Booklist Queen

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50 Incredible Five Star Books You Need to Read

If you want the best of the best, these five star books won’t disappoint. Here are 50 of my all-time favorite books to read.

If you are looking for the best books to read, where do you begin?

You could search for “five star books on Goodreads”, but then you’ll get Twilight in the top five. While many of you might love Twilight , you have to admit it’s not exactly the epitome of top-notch writing.

Searching “5 star books on Amazon,” you’ll get a handy list of twenty-five titles, only 7 of which I recognize. And I am in the book business!

I figured it was time to make my own list of favorite books. Those books that I gave five stars to because I couldn’t get enough of them. 

Of course, you are likely to disagree with some of my choices. Reading taste is highly variable and subjective.

Which is good! We don’t need a million copies of me in the world, I can assure you.

Regardless of taste, I’m fairly certain you’ll find some books to your liking in my list. I mean, I gave you fifty to choose from.

Don’t Miss a Thing

5 Star Books For Book Clubs

book cover All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony doerr.

If I had to pick a winner for the top rated books, Anthony Doer’s masterpiece would be my first choice. I’m not at all surprised it won a Pulitzer Prize; the writing is fabulous. Anthony Doerr masterfully interweaves the stories of Marie-Laurie, a blind French girl who flees from Paris to the coastal city of Saint-Malo with her uncle, and Werner, a German radio operator charged with rooting out the French resistance. While the plot is interesting in and of itself, the character development and storytelling will keep you glued to the page.

Publication Date: 6 May 2014 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern

The Night Circus

Erin morgenstern.

Without warning, Le Cirque de Rêves arrives in town, a circus that only operates at night. Within its walls are two competing magicians, Celia and Marco, bound together in a high stakes challenge. When they fall in love, a love so magical it affects the world around them, their dangerous game becomes even more precarious. From the first page to the last, Morgenstern had me captivated with her seductive and mysterious prose. Her five-star book left me craving more novels about magicians.

Publication Date: 13 September 2011 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You

Set in 1970s Ohio, Celeste Ng’s debut novel starts with the drowning of Lydia, the beloved daughter of James and Marilyn Lee. As the family struggles with her death, the author takes you deeper into the cracks and flaws of this mixed-race family. It is a poignant character study into the dynamics of a family where the parents’ unfulfilled hopes are pinned on one child, to the detriment of all. The story unfolds masterfully, and Celeste Ng’s writing is exquisite. By the end, I was in tears for these poor children and the damage that had been done by their parents’ selfishness.

Publication Date: 26 June 2014 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove

Fredrik backman.

Ove, a cantankerous old Swede, just wants to be left in peace so he can commit suicide, but his pesky neighbors keep getting in the way. A heartwarming tale that I found downright hilarious will be a popular book among book clubs for years to come. Highlighting our need for connection in the modern world, A Man Called Ove typified how important it is to leave our digital worlds and make sure we check in on our neighbors.

Publication Date: 27 August 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia owens.

For years, Kya Clark has survived alone in the marshes of the North Carolina coast. Dubbed “The Marsh Girl” by the locals, she raises herself in nature after her family abandons her. Now, as she comes of age, Kya begins to yearn for something more than her loneliness. Maybe even a connection with the locals. An exquisitely written tale, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best books of 2018.

Publication Date: 14 August 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Highest Rated Books: Fiction Bestsellers

Book Cover Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice

Lisa genova.

Sometimes authors knock it out of the park with their debut novel, and neuroscientist Lisa Genova certainly fits that description. Harvard professor Alice Howland is at the top of her career when she begins to have trouble with her memory. The story of her decline due to early-onset Alzheimer’s will leave you wracked with emotions. Just be sure to have a box of tissues handy because you will need them.

Publication Date: 6 July 2017 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info B uy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes

Mary beth keane.

NYPD cops Francis and Brian happen to move next door to each other in the suburbs. Though their children Kate and Peter become the best of friends, Francis and his wife have learned to keep their distance from Brian’s wife due to her precarious mental health. When tragedy strikes between the two families, Brian’s family moves away in shame. But when Kate and Peter fall in love, the two families must learn to confront the tragedy that ties them together. A story of love and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes serves up the perfect blend of family drama and character study to win a place among the five star books to read in 2020.

Publication Date: 28 May 2019 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers

Imbolo mbue.

The American Dream. Many hope for it, but how many truly find it? Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel details the lives of Cameroon immigrants living in New York City: Jende Jonga, who is trying to apply for legal status under a false asylum claim; his wife Neni, struggling to finish schooling in hopes of becoming a pharmacist; and their son Liomi, trying to balance his American-ness with his Cameroon side. In the days preceding the Great Recession, Jende gets lucky enough to get a job as chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive. Mbue brilliantly paints a fascinating look at immigrant life – the struggles with the immigration system, the desire for a better life, the balancing of cultural differences and the financial burden that comes with being poor in America. Through her writing, Mbue asks you to ponder: What really brings happiness? and Is the American dream all it’s cracked up to be?

Publication Date: 23 August 2016 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail honeyman.

If you are wanting light-hearted book club books for 2020, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and much prefers to spend her weekends at home talking on the phone to her mother. When Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond help an elderly gentleman after a fall, the three become friends, and Eleanor learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.

Publication Date: 24 April 2017 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You

If you had to think of books that made you cry , Me Before You should be near the top of your list. You’ll be in tears at the heartbroken man who felt he had nothing left to live for as a quadriplegic, not fully understanding that there is always something more. Will brings meaning into his nurse Louisa’s life and gets her to reach beyond what she thought she was capable of. In return, Louisa tries to bring meaning back into Will’s life before it’s too late. I promise this is one of those books that will leave you sobbing.

Publication Date: 31 December 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Save for Later

50 Five Star Books You Need to Read

Historical Fiction Books Rated 5 Stars

book cover The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

Kristin hannah.

Coming off The Nightingale , her wildly successful World War II novel , Kristin Hannah’s next book explores the untamed wilds of Alaska. A recently returned Vietnam War POW, Ernt Allbright decides to move his family to the Alaskan frontier. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers and just what Ernt needs. But when the harsh Alaskan winter approaches and Ernt’s mental state begins to deteriorate, his wife and daughter must fight to survive. A captivating, stay-up-all-night novel that is a favorite among book clubs.

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day

Kazuo ishiguro.

For all you Downtown Abbey lovers out there, this book is meant for you. Stevens, an old English butler (à la Mr. Carson) decides to take a vacation and contemplate his many years of service and his unrealized love for the former housekeeper. A thoughtful portrayal of the importance of balancing personal and work lives, The Remains of the Day is one of the best books to read if you love thoughtful literary fiction.

Publication Date: May 1989 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner

Khaled hosseini.

The unforgettable story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy Afghan boy and the son of his father’s servant, it beautifully describes love, friendship, betrayal, and redemption. Be warned that the novel is violent and graphic at times, so understand that while moving, the story is dark and disturbing. It’s that contrast between the worst of human nature and the best that truly brings out a remarkable tale that will stay with you for a long time.

Publication Date: 29 May 2003 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six

Taylor jenkins reid.

Among the highest rated books on Goodreads in 2019, Daisy Jones & The Six won the Goodreads Choice Award for best historical fiction for good reason. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s addictingly fun read about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s band couldn’t be left off this list. With sex, drugs, and plenty of drama, you’ll feel like you are watching a biopic on VH1 – but an extremely well-written one.

Publication Date: 5 March 2019 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Hélène

Ariel lawhon.

Ariel Lawhon’s new novel based on a true story has already won a place in the best books of 2020. Nancy Wake, a New Zealander living in Paris, becomes a spy for the British and rises to one of the top leaders of the French Resistance and one of the most decorated women of the war. The story is split into two narratives – the first starting with Nancy parachuting into France in 1944 and the second telling of her courtship in 1938 with her husband, Henri Fiocca. You’ll fall in love with Henri and cheer on Nancy as she transforms into a fierce fighter and respected commander. As the earlier timeline catches up with the later one, you’ll feel all the emotions of a woman caught up in a terrible war.

Publication Date: 31 March 2020 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Thrilling Five Star Mysteries

book cover A Time to Kill by John Grisham

A Time To Kill

John grisham.

John Grisham’s debut novel didn’t receive much attention until after he published the bestsellers The Firm and The Pelican Brief , but it’s my favorite of his books. After the brutal rape of a 10-year-old girl, her father seeks his own justice and murders the rapists. With the Mississippi town aflame, young attorney Jake Brigance must decide how much he is willing to risk to defend the father. Just be warned, the beginning of the book is horribly graphic and extremely hard to read.

Publication Date: 1989 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None

Agatha christie.

If you want a quick classic mystery, Agatha Christie is the way to go. You’ll have fun trying to figure out whodunit on an isolated island mansion where the suspects start dying off one by one. I’ll be impressed if you figure it out. I never do. A classic for a reason, this novel is surprisingly short, leaving you plenty to read even more five-star books.

Publication Date: 6 November 1939 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Stuart turton.

On the 19th anniversary of their son’s murder, Lord and Lady Hardcastle throw a party with the same guests as that fateful day long ago. At 11 pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. In a Groundhog Day -esque fashion, Aidan Bishop must relive this day 8 times, but from the perspective of eight different witnesses. His task: identify Evelyn’s murderer, or do it all over again. Evelyn Hardcastle will throw you into a brilliant game of Clue as you see the same events from multiple perspectives. Just ignore the why this happening and jump right into the mystery come to life, with plenty of fun twists and turns along the way.

Publication Date: 8 February 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Paula hawkins.

Taking the same train to work every day, Rachel is fascinated by a woman who lives along her route. Every day, Rachel gets a glimpse into this woman’s “perfect” life. Until one day, when Rachel witnesses something shocking. I think unreliable narrators like Rachel make for the best page-turners because you can never figure out what is true and what is not. You might love it or hate it, but The Girl on the Train wins all the stars in my book.

Publication Date: 6 January 2015 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man

Jane harper.

Way out in the Australia outback, brothers Nathan and Bub Bright find the body of their brother Cameron on the edge of their ranch. Did Cam end his own life walking out into the desert or did someone end it for him? More an enveloping character study than a murder mystery, The Lost Man looks at the secrets a family keeps combined with a fascinating portrayal of life in the outback.

Publication Date: 23 October 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Top Rated Books of All Time –  Science Fiction & Fantasy

book cover The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian

Astronaut Mark Watney wakes up to find himself marooned on the planet Mars, left for dead by the crew of the Ares 3 mission. Now, he must use all his ingenuity to overcome insurmountable odds for the chance to return home to Earth. I love how Weir uses real science and technology in this captivating book. I have to say it’s one of the best science fiction books out there, and one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in recent years – which is saying a lot considering how much I read.

Publication Date: 27 September 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z

Don’t let Brad Pitt’s “meh” film adaptation put you off from reading Max Brooks’ novel. The book is far and away superior in every possible way. Written as an oral history of the Zombie War, Brooks splits the book into a series of short stories, interviews of survivors of the war. Each tale focuses on a snippet of the conflict – from the discovery of Patient Zero to the complete invasion of Japan to the point where the balance shifts in favor of humans. Brooks expertly narrates each character to convey a diverse overview of a fictional world event. Don’t let the concept of zombies turn you off, the story is a five-star read for anyone. If you have the chance, be sure to pick up the full-cast audiobook.

Publication Date: 12 September 2006 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game

Orson scott card.

In a future where humanity is at war with an alien enemy determined to destroy life on Earth, Ender Wiggin is a third child in a family of extraordinarily gifted children. Sent off to battle school at only six years of age, Ender – with his perfect mix of compassion and ruthlessness – is forced to become the military genius humanity so desperately needs. Ender’s Game is an amazing novel – not only thrilling enough to intrigue teenage boys who never read but also so packed with complex themes and deeper meanings you’ll want to read it again and again.

Publication Date: 15 January 1985 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

In a far distant future, psychohistorian Hari Seldon has analyzed the cycle of history and realizes that after twelve thousand years in power, the Galactic Empire is headed toward collapse. A collapse that will spawn 30,000 years of Dark Ages. To prevent complete disaster and shorten this dark period, Seldon sets up Foundation – a planet on the edge of the galaxy to contain the best minds with the knowledge of humanity. At crucial junctures in history, Seldon has set up steps to sway the course of events to protect the fledgling Foundation. Considered one of the best science fiction books of all time, Isaac Asimov shines in this classic tale.

Publication Date: 1942 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind

Patrick rothfuss.

Everyone should read at least one fantasy series in their life, and this is the best one out there. Kvothe, a living legend in the world he lives in, tells how he cultivated his life into a myth of epic proportions to a local biographer. The intricate details of the world Rothfuss creates will captivate your attention for days on end. Be warned, Rothfuss never released the third book in the series, so start this book at your own risk.

Publication Date: 27 March 2007 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

5 Star Rated Books: Memoirs

book cover The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle

Jeannette walls.

One of the most powerful memoirs of recent years, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive. To quote my husband, “Sometimes someone’s train wreck of a life is fascinating.”

Publication Date: March 2005 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover

There is no excuse to not read Tara Westover’s spectacular memoir. In my opinion, Educated was one of the best books of the last decade . Westover grew up in the rural mountains of Idaho with no formal education. Despite her extremist survivalist parents and violent older brother, Westover managed to make her way into college, eventually earning a Ph.D. Her amazing determination is inspiring while the circumstances of her childhood are incredibly sad. Definitely one of those books that will stay with you for a long time.

Publication Date: 20 February 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

One of the highest-selling books of recent years, Michelle Obama’s memoir is easily one of the top five-star books to read. Detailing her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, her success as a working mother, and her years in the White House, Michelle Obama shows how her past has shaped her into who she has become today. A poignant memoir of a woman trying to do her best for her family while balancing the greater good of having a husband in politics, Obama’s story is a remarkable tale no matter what your political affiliation.

Publication Date: 13 November 2018 Learn More : Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Marley & Me by John Grogan

Marley & Me

John grogan.

I don’t even like dogs, and I loved this book. The antics of Marley, the world’s worst dog, are simply hilarious. Even more, the love that springs up between Marley and his owner despite Marley’s many flaws is so touching. A great reminder for you to be grateful for the love of four-legged friends in your life. When Marley eventually dies of old age, you’ll be in tears at the wonderful life of “the world’s worst dog.”

Publication Date: 18 October 2005 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am

Maggie o’farrell.

I can’t begin to describe how incredible this book is. Instead of telling you her life story, Maggie O’Farrell gives you glimpses into her life through separate incidents where she brushed against death, which has occurred surprisingly often. From a childhood illness to near-fatal accidents to miscarriage, O’Farrell gives you such an intriguing look not just at how she has almost died, but more importantly how she has lived. If you are willing to listen to an audiobook, the narrator on this one is exceptional.

Publication Date: 22 August 2017 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Nonfiction 5 Star Books to Read

book cover Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

Band of Brothers

Stephen e. ambrose.

The thrilling account of Easy Company, a unit of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army is one of my favorite World War 2 books . The book gets its title from the Shakespeare quote, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” Instead of following one man’s journey, the cast of characters winds in and out as men come and go from the company due to reassignment, injury, and death. Stephen Ambrose’s powerful book is a remarkable look at the everyday men who became legends.

Publication Date: 6 June 1992 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover 1776 by David McCullough

David McCullough

David McCullough is the king of history, and you can’t go wrong with any of his books. In this astounding work, McCullough tells of one year of the American Revolution – of the leadership of George Washington, the brilliance of Nathanael Greene, and the ingenuity of Henry Knox. Giving a fascinating look at the war that lead to American independence, McCullough brings history to life for even non-history buffs.

Publication Date: 24 May 2005 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Truman capote.

Truman Capote was the founder of narrative nonfiction with his thrilling look at an unspeakable crime. On November 15, 1959, in the small farming town of Holcomb, Kansas, two men brutally murder the Clutter family in their home for no apparent reason. Through extensive interviews from the first days on the scene and following the events all the way to the execution of the murderers, Capote suspensefully unfolds the whole story of exactly what happened and more intriguing of all, why it happened. Make sure you set aside a chunk of time to read this modern classic because, I promise, once you start you’ll realize this is a book you can’t put down .

Publication Date: 1965 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

The Blind Side

Michael lewis.

Did you know the Oscar-winning movie was based on a five star book? Michael Lewis is an expert at writing narrative nonfiction, and he takes his talents to cover football in The Blind Side . You probably know it’s the inspiring story of Michael Oher, who, after being taken in by the Tuohy family, rose to become one of the most sought after football players of his generation. However, what you probably don’t realize is that the book itself is also about the evolution of football. Lewis gives a fascinating look at how the game has changed over the decades and why that leads to the importance of Michael Oher’s position.

Publication Date: 17 September 2006 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff

The Only Plane in the Sky

Garrett m. graff.

Graff spent years collecting stories about 9/11 and compiled them into one of the best books of 2019. In this outstanding book, he compiles quotes from various people together to fill out a brilliant oral history into a timeline of that fateful day. Let me tell you, this is a powerful read. I had to digest it in small pieces because I started to cry from the very first page. As an older millennial, 9/11 was a defining day in my life, I was old enough to understand that everything had changed. However, reading this account helped me truly understand the absolute confusion of the day. I paid more for this book than I have for any other book. And I have to say, it was worth every penny. If I could rate it six stars, I would.

Publication Date: 10 September 2019 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

John Carreyrou

Imagine a Silicon Valley startup that raised insane amounts of money all based on a gigantic fraud. It sounds like a fictional thriller, but it is the actual true story of the company Theranos. Investigative journalist John Carreyrou’s expose of Elizabeth Holmes’s company is an eye-opening read. Looking back, the massive power of Silicon Valley will surely be a recurrent theme in literature in the years to come.

Publication Date: 21 May 2018 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

What makes extremely successful people different from others? Is it talent, intelligence or hard work? Gladwell uses statistics and interesting real-life examples to show how closely success is tied to not only natural ability and hard work but also opportunity and timing. It’s one of those books that get you thinking about how much culture, upbringing, and just plain luck play into your life.

Publication Date: 18 November 2008 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit

Charles duhigg.

One of the hottest topics of the last decade has been habits – how they form and how we can use them to better ourselves. The New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg takes an in-depth look at the power habits have in our lives. Explaining the science of habits with fascinating real-life stories, Duhigg’s style is much like Malcolm Gladwell’s. One of my favorite books I read last year, I proudly proclaim  The Power of Habit as one of my favorite five star reads.

Publication Date: 28 February 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Essentialism by Greg McKeown


Greg mckeown.

Greg McKeown encourages you to the pursuit of less into all aspects of your life. Described as Essentialism, McKeown urges you to learn how to decide what is most essential and then cut out anything else. All about reclaiming your life through powerful choices, McKeown will make you realize it’s not about having more time, it’s about doing the right things with the time you have.

Publication Date: 31 December 2011 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Invisible Women

Caroline criado perez.

In an eye-opening book, Caroline Criado Perez shows that we live in a world designed for men that systemically discriminates against women. With overwhelming statistics, Perez exposes the prevalent gender-data gap in countless fields, including medicine, technology, and urban planning. The staggering evidence will blow your mind and make you rethink everything you thought you knew. If you have a chance, Perez’s audiobook narration is spectacular, catching every hint of sarcasm, disbelief, and anger in the author’s voice.

Publication Date: 7 March 2019 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Five Star Books to Read

Five Star Classic Books

book cover To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

There’s a good reason that practically every school makes you read this book. Voted the Great American Read and one of Goodreads’ best books, To Kill A Mockingbird is a timeless classic that everyone should read. The story of young Scout and Jem watching their father Atticus Finch defend an innocent black man will make you want to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Publication Date: 11 July 1960 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables

Victor hugo.

Among long classic books , Les Misérables is one of the most famous stories ever told. Victor Hugo’s tale of Jean Valjean – the peasant convicted for stealing a loaf of bread – will leave you breathless. From the example of forgiveness of the priest to the unrelenting determination of Inspector Javert, the story has so many outstanding themes to learn from. Yes, the musical is fantastic, but if you have a chance, be sure to pick up the original book. While it might drag in some spots, overall, the story is simply unforgettable.

Publication Date: 1862 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre dumas.

If you haven’t read this amazing classic novel yet, you are truly missing out. Dumas’ epic tale of revenge will keep you entertained through all of its 1,000+ pages, making it a long classic worth your time . Wrongfully imprisoned for years, Edmond Dantes successfully escapes a brutal French prison and sets out to get the ultimate revenge on all those who have wronged him. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the top classics to read in your lifetime.

Publication Date: 1844 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Jane austen.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the BBC miniseries or the Keira Knightley movie, you still need to read the book. Jane Austen’s witty novel is a fun reminder of the importance of marrying for love and not lust or security. Follow along as Elizabeth Bennett goes from loathing to loving Mr. Darcy in this classic British tale.

Publication Date: 1813 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover 1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell

Published in 1949, George Orwell’s terrifying vision of the future is just as important today as when it was written. Telling the story of Winston, a depressed Party worker who longs to join the Resistance, 1984 shows the horror of a totalitarian society continually at war. Commonly referenced in modern culture (i.e., Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime,), 1984 is one of the top classics to read in your lifetime.

Publication Date: 1949 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

Five Star Books For Kids and Young Adults

book cover Wonder by R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio

If you think about the best books of the decade for children, you have to recognize Wonder as the clear winner. This story of a boy with a severely deformed face entering public middle school for the first time will make you ponder how you react to people who look differently. This middle-grade phenomenon will be read in classrooms around America for years to come.

Publication Date: 14 February 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Markus zusak.

A book narrated by Death might be off-putting at first, but quickly you’ll fall in love with this Young Adult WWII historical fiction. In 1939, Liesel Meminger is sent to live with foster parents in Munich. There she befriends the charming neighborhood boy Rudy and settles into a life of book thievery. Coming of age during the rise of the Nazis, Liesel and Rudy must face the complications of growing up in a dictatorship they hate.

Publication Date: 1 September 2005 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Angie thomas.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter works hard to find balance in her life between her poor neighborhood and the elite suburban prep school she attends. Yet, when Starr is the only witness to the fatal police shooting of her best friend, she finds herself in the middle of a national headline. With all the recent coverage of police shootings, Thomas’ novel adds a new layer to the conversation on this important topic. If you want to discuss this same topic with younger children, I suggest reading the middle-grade book Blended by Sharon M. Draper.

Publication Date: 28 February 2017 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars

Two kids with cancer who fall in love. That’s a recipe for tears if I’ve ever heard one. Knowing that she will die someday sooner rather than later, Hazel is afraid to let anyone get close to her. In her selfless way, she wants her death to cause as little pain as possible. Yet when she meets Augustus Waters in her Cancer Kid Support Group, her conviction begins to waver. The true beauty of this story lies in the ending lines: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” If you want an inspiring and emotional read, this book is for you.

Publication Date: 10 January 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

Elizabeth wein.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Seriously, if you are just dipping your toe into World War II novels, you should choose this one. You’ll find yourself immersed in a world of intrigue with the story of a British spy, Agent “Verity.” Captured when her plane crashes in occupied France, Verity is interrogated by the Gestapo in an attempt to learn of her mission. As she confesses under torture, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what secrets she is willing to exchange for her life. How far is she willing to go for her mission? A brilliant and emotional read that you won’t want to miss.

Publication Date: 6 February 2012 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

book cover Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter Series

J. k. rowling.

Although I had already compiled my list of 50 five-star books, I just couldn’t resist adding 7 more. That’s right, I firmly declare that all seven books in the Harry Potter series deserve full stars. Immersed in a magical world within our own, the Harry Potter series send children on the ultimate hero’s quest as Harry Potter must fight off the pending evil from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Just as entertaining for adults as for kids, the series is one of the best ever written, and the books I reread more than any others.

Publication Date: 26 June 1997 Learn More: Goodreads | More Info Buy Now: Amazon | Apple Books

What 5 star books do you recommend?


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Woman reading on bench in winter

Reader Interactions

Rachel @ Never Enough Novels says

April 3, 2020 at 8:41 pm

This is an insane book list!!! We have so many similar opinions (and I spy a bunch that were included on my best of the decade list). I also adore the fact that you added all the HP books at the end 🙂 Well deserved! I have Code Name Verity on my mantle right now and it’s the only YA one I haven’t read. Moving that to the top of my list!

Rachael says

April 6, 2020 at 6:01 pm

Oh, yes do! I’ve been really wanting to re-read it lately. Maybe when the library is open again this summer.

Michelle says

April 8, 2020 at 12:39 am

Thanks for the 5 star booklist. I have read a lot of Jane Austen books and John Grisham books. My favorite book of late was Girl on the Train. I will check out some of those other ones you suggested. Did you read A Sparkling Fire? Can’t remember the author ‘s name but it’s about Ww ll. Is that post office box your address? I would like to write to you. Is the pandemic taking you away from a book a day due to homeschooling?

April 13, 2020 at 6:25 pm

No, that isn’t my PO Box. Mine is in the post office. I was taking pictures of books when I spotted the open slots on some neighborhood mail system. I figured it would be a good backdrop for my photo. My PO Box isn’t listed on the blog, but you can’t email me anytime.

My reading has definitely fluctuated throughout this pandemic. Actually homeschooling has increased my reading. My kids don’t need me to actively teach them, just direct them to a new task every 15-20 minutes. The short gap is very conducive to reading while supervising them.

Ashton Skelton says

August 27, 2020 at 4:43 am

Thank you for this list! I’m not sure what the five star pics are based on and if you’ve already read all of these, but everyone that I had already read that was on this list I completely agree with being five star. And I own probably half of the others and I’m slowly working my way through them. But I am currently stuck in the middle of game of thrones which I’m surprisingly not enjoying. I will pick one of these bad boys up when I’m done with it!

May 28, 2021 at 12:49 am

This list is AMAZING. Thank you

Terrie says

April 8, 2020 at 10:43 pm

This is a great list and I find that are tastes are surprisingly similar. While I haven’t read all of these and maybe some were a 4 star for me, I can totally see why they made your Best Of list. It’s a lot of work to put together this comprehensive of a list …. good job! It’s nice to find a reader with similar taste so that I know to trust your opinions on future books. 🙂 Thanks for all your hard work – I love your many lists.

April 13, 2020 at 6:28 pm

Thanks so much! I set out to do a list of five books each from specific genres, so I may have moved a few of my 4.5 stars up to fill the categories.

The real question is do I just keep adding books as I read more amazing stories, or do I keep it at 50 books. Luckily I have awhile before I feel like updating it.

Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins says

April 9, 2020 at 2:55 am

Totally with you on so many of these: A Man Called Ove, The Martian, 1984, In Cold Blood… plus, there’s a few lingering on my shelves that I’ve not got to yet, thank you for the added motivation/reminder! 😉

April 13, 2020 at 6:29 pm

Yay! I hope the move up on your TBR. I often kick myself when I realized I let an amazing book languish on my TBR for years.

Donnajean arnold says

April 21, 2020 at 3:18 pm

I was most delighted that you recommended ,the last plane in the sky,. I thought it was fantastic information and so well written. Ive been recommending it to everyone I know.

Dr.Naveed Ifra says

May 8, 2020 at 9:48 pm

Glad to see ur list ;awesome

I have nearly 6-7 of these n today on my day (bday ) I m planning to gift rest of 43 books to myself ;Thanku so much for this Levi’s dedicated list

May 13, 2020 at 1:57 pm

You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy them.

May 26, 2020 at 8:36 pm

So many of my favorites!!!I would add Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts and Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

E McElroy says

October 27, 2022 at 4:16 pm

I was thinking that The Nightingale and Before We Were Yours should be added to this list. I haven’t read Shelter in Place, and Truly Madly Guilty wasn’t a favorite of mine, but we don’t all have to agree with everything.

Yollande says

July 22, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Thank you for this list! I can’t wait to read the ones that I haven’t tackled yet. I absolutely loved, loved, loved Daisy Jones and the Six – this is definitely one of my favourite audiobook! I would highly recommend “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah, “A Gentleman In Moscow” and “Rules of Civility” both by Amor Towles and “Red Notice” by Bill Browder. Some brilliantly narrated audiobooks that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to include: “Inside the O’Brien” and “Left Neglected” both by Lisa Genova, “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman, “The City of Girls” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and “The Book of Dust” by Philip Pullman. I have a longer list but I’ll stop here.

Marija Manic says

August 17, 2020 at 12:01 pm

The list is great! However, I would include The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and also Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides as well as The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is also one of my favourites. If you haven’t read these novels, I strongly recommend them. Thanks again for your list, there are some books I still haven’t read but certainly will

Meredith says

October 14, 2021 at 1:18 am

I completely agree with you about The Goldfinch. Some of these book lists just astound me by trying to compare apples to oranges. Listing Girl in the Train and NOT listing Pulitzer winning The Goldfinch is one such example. I thought Girl in a Train was a run of the mill formulaic mystery that I found to be below average when compared to European mysteries! I am going to try the other books you mentioned. I do have Middlesex. Thanks!

September 17, 2020 at 4:48 am

The part on Harry Potter gave me a chuckle! I absolutely support your decision to add all 7 books to the list. I re-read these the most too – nearly once a year I go through all 7. There’s something very comforting about Rowling’s prose.

DBurke says

October 22, 2020 at 9:24 am

Of the first 25, I have read 19… one of the few times I have found myself in a “must read” list. I would encourage readers to “find your reading tribe.” Just because it’s a published list of books, doesn’t mean I/you will agree. I have find my reading list helpers at Goodreads, Bookbub and the NPR lists… happy reading all!

Suzanne says

November 3, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Excellent list! A Time to Kill has always been a little underrated, but I thought it was a very powerful book; I’m glad to see it on your list. The second book in the series, Sycamore Row, was a strong follow-up and I’m really looking forward to the third book, A Time for Mercy.

November 22, 2020 at 6:09 pm

This is a great list! We seem to have similar taste in books. Have you ever read The Inextinguishable Symphony? I highly recommend.

Renee Freeman says

December 7, 2020 at 6:53 am

Great list, would add, especially the audio, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

December 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm

My new favorite is Beartown by Fredrik Backman.

January 17, 2021 at 2:27 am

I have read many of the books on this list and agree that most of them are excellent. However, I must take you to task on Glass Castle. I thought it was well-written and I enjoyed reading it. But as someone who worked in Social Services for many years, I found the book to be completely implausible! The book was written when memoirs were selling much better than novels. I am convinced that an editor somewhere told Wallis to present her novel as a “memoir” in order to increase sales! I don’t think that woman could ever corroborate a single thing in that incredulous book! I can’t believe she hasn’t been confronted in this by now!

Yamila says

February 12, 2021 at 9:07 pm

Is there a checklist?

February 15, 2021 at 1:21 pm

If you are a newsletter subscriber, I do have a printable version (with a checklist) in my Queen’s Secret Library. Just look at any of your emails for the link and password!

February 27, 2021 at 10:37 pm

My new favorite author is Fredrik Backman. I liked A Man Called Ova, but I absolutely loved Beartown and it’s sequel Us Against You. I’m reading Anxious People now. I enjoy his writing style. I also just finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. Highly recommend it!!

March 2, 2021 at 3:00 pm

Backman is such an interesting writer. He definitely has a unique writing style. I need to read more of his books!

Connie says

March 8, 2022 at 10:12 pm

Yes! I read Anxious People and I would definitely include it on my all-time 5 star list!

March 10, 2022 at 8:23 am

He is a favorite of mine. I’ve read everything he’s written an anxiously await each new book. The third beartown book is coming out in September


May 27, 2021 at 1:50 pm

I think The Clay Girl is one of the best I have read in recent years!

February 2, 2022 at 8:22 pm

“Rules of Civility” would be right up your alley as it was my favorite of 2021. I also LOVED “Blind Your Ponies” by Stanley Gordon West. The audiobook is a must.

February 7, 2022 at 1:36 pm

Oh, Rules of Civility is a great book. Though I will admit, I didn’t love it as much as A Gentleman in Moscow or The Lincoln Highway. He really is a brilliant writer.

Kondwani Thawi Nyirongo says

February 10, 2022 at 4:02 pm

Its been a while since I read a book. U have inspired me with your list to get back to reading. Bless you

March 8, 2022 at 4:09 pm

I’d like to add four. 1) I MUST BETRAY YOU by Ruta Septetys. One of my former bosses was Romanian and his Swiss wife said that his family’s behavior was very strange when they visited. Now I understand completely. I also recommend her OUT OF THE EASY and FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE. 2) A MORE PERFECT UNION by Tammye Huf. An incredible debut novel. What a story! 3) LITTLE WING by Freya North. Breath-taking. 4) If you like poetry, WINTER RECIPES FROM THE COLLECTIVE by Louise Glück. Only 15 poems and a little expensive but exquisite. Her first book after having won The Nobel Prize.

April 17, 2022 at 2:40 pm

One of my alltime favorites is MODOC THE WORLDS MOST AMAZING ELEPHANT. Non fiction incredibleness!

Goutham says

April 19, 2022 at 11:52 am

Perfect. Just perfect. I was going to definitely curse you if you had not added that Harry Potter section at the end. It’s just so marvelous that I can’t express it with words:)

Kerry Chrisman says

April 20, 2022 at 4:43 pm

I love your list, but I would include A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (which I am currently rereading), Diary of a Young Girl and The Great Gatsby.

Anonymous says

April 24, 2022 at 12:23 pm

I’ve read all but 18 and all the others I have read were either 4 or 5 star for me. Love this list! Have you updated it? Just add more! I can never get too many book recs and you definitely seem to like the same ones I do. Thank you so much.

Arati Phillips says

May 31, 2022 at 9:45 pm

Love your list! Thank you. Have to catch up on my reading. Your suggestions are ‘right up my sleeve’ Keep it up!

Connie Mercer says

August 4, 2022 at 3:23 am

Love your list. I have read many of these and now have a list of what to read next! In high school, my favorite was Exodus by Leon Uris. Others are Bel Canto, Poisonwood Bible, Ahab’s Wife, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, The Thirteenth Tale. So many good reads!!

Dan West says

October 18, 2022 at 12:45 pm

THIS is a stunning list, thank you! The degree of correlation to my own tastes and experiences is almost unsettling. And (sarcastically:) thanks a LOT for adding to my endless and ever-growing “burden” of books I MUST READ! I noticed a prior comment mentioning Bel Canto (Ann Patchett, who is nearly-always brilliant!), which brought up for me another resonant master of the medium: EVERYTHING by Lauren Groff (and here, “everything” is not a title, but an amount). Jus’ sayin’. And thank you, NON-sarcastically!

Rachel says

October 30, 2022 at 1:44 am

Fantastic list! I have seen many book lists and read thousands of books, and your list is one of the very best I’ve seen! I have already read and love so many books on your list, and I’m adding all of the others to my list. I can’t wait to dive in! I feel almost like we’re kindred spirits, especially since we share a name. Thanks for such a fantastic list!

  • Incredible Five Star Books You Need to Read

Incredible Five Star Books You Need to Read

Great Reads From 2022 Selected by Book Bloggers

5 star reads recommended by book bloggers, 8 books to add to your tbr list.

Weep, Woman, Weep by Maria DeBlassie

You might also like :  Book Blogging in 2022 Survey

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Oh man, I don't think my overloaded TBR can take much more. LOL. Thanks for sharing these.

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Thanks for including my 5 Star read Jo! I truly appreciate all your promotion efforts on behalf of bloggers! I hope you're feeling better.

My pleasure Carol 😊

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15 Books Famous Authors Give Five Stars on Goodreads

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Johann Thorsson

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984 , Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient . He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

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I take book recommendations from authors I admire seriously.

Dan Simmons turned me on to Daniel Woodrell, and Stephen King pointed Justin Cronin out to me. On both accounts, authors I admire introduced me to new authors whose books I really like (Woodrell is now one of my all-time favorite author, and I wrote about him in Book Riot’s book  Start Here, Vol 2 .).

If only there was a site where people rated books publicly…

Turns out, a few authors rate other authors’ books on Goodreads! Let’s take a look at some, in order to discover something new to read. Look at these as the highest sort of endorsement.

Let’s see what some books famous authors give 5 stars on Goodreads:

Neil Gaiman gives 5 stars to…

Neil Gaiman is a Book Riot favorite. He may be the nicest person in publishing today, and his Goodreads profile reflects this. He only has five and four star ratings, except for a single one-star rating which is completely due to the formating of a very old book (and which he then apologizes for).

But which books does Neil Gaiman give five stars to?

1. Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

Enchanted Glass

2. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

3. The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolf

4. Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen by Reverend Jen and John Ames

5. Various folktales  (Brothers Grimm, Italian Folk tales and Alan Garner’s Collected Folktales)

Patrick Rothfuss gives 5 stars to…

Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Name of the Wind ) has read and rated a LOT of books on Goodreads, and clearly has a taste for graphic novels. 773 books read and rated. Among his five-star ratings are the following:

1. The Arrival  by Shaun Tan ( the  perfect book to give for any occasion, by the way)


2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

3. The Sandman Collection  by Neil Gaiman

4. Persepolis  by Marianne Satrapi

5. Gun Machine   by Warren Ellis

Hugh Howey gives 5 stars to…

The darling of the self-publishing crowd, and rightfully so. Mr. Howey has a contagious infatuation with independent publishing. I interviewed him for Book Riot back in October , and it was there I first heard of Andy Weir’s The Martian , which is probably going to be one of 2014’s big sellers.

Here are a few of Hugh’s five-star-rated books on Goodreads:

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


2. The Passage by Justin Cronin

3. Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard (I guess there’s no accounting for some people’s taste, huh?). o_O

4. Watchmen by Alan Moore

5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann


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Decoding the 5-Star Book Rating System: A Reader’s Guide

Delve into the world of literature as we demystify the 5-star book rating system, unraveling its nuances and significance

Within the vast expanse of literature, opinions on books can diverge widely. What one individual considers a masterpiece, another might deem an ordinary read.


To navigate through this sea of subjective experiences, the 5-star book rating system has emerged as a prevalent tool for readers to articulate their sentiments and share insights about a book.

In this article, we will delve comprehensively into the nuances of the 5-star book rating system, exploring the distinct connotations of each star and outlining practical strategies for its application.

Unveiling the Spectrum

The 5-star rating system provides a simple yet effective means of articulating your overall assessment of a book. Below, we delineate the customary significance of each star:

One Star: ★☆☆☆☆


Typically assigned to books that you found disheartening or struggled to connect with, this rating denotes a strong sense of aversion.

It could suggest subpar writing, one-dimensional character development, perplexing plot trajectories, or an amalgamation of these factors.

A one-star rating unequivocally signals that the book drastically undershot your expectations. This is a book you would NOT recommend to like-minded readers.

Two Stars: ★★☆☆☆

A two-star rating implies that while the book might possess redeeming attributes, it ultimately failed to captivate your interest or left you underwhelmed.

It could have harbored latent potential, but notable flaws were detrimental to your enjoyment. Now, this may be something that would interest others but leaves you cold, i.e., too much gore, too many spicy scenes, etc.

Be sure to state that in your review so that other potential readers know there are qualities you did not enjoy, but they may! Even a “negative” book review can guide readers to something they may enjoy.

Three Stars: ★★★☆☆

Connoting an average read, a three-star rating might have had instances of intrigue, yet it failed to impart a pronounced impression.

It does not scale the summits of excellence nor plummet to the depths of dissatisfaction, nestling instead in the middle stratum of the spectrum. It was pleasant but lacked memorability.

Four Stars: ★★★★☆

Awarding four stars communicates your genuine fondness for the book, affirming it as a noteworthy read.

It might have featured a compelling narrative, well-sculpted character dynamics, or a narrative style that resonated deeply.

While not bereft of minor imperfections, the book resonated with you on a lasting level.

You would certainly recommend this book and would also read more from this author in the future.

Five Stars: ★★★★★


Symbolizes a profound connection with the book. These are the tomes you deem masterstrokes, ones deserving a universal recommendation.

Awarding five stars signifies recognition of impeccable prose, engaging storytelling, and a lasting impact on your psyche.

You may even revisit this book in the future and list the author as one of your favorites.  

In employing the 5-star rating system, strategic considerations come into play:

Embrace emotional reflection.

Probe your emotional resonance with the book. Did it evoke laughter, tears, or contemplation? Gauge how profoundly the book affected your emotional and intellectual faculties.

Contextual Insights

A singular star might only sometimes denote a poorly composed book.

It could result from a mismatch between the subject matter and your personal tastes. Equally, five stars don’t assure universal appeal; a book you adore might not synchronize with another’s preferences.

This is why a written review is always the most effective way to share your thoughts on a book.

Champion Consistency

Endeavor to uphold a consistent rating framework across different books. This aids in illuminating your distinctive inclinations and facilitates a comparative assessment of various literary works. This is ESPECIALLY important if you have followers who rely on your reviews to introduce them to new works.


Augment With Reviews

While the star rating provides a rapid snapshot of your judgment, coupling it with a brief review enhances context. This assists fellow readers in gauging the book’s resonance with their biases.

5-Star Book Ranking System

The 5-star book rating system is valuable for articulating your sentiments regarding a book.

It condenses intricate reactions into an accessible and shareable format. Remember that a book’s merit extends beyond its star rating; personal connections, thematic pertinence, and idiosyncratic preferences all contribute.

Thus, whether you confer five stars upon a life-altering novel or a solitary star upon a book that failed to align with your expectations, your ratings contribute substantially to the diverse tapestry of literary viewpoints.


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book review 5 stars

Finding the happy medium between self-growth and nurturing home + family

10 Five-Star Novels (+ What It Takes to Get a Five-Star Rating) #bookrecommendations #booklist #books #bookrecs

What It Takes for a Book to Get a 5-Star Rating From Me (+ 10 Novels That Made the Cut)

10 Five-Star Novels (+ What It Takes to Get a Five-Star Rating) #bookrecommendations #booklist #books #bookrecs

A little more than a year and a half ago, I made an important shift in my reading life—I started not only recording the books I was reading on Goodreads (on a regular basis) and giving them ratings, but I also made the decision to always, ALWAYS give a review of some kind once I finished. I’ve been reviewing books on my blog since 2011, but now that my reading habits have picked up quite a bit over the past couple years (and my reading tastes have been refined a bit more), I found that an old teacher tendency started to creep up on me—

I wanted my ratings to be more consistent, to follow a definite sort of criteria, so that when asked why I gave such and such book a certain rating, I could have a ready answer (even if I couldn’t even really remember a lot about the book’s particulars).

So I created a “grading rubric” of sorts (because apparently you can take the teacher out of the assessment practices, but you can’t take the assessment practices out of the teacher, or something like that). While these rules don’t always make it EASY to decide what to rank a book after I’ve read it, they definitely have simplified the process, and I’ve noticed that since adopting them, I’m rarely wanting to change any of my previous rankings (something I was wanting to do quite a lot before).

Just for fun, though, before we get to what constitutes a 5-star read, let’s start at the bottom with my criteria for getting just one, and move up from there.

Note: There are affiliate links below through Amazon, which means I get a small percentage of each sale made (at no extra cost to you). Thanks for supporting To Love and To Learn!

One-Star Rating

  • A book must be truly awful to get a one-star rating. In fact, so few books receive this rating from me simply because if a book is this awful, I usually won’t even finish it.
  • In the past, I gave two books a one-star rating ( Heart of Darkness , Tender is the Night ) that I’m sure I would give a slightly higher rating to if I re-read the book now, simply because now, if I’m giving a book one-star, it’s because I basically see no merit in the book, or I find it so despicable on some level (often in its message or content) that I just hate the experience of reading it. As both of these books are considered classics, chances are high that if I gave them a shot now that I’m a *bit* more mature, I might at least be able to see WHY they are classics, which would help boost their rating.
  • The only book I’ve given a one-star rating to in recent years is Give It Up! , so it’s the only one I feel confident I would STILL give a one-star rating to now. It’s the story of an upper middle-class woman who decides to give up some of the superfluous things in her life in pursuit of greater happiness (such as shopping for clothes, nights out drinking with friends, etc.). Sounds like it would be right up my alley, right? (Especially because I’ve recommended books that have a similar premise very recently, like this one .) Well, this book was awful–the writing was lackluster, there was very little personal growth that I saw, and I kept having the nagging feeling that the author had only undertaken the project because she wanted to publish a book, and this seemed an easy way to go about getting a contract.

Two-Star Rating

  • One thing that’s important to me is writing style, so if a book’s writing feels too juvenile or forced or cheesy or whatever, that can quickly take it down to two stars for me.
  • I’ve noticed lately that many of the books that I’ve been giving two stars to in the past little while have been because the book didn’t match up to my (higher) expectations for it. I have often found that when I read a particularly great book by a new author (new to me, that is), often the second book I read by that author gets a lower rating. I’m guessing this is because I generally only try new authors that come highly recommended, so if a certain book gets a lot of buzz by that author, I’ll go for that one first and then read less-talked-about books later. Often, those less popular reads won’t get as high of a rating, but I’ll unfortunately be expecting a lot more from them just because of my experience with the other book I read by that author. This happened recently with Circling the Sun by Paula McLain–I’d read The Paris Wife years ago and really liked it, so I was excited to check out this newer release by her, but it ended up being far below my expectations.
  • I don’t always need likable characters if the story or the writing style are good enough, but if I really hate a main character (particularly if I find him/her annoying), that’s a quick way to drive down a novel to two stars. Some examples: Twilight (though the writing was cheesy enough that I’m not sure it could have gotten a higher rating even if I had liked Bella, which I didn’t), Lemon Tart (writing style also played a major factor in this one), and Every Exquisite Thing (writing was fine, even likable–but the main character + the terrible ending were enough to take this one right down).
  • I don’t need happy endings to like a book or even need an ending to wrap everything up (in fact, I often prefer some ambiguity to my endings rather than to have everything *too* neatly tied together), but if I hate an ending, it’s definitely enough to kill any higher rating the rest of the book might have merited. It seems that the final books of series often fall into this category, which is why you’ll notice that Mockingjay and Allegiant both got two stars from me on my Goodreads account.
  • Occasionally, if a book has too many “triggers” in it (profanity, explicit sexual scenes, superfluous descriptions of gory violence, etc.), it’s enough to push a rating down for me. That was the case with The Girl With All the Gifts (for profanity and violence) and it didn’t help the case for The Course of Love (because the section on adultery just made me so mad).
  • And sometimes, a book just is a little too slow or goes on too long without saying much of anything or just doesn’t grab my attention, which was the case for New Slow City , The Signature of All Things (though all the sexual content took this one down, too), and Traveling With Pomegranates .

Three-Star Rating

  • Often, the books that get three stars are the ones that I didn’t feel strongly enough either way to give it a higher or lower rating. In other words, I didn’t mind the experience of reading it, but it didn’t necessarily have much staying power, either. Often, my “fluff” reads fall into this category, such as the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that I just finished–it was a fun, light read to pass the time, but it’s not the kind of book that I would be eager to re-read or that I will think back on often.
  • A book pretty much has to get at LEAST three stars from me in order for me to ever recommend it, and I’ve found that with a lot of my 3-star reads, it was a book that was just in the middle for me but I could also recognize why it would be a GREAT book for someone else. Take the book The Orphan Keeper as an example—while I got hung up on some of my issues with the writing style and narrative choices, I could totally see why someone else would give that book five stars because the story is AWESOME.
  • Basically, if a book gets three stars, I at least see some merit in its plot, writing style, message,etc., and I also–to some extent–had to have been at least somewhat entertained by it (or it at least made me think). Classics are notoriously hard for me to rank because I often don’t ENJOY my reading of them, but because I almost always see their merit, they will usually always get at least 3 stars from me (if not 4), even if I don’t necessarily LIKE the story. Some examples would be A Passage to India , Wuthering Heights (though I feel I need to give this one another shot now that I’m older), and A Room With a View .

Four-Star Rating

  • Ah, now this is where it gets really good! To get four stars, a book almost always has to be well-written and well-paced (if it’s a novel) or have some really thought-provoking content in it (if it’s nonfiction).
  • A four-star book is one I thoroughly enjoyed and usually would not hesitate to recommend (though some, like Beartown and The Goldfinch , both of which I gave 4.5 stars to, I do have to recommend with caveats, as they have quite a bit of content–profanity, sexual references, etc.–that might be offensive to some readers). Sometimes those triggers are the ONLY thing holding me back from giving the book 5 stars, in fact, which was the case with both of those books.
  • A four-star book must be memorable, to some degree. Often with my 3-star reads, I forget plot or character details within months, but with a 4-star read, those things must be sufficiently memorable for me to give it that higher rating.
  • Interestingly enough, I actually find that my four-star books are often more easily readable or “un-put-down-able” (to borrow a term from Modern Mrs. Darcy) than my five-star reads, which might seem a little backward. Often that’s because a five-star read tends to have more “meat” in it, which can make it a lot harder to read (or mean that it has a slower plot). Actually, I would even venture to say that the books I’ve given four stars to are more likely to appeal to a general audience than the books I give five stars to (more on that in a minute).
  • A few four-star picks that I’ve finished this year: The Snow Child , El Deafo (the first graphic novel to get the designation), and This Must Be the Place .

Five-Star Rating

  • Last the best of all the game! To get five stars from me, the book almost always has to be extremely well-written (and I definitely tend to favor books whose writing style would be considered more “literary”) and needs to have strong, memorable characters (and it often helps if those characters are likable too, though that isn’t ALWAYS necessary!).
  • The book’s pacing needs to be such that I always or almost always look forward to reading it and seek out opportunities to read it whenever I can (though a few of the titles that have gotten the designation, like classics, don’t always fit that criteria).
  • While a 5-star book can occasionally have some aspects I don’t love (like profanity, vulgarity, etc.), it’s much more common for me to favor stories that DON’T have those triggers in them for my highest ratings. (Part of the reason for this is because I figure if I’m giving a book five stars, I’m usually excited enough about it that I want to recommend it to EVERYONE, which I just can’t do if it’s got a lot of content stuff I have to warn people about.)
  • Besides wanting to recommend it to just about everyone, a five-star read needs to be a book that I’d be excited to read again, which is actually really saying something coming from me (since I hardly re-read books ever). For instance, I just finished Cutting For Stone –which I LOVED–but one of the main reasons I didn’t give it five stars is because I’m just fine with having read it once and calling it good. For me, a 5-star book should be so good that I almost want to start reading it again as soon as I’ve finished it. (It’s this criteria that makes it so that far more nonfiction reads get five stars from me than fiction ones, just because I’m so much more likely to want to re-read something nonfiction.)
  • Lastly, a five-star book has to be life-changing, paradigm-shifting, or completely unforgettable in some way to earn the ranking.
  • Since I’ve recently set the bar so much higher for my five-star reads, I’m actually starting to go through the books I gave five stars to years ago and re-reading them to see if they still deserve that designation. (For example, I recently read Peony in Love for the second time and knocked it down to four stars–and almost knocked it down to three, but the ending saved it–after a re-read, just because I REALLY didn’t like the first part of the book, and there was a lot more sexual content than I’d remembered.)

Perhaps another time I’ll share a post about some of the life-changing nonfiction books that definitely earned their five stars fair and square, but for today, I’ll go ahead and share ten of the novels:

10 Five-Star Fiction Reads

Title: peace like a river, author: leif enger.

The perfect example of how my five-star books might not be as universally appealing as some of my four-star picks. Peace Like a River definitely skews more “literary”–the writing is seriously beautiful, almost like poetry–and I don’t remember the plot being one that was particularly fast-paced. But!–the characters were memorable, the ending was just as it should be, and I’m STILL excited to re-read this one (since I haven’t yet, seeing as I just read it last year). This is the story, told from a child’s perspective, of how the narrator’s brother has to go on the run from the law after killing someone who was threatening their family, thus becoming like a real-life “outlaw.” The book explores everything from religious themes like miracles to the question of which is more important–staying true to your family, or staying true to the law, even if you think it doesn’t “apply” in this case. This definitely has a distinct “Western” feel, but don’t let that turn  you off–I didn’t think I was into Westerns, but I was definitely into this book.

Title: The Kite Runner

Author: khaled hosseini.

This is definitely not an easy book (emotionally) to read, but it DEFINITELY fits the criteria of being highly memorable (and the added benefit of being totally engrossing). I’m definitely due for a re-read of this one (as it’s been about seven years), but elements of the story have still stayed with me, even after all this time. The Kite Runner is the story of two boys who both grew up in the same household but under very different circumstances (one was the master of the house’s son, the other was one of the servants). When a horrific event happens to the servant–and the other boy does nothing–the effects are long-lasting and devastating. This remains one of the most powerful novels about the concept of forgiveness that I’ve ever read.

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: arthur golden.

I believe this is now the third book roundup of mine that this book has made it onto (the others were Riveting WWII Books and Love Stories For People Who “Don’t Do” Romances ). So obviously I love this book. Memoirs of a Geisha is about a girl who is sold by her parents into the geisha life, and while the story deals with growing up and dealing with hard things and rising up against your fiercest rivals, it’s a love story at its heart, and how one act of kindness and compassion can change a life forever.

Title: Crossing to Safety

Author: wallace stegner.

This is the only adult fiction novel to have earned five stars so far this year (other than Sense and Sensibility ), and though I finished it back at the beginning of March, I still think about it all the time. As I wrote in my Goodreads review, very few writers could take such a quiet plot and spin it into such a compelling story, but Stegner manages to do just that in this novel. On the surface, this is not a book about much–it basically just follows the progression of the friendship of two couples over much of a lifetime–but at the same time, it’s a book about everything, or at least a book about everything that matters. I seriously can’t wait to read another of Stegner’s works (and the only reason I’m waiting is because I’m actually going to break one of my usual book-buying rules and buy a few before I’ve read them, just because I’m confident I’ll want to read them with a highlighter in hand).

Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: anthony doerr.

Here’s another one I can’t wait to read again (and have wanted to ever since I finished it). In fact, I liked this one so much, I immediately looked up everything else the author had written (which actually isn’t much) and bought his Four Seasons in Rome (which, for the record, was a 3.5-star read) soon thereafter when I came across it in a used bookstore. All the Light We Cannot See is the story of a blind girl, a famous jewel, and an orphaned-boy-turned-soldier during WWII, whose paths eventually intersect in an unexpected and memorable way. The writing is a large part of why I loved this one so much–it’s told in short snapshot-like chapters with continually varying viewpoints, and the prose is so beautiful that it should come as no surprise that the author was actually given a generous amount of money AND a stint in Rome, just so he would finish writing this.

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: margaret atwood.

Although many people love this for the way it explores current political and social issues, I loved it for its compelling story and its fabulous prose (this was my first exposure to Atwood’s writing, and I knew immediately it wouldn’t be my last). This dystopian novel (written well before the dystopian genre got “trendy”) is about a futuristic society where many rights (such as the right to read) are taken away from women in the name of “protecting” them, and how women in this society hope above all else that they’ll get pregnant during their mandatory “meetings” with their Commanders, as their value and worth is determined by their fertility. While the society is obviously super disturbing, I found the book to be compelling and thought-provoking, and while some people hate the unresolved ending, I personally thought it was quite brilliant.

Title: The Help

Author: kathryn stockett.

I’ve found that when it comes to super popular fiction that nearly everyone has read, I can often become a bit snooty without meaning to be, in that I try really hard to find something to criticize or a reason to not like it as much as everyone else. While a part of me halfheartedly tried to do the same for The Help , I quickly just got wrapped up in this story set in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t often reread books (and for several years, I actually didn’t “let” myself reread anything), but this is one that I’ve actually listened to on audiobook (which is FABULOUS, by the way, and if you haven’t already tried a free trial of Audible , you can listen to it through that) two or three times since, just to enjoy the pleasure of getting lost in this world and time period again. This book might not be as “literary” or “life-changing” as some of the other books on this list, but it’s one where I just absolutely fell in love with the story.

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author: betty smith.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that about a third of the books on this short little list deal with “quiet” plots–in other words, literature that represents life as it really is. While I love to get immersed in a different culture or different time period (which is also evidenced in this list), I also love a well-written book that I can totally relate to on some level because it represents MY life in some way. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is just such a book–in reading about Francie Nolan’s childhood, it’s like you’re reliving your own childhood. The details of both might not be the same at all, but the FEEL of childhood is captured so magically in this book that I’ve rarely read anything else to rival it.

Title: I Capture the Castle

Author: dodie smith.

This is actually a five-star read from many years ago that I’m currently rereading to ensure that it still will earn five stars, but I’m fairly confident (based on what I can remember) that it will. This novel about a young aspiring writer living in a crumbling old castle with her poverty-stricken family reads like escapism of the best kind. I don’t remember a ton of the details (I read it over a decade ago, I believe), but I do remember that this book made me want to pick up my pen and start writing again AND that it made me want to go find a castle for sale somewhere, ASAP.

Title: My Name is Asher Lev

Author: chaim potok.

Sometimes it’s the writing or the characters or the setting that really stick out to me in a book, but in this one, it was actually the THEME that has never left me. This entire book is basically about a Jewish boy who is this phenomenal artist, but as he progresses in his work, he has to face a crucial question–when his artistic vision goes against what his faith teaches (in this case, he wants to produce a work with a definite Christian theme), what should he then do? I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’ve also always been very devoted to my faith, and at times, I recognize that the two don’t always mesh well, so this book really made me think a lot. As it’s been almost a decade since I read it, I’m thinking it’s another one due for a reread soon!

What are the fiction books that YOU would give five stars to? And what are your own criteria for awarding a book this highest of ratings?

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for her Quick Lit series !

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Lifestyle · April 4, 2022

Best Book Rating System: Categories for a 5-Star Scale

You’ve just finished reading a book that made you feel some type of way – good or bad.

You want to share your thoughts and opinions with others, maybe give a recommendation or criticism.

But how do you decide what rating to give a book? What seems fair and logical? 

“Did I enjoy it enough to make a five star? Was it lacking just a little to make it a four? Or maybe I feel like it was a three but that seems kind of low? I just don’t know.” 

If you’ve ever had these kinds of thoughts, you aren’t alone, and this post is for you!

What you will learn:

  • Why book ratings are so important
  • Where the best places are to leave book ratings
  • How books are typically rated
  • How to rate books based on certain criteria
  • My book rating system SPECS

I often find myself unable to decide how to rank a book. Sometimes I stress over it, and come back to it later only to think that maybe I’ve changed my mind about what I previously rated the book.

I wanted to create a better, more objective way to rank all the books I read.

I didn’t want it to be based on an emotional whim – from either my initial reactions or once that euphoria had worn off – or to let others’ opinions influence my own. 

My rating system will give you the categories and criteria to rate books, in any genre, more effectively and with less stress. 

book review 5 stars

Why are book ratings so important?

Book ratings matter to everyone involved in the industry.

Publishers rely on readers for feedback and to market their books.

Authors rely on ratings much in the same way as publishers.

And, of course, readers rely on ratings to decide whether or not to read a book, whether or not it will be something they will enjoy too.

We all love sharing our thoughts on books with others who enjoy the bookish lifestyle as much as we do. 

Where to rate books?

There are many websites out there to rate and review books but these are by far the best: 

If you aren’t already on GoodReads, you definitely should be! This is THE number one place for books. It is user friendly and extremely popular. You can rate, review, create lists, and so much more. [I’m sure you already know this but if you don’t… seriously, go sign up for Goodreads, like right now ;)]

Ah, of course, good ol’ Amazon. If you didn’t already know, books are where Amazon got its start. When it was created, that was all they sold. So it’s no surprise that it is still one of the best places for book lovers (and I think it really needs no explanation). 

Barnes & Noble (or Books-a-Million )

Obviously the most popular book retailers are going to make it on this list as well. Although, from my experience, their online presence isn’t as large as the first two on this list. But these are two more great places to leave ratings for books. 

book review 5 stars

How are books rated?

Typically, books are rated on a five star scale , with one being the lowest score (or worst books) and five being the highest (or best books). But what do these five stars really mean, anyway? In general, this is how I use the 5-star rating system:

A 5-star book is one that I loved, an absolute must read, and now a favorite of mine. It’s a book that will live on my shelves forever and I would re-read in the future. The story has left a lasting impression on my heart and I would pick up anything else by this author without question.

A 4-star book is one that I really liked. It’s a very enjoyable story, but just short of epic. Certain areas may not be as fulfilling as they could have been. I’m not quite as captivated or blown away, but still had a great experience. I’d recommend this book to others and continue reading from this author. 

A 3-star book is good and worth reading. I enjoyed it but it felt a little lacking. I may recommend it to a certain audience. It gave me mixed feelings, possibly with potential it didn’t quite live up to. It’s a good experience, not amazing, but not bad. 

A 2-star book is just ok. It’s not a book for me and not one I would recommend. It didn’t hold my interest, and probably felt more of a chore to get through. Not completely terrible, but I didn’t have a good experience. 

A 1-star book is one I just didn’t like, at all. Most likely I DNF’d it (did not finish). I would not recommend it to anyone and it is definitely not for me. 

And while this system seems efficient, it can sometimes also feel unclear. Sometimes I agonize over deciding between star ratings.

I wanted a better rating system so that once I had stacked up a plethora of book ratings, they weren’t skewed in their comparison, but ranked equally and fairly.

No more wishy washy feelings.

I wanted something more c oncrete and decisive, that actually analyzed the content of the book.

So I created a simple but in-depth method.

book review 5 stars

My Ranking System:

I wanted a system that would work across the board for all types of genres, since I read all kinds of books. I didn’t want it to be too complex or niched. I decided on five categories that include the five essential elements of narrative for every story.

S – Setting

This includes world-building, lore, atmosphere, etc. 

P – Plot

This includes structure, arcs, pacing, climax, tension, resolution, hooks, etc. 

E – Engagement

This includes immersion, enjoyment, themes, genre, tropes, etc.

C – Characters

This includes development, relatability, depth, dynamics, arcs, etc.

S – Style

This includes writing, voice, point of view, narrator, etc. 

These “specs” are the categories and criteria I use to rate books. Each one is scored out of five , just like the typical five star system. Then you take those scores, add them together, and divide by five to get your overall score. 

When you do the math, you may end up with a decimal figure. So here’s how I would round each score so that it matches up to the overall 5-star scale: 

0 – 1.4 = 1 star book

1.5 – 2.4= 2 stars

2.5 – 3.4= 3 stars

3.5 – 4.4 = 4 stars

4.5 – 5 = 5 stars 

book review 5 stars

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say you decide on the following SPECS for a book. 

Setting = 3

Engagement = 4

Characters = 5

Add them together to get 19. Then divide by five to get 3.8.

So your overall rating for this book would be 4 stars. 

As a reviewer, I want to give my audience the most authentic opinions possible.

I want readers to understand my reviews and know they can trust I have shared my perspective based on important criteria. 

All book reviews are, in a way, subjective, because they are based on a single individual’s experience. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes, and we will not always all agree.

But the SPECS system is a method that will allow reviewers to base their feedback on evidence from these categories, rather than simply on an emotional response.

I hope that it will also help other reviewers who sometimes struggle like I do over choosing the rating that feels right. 

book review 5 stars

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book review 5 stars

February 22, 2023 at 11:36 am

As an Author, The Mildenhall Legacy, March 2022, I have received nothing below 5 stars from a certain age group (20 – 35). Professional reviewers have given the book 3.5 or above. I appreciate the fact that people of different age groups will have differing opinions about my work. That said, I like hearing (from the pros) where I can improve my writing skills!

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His maw beagn to tingle as he watched his prize;

In an instant he assumed his tiger disguise.”

“’How long has it been sunce human flesh came my way?

What bliss to find a victim like this sad Dukhey.’

One the far mudbank Dukey caught sight of the beast.

Its amber eyes glittered, as it watched its feast;

With its nose a-twitch, it sniffed the spoor of its game;

Its ochre stripes shimmered, like tongues of burning flame.”

book review 5 stars

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-m i Hwang

“Just because you're the same kind doesn't mean you're all one happy family. The important thing is to understand each other. That's love!”

“That's all there is to it. We look different, so we don't understand each other's inner thoughts, but we cherish each other in our own way. I respect you.”

book review 5 stars

Books worth 5 stars - Mystery/Thriller

book review 5 stars

The Maid by Nita Prose

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”

“That’s the trouble with pain. It’s a contagious as a disease. It spreads from the person who first endured it to those who love them most. Truth isn’t always the highest ideal’ sometimes it must be sacrificed to stop the spread of pain to those you love.”

book review 5 stars

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“We're more than the sum total of our choices, that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.”

“It's terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, branches off into a new world.”

book review 5 stars

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

“I am a bricklayer without drawings, laying words in sentences, sentences into paragraphs, allowing my walls to twist and turn on framework...just bricks idea what I'm building or if it will symmetry, no plan, just the chaotic unplotted bustle of human life.”

“Still, there might be something fitting about a friendship based on a common love of words being founded on an exchange of the same.”

book review 5 stars

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; One said he'd stay there and then there were seven. Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six. Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five. Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four. Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three. Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two. Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one. One little Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”

book review 5 stars

Confessions by Kanae Minato Translated by Stephen Snyder

“The world you live in is much bigger than that. If the place in which you find yourself is too painful, I say you should be free to seek another, less painful place of refuge. There is no shame in seeking a safe place. I want you to believe that somewhere in this wide world there is a place for you, a safe haven.”

“If you’re always worrying about what other people think, you’ll never get any tougher.”

book review 5 stars

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong Translated by Chi-Young Kim

“There are some people you just can’t love. Even when they smile, they make you want to pull on either side of that smile and rip their mouth off.”

“Mother knew exactly how to get under my skin, what to take away from me in order to get me to submit. The guilt coming from one part of her heart would have been offset by confessing in her journal just how painful it was to bully me. I turned the page.”

book review 5 stars

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

“The people you love weren’t algebra: to be calculated, subtracted, or held at arm’s length across a decimal point.”

“He smiled, put his hands on the back of her neck, fingers in her hair, and leaned in to press his forehead against hers. He’d told her before that he did it to take away half her sadness, half her headache, half her nerves before her Columbia interview. Because half less of a bad thing meant there was room for half good.”

Non-fiction - Best of the Best

book review 5 stars

Why I am an Atheist and other stories by Bhagat Singh

They can kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit.

Criticism and independent thinking are the two indispensable qualities of a revolutionary.

book review 5 stars

The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things Right by Atul Gawande

“What is needed, however, isn't just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline. Discipline is hard--harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can't even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”

book review 5 stars

Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story by S arah Meyers

Monstrous  is an  impressive   adolescent   mature   graphic   bio  about a Korean- American  girl  who uses  cult  and  art -  making  to  conquer racist bullying.

5 star Classics

book review 5 stars

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery

“It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

book review 5 stars

5 star Contemporary Fiction 

book review 5 stars

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

“Does letting go mean losing everything you have, or does it mean gaining everything you never had?”

“But it’s what we do, what we’ve done for years now. We drag our past behind us like a weight, still shackled, but far enough back that we never have to see, never have to openly acknowledge who we once were.”

book review 5 stars

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kufaka

“You don't need to have it all. You only need to figure out how much is enough.”

“Grief was a hole. A portal to nothing. Grief was a walk so long Hazel forgot her own legs. It was a shock of blinding sun. A burst of remembering: sandals on pavement, a sleepy back seat, nails painted on the bathroom floor. Greif was a loneliness that felt like a planet.”

book review 5 stars

Boat Number Five by Monika Komp amikova

The  heart-breaking  yet   comic   story  of a neglected  girl   who struggles  to  care  for herself and others in post-communist Slovakia.

Romance -  5 star rated 

book review 5 stars

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

“I can appreciate my body in a bikini and still want to set fire to the patriarchy.”

“I am a homebody, through and through, and there’s nothing like being home.”

book review 5 stars

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

“I’ll love you until my heart gives out. I’ll be your man for a thousand years. Longer if I’m allowed.”

“When I hug you?” Fuck. His heart was turning over and over like a car engine. “My hugs are your recharging station?”

book review 5 stars

Heartstopper I and II and III by Alice Osman

“You can't tell whether people are gay by what they look like. And gay or straight aren't the only two options.”

“I’m just… so sorry I ran away! I was just freaking out like honestly I am having a proper full-on gay crisis!”

“There's this idea that if you're not straight, you HAVE to tell all your family and friends  immediately , like you owe it to them. But you don't. You don't  have  to do anything until you're ready.”

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The Best Books of 2023! 5-Star Books to Read Now!

best books of 2023

Here is our ever-evolving list of the best books of 2023. Here’s the process:

Starting in January, Jackie and I start to compile our 5-star books for our best books of 2023 list. Once we have at least one book per category, we feel ready to publish it.

But the list is very much subject to change. We like to distill each category down to the best 3-4 picks per year, but since we read a combined total of more than 300 books a year, the competition gets tougher as the year goes on.

For example, if you are here in April, the best romance books of 2023 may look very different than they do in August or December! But we think that’s part of the fun.

In addition to listing the best books of 2023, we thought it would be fun to highlight our 3-4 favorite finds of the month too. Yes, we are primarily books, but if you follow us on Instagram , you know we share lots of lifestyle finds in our stories too. I love to chat about a product I love.

We are so curious to know if our picks for best books of 2023 match up with yours! Let us know in the comments.

*Best Books of 2023 post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you.

Table of Contents

5 Star Books of 2023

Historical fiction // romance // middle grade // fiction // beach reads // feel good // ya books // celebrity books // fantasy // thriller & mystery // non fiction // holiday // kids //, the best books of 2023, best historical fiction books of 2023: 5-star books.

Stars in an Italian Sky

Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo

Where do I even start with this book? I loved it so much. In Genoa Italy, in 1946 Vincenzo and Giovanna fell in love. But, they belong to two different worlds. She is the daughter of a tailor and she is almost royalty.

In 2017, Cassandra and Luca are in love. When Luca asks Cassandra’s grandmother to be a model for his new painting, with his grandfather, the past and its secrets are revealed.

I cannot say enough about this book that is part contemporary fiction and part historical fiction. It had me absolutely bawling by the end, ugly crying, and I LOVED it. The ending was perfect, fitting, and cathartic. This is Jackie’s pick for the best historical fiction books of 2023.

Two Wars and A Wedding

Two Wars and A Wedding by Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig’s book Band of Sisters , is one of our favorite WW1 Books so I was eager to read this novel. It’s a dual-timeline story with a single heroine who finds herself caught in a war between Greece and Turkey in 1896 and in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Betsy Hayes travels to Greece to study archeology but ends up embroiled in the middle of a war, where she becomes a nurse. After witnessing the horrors of war, two years later she’s off to Cuba to try to stop her friend from experiencing the same things.

As usual, I loved Willig’s writing. I was immersed in both stories as I rooted for Betsy and her spirited ways. It’s definitely one of the best historical fiction books of 2023.

The Frozen River

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

December 2023 Good Morning America Book Club Pick

I was so excited to read this pick from the 2023 book releases and let me tell you that I was not disappointed!

This historical mystery is inspired by the diary of Martha Ballard, an 18th-century midwife, who never lost a single mother in over 1000 deliveries.

When a man found entombed in ice, also happens to be the same man accused of a horrible attack, Martha tries to seek justice for the women that nobody else wants to protect. This book is brilliantly written and so well-researched that I could not put it down.

Favorite Finds: January 2023

This month has been all about new habits for both of us. I’m shoring up my skincare routine and trying a new undereye cream while Jackie has gone deep into setting up her new planner with the items below!

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Best Romance Books of 2023

The Hundred Loves of Juliet

The Hundred Loves of Juliet by Evelyn Skye

After a terrible divorce, Helene moves to a small town in Alaska to write a novel. When she meets Sebastian, a handsome fisherman, he is the personification of all the dreams she ever had of her perfect man.

Helene is determined to find the truth about her instant connection to Sebastian, but he’s determined to keep it from her.

I don’t want to spoil exactly how this Romeo and Juliet retelling is connected to the original story, but it’s a lovely romance with many mini-romances scattered throughout. This is a cozy book that will keep you turning the pages and smiling at the end. Jackie and I both think this is one of the best romance books of 2023.

Meet me at the lake

Meet Me at the Lake by Carley Fortune

Will and Fern spent one amazing, adventure-filled day together in their early 20s with a promise to meet up again one year later. When Fern shows up and Will doesn’t, she is heartbroken.

Now, nine years later, Fern has inherited the lakeside resort that she never wanted to run, her ex-boyfriend is the resort manager, and she needs help. When Will shows up at the resort with an offer to help get things back in order, she doesn’t know if she can get over her old feelings and trust him again.

I absolutely loved this lake book . Set between Muskoka and Toronto, it reminded me of my childhood and teenage years! This is an absolute must-read romance novel! You can also find this book in our list of Hotel Novels to Indulge in on Vacation , and of course on our list of best romance books of 2023.

Love Theoretically

Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood

Any romance novel by Ali Hazelwood has become a must-read so, it is no surprise that I jumped at the chance to read her newest STEMinist romcom!

Elsie has learned to live two lives; an adjunct professor in theoretical physicist by day and a fake girlfriend the rest of the time (to make ends meet). She has also learned to read people and become the Elsie that they want her to be.

When she interviews for her dream job as a theoretical physics professor at MIT, her two worlds collide. How? I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Elsie learns what she really wants an how to ask for it in a delightful and charming way.

This steamy romance novel is a must-read from our ultimate list of beach reads. It’s one of my picks for the best romance books of 2023 too! If you are looking for books for summer, this one is for you.

Favorite Finds: February 2023

For Valentine’s Day this year, I got each of my kids some games and a set of Lego flowers – perfect boredom busters for the colder winter months. I also fell in love with reusable paper towels that actually roll up onto a paper towel roll! I’ve saved so much money by not buying paper products, so I was happy to make this switch.

5-Star Books: Best Middle-Grade Books of 2023

the one and only ruby

The One and Only Ruby by Katherine Applegate

The third book in the One and Only series is focused on Ruby’s stories about her time in Africa. As always, Ivan, Bob, and Ruby’s bond captivated my family’s attention. Our kids had a hard time deciding which was their favorite book in this series. This book definitely has some sad parts so we want to give fair warning for any sensitive readers.

However, if you are a Katherine Applegate lover, this book does not disappoint. Once again, Applegate makes our list of best middle grade books of 2023 ! #gifted

the grace of wild things

The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett

This tween fantasy novel is a retelling of Anne of Green Gables – except Grace (Anne) is in training with the witch (Marilla). Oh! And Matthew is a cloud.

Fantastical? Yes — and utterly delightful. I loved when retellings completely rework the story so readers get glimpses of the classics we love, while experiencing something completely new.

This story swept me away and was so sad when it ended. It’s one of the best middle-grade books of 2023.

Favorite Finds: March 2023

Our finthrds this month were focused on Spring Break! Jackie is addicted to her new hat when she’s in the sun. Friends on Instagram have told us they love it too! Kirsten found some new beauty finds while getting vacation ready and the game below had her children occupied for hours by the pool.

Best Contemporary Fiction Books of 2023

The Heaven Earth Grocery Store

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

This pick from the best books to read in 2023 is from the National Book Award-winning author of The Good Lord Bird. When workers find a skeleton at the bottom of a well while doing work, who the skeleton was and what happened reveals some old secrets of the residents of Chicken Hill.

It is clear from the incredible writing in this book why it has been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book by NPR, Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Time Magazine.

This is more than a mystery. It is a history of Pottstown, Pennsylvania where Moshe and Chona Ludlow, a Jewish couple, worked with the unofficial leader of the Black community to keep a deaf boy safe from authorities. It is a story of family, love community and survival. #gifted

big gay wedding

Big Gay Wedding by Byron Lane

Barnett has returned home to his mother’s farm in rural Louisana to announce that he’s getting married – to another man. Needless to say, introducing Ezra to his mom does not go down smoothly.

Byron Lane delivers a FANTASTIC novel filled with family drama, growth, acceptance, and a BIG GAY WEDDING. I think this is my favorite wedding novel of all time.

It’s over the top exactly where it needs to be and its heartwarming in the best way possible. Also, I cried over a sheep. I adored Barnett and Ezra’s families and especially their relationship. This one is a total must-read and a pick for the best books of 2023!

Pineapple Street

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

March 2023 Good Morning America Book Club Pick

I loved this family drama book about the blue-blooded Stockton family, told from the perspective of sisters, Darley and Georgiana, and their sister-in-law, Sasha.

Each woman has her own struggles with navigating life in the Stockton family. Sasha, a middle-class artist feels like an unwelcomed outsider. Darley struggles with living up to the Stockton family name after she gave up her identity to embrace motherhood. Georgiana, the youngest, needs to grow up and become a capable adult! Each family member struggles on their own and within the family dynamic in this wonderful contemporary fiction. Each sibling faces dramatic struggles from sick parents to committing adultery to a lost job. I loved seeing how they each grew throughout this book for book clubs and ultimately how they strengthened their familial bond.

While the book had enough meat for me to get invested, it also had glimpses of the whimsy of the monied elite. The matriarch of this family in particular is a hoot! We had to include this book in our list of beach reads 2023 and the best contemporary fiction books of 2023 .


Maame by Jessica George

February 2023 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick

This story about Maddie, known as Maame to her family, was immersive and beautifully complex. Dealing with friendships, racism, familial obligations, and then grief, this story swept me away. Maddie lives in London as the primary caretaker of her father who has Parkinson’s. Her mother spends most of her time in Ghana.

I felt fiercely protective of Maddie while reading this book. There were times I wanted to swoop in to relieve some of the burdens of this wonderful character with a heart of gold. But it was more rewarding to see Maddie finding her inner strength and learning to prioritize herself and her dreams.

I can’t recommend this coming-of-age book about grief enough – especially as a book for book clubs. It’s one of the best books of 2023 and a great pick for a list of book club books. This is one of the heavier books in our beach reads 2023 post, but the list would not be complete without it. This is also one of the best novels about Africa I have ever read.

Favorite Finds: April 2023

This month was all about getting my wardrobe ready for spring and getting ready for the Taylor Swift concert we are going to next month! Below you’ll find some recent t-shirt finds and the shoe/bag combo I haven’t stopped wearing.

Best Beach Reads of 2023


Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes

Hula is not only one of the best beach read of 2023, but it’s also one of the best books of 2023! I picked up this book based on the cover and the thoughts of the hula dance competition, but instead of the fun read I was expecting, I got a coming-of-age story about a light-skinned Hawaiian who is trying to prove she belongs by learning to Hula.

But this Hula isn’t just a dance, it keeps the legends and legacies of the Hawaiian culture alive. Sprinkled throughout this story, while Hi’i is fighting to prove her worth, we see glimpses of her mother and grandmother’s lives, as well el as vignettes that explain Hawaii’s history, colonization, and the struggle of native Hawaiians today.

There is so much to uncover in this book, so many layers to absorb. I was entertained while reading it, but more importantly, I learned so much. I’ll be raving about this for years to come! This is one of the best thought-provoking books I have ever read.

Happy Place

Happy Place by Emily Henry

Emily Henry is an author who is always consistent with her romances. She may be the queen of romantic comedy books. Nothing says “summer reads” like Emily Henry.

Harriet and Wyn have been together for years until they broke up 5 months ago. The only problem is that they still haven’t told their best friends and now they will be sharing a room during their yearly vacation with their friends.

How hard can it be to keep up the facade of a happy couple? If you love fake dating books, this is one of the best. And if you are hoping these two will have a second chance at love, you will not be disappointed.

There is something special in every one of Emily Henry’s romances and this newest book is no exception. It is one of the best books of 2023 !

Find this Book in Emily Henry Books / Second Chance Romance / Romantic Comedy Books / Fake Dating Books

The Breakaway

The Breakaway by Jennifer Weiner

I absolutely loved this feel-good fiction. Abby Stearn has good friends, her bike, her bike club, and has come to terms with her plus-size body. When she is given the chance to lead a group bike trip from New York City to Niagara Falls she is happy to have the time to make some hard life choices.

She loves her fiance but cannot help questioning if he is the man for her. And if he is, why is her one-night stand from years ago still haunting her thoughts? When he shows up on the bike trip and her mother shows up as well, Abby will have to deal with a lot of truths.

This is a book that deals with body image and mother-daughter relationships with Weiner’s signature charm and humor. #gifted

Favorite Finds: May 2023

With warmer weather comes more time outdoors. Our finds this month are about getting outside and soaking up the sun. Be sure to check out the fans that keep insects away from food!

Best Feel-Good Books of 2023: 5-star Books

Wishing game

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

Jack Masterson is the author behind the Clock Island series, a series of beloved children’s books. Now, years after he was thought to be retired, he has written a new book. There is only one copy of the book that will go to the winner of a contest held on Clock Island.

For Lucy Hart, winning the contest will mean everything to her. It will mean she can finally have the means to adopt Christopher, the little boy that she has grown to love.

Why We Love It: This book felt like an adult fairy tale. If you are looking for books about puzzles, this uplifting, feel-good book is the perfect book. Find This Book in Books About Puzzles / Feel-Good Books

Love Scribe by Amy Meyerson

The Love Scribe by Amy Meyerson

Where do I even start with this amazing magical realism book ? When Alice’s best friend has yet another horrible breakup, Alice wants to make her feel better by writing her a letter, the way she used to when they were young. Instead, she finds herself writing a story and as if by magic, Gabby meets the man of her dreams.

Soon, Alice is writing stories for everyone as her gift pours from her. When she is sent a letter that brings her to a mysterious mansion, she meets Madeline who wants to have a special story written for her. Alice is forced to deal with her own past in order to move forward. This is one of the contemporary fiction books for book clubs we have read and absolutely loved. It is perfect for Fiction Books about Writers and a pick for best books of 2023 .

friendship breakup

The Friendship Breakup by Annie Cathryn

When it comes to books about motherhood, this is a must-read. As moms, we’ve all experiences the highs and lows of making new mom friends, but this story looks at what happens when friendships run their course.

Do you fight to keep the friendship alive or send it on its way? Well, Fallon is not letting them go so easily and her attempts to win back her friends are hysterical, but also poignant.

This book about friendship had me examining my own relationships and I knew I needed to include it in the ultimate list of beach reads 2023. It’s also one of my picks for the best books of 2023 and I knew this needed to be on our list of books for book clubs.

The Summer of Songbirds

The Summer of Songbirds by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Every so often you read a book that brings you back to your childhood. Kirsty Woodson Harvey’s new summer camp book, Summer of Songbirds, brought me back to my summers at camp but is also the story of the bonds of friendship. 

Daphne, Lanier, and Mary Stuart met at Camp Holly Springs as 6-year-olds and have remained inseparable ever since. They have been through unplanned pregnancies and addiction, and have taken on each other’s hard things. 

Now, with the camp that they love so much in danger of closing, the three women come together to help Daphne’s aunt (and owner of the camp) save their beloved home. 

This book touched my heart. I loved every word! This is a real celebration of friendship and chosen family. This 5-star book is one of the best feel-good books of 2023.

Favorite Finds: June 2023

We went on a road trip for Memorial Day weekend and found the best items! Think small games for travel and a car trashcan that got a lot of use!

Best YA Books of 2023: 5-Star Books for Teens


Check and Mate by Ali Hazelwood

I am so honored that I was able to read a copy of this debut YA novel from master romance writer and New York Times Bestselling Author of The Love Hypothesis.

Chess destroyed Mallory’s family four years ago which led to her quitting the sport. Now, she supports her family with a dead-end job. When she plays one last chess game in a tournament and beats the current world champion, Nolan Sawyer, nobody is more shocked than he is.

The cash from the win encourages Mallory to keep playing as a paid fellowship but soon things become even more complicated than the game when she starts to love chess and have feelings for Nolan. This is one of our most anticipated November 2023 new release books and is one of the best YA romances I have read in a long time.

We ship it

We Ship It by Lauren Kay

This charming YA cruise novel screams summer vacation read! Our nerdy heroine is dragged on a cruise by her family despite her desire to study for an upcoming presentation.

Despite being a little awkward, she meets a fun crew of fellow teens and a love interest. Sound fluffy? It is, but there are serious topics explored as well. Trigger warnings for drug use and overdose in pick for best ya books of 2023.

Warrior Girl Unearthed

Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

I loved the Firekeeper’s Daughter and I was so excited to read this book. I was worried that it would not live up to my expectations but it was a 5-star book and a best of 2023. This is an emotional and powerful, must-read book. It is a slower-paced book for me but I have been thinking about this book long after I finished the last page.

Perry Firekeeper Birtch has always known who she was (the troublemaker) and what she wanted to do (fish). When she gets in an accident and has to pay back her aunt for the cost of fixing the car, she spends the summer working to make it up to her aunt.

In the process, she discovers that the remains of her ancestors, the Anishinaabe, are not being returned to their rightful families, grave robbers are profiting from sacred artifacts, and the missing indigenous women are not being investigated. #gifted

Favorite Finds: July 2023

Jackie’s pool is open and she’s been living the dream! Meanwhile, I’ve been heading to the shore as often as possible. Below are our summer essentials for fun by the water.

Best Celebrity Book Club Picks of 2023: 5-Star Books

Hello Beautiful

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

March 2023 Oprah Book Club Pick

I adored this family saga about the four Padavano sisters and the man that enters their family orbit. William Waters grew up in a house with indifferent parents, so he fell head over heels for Julia and then her family.

But William’s inner demons cause a rift between the sisters that shakes the family to its core and dramatically changes the dynamics between all the Padavanos. Told over decades, this story examines the ties that bind us to our family through the ebbs and flows of life.

As one of four children, this coming-of-age story really spoke to me. Napolitano does an incredible job of accurately depicting the individual sibling relationships with one another and the role each person plays within the larger family dynamic. It’s a tall order and a near-impossible challenge to nail the complexities of a big family, but Napolitano does it with aplomb.

It’s going to be one of the best books of 2023 without a doubt. It strikes a balance between creating moments for book club discussion but also being entertaining enough to be a beach read pick . It’s a book about sisters I’ll be recommending to everyone all year.

Chain gang all stars

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

May 2023 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick

This book was a doozy in the most thought-provoking way. The story is about the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the reality tv show that pits prisoners against each other in gladiator-type fights to the death.

Thurwar and Staxxx are stars of the show, brutally killing anyone they come up against, but as Thurwar gets ready to win her freedom after 3 years on TV, the creatures of the show throw many hurdles in her path.

Why We Love This Book : This searing look at racism and classism feels highly relevant to today’s world when a show like this could easily exist in some states. The reality TV book was so unique. Even days later I can’t stop thinking about the all-stars, the protesters fighting for their rights, and the stunning conclusion. I’ve been thinking about it all year, so it was an easy pick for the best books of 2023 pick! Find This Book In Dystopian Novels / Read with Jenna Book Club

Tom Lake

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

August 2023 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

Ann Patchett is an amazing storyteller and we love all her books, so it’s no surprise that this story is one of our best books of 2023 picks! I was completely enchanted by this story. In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return home and beg their mother to tell the story of her romance with a movie star from long ago.

Throughout their Mom’s telling of her summer theatre experience at Tom Lake, the daughters get the long-awaited answers to questions they’ve asked for years. The whole family also re-examines their lives and relationships through the new lens of information. While this is a pandemic story, it’s more of a plot device to get the family together than anything else. So don’t expect to be triggered!

Favorite Finds: August 2023

I know that it’s still boiling hot, but summer is coming to a close and so I recently picked up some fall gear! These jeans are so comfortable!

Best Fantasy Books of 2023

miniscule mansion

The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

This is easily one of the most unique magical realism books I’ve ever read. Myra Malone blogs about a dollhouse mansion and has thousands of followers. But the mansion is more than it seems as rooms disappear and reappear overnight.

Across the country, Alex is shocked to see someone recreating the rooms of his home in miniature form. Alex and Myra correspond to determine their connection and in the process feel a pull to each other.

Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing (Empyrean Series Book #1) by Rebecca Yarros

If you have not heard of this book and love fantasy, this is the book for you. Don’t be intimidated by the length of this dragon book for adults, I started and finished this 528-page bad boy in a day and a half. I cannot remember the last time I did that!

Violet Sorrengail had spent her life studying to be a scribe until her father died and her mother, the commanding general, ordered her to join the dragon riders. Violet will become one of the hundreds of candidates who fight to the death to be a part of this elite group.

Unlike the other candidates who have worked towards this their whole lives, Violet is small and brittle and never meant for this to be her path. And other candidates do not have the children of rebel leaders waiting to take revenge.

This adult fantasy book has everything and I loved every second. It lives up to the hype and then some. There are some very spicy parts of this romance toward the end so I would agree with the adult rating on this book!

Find this book in Adult Fantasy Books / Fourth Wing Series in Order / The Best Books Like Fourth Wing / Grumpy Sunshine Romance

Tress of the Emerald Sea

Tress of the Emerald Sea: A Cosmere Novel by Brandon Sanderson

If you love fantasy books of any kind, stop now and make time to read this fantastic book. This is the book that you would get if The Princess Bride had a book baby that empowered women everywhere to be the heroes in their own story, seek out adventure, and be brave enough to become who they were intended to be.

Tress has grown up on her tiny island with her one friend Charlie, who is also the Duke’s son, to keep her company. When the Duke takes Charlie away and he doesn’t return, Tress sets off to rescue him from the Sorceress who lives on the deadly Midnight Sea. She will encounter pirates, talking rats, betrayal, love, and friendship on her voyage.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. All the stars to this cozy book. While technically this is a fantasy book for adults, it is appropriate for a young adult or teen audience as well.

Find this book in Pirate Books / YA Fantasy / Best of 2023

Emily Wildes

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde #1) by Heather Fawcett

This is one of the best fantasy books of 2023! I knew I needed to read it as soon as I saw the name, but everything about it was wonderful. I loved this book.

Emily Wilde is an expert on the study of faeries who is writing the first encyclopedia on faerie lore. She has traveled to the village of Hrafnsvik to study the Hidden Ones. She is much better with her dog and faeries than she is with people so she is not happy when Wendell Bamblely shows up uninvited.

He is her handsome and lazy rival who is not opposed to making things up as he goes along. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time and was one of my favorite books for 2023. The sequel, Emily Wilde’s Map of the Overlands is already of of my favorites of 2024.

Find this book in Fae Books / Cozy Books / Best Books of 2023

Nocture and more February 2023 book releases

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

I absolutely adored this pick for best fantasy books of 2023 because it’s pure magic at its best. What starts as a historical fiction set in Chicago in the 1930s transforms into a beautiful fantasy about a ballerina, her violin, and the kingdom of death.

When Grace becomes the prima ballerina at The Near North Ballet Company, she is overjoyed that her dream has come true. In accepting this position, she has become a patron of master LaRosa and must move into his mansion.

This Beauty and the Beast retelling is perfect for a list of books like ACOTAR . It is beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking. The writing is lyrical and I savored every minute. It is perfect for anyone who loves to read books like The Night Circus . You will obsess over this haunting pick from ultimate beach reads 2023.

Favorite Finds: September 2023

As the weather starts to chill, I find myself embracing the comforts of home. From the mug that keeps my coffee warm to this cozy blanket, these items are my favorite finds of the month.

Best Thrillers and Mystery Books of 2023

puzzle master

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

I was completely intrigued when I saw the description of this book. I had high hopes and this book exceeded my expectations. The description called this “books like The Da Vinci Code” which made this a must-read.

Mike Brink was once a promising football star until an injury ruined his career. It also had the side effect of a condition called Acquired Savant Syndrome which allowed him to have a perfect memory and an ability to solve puzzles other people cannot.

When Jess Price, an inmate convicted of murder sends Brink a puzzle he cannot solve, he gets sucked into her world and the world of the God Puzzle.

Why We Love It: I listened to this book in one day and was immediately taken in by the twists, turns, and puzzles in this book. It is such a unique book. Find This Book In Puzzle Books For Adults

Happiness Falls

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

September 2023 Good Morning America Book Club Pick

Happiness Falls is a captivating and heartwrenching tale about a Korean-American family in Virginia. When her dad mysteriously vanishes, Mia is convinced there’s a logical explanation. But as the search unfolds, family secrets unravel, and Mia’s younger brother, who is non-speaking Autistic, becomes the only witness.

Packed with shocking twists and thought-provoking questions, this book explores love, language, disabilities, and the lengths a family will go to understand one another. It was more than just a mystery. It was an exploration of the bonds of family.

Bright Young Women

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Inspired by real events, this captivating tale takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the lives of two women determined to seek justice and bring down a serial killer. This mystery-thriller book flips the script on traditional serial killer tales, focusing on the female victims and the women impacted by the perpetrator’s horrendous crimes.

The killer is never named, instead the victims are rounded out and given depth in a way that highlights and celebrates who they were when alive.

Vera Wongs Unsolicited Advice for Murderers

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Vera Wong lives above her tea shop in Chinatown in San Francisco. When she finds a dead body in the shop, she calls the police immediately but also makes sure to clean up a bit, use a sharpie to trace the body, and take the flash drive out of the man’s dead hand. She is sure that she can do a better job of finding the murderer than the police.

She comes up with a plan to find the killer and finds four suspects who she grows to care for. I absolutely loved this best mysteries of 2023 pick. It is a perfect book to go on our list of Books Like a Man Called Ove and fiction books about tea . Sutanto does a brilliant job with her characters who you cannot help loving, flaws and all.

The house in the pines and more January 2023 celebrity book club spoilers

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

January 2023 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

As books with unreliable narrators go, this is the best I have ever read. Maya was days away from moving away to college when he best friend Aubrey mysteriously dropped dead in front of her. She blamed Frank, an older guy who she had been hanging out with that summer although there was nothing to prove that he had done a thing to harm Aubrey.

Now, years later, Maya is trying to overcome an addiction to the drug prescribed to help her overcome the loss of Aubrey. When she sees a video of a woman who drops dead in a cafe and Frank is sitting with her, she sets off in a spiral again and needs to prove that Frank is responsible. I love this book with a totally likable and yet, completely unreliable narrator. This is one of the best thrillers of 2023 pick for sure.

If you have not read this pick from ultimate beach reads 2023, run, don’t walk, to get it! It needs to be top of the list of your books for fall.

Favorite Finds: October 2023

Fourth Wing book 2 is coming and so is Thanksgiving! Jackie stocked up on gear to get ready for release day while I purchased some items to host my first Thanksgiving!

Best Non-Fiction Books of 2023

kingdom of prep

The Kingdom of Prep: The Inside Story of the Rise and (Near) Fall of J.Crew by Maggie Bullock

An inside look at a brand that defined my 20s? Sign me up to read this bad boy! This feel-good nonfiction book takes a look at J.Crew’s creation, its juggernaut success in the 90s and 2000s, and what lead to the company’s declaration of bankruptcy at the outbreak of the pandemic.

With dozens of interviews and extensive research, Bullock delivers a non-fiction book about fashion that’s compelling and nostalgic while also being brutally honest.

Spare and more beach reads 2023

Spare by Prince Harry

I’m still reeling from the revelations and truths woven throughout Prince Harry’s narrative. His candor in taking us from the death of his mother to the death of Queen was refreshingly real and often poetic, no doubt thanks to the incredible skills of his ghostwriter.

I was struck by how much I had believed the press’s story of his life; accurate or not. To think that an entire family’s stories could be so fabricated or twisted into untruth was astonishing.

In revealing his own truths, however, he illuminated the dreadful antics of his family. Wills, Charles, Camilla, and the courtiers do not come out of this book without tarnish – and with good reason. There is so much to talk about, this is our book club book for next month.

At the end of the day, it’s hard not to judge everyone for lack of compassion but it’s a generational cycle that needs to be broken. I felt proud to see Harry putting in the work to make sure his own children don’t go through what he did.

This is a must for fans of books about the royal family and stories about royalty. This book is a best book for book clubs and a perfect pick from beach reads. Even if you don’t usually read memoirs, this is one of the best non-fiction books of 2023 .

The Wager

The Wager by David Grann

David Grann writes the most captivating nonfiction books that read like novels. The Wager is no exception. It’s a tale of the shipwreck of the English boat, Wager in 1742.

Encompassing the events that led up to the wrecking, the mutiny that happened after, and the dastardly deeds of some of the crew before and after their rescue kept me enthralled.

While not quite a pirate book, this high-seas boat book read like Treasure Island and kept me entertained while I pondered what I might have done in the same situation.

the art thief

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a nonfiction book that read so much like fiction. Imagine 2 people driving around Europe casually stealing billions of dollars worth of art from the most famous galleries and museums in the world.

That’s what this book about thieves is all about. I was floored by the writing, but the story is one I wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t true. It’s a fast, compelling book that art lovers, mystery lovers, and true crime aficionados must read.

Best Holiday Books of 2023

Three Holidays and A Wedding

Three Holidays and a Wedding by Uzma Jalaluddin and Marissa Stapley

Maryam and Anna find themselves on a plane from Denver to Toronto in the middle of the storm of the century, they have no idea that they will spark an unexpected friendship.

When the plane is diverted to a small town outside of Ottawa with no end to the snow, they all must change their plans. Anna is not able to make it to Toronto to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, and Maryam’s sister’s wedding is in jeopardy.

This is an enchanting Hanukkah, Ramadan, romance Christmas book for 2023 with a charming small town, a snowbound inn, and a touch of fate that brings everyone together. This is a holiday book at its very best. #gifted

The Christmas Orphan's Club

The Christmas Orphan’s Club by Becca Freeman

I adore a found family story, which is why this Christmas book for 2023 made my best of list! On her first Christmas after the death of her parents, Hannah meets Finn, another orphan and together they decided to celebrate Christmas together.

It sparks a lifelong friendship, folding in two other friends into their annual holiday gatherings. But a dozen years into their tradition, life is about to change. Hannah is engaged, Finn is about to move across the country, and they have some quarrels they need to fix.

Will this be their best Christmas yet or the end of their friendship? I loved the deep look at friendship in this story. So often Christmas books revolve around romantic love and not platonic love – which is just as important!

If you are looking for a new Christmas book for 2023, grab this one immediately! #gifted

A December to Remember - Christmas Books 2023

A December to Remember by Jenny Bayliss

Jenny Bayliss is back with an exciting holiday book about the Winter Solstice. When Simone, Maggie, and Star, half-sisters with different moms, find out their father has died they also learn that in order to receive their inheritance, they must first solve a scavenger hunt and then relaunch the town’s Winter Solstice celebration.

The sisters don’t have a relationship outside of the one month each summer they all spend together with their father. Now, they are forced to work together and rebuild their sisterly bond.

Each sister is also working through something. One is a single-mom facing eviction. One is struggling with infertility. And one is a bit adrift and trying to start over and settle down.

I adored this holiday book about love and reconnection during the holiday season. It’s probably my favorite Christmas book for 2023. #gifted

The Christmas Appeal

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Fairway Players theater group is back and preparing for their Christmas play. They find themselves once again in the middle of a murder that threatens to halt their production.

Hallett puts you in the detective seat as you unravel clues, sift through Christmas letters, and dig into police transcripts to unmask the culprit before the final curtain falls.

I was crying laughing reading this story. It’s equal parts hysterical and cunning and one of the best mysteries of 2023. I can never figure out the mystery before the end of Hallett’s books. #gifted

Favorite Finds: November 2023

Jackie needed an outfit for some holiday parties and I wanted some metallic shoes for the same reason. aren’t these picks perfect for the season?

Best Children’s Books of 2023

Bruce and the legend of soggy

Bruce and the Legend of Soggy Hollow by Ryan T. Higgins 

Mother Bruce is back in a brand new Halloween picture book! In an effort to get Bruce into the Halloween spirit, the animals try to get him to act out the legend of Soggy Hollow.

As they act it out, they just might find out it’s not really a legend after all!

the bright side

The Bright Side by Chad Otis

This moving book is about making the most of any situation. It’s also a heartfelt portrait of houselessness that will help explain the topic to young children.

The story is based on Chad’s own experiences as a child and is both uplifting and enlightening. This is one of our picks for best children’s books of 2023.

DOnt let the pigeon drive the sleigh

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is back with a new Pigeon book and this time it’s set at Christmas! Pigeon is back and trying to drive Santa’s sleigh in this charming toddler Christmas book. It’s one of the best children’s books of 2023 because Mo Willems can do no wrong!

Favorite Finds: December 2023

It’s all about cozy games and fun with the family this time of year. Here are some the gifts we are giving for the holiday.

How many of our picks for the best books to read in 2023 have you read?

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As a mother of two boys, Kirsten rediscovered her life-long love for reading while choosing appropriate books for her children. She started this website with Jackie to share their passion for literacy with other moms and kids. She uses her years of experience in marketing and public relations to create quarterly magazines, implement social media strategy, and ensure the website content is relevant and beautiful.

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book review 5 stars

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Remember that each person who reads a book takes something different away from it. Books are a highly personal thing. While one person may think a book is the greatest thing they’ve ever read, another may not enjoy it as much. Below are the guidelines our reviewers follow:

1 star: Reviewer doesn’t recommend this book at all.

2 stars: Reviewer wouldn’t read it again. Needs work.

3 stars: Reviewer enjoyed the book.

4 stars: Reviewer liked and would recommend the book to friends/family.

5 stars: Reviewer considers book to be something that everyone should read. You would definitely read it again.

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book review 5 stars

5 Book Reviews to Read This Weeks

“the collection reads like a juvenile burn book, totally uninterested in the world outside her group chat.”.

Book Marks logo

Our fist of furious reviews this week includes Ann Manov on Lauren Oyler’s No Judgement , Hilton Als on Cynthia Carr’s Candy Darling , Gene Seymour on Hanif Abdurraquib’s There’s Always This Year , David Klion on Alexander Ward’s The Internationalists , and Laura Miller on Lionel Shriver’s Mania .

Brought to you by Book Marks , Lit Hub’s home for book reviews.

“‘Literary critics do fulfill a very important role, but there seems to be a problem with much contemporary criticism,’ Simon Leys once wrote. ‘One has the feeling that these critics do not really like literature—they do not enjoy reading.’ This was a line my mind kept drifting to as I plodded through Lauren Oyler’s debut essay collection, No Judgment . The book was originally to be called Who Cares , and perhaps that title should have been retained. Who cares, really, about any of this? … No Judgment is already dated, even before its release …

It’s not that all of Oyler’s subjects are uninteresting..But Oyler is contemptuous of disagreement, quickly bores of research, and rigidly attempts to control the reader’s responses. As a result, the writing is cramped, brittle. Oyler clearly wishes to be a person who says brilliant things—the Renata Adler of looking at your phone a lot—but she lacks the curiosity that would permit her to do so … It turns out that No Judgment displays many of the flaws Oyler once so forcefully identified in others … Oyler doesn’t want to be a writer of personal essays; she wants to be an erudite critic of the old school. But again and again, she drifts toward personal recriminations and eschews any sustained discussion of literature …

Oyler claims she is well read, even a ‘snob,’ but great swaths of No Judgment rely on the thinnest of online research … Oyler conceives of her own claim to cultural elitism as a series of adolescent signifiers flung on with the pride of a Goth teenager donning her first Hot Topic belt … her writing indeed seems aimed at little more than scoring points against her rivals, real or imagined. The resulting collection reads like a juvenile burn book, totally uninterested in the world outside her group chat … The pieces in No Judgment are airless, involuted exercises in typing by a person who’s spent too much time thinking about petty infighting and too little time thinking about anything else.”

–Ann Manov on Lauren Oyler’s No Judgement ( Bookforum )

“Like Marilyn Monroe—another brilliantly constructed persona—Darling was a master at projecting energy in a two-dimensional medium, by which I don’t mean that Candy, who grew up in Massapequa Park, on Long Island, radiated physical joy, like Marilyn cavorting in the California surf. If anything, her energy was of a blondness turned inside out: no matter how much she smiled or gave come-hither looks, she was a melancholy urban creature, protected by a sense of irony that sometimes lit her from within or lit up the crummy hotel rooms and park benches where she posed … the point of Darling’s life—a point she insisted on with the few people she was close to—was that you can’t walk away from yourself, no matter how difficult it is to be who you are. ‘Always be yourself,’ Candy told a cousin, and it’s the story of how she became a self—or, more accurately, lived simultaneously in her real and her fantasy selves—that Carr tells in her book. Candy Darling is the first full-length biography of the trans star, and I can’t imagine a better or more honest writer for the task …

By honoring Darling’s disconnection from her birth name (what some trans people call their ‘dead name’), Carr not only meets Darling on her own terms but insists that we do, too. ‘The word ‘trans’ implies a journey,’ Carr writes, and the journey was a long and arduous one, driven and framed by romanticism and conviction.”

–Hilton Als on Cynthia Carr’s Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar ( The New Yorker )

“This disclosure, one in a torrent of observations, ruminations, and reveries tightly woven into the book’s narrative, gives you some idea of Abdurraqib’s willingness to pile everything he’s able into his quasi-autobiographical, proto-philosophical inquiry into turn-of-the-twenty-first-century basketball, especially its prodigiously gifted Ohio-bred avatar for both triumph and tribulation, LeBron James.  In this testament to both a sport and a state, Abdurraqib leads with his own heart, one that’s been broken over time by loss of family, friends, even a home … an awesomely discursive mixtape of memoir, film criticism, tone poem, and sports punditry … It is more a portrait of Abdurraqib-the-artist as a young man, living his own tribulation-laden life through the last decade of the twentieth century and the first two of the twenty-first while taking in everything going on around him …

Paraphrasing that talented teenage goalkeeper Albert Camus , the intellect, if it’s worth anything in its own fields of play, watches itself as intently and as unsparingly as it watches others. Maybe that’s why Abdurraqib’s book makes its most breathtaking pivots when he probes the act of bearing witness … Maybe, a reader might wonder, it’s just gravity—a law guaranteeing that every ascension that comes with the fulfillment of a wish is followed by a fall to Earth, whether soft like a feather or hard like a building. Abdurraqib’s chronicle doesn’t directly say this. But as the seconds tick away in the fourth quarter of his riveting game, he accepts the pattern, the persistence of dreams continuing into their own ongoing cycle, the way Brian Wilson says he wanted to fade ‘God Only Knows’ with a loop of the chorus, ‘a sort of infinity spiral.’ And if you’re inclined to wonder, even at this late point in the action, why Abdurraqib thinks Brian Wilson has anything to do with basketball or everything else he’s been dealing with, then maybe you need to turn the play clock back to the first quarter and, this time, be prepared for the break.”

–Gene Seymour on Hanif Abdurraquib’s There’s Always This Year ( Bookforum )

The Internationalists

“Anyone who writes about current events knows how cruel the gap between final edits and publication can be … the book’s resilient-comeback narrative has already been undermined by global events. This is in no sense Ward’s fault—unlike Sullivan, he bears no responsibility for the state of US policy in the Middle East or anywhere else—but it does cast the principal subjects of his book in a different light than he presumably wanted or expected. Written with what was clearly extensive access, The Internationalists reflects the weaknesses as well as the strengths of Biden’s foreign policy advisers. Team Biden members sees themselves as a group of sober-minded yet idealistic professionals who took office intending to end wars and to repair America’s ailing body politic at home and its damaged reputation abroad in the wake of Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, on their watch the United States has been drawn into a set of major new wars whose unintended consequences threaten to prematurely end the Biden presidency and transfer the reins of global power back to Trump. Like Ward, they had set out to tell an uplifting story about American global leadership, but at some point they lost the plot … The idea of ‘getting a win’ for the Biden administration is representative of a larger problem with how the A-Team views US foreign policy. Their decisions have real and often bloody consequences on the ground, but wins and losses are tallied in terms of the political consequences for Biden and the professional standing of his advisers. What these wins and losses might mean for the rest of the world is rarely remarked upon.”

–David Klion on Alexander Ward’s The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump ( The Nation )

“The intimacy of domestic politics moderates Shriver’s polemical side, which, when given free rein—as during an infamous 2016 speech she gave on cultural appropriation while wearing a sombrero—usually turns out to be smug, crude and obtuse. In Shriver’s tiresome new novel, Mania ,  the balance is off … As parody goes, this is ham-fisted stuff. Ironically, Mania lacks the discernment required to make it work. Satire demands precision, and Shriver applies an ax to a job calling for a scalpel. Although Shriver has made writing unlikable protagonists into a sort of cottage industry, Pearson is something more, a preeningly self-righteous didact swathed in false modesty about her own supposedly mediocre brain. Like many of Shriver’s narrators, Pearson often speaks or narrates with the sort of affected, antiquated vocabulary of a stock character from a 1930s movie, the portly gentleman in a white three-piece suit, up to no good and puffing on a cigar, played by Sidney Greenstreet …

The most—really the only—intriguing aspect of the novel is the relationship between these two friends and Pearson’s growing realization that Emory lacks a moral center. Emory herself remains a cipher. Is she a sociopath? Or just an opportunist? If only she  were the unlikable narrator to tell this story. That would constitute a stretch for Shriver, imagining the interiority of a character who’s not basically an avatar of herself. That would be a truly daring choice, and dare I say it, a smart one.”

–Laura Miller on Lionel Shriver’s Mania ( The New York Times Book Review )

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editors’ choice

6 New Books We Recommend This Week

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

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Our recommended books this week include two satirical novels — one about identity politics and victimization, the other about artificial intelligence and gender roles — along with Tana French’s second crime novel about a Chicago police officer who retired to the Irish countryside. In nonfiction, we recommend the story of a deadly avalanche, a philosopher’s exploration of the concept of giving up, and the gratifyingly intimate audio version of Barbra Streisand’s recent memoir, which she narrates herself. Happy listening, and happy reading. — Gregory Cowles

MY NAME IS BARBRA Barbra Streisand

Certain of the, shall we say, eccentricities (oh … the ellipses!) in Streisand’s 992-page doorstop of a memoir get wonderfully ironed out in audio form. Its sprawling a-star-is-born anecdotes seem to find their natural form in the towering performer’s 48-plus hours of discursive, disarming and often gloriously off-the-cuff narration.

book review 5 stars

“As Streisand recites the story of her life … she ad-libs off the written text, splices sentences, audibly shakes her head at dubious decisions, and altogether places us opposite her on the sofa with a cup of coffee for a two-day kibitz.”

From Zachary Woolfe’s review

Penguin Audio | 48 hours, 17 minutes

VICTIM Andrew Boryga

Boryga’s debut is a lively social satire about the fetishization of victimhood, following a young working-class student, Javi, who uses exaggerated stories of tragedy to earn attention and success. Boryga is having fun, and he’s inviting us to join in.

book review 5 stars

“Let’s be clear: Though Boryga is playing, he’s not playing around. Through Javi’s story, Boryga humorously and scathingly calls out the gluttonous consumption of stories of victimhood.”

From Mateo Askaripour’s review

Doubleday | $27

ANNIE BOT Sierra Greer

On the surface, “Annie Bot” is a story about an A.I. sex robot that grows more and more sentient, but underneath this high-tech premise is a sharp and smart exploration of misogyny, toxic masculinity, selfhood and self-determination.

book review 5 stars

“A brilliant pas de deux, grappling with ideas of freedom and identity while depicting a perverse relationship in painful detail.”

From Lydia Kiesling’s review

Mariner | $28

ON GIVING UP Adam Phillips

In his latest book, Phillips’s exploration of “giving up” covers the vast territory between hope and despair. We can give up smoking, sugar or a bad habit; but we can also give up on ourselves. Phillips proposes curiosity and improvisation as antidotes to absolute certainty.

book review 5 stars

“Phillips doesn’t try to prevent us from thinking whatever it is that we want to think; what he does is repeatedly coax us to ask if that’s what we really believe, and how we can be sure.”

From Jennifer Szalai’s review

Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $26

THE DARKEST WHITE: A Mountain Legend and the Avalanche That Took Him Eric Blehm

In January 2003, seven skiers and snowboarders were killed in an avalanche on a glacier in western Canada. Among them was the American snowboarder Craig Kelly, and the adventure writer Blehm turns this page-turner not just into a biography of the athlete, but a tribute to the sport itself: addictive, thrilling — sometimes deadly.

book review 5 stars

“Probably the most unremittingly exciting book of nonfiction I have come across in years. I found myself reading late into recent nights wholly transfixed by every paragraph, every word.”

From Simon Winchester’s review

Harper | $32

THE HUNTER Tana French

For Tana French fans, every one of the thriller writer’s twisty, ingenious books is an event. This one, a sequel to “The Searcher,” once again sees the retired Chicago cop Cal Hooper, a perennial outsider in the Irish west-country hamlet of Ardnakelty, caught up in the crimes — seen and unseen — that eat at the seemingly picturesque village.

book review 5 stars

“The novel’s greatest pleasures — genuine twists aside — reside in the specific intersection of outsider and native, and particularly the former’s determined need to idealize, to claim, to tint whole rivers green.”

From Sadie Stein’s review

Viking | $32

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Under The Bridge’ On Hulu, A Drama About The Real Life Murder Of A Teen In A Small Canadian Town

Where to stream:.

  • Under the Bridge

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘See You In Another Life’ On Hulu, About A Teen Who Participated In The 2004 Madrid Terror Bombings

Is ‘under the bridge’ based on a true story showrunners discuss speaking with reena virk’s father and more, ‘under the bridge’ episode guide: when does the next episode of the hulu series come out.

One of the big promotional points for the new Hulu limited series Under The Bridge is that it stars Lily Gladstone, right after her awards season run for her role in Killers of The Flower Moon . Here, she plays a cop investigating the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl in a small town on the British Columbian island of Victoria. The show is based on a true story from 1997 that has a ton of layers to it. How well does this series translate those layers to the screen?


Opening Shot: As a car drives down a dark road, a voice says, “On its face, this story is the opposite of a fairy tale. But that’s only until you consider what fairy tales are really about.”

The Gist: “November 14, 1997.” On the British Columbian island of Victoria, in the town of Saanich, 14-year-old Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta) gets picked up by her uncle Raj (Anoop Desai) outside her middle school. He’s gotten her the latest Biggie Smalls album as a gift. When he finds out she still hangs out with Dusty Pace (Aiyana Goodfellow), one of the girls from the Seven Oaks group home, he suggests she should make time to reconnect with her family. She gets out of the car while it’s moving and walks to Seven Oaks.

Reena is still completely disconnected from her parents, Suman (Archie Panjabi) and Manjit (Ezra Faroque Khan). and her return from Seven Oaks has been rough. Before dinner, she calls numbers from the book of a fellow Seven Oaks resident, Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry), with whom she’s butted heads, telling people nasty things about Jo. Then she gets a call during dinner about a party at the house of Connor Fields (Jared Ager-Foster) and just leaves.

The call is a ruse, as Jo is out to get back at Reena for taking her stuff; Jo and other girls start chasing after her and drag her “under the bridge,” which is the bridge to and from the island, to beat her up.

At the same time, Rebecca Godfrey (Riley Keough) arrives on the island and her parents’ house on the lake. She grew up on the island, and is writing a book about the girls who lived in Seven Oaks and other group homes. She doesn’t exactly have a great relationship with her parents, especially her mother, and the entire Godfrey family suffered a loss before she left the island years ago.

After Reena doesn’t come home for three days, Raj and Manjit go to the Saanich police. Deputy Cam Bentland (Lily Gladstone) and her brother, Deputy Scott Bentland (Daniel Diemer), are a bit skeptical, given that plenty of teens on the island run away from home. After speaking to Connor, one of the names in Jo’s book, about what happened that night at the party, she sees CCTV footage of Reena getting dragged under the bridge. She asks the chief, her father Roy (Matt Craven), for divers to look for Reena, or at least evidence that something happened. The divers end up finding articles of her clothing, but no body.

As part of her research for her book, Rebecca goes to Seven Oaks and befriends Dusty and Josephine. This is when she learns that the residents of Seven Oaks are called “Bic girls” because they’re considered to be disposable.

When Cam and the rest of the Saanich police start questioning people who were at the party that night, Jo calls on Rebecca to be her “guardian” with the police. But Rebecca wants to avoid interacting with Cam, whom she knew from her younger days on the island.

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Despite being based on the true story portrayed in Godfrey’s book of the same name, Under The Bridge gives us a big Pretty Little Liars vibe.

Our Take: If you read up on the Reena Virk case, you know that there were a lot of people involved in her death, and that the case took a lot of twists and turns. But there’s also the story of the Virk family and the dynamic within it, including their conversion to Jehovah’s Witnesses and the circumstances that led Reena to spend time at Seven Oaks. Under The Bridge is set to include all of these aspects and twists, with the first episode accomplishing a lot of the complicated exposition in this story by showing and not telling.

Creator Quinn Shephard and showrunner Samir Mehta start with Reena’s disappearance, so the stakes are immediately ramped up. This is important, because there is so much more to the story that comes before it. We get just enough information about Reena and the situation she’s in; she was in a group home, she’s fallen in with a questionable group and she is not getting along with her family. Once Reena’s uncle and father approach the police and Cam starts looking into it, we have an idea who the players are even if we’re not sure exactly what happened.

There are other recent shows that have kept details like this mysterious, and it’s been frustrating to watch. Here, the crux of the story is Reena’s disappearance, and Shephard and Mehta don’t tiptoe around it or try to be cute with it.

By the end of the first episode, we’re just getting an idea of how involved Keough’s and Gladstone’s characters are going to be involved in this investigation, and how they’ll end up being connected. But there’s something in each of their pasts that gives them incentive to get further involved beyond just being a journalist and a cop, respectively.

What we appreciated about the first episode is that the tangential — but important — aspects of the story are left to be picked up in later episodes. Again, if you read up on the Virk case you know the reasons for why a seemingly good kid from a good family ended up in a group home, and we’re curious to see how that is handled, as well as the backstories of Cam, Rebecca and even the girls that attacked Reena.

Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.

Parting Shot: Cam is shocked when she sees CCTV footage of a staggering Reena emerge from under the bridge. Then we see her staggering over the bridge in real time. Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” plays.

Sleeper Star: Archie Panjabi has a thankless role as Reena’s mother Suman. While she’ll likely be a big driver of the investigation into Reena’s disappearance, and she feels the most bitter about the falling out Reena has had with the family. We hope she gets more to do than just being the rueful mother.

Most Pilot-y Line: Jo has pictures of John Gotti in a locket around her neck. We know she wants to be a gangster of some sort, but the desire to actually work for Gotti is a bit strange.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Under The Bridge has more than enough complications to make for compelling drama, and the first episode gives viewers just enough information about the case to hook them in without getting them frustrated.

Joel Keller ( @joelkeller ) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, , , Fast Company and elsewhere.

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book review 5 stars


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