Every year there are books that come out that are hyped up beyond measure. They receive fantastic reviews, win literary awards and get everyone talking. Sometimes these books turn out to be worth all the hype; they are fantastically written and have great characters and plots. However, all too often these books fall flat after having been praised so highly. Here, I attempt to sort one from the other.

Worth it

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Hype doesn’t get much bigger than this. Every year now a host of psychological thrillers are lauded as ‘the next Gone Girl’, but really, none can compare to the original. The story of Amy Dunne, who goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband, Nick, the only suspect in her disappearance. Including a twist that got everyone talking, this seemingly straightforward thriller quickly reveals a tangle of lies and deceit. Darkly funny and written at an unrelenting pace, this is the thriller that all others must now live up to, but probably never will. People disagreed on the ending, but read it and make up your own mind.

If you’ve already read Gone Girl, make sure to check out Flynn’s other thrillers, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Often, literary novels that win big prizes (this one won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), rarely live up to the big expectations that follow. The Goldfinch is not one of these. It tells the story of Theo Decker, who, at thirteen, loses his mother in a terrible accident that he survives. Throughout his troubled and difficult life, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of his mother: a small portrait of a goldfinch.

This doesn’t sound like a particularly good premise for a novel, but Tartt pulls it off with fantastic writing skill and brilliant characterisation. Don’t let the length of this book put you off; it’s a heavy one, but you’ll find yourself lost in Theo’s life and even wanting more when you’ve turned the last page. Somehow beautiful and bleak at the same time, it’s hard to put into words just how much I enjoyed this book. It has received some mixed reviews, but I for one absolutely loved it.

If you enjoyed The Goldfinch, Tartt’s The Secret History is equally fantastic.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Another prize winner, this one was nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2014 and won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award. The story is Rosemary’s, an only child who used to have a sister the same age as her and an older brother. Both disappeared from her life a long time ago. Now she has decided to tell her story, all about how her parents decided to turn her childhood into an experiment.

It is difficult writing about this book once you know what happens. The twist comes pretty early on (page 77, as the blurb will tell you), but it’s perfectly pitched and very well-paced. I particularly loved the voice of the narrator. I've read few other books that have managed to capture such a brilliant sense of character in every sentence on the page. Rosemary isn't a likeable character as such, but her story is so interesting that this didn't really matter. I loved that Fowler used direct address in the novel, completely involving the reader in the world of the story. This book is funny, memorable, smart and brilliantly written. It's unsettling, but in the best way. I would definitely recommend it and, if you do read it, you'll be recommending it to all your friends just so you can discuss it with them.

Not worth it

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Amsterdam, 1686. Eighteen year old Nella Oortman has come from the country to be wife to illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Johannes presents her with a wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror the secrets of the Brandt household in uncanny ways.

After it was named Waterstones’ Book of the Year 2014, I desperately wanted to read this book. I loved historical fiction, but I wish I had never heard any of the hype, because I couldn't help but be disappointed that it didn't live up to my expectations. The plot isn't entirely original. I definitely felt that I had read similar things before. It takes a while to get started and it made me feel unsure about what direction the story was going to go in and who/what the main focus was supposed to be. One of my big problems with the book was the main character, Nella. She doesn't actually have very much impact on the plot until quite near the end. It seems a lot of the time as if she is just standing there observing events happening around her, rather than taking an active part in the plot. This is the kind of book you feel flat after reading, because it could have been so much more.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Maud has been getting forgetful recently. Her cupboards are full of tinned peaches that she can't remember buying and there are half-full cups of tea on her shelves that she forgets to drink. But there is one thing she knows for sure: her friend Elizabeth is missing. And somehow this is connected to the unsolved disappearance of Maud's sister, Sukey, years before. Maud just has to figure out how.

This may be a somewhat controversial choice, because everything I've seen so far about this book sings its praises about how wonderful and amazing it is – including that it won the Costa first novel award 2014. I, unfortunately, have to disagree. I did enjoy it, but I failed to see how it had managed to receive so many accolades. It is written very well. Healey delves into the mind of Maud's declining mental faculties with great skill and impressive insight. It is this that sets it apart from other books and the reason I think it has been so popular. However, the plot itself was lacking for me. The resolution of the mystery of Elizabeth's and Sukey's disappearance was rather obvious and very disappointing. There was a general lack of story.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

You know a book is truly popular when a film adaptation is made. I haven’t seen Before I Go To Sleep, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, and I don’t plan to, because the book it’s adapted from is pretty poor. The premise is clever: Christine has amnesia and cannot remember her past or create new memories. She wakes up every morning with no memory of the previous day.

However, the question at the heart of the novel – who can Christine trust? – is answered fairly easily by the reader early on in the novel. This takes away the whole mystery level of the plot as you can guess what is going to happen. It didn’t even have clever writing to make up for this lack. The style is quite bland and repetitive. Quite frankly, by the end, I was bored. It was very disappointing and undeserving of the name ‘thriller’. If you’re looking for a decent psychological thriller, check out The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, another book that does deserve the hype.

Kelly Pells graduated Brunel University with a first in English with Creative Writing. She has had her short stories published by magazines and runs the book review blog scribblerreview.blogspot.co.uk.