Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

When contemplating ten popular books that lived up to the hype, it dawned on me that this could be a really easy list to create. There are, after all, seven Harry Potter books. I’d only have to come up with three more.

harry potter

I loved all of the Harry Potter books. I’ve read them all multiple times. I’ve read them along with my kids. My daughter and I are currently re-watching all the movies. It’s safe to say that I believe these books totally earned the hype–and they’re holding up remarkably well to the passage of time.

I’m not going to take the easy way out here. Here are ten OTHER books that earned the hype:

hunger gamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her little sister’s place as a tribute to the annual games hosted in the capitol, where representatives from each district battle to the death. Other competitors are bigger, stronger, faster and better trained. Can Katniss survive? Can she stand up to the oppressive regime forcing this barbaric ritual on the disenfranchised?

Katniss is everything you want in a hero. She’s honorable. She’s wily. She’s determined. This series had me on tenterhooks wanting to know how the heck Katniss was going to get herself out of increasingly dangerous situations. It’s not just a series of action scenes and suspenseful moments. There’s plenty of romance, too.

timetravelerThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry, a librarian with a taste for adventure, is the first person to be diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. Whenever his genetic clock resets he is pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. This condition complicates the already complicated scenario of falling in love with Clare, a beautiful art student, and maintaining a relationship with her.

Not only is this novel wonderfully imaginative in its construction, it’s beautifully told and a real tear-jerker. I recommend having a box of Kleenex handy.

kite runnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. As the Afghan monarchy was crumbling, the friendship of two boys was put to the test–and broke. While they were constant companions during peaceful times, their differences in caste put a wedge between them. Amir belongs to the ruling Pashtun caste and enjoys the privileges of being the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant. Hassan, his servant, is a Hazara, a poor and despised caste. As the years pass by, Amir never ceases to regret abandoning his childhood friend. Eventually, he sets out to discover what had become of him and to make amends.

This tale is epic in scope, passionately written, and provides keen observations about human nature, love and redemption.

waterforelephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Jacob is an Ivy league drop out who ran way to join a traveling circus, which was struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Because of his training in veterinary medicine, he is put in charge of caring for the menagerie, chief of which is a seemingly intractable elephant named Rosie. In this colorful setting, Jacob falls for the beautiful star of an equestrian act. Unfortunately, she is shackled to August, a cruel animal-trainer.

This is a beautifully written book. The narrative voice is distinct and the setting is uniquely captivating. I will be honest though: the romance wasn’t as important to me as the welfare of Rosie, an incredible creature given an unfair lot in life.

dragonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Michael Blomkvist, a journalist with a raging drive to uncover the truth, and Lisbeth Salander, a young woman with deep-seated anger against the world and an unparalleled ability to hack into computer systems, join forces to solve the 40 year-old mystery of the disappearance of a young woman from one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. During the course of the investigation, they grapple with their own demons.

This book is remarkable not only for unraveling such a complicated and tragic mystery, but also for the powerful character studies, and keen observations of social and family dynamics. This is one book where I’d be hard-pressed to say whether it was more character driven or plot driven. I believe it’s an incredible example of both types of narrative and one of the key reasons this book appeals to a large audience.

guernseyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Shortly after the second world war, writer Juliet Ashton strikes up a correspondence with the residents of the isolated island of Guernsey. She learns about the ordeals of this eccentric group of characters as they coped with the German occupation of their home. Through the letters, these people reveal bare their hearts and express a deep love of the written word.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a small community of resilient people in the toughest of times. I’m sure I cried over this one and have a longing to re-read it.

naemofthewindThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the tale of the making of the greatest wizard the world has ever known. Kvothe had humble beginnings as a player in a traveling troupe of actors and then as a homeless orphan in a crime-ridden city, but through a daring bid to enter a famous school of magic, his career begins to take shape. His ambition and hard work bring him a great deal of fame until he commits a crime that forces him to flee as a fugitive.

Not since I first read Tolkien’s book about the hairy-footed hobbit did a fantasy world enthrall me as much as this one did. It’s fully realized with a fascinating society peopled a marvelous array of characters. It’s gritty and shies away from sentimental. It’s downright poetic. I’ve read it twice and expect I’ll read it again.

persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi. In this graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi recounds her coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Regular growing pains are tough enough, but they become charged with greater meaning and greater risk when set amidst political upheaval. In her brave voice, tinged with both humor and sorrow, she explores notions of individual and social freedoms, homecoming and alienation.

I am not generally a reader of graphic novels, but I loved this. The narrator’s tone is so candid and so human that I felt a bond with her even though our lived experiences and homelands are so different.

oveA Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Ove is a curmudgeon. He is committed to his long-standing principles, impatient with his neighbors, and blunt in his criticisms. He’s also deeply lonely. When a boisterous family moves in next door, we expect him to explode, but they weasel their way into his heart and he into theirs.

I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but it’s one of my favorites and I had to include it here. I adore the old grouch. Behind his confrontational and unpleasant exterior beats a tender heart. His old friends are described in a tender fashion and the new neighbors are so lively, warm and wonderful. I cried my eyes out over this one.

Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When attending a support group for cancer kids, Hazel feels a mixture of impatience with the project and pity for her fellow patients. But then something unexpected happens: Augustus enters the room, and with a few incisive words, shakes everything up. Hazel had believed she was good and ready for the end of her story, but this twist recharges her zest for life and love for the people around her.

It was inevitable that I was going to cry my eyes out over The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. There is so much wit and charm oozing out of these characters that you can’t help but become attached. And when the inevitable happens, well, you just have to cry, regretting the loss but cherishing the pleasure of having witnessed something beautiful.


top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s topic is popular books that lived up to the hype.

First Line Fridays

firstlinefridays

What’s the first line of the closest book to you? Leave me a comment, then head over to Hoarding Books for more great lines from great authors!

“To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.”

~Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist

My first line is from The Longely Polygamist by Brady Udall. It’s a New York Times Bestseller about one big dysfunctional family and its trials and tribulations. Its cast of characters features many eccentric people who, by all accounts, evoke sympathy even though their lifestyle may be far outside what most of us are familiar with. I have only read the first chapter, but am enjoying it thoroughly.

lonelypolygamist

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle

lonely witnessI haven’t read many books where the main character shared my first name. This may seem trivial, but it set me up to looking for similarities between myself and the protagonist in William Boyle’s The Lonely Witness. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could cling to. She was Catholic and I *used* to be Catholic. She liked Chinese food and so do I. She was also very lonely.  That was the extent of it.

Amy–the main character, not me–was a former party girl who worked in bars and had a tempestuous relationship with a girl who was possibly even more wild than she. When her girlfriend moved across the country, Amy withdrew from her former friends, stopped frequenting her former haunts, and gave up her work in bars.

She started doing volunteer work for the nearby church by taking communion to shut-ins. While visiting one of her regulars, she encountered Vincent, whose odd and menacing behavior woke up something in her. She had to know what he was up to, ostensibly to make sure the old lady she was taking care of would’t come to harm at his hands, but also because she craved the feeling of adrenaline coursing through her system. When tailing him through the streets of Brooklyn, she witnessed something that shook her up and destroyed the quiet life she had built for herself.

priest holding hostia
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m torn about The Lonely Witness. I enjoyed some passages and found others tedious. This was due to the precarious balance created by the character’s decision-making.

The main problem with this book is that Amy does many things that make the reader cringe. Most of us would recognize her choices as bad ones and just wouldn’t do those things–and seeing her do them can be infuriating and make it hard for us to empathize.

At the same time, her perversity is one of the intriguing things about this book. We are wise enough not to do some of the things she does, but we’re not above watching the fall-out. The suspense of the book comes from wondering if she can extract herself from all of the messes she has made.

photography of street during rainy day
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

For me, what made the book worth reading was the excellent way William Boyle handled the setting. He made Brooklyn come to life. He painted the scene so vividly that I could see the old churches, bodegas, run-down restaurants, apartment buildings and funeral homes. I knew the sounds and smells, and felt the energy of the people treading its streets. It wasn’t a vacation to the Caribbean, but it was excellent armchair traveling.