the self-sacrificing hometown lawyers, whose hard work wins a finding of liability for wrongful death, against the Krane CEO, with his starved trophy wife and his millions to spend on buying a Supreme Court judge to hear the appeal, makes for flat characters. Nevertheless, once it begins, the step-by-step purchase, promotion, and corruption of a wholesome, innocent, conservative young lawyer, is so realistic the pages turn themselves.

9. "Hold Tight" by Harlan Coben is a thriller full of plot twists and turns. Flipping from one suspense-filled scene to another, Coben gradually reveals the connections among the psychopathic killer, the doctor's son who runs away, and the teacher who is being threatened by the parent of a child he embarrassed in class. Parents' invasion of a teenage boy's privacy via spyware on his computer and GPS on his cell phone seems to be a real concern at one point, but meanwhile, brutal murders, taking place elsewhere, foreshadow serious danger.

10. "American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld fictionalizes the seeming contradictions of Laura Bush’s life. Both “perfect wife” and quietly independent thinker, according to her biographer, Ann Gerhart (“Perfect Wife: the Life and Choices of Laura Bush”), the first lady’s biography fired Sittenfeld’s imagination. She creates an admirable, compassionate, and liberal Alice Blackwell, a school librarian, who marries the black sheep son of a powerful and wealthy Republican family, and carries her through the unlikely changes that land her and her rather cartoonish husband in the White House. The conclusion is somewhat weaker than the rest, but overall, it is a fascinating read.