Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Did These Popular Books Live Up To The Hype?

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Way back in February 2021, I made a 5-star TBR predictions post. I picked a variety of popular books that I hadn’t read yet. They sounded like my kind of stories, so I thought I’d love them and give them all 5 stars.

During the adventure that was 2021, I read the books. Did I give them 5 stars? Let’s find out.

Did These Books Live Up To The Hype?


Adult Historical Fiction

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.


My Review: I was surprised by how funny it is. I may have snort-laughed while listening to the audiobook on a run. That’s awkward. Good thing I run through icy fields in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, Kathryn Stockett is a very talented writer. I love that her characters have distinct voices and huge personalities. I could set the book down in the middle of a chapter, pick it up hours later, and instantly know whose point-of-view I was reading. That’s not the case with most books. The 1960s Mississippi setting is well-developed. The book has a lot of humor, but it doesn’t gloss over the turbulent relationships between the maids and their employers. Even when you’re laughing, you’re aware of the tension crackling beneath the surface. You know something could go wrong for the characters at any second.

I think the author is sometimes heavy handed with the lessons she wants the reader to take from the book. Even when I agree with the morals of a book, I get pulled out of the story when I feel like the author is preaching at me. While reading The Help, I was very aware that I was reading a white author’s musings on racial issues in the 1960s. The book has a white savior plotline. I kept wondering how different the book would have been if a black woman had written the black characters. Maybe the author got everything right, and the book would be exactly the same. I have no idea. I just know I got pulled out of the story a few times because I was thinking about morals and the authenticity of the characters who were preaching at me. I'm not a fan of preaching in novels.

My Star Rating: ★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Adult Historical Fiction


Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.


My Review: I know this book gets mixed reviews, and I was nervous that I’d hate it, but the complete opposite happened. I loved it! I was extremely impressed by Homegoing. It’s a composite novel, so you can’t go in expecting a traditional linear narrative. It’s a collection of linked short stories that start in 1700s Ghana and follow a family up until modern times. Each story focuses on a new generation of the family. The writing is stunning. There are scenes that will stick with me forever, especially the ones set in prisons and mines. They’re very visceral. I like that the book doesn’t solely focus on well-known bits of history. I read a lot of history, but there were a few moments where I went, “Oh, I didn’t know about that.” Then I had to do some Googling.

I guess my only complaint is that it’s too short! I loved the characters so much that I was disappointed when the chapters ended. I wanted to know what happened next instead of jumping forward to a new generation. I will happily read more of Yaa Gyasi’s work. I know she has another book that came out recently. I’ll have to pick it up because I may have found a new favorite author.

My Star Rating: ★★★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Young Adult Fantasy


Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.


My Review: This book is adventurous! I loved the "Crows" parts of the Shadow & Bone TV series and wanted to read the source material. Unpopular opinion, but I like the show more than the book. I think the characters in the show have bigger personalities. The book has a ton of perspectives, and they aren’t distinctive enough for me. I wish the author had picked two or three characters and focused on developing them rather than bouncing around. That being said, I love Kaz! He causes excellent plot twists. I could never predict what he'd do next. It was a fun reading experience. I now want to read all the criminal mastermind stories. Please recommend books about smart people who are up to no good.

My Star Rating: ★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Sociology Nonfiction


In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren't affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' that led to this book.

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today.


My Review: This book is hard to review because reviewing it goes against the point of the book. The author says that whenever she talks to white people about race, the focus of the conversation shifts, and the conversation becomes about white people’s feelings. That frustrates her because she’s trying to talk about data and history, not feelings. If I review this book, it’ll take the focus off the book’s message (understanding modern racism) and put it on my (a white person’s) feelings about the book. So, I won’t review the book. I’ll just say three things. Thing one: I learned the most from the chapters on British history and feminism. Thing two: The book’s title is click bait. I expected a Twitter hot take, but it’s actually well-researched. I think the title is probably doing the book a disservice. Thing three: You should read it.

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Psychology Nonfiction


After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues to succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles—counter-intuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.


My Review: The author is a former hostage negotiator who teaches readers how to talk to strangers and get what they want out of the conversation. I learned a lot from him. He doesn’t pad the book with unnecessary fluff. He gets right to the point, gives clear examples, and uses bullet points to summarize the most important parts of each chapter. It’s an extremely readable guide that I can see myself referencing in the future. He also tells stories of his time as an FBI hostage negotiator. I could not do that job. There’s too much pressure! The book mostly focuses on business negotiations where there is a lot of money at stake. Many of the author’s tips can be applied to any negotiation situation, but I wish he’d also talked about lower-stakes negotiations. There's more to life than murder and money! I was hoping for tips on dealing with difficult customers or family members. Even though the book didn’t give me everything I wanted, I’m eager to try out the author’s negotiation strategies.

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon






Contemporary Middlegrade Fiction


Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.


My Review: Lovable characters with memorable personalities! Like many middlegrade novels, this one pushes the boundaries of believability, but it’s a fun read. I think a lot of kids will relate to Aven’s band of misfit friends. The characters each have their own struggles and insecurities. This book tackles a lot of issues, but the author does it with kindness and humor, so it’s never depressing. Since I’m an adult reader, I thought the author included too many issues and didn’t have time to explore them all in depth, but I guess that’s why there’s a sequel. I will happily read it.

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon








History Nonfiction


In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery on the eve of profound transformation. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than their patients' afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn't have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the deadly riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically recounts Lister's discoveries in gripping detail, culminating in his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection—and could be countered by antiseptics. Focusing on the tumultuous period from 1850 to 1875, she introduces us to Lister and his contemporaries—some of them brilliant, some outright criminal—and takes us through the grimy medical schools and dreary hospitals where they learned their art, the deadhouses where they studied anatomy, and the graveyards they occasionally ransacked for cadavers.


My Review: "Grisly" is the perfect word to describe this book. There are detailed descriptions of surgeries-gone-wrong. Don't read it if you're squeamish. Also, don't read it without Google. I think the target audience has slightly more medical knowledge than me. I had to Google a few diseases because I'm not a doctor, and the author doesn't explain.

If you couldn't tell from the title, the book is a biography of Joseph Lister. He was a surgeon/professor in Scotland in the 1800s. His life goal was to figure out why wounds get infected and how to stop infections. Spoiler alert: He eventually figured it out. Then his challenge became convincing the medical world that you shouldn't slice people open without disinfecting stuff firstI like that the author and Joseph Lister both acknowledge that discoveries don't happen in a vacuum. Lister couldn't have made his medical advancements without building on the work of other scientists. Biographies sometimes glorify one person and ignore everybody who helped or influenced that person. This biography spreads the credit around.

The book is extremely focused on Lister's medical career. I wish we'd learned more about his life outside of work. We learn a tiny bit about his family and his Quaker beliefs, but that's it. Lister said he didn't want his personal life written about, so maybe information about his day-to-day life doesn't exist? I don't know. His fascination with germs gets slightly tedious to read about after 200+ pages. Still, I highly recommend this book if you're interested in medical history. It'll make you grateful that you don't live in the 1800s. That stuff was nasty. (The top hats were cool, though.)

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Young Adult Fantasy


Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


My Review: I might have loved this book if I'd read it back in 2015 (when it first came out), but right now, it just reads like dated YA fiction. Everything about this novel is bland! The characters aren't developed and are indistinguishable from one another. The world is a generic YA fantasy world (abusive government + young people fighting against it + unrealistic fight scenes). Since I've seen this all before, I couldn't stay interested in the plot or the characters. I gave up. I apologize to the rabid fans of this series!

My Star Rating: Did Not Finish


Buy it on Amazon








True Crime Nonfiction


If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.


My Review: It's true crime (obviously). I have mixed feelings about this one. The crime and the questions it raises are fascinating. It's about a teenager who sets another teenager on fire in the back of a bus. The teen who got burned is genderqueer, so of course the media reported the crime as "man in a skirt gets set on fire." The teen who started the fire told the cops he did it because he's homophobic, but he also seemed confused about what "homophobic" means. It raises questions about what society should do with children who commit crimes. Should they be locked up forever, or should we give them leniency because they're kids whose brains aren't fully developed? Can teens be rehabilitated?

My mixed feelings come from the pacing. I don't think the author had enough material to fill an entire book. It's a short book, but it still feels really drawn out. I appreciate learning about the teens involved in the crime, but do we really need to hear from all their friends and family members? It gets repetitive. The book also left me with questions. The teen who set the fire had two friends with him when it happened. We don't learn much about them. Maybe the author couldn't get interviews with them? I don't know, but their perspectives seem important. They were direct witnesses to the crime. I also wanted to know about the skirt that became a fireball. I thought it was illegal to sell clothes that burn quickly? (Or is it only illegal to sell baby clothes that burn quickly? I feel like all of Baby Brooklyn's clothes have tags on them that brag about their ability to NOT become fireballs?)

Despite my unanswered questions, I liked the book. It's great for teens or adults who are interested in true crime but don't want to read anything gory or disrespectful to the victims. The victim doesn't die in this one. I especially recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the criminal justice system in the US.

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon








Young Adult Contemporary Novel-In-Verse


Seventeen-year-old Joe hasn't seen his brother in ten years. Ed didn't walk out on the family, not exactly. It's something more brutal.

Ed's locked up—on death row.

Now his execution date has been set, and the clock is ticking. Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with his brother, no matter what other people think . . . and no matter whether Ed committed the crime. But did he? And does it matter, in the end?


My Review: This novel is stressful, people! I stayed awake all night to read it because I couldn't sleep until I knew how it ended. Luckily, it's a novel-in-verse, so you can finish it in a few hours. It's about a 17-year-old who is attempting to save his brother from death row. It feels so realistic that every plot twist almost gave me a heart attack. The author does an excellent job of showing messy family relationships. Love is complicated. It can't be turned on and off like a light switch. If your brother commits murder, you're probably not going to stop loving him in an instant. Relationships are messier than that. The characters in this book have to work through some complex issues.

I'm not sure if I fully "get" novels-in-verse. In this book, the poetry format doesn't always enhance the story. Most of the poems could have been written as paragraphs and had the exact same impact. So, in my opinion, this book isn't poetry; it's prose formatted to look like poetry. It makes me wonder why the author chose verse. If the poetry format doesn't change anything, why is it necessary? Or, maybe I just don't understand poetry and need to stop overthinking. Bottom line: This is a very good story. Read it, if you don't mind having a thousand mini heart attacks.

My Star Rating: ★★★★


Buy it on Amazon

That's it! If you've been on this blog before, then you know I'm an evil witch who's tough on books. I'm stingy with my stars. I think this set of predictions was pretty successful. I discovered Homegoing, which is a new favorite, and found a slew of 4-star books that I enjoyed immensely. Best of all, I'm excited to make more predictions! I'm currently searching my shelves for books I think I'll love in 2022. Hopefully I'll have a list of them for you next week.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Make some 5-star predictions! Which unread books on your shelf do you think will get 5 stars?


  1. Wow, yeah, it looks like you did a good job picking successful reads for yourself! I was actually not a fan of Six of Crows, unfortunately.

  2. The Help has been on my radar for years and years and I've never got around to reading it. I like your point that it's a white author's take on the racial issues of that time. The preachiness is pretty off-putting, though.

  3. I LOVED Six of Crows but I started Crooked Kingdom and 3-ish years later - I'm still on page 46 lol

    I've just started coming around to novels in verse. I do better when they are on audio and I can pick up the rhythm better.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  4. I was very moved by Moonrise. I don't know if the format matters, but it is the way Crossen likes to write books. Aven Green was such a super character. Not sure if the sequel really addressed any of the issues from the first book. My memory seems to think they were new challenges, but I love the way MG authors deal with stuff.

  5. Wow! Nice list. Many are new to me, so I appreciate you sharing more about them. I have Never Split the Difference here. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus sounds good. I'm not sure I could make it through The Butchering Art, but the topic sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Homegoing was absolutely fantastic! And The 57 Bus was really good as well. Great choices all around.

  7. It seems these books were fairly successful with you. And I still need to get to Homegoing! But this is the Year!

  8. This is a fun idea for a post! I'm stingy with stars (or grades, in my case), too, so I rarely give out As. I did love THE HELP, although you bring up some really good points about it that I really didn't think about while reading it. I also liked INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS. It's far-fetched like you say, but still enjoyable (which is definitely true of most MG novels of this type). I haven't read any of your others. Some of them are on my TBR list, though.

    Happy TTT!

  9. Homegoing is a favorite of mine so I'm happy to hear you enjoyed her. I liked The Help when I read it but am right there with you about the preaching and the white perspective. That's one where I actually prefer the movie just because the perspectives of the Black characters are more prominent than they are in the book.

  10. I recently finished the Six of Crows duology, but listened on audiobook instead of print, and really enjoyed it. It's so adventurous. I agree, I think the Six of Crows characters in the netflix show are the highlight of the show.

  11. What a great topic! I really want to read Homegoing this year. And Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is on my list to read. At one time I wanted to read The Help but I've since lost interest and ended up giving away my copy unread.

  12. I couldn't get into crows but maybe if I tried again...

  13. I was so pleased to see the Crows on my screen. Casting was good to us!

    Lauren @ Always me

  14. Impressive list!~ I have only read The Help. But now I'm curious about The Butchering Art!

  15. I love this! I think if I were to reread Six of Crows I wouldn't rate it as high as I did.

  16. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I always feel like I'm the only living soul on this planet that did NOT like Ember in the Ashes.... The characters bothered me so much. I just saw that I gave it 3 stars, but I think it would be 1/2 if I re-read it now, which I don't plan to do :)

  17. YAY so glad you liked Cactus! I honestly think this is why I haven't picked up the Ember sequels- like, I was fairly bored back in 2015, so. I agree about Crooked Kingdom, too. I liked it when I read it, but I think the show characters may be better. I definitely want to read Moonrise, I adore the author's stuff (and I am VERY picky about novels in verse, so that is saying a lot!)

  18. I really loved Moonrise. :)

    Lauren @ www.shootingstarsmag.net

  19. I'm with you on wanting Homegoing to be longer.

  20. The only one of these I've read is Cactus, but there are a few others on the list I've been meaning to read. I didn't realize that Moonrise is a novel in verse, but now I have to read it. Though I'm not always a fan of verse novels that read like prose. Still, I'm pretty much willing to give any verse novel a chance.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  21. I still haven't watched the Shadow and Bone series yet and while I do love Six of Crows, I can't help but agree that the characters aren't as fleshed out as they could be, especially since there are so many of them.

  22. I don't think I've ever heard of Sarah Crossan writing a book that *wasn't* in verse, so maybe it's just habit at this point! <3

  23. I agree that Homegoing was an amazing book. I gave it five stars, too. I wasn't a big fan of Bus 57. I had such a hard time with the use of "their" as a pronoun it distracted me. I know. That sounds so trite. Here is my February discussion topic: What do you do when a favorite author dies? Let's Discuss!

  24. I really want to read Moonrise and Six Of Crows! Moonrise sounds so good and I've also read One by Sarah Crossan so I'm excited to see what else she has in store for me...good to see you liked it, even if the poetry didn't always feel necessary!

    Z x (zbestbooks.blogspot.com)

    1. and I know I'm a little late to the party here but I couldn't resist commenting :)