Author: J.K. Rowling
Released: 2012

After completing her massively successful Harry Potter book series, J.K. Rowling understandably wanted to leave the kids' stuff behind and get down, dirty, and all grown-up. The result is The Casual Vacancy, a very dark and ambitious look at how a small English village gets rocked by the sudden death of highly respected religious figure. Marked by scenes of domestic violence, rape, drug use, and sex in a cemetery, Rowling's foray into adult literature is absolutely not for those youngsters who rooted for Hermione and Ron Weasley to fall in love with one another.

Sadly, The Casual Vacancy isn't easily recommendable for anyone else, either. At 500 pages, it often reads like an overlong slog that meanders through descriptions of the village's legislature and history of dueling class systems. Curiously, though, the book also feels too short, namely when it comes to Rowling's inability to derive sympathy for characters who are only fleshed-out to the point of becoming individuals, not anchors for any emotional connections. So when tragedies strike near the book's end, moments of intended impact hit with tickles, not thuds. —Matt Barone