Tuesday, March 12, 2024

I Read The Highest Rated Books On My Shelf. Were They Good?

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Way back in March 2023, 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 2023 (and January 2024), I read the books. Did I give them 5 stars? Let’s find out.

⭐  Do These Books Deserve High Ratings?  ⭐


Adult Memoir

Goodreads Rating: 4.47

World adventurer and international monster hunter Josh Gates has careened through nearly 100 countries, investigating frightening myths, chilling cryptozoological legends, and terrifying paranormal phenomena. Now, he invites fans to get a behind-the-scenes look at these breathtaking expeditions.

Follow Gates from the inception of the groundbreaking hit show (at the summit of Kilimanjaro) to his hair-raising encounters with dangerous creatures in the most treacherous locations on earth.

My reviewJosh Gates is the host of several TV shows on the Travel/Discovery/SyFy Channels. He's one of my favorite humans because I love his sense of humor and his curiosity. He always seems like he's having a good time on his travels, which makes them fun to watch.

Josh's TV shows (and his book, honestly) are captivating because they're not overly organized. He just goes to a place and hopes to find interesting things. It leads to a lot of humor. One of the funniest moments in the book is when Josh's team finds a possible bigfoot footprint. They have no idea what to do about the print because they never expected to find actual evidence of the monsters they were hunting. They thought they were just making TV. They didn't believe in monsters.

Like most celebrity memoirs, this one is probably only worth reading if you're already a fan of the celebrity. You won't get much out of it if you haven't seen Destination Truth. If you're already a fan, I recommend the book!

My star rating: ★★★★

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Literary Fiction

Goodreads Rating: 4.29

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.

My review: I think I overhyped the book in my head. It won the Booker Prize and sounded exactly like my type of pretentious entertainment. It's a composite novel that's made up of groups of short stories. Each group has 3 stories. One story focuses on a girl, one story focuses on a woman, and one focuses on someone who's connected to the first two people. The majority of the characters are Black women living in the UK.

The structure of the book is its biggest strength and its downfall. I love the structure because it allows you to see a character from multiple perspectives. You might hate a character in one story and then completely understand her motives and change your mind after another story. It was a really interesting reading experience. At first.

Then the stories started to feel repetitive. You're introduced to a person. You hear their entire life story with a lot of emphasis on sex and politics. The end. Repeat with the next person. There's no overarching plot or forward momentum. Things happened in the characters' pasts, but nothing is happening in the present. I think that would be fine in a short book, but this beast is 400+ pages, so I needed more to keep me invested. Unfortunately, I got bored and forced myself through the last 100 pages.

My star rating: ★★


Adult Historical Fiction

Goodreads Rating: 4.21

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley Street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

My review: The synopsis on the back of the book tells the reader the entire plot. Literally. That's ^^ all that happens.

The characters are developed beautifully. This is a very raw and realistic story about how grief can destroy a family. It's also a story about how art can keep a person's memory alive forever. Eleven-year-old Hamnet died in 1596, but parts of his personality are (possibly? We don't actually know) preserved in a play that's still preformed today.

My favorite aspect of the book is how the author handles Shakespeare's character. It would be easy to make the book all about him. Instead, he's just one member of the cast. The story is mostly about his wife and kids.

I wish the book either had more action or the synopsis had been vaguer. I knew from the synopsis that Hament dies and then his father writes Hamlet. That's all that happens. The book ended, and I was like, "Wait, it's over? That was all?" I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen, and then nothing did! I think the synopsis ruined things a little. I wish I had known nothing about this book before I started it.

My star rating: ★★★


Middle Grade Classic

Goodreads Rating: 4.21

Pa Ingalls decides to sell the little log house, and the family sets out for Indian country! They travel from Wisconsin to Kansas, and there, finally, Pa builds their little house on the prairie. Sometimes farm life is difficult, even dangerous, but Laura and her family are kept busy and are happy with the promise of their new life on the prairie.

My review: I remember a teacher reading this book to our class when I was really young. I went on to read other books in the series when I got older.

It's weird how my memory of the book is different from the actual thing. Maybe I'm getting this book mixed up with others in the series? I remember more action. And I remember the kids being more involved. The story is narrated by Laura—a child—but it's about Ma and Pa. I actually wondered what the kids did all day while their parents were building a house. They didn't have a school or friends or anything. How do you keep 3 young children safe and entertained on an empty prairie while you're doing construction work? Sounds like a nightmare.

As an adult reader, I found the politics to be the most interesting part of the book. Pa moves the family onto Osage land because he expects the US government to take the land and remove the Native Americans. That doesn't happen as quickly as he wants. Understandably, Pa's actions cause drama with the Osage neighbors. The Native Americans just walk into the Ingalls's cabin and take whatever they want because the cabin is on their land.

It's interesting to see the variety of attitudes that the characters have toward the Osage. Pa mostly wants to leave the neighbors alone. Ma is more passionately racist. Some of the other homesteaders in the area survived being massacred by Native Americans and were traumatized by the experience. The adults attempt to shield the children from the scarier stuff, but the reader can feel the fear and tension coming off the page.

I'm not sure what to think about this book. I love that it's a snapshot of American history. As an adult, I found it shallow and meandering. As a kid, I adored stories about people adventuring to places they'd never been. I guess that balances out to "It's a little boring and a lot racist, but still worth reading and discussing."

My star rating: ★★★



Adult Memoir

Goodreads Rating: 4.18

It was 1957, the year Sputnik raced across the Appalachian sky, and the small town of Coalwood, West Virginia, was slowly dying.

Faced with an uncertain future, Homer Hickam nurtured a dream: to send rockets into outer space. The introspective son of the mine’s superintendent and a mother determined to get him out of Coalwood forever, Homer fell in with a group of misfits who learned not only how to turn scraps of metal into sophisticated rockets but how to sustain their hope in a town that swallowed its men alive.

As the boys began to light up the tarry skies with their flaming projectiles and dreams of glory, Coalwood, and the Hickams, would never be the same.


My review: This book is fun and gives you faith in humanity. I enjoyed it! In a weird way, it reminds me of Stephen King's novels. It's not scary at all, but the writing style is simple, and the protagonists are misfit kids who do dangerous things while the adults are occupied with bigger problems. It has hilarious moments and heartbreaking moments. This memoir is proof that it really does take a village to raise a child. Rocket science is not an easy skill to learn, but the adults in Homer's life will do anything to help him succeed.

Just like with Stephen King's books, my only complaint is the length. It doesn't need to be 400+ pages! It drags in the middle. I didn't mind too much because I cared about Homer's family and wanted to know what happened to them.

If you're looking for a fun memoir, please consider this one!

My star rating: ★★★★ 

Buy it on Amazon


Young Adult Contemporary Novel-In-Verse

Goodreads Rating: 4.17

Grace and Tippi. Tippi and Grace. Two sisters. Two hearts. Two dreams. Two lives. But one body.

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins, joined at the waist, defying the odds of survival for sixteen years. They share everything, and they are everything to each other. They would never imagine being apart. For them, that would be the real tragedy.

But something is happening to them. Something they hoped would never happen. And Grace doesn’t want to admit it. Not even to Tippi.

How long can they hide from the truth—how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

My review: The plot of this young adult novel-in-verse is extremely predictable, but I couldn't put it down. I went to work exhausted for several days in a row because I stayed up late reading this book. It's just too compelling! The characters are fascinating.

The side characters are where this story shines. None of them are perfect. They accidentally say insensitive things or project their own feelings onto the twins. They don't understand that there are worse things than being conjoined. Grace and Tippi love each other and don't want to be separated.

Like all novels-in-verse, I didn't always understand why the author put the line breaks where she did. The poems would have been just as impactful as paragraphs. I want poems to have a reason to be poems. That's probably a "me" problem, though. I've never understood poetry.

This is an awesome book about the bond between sisters. Read it if you love contemporary young adult fiction.

My star rating: ★★★★

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Science Fiction Graphic Novel

Goodreads Rating: 4.17

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

My review: If books had movie-style ratings, this one would be rated R. It's gory! Blood everywhere. There are characters with their intestines hanging out. There are alien sex clubs. Even the spiders have boobs and clothing-optional lifestyles. It's a lot.

I understand the point of the sex and violence because it creates a hilarious juxtaposition with the young family. The parents grew up surrounded by death and exploitation. They're kind of numb to it. So they're having normal domestic squabbles while awful things happen around them. It's actually really funny. And slightly relatable. You have to feed and diaper your kid, even when the world is falling apart.

I love the characters because they're snarky and opinionated. Their world is bizarre in an intriguing way. There's a pedophilia / sex trafficking plotline that I disliked because it feels stereotypical, but I'm still interested enough in the story that I want to know what happens next.

My star rating: ★★★★

Buy it on Amazon


Young Adult Fantasy

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

Kate Harker is a girl who hunts monsters. And she's good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human. Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is a terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadow—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim's inner demons—Kate must face a monster she thought she'd killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own.

My review: Normally, I'm a big fan of Victoria Schwab's books, but I read Our Dark Duet and was massively underwhelmed. Why is this book so long? Why are there so many words when nothing is happening?

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. It's a young adult dystopian fantasy about a world where violence breeds literal monsters. It stars August (a monster who wants to be human) and Kate (a human who wants to be a monster). In this book, they team up to defeat a new threat to their city.

It's just too long! Kate and August spend a bunch of pages fighting monsters separately. Then they team up and fight monsters together. I was thrilled when they got back together, but the plot is too repetitive. The characters fight monsters. That's pretty much it. It's a bleak story because there's no way they can kill them all. There are too many monsters!

I considered giving up on the book, but I actually love the ending. I'm happy I didn't give up! There's a twist that caught me off guard. There's a lot of death in a world that's ruled by violence. How do you keep going when everyone around you is dying, and there's nothing you can do to stop it? I think it captures the hopelessness of people who live in war zones. (Or in countries where mass shootings happen every day.)

I'll continue reading Victoria Schwab's books, but I didn't like slogging through this one. It's too slow and repetitive for me.

My star rating: ★★

Buy it on Amazon


Middle Grade Fantasy

Goodreads Rating: 4.10


After an incident shatters their family, eleven-year old Samantha and her older sister Caitlin are sent to live in rural Oregon with an aunt they've never met. Sam wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were . . . before she spoke up about their father's anger.

When Aunt Vicky gives Sam a mysterious card game called "A Game of Fox & Squirrels," Sam falls in love with the animal characters, especially the charming trickster fox, Ashander. Then one day Ashander shows up in Sam’s room and offers her an adventure and a promise: find the Golden Acorn, and Sam can have anything she desires.

But the fox is hiding rules that Sam isn't prepared for, and her new home feels more tempting than she'd ever expected. As Sam is swept up in the dangerous quest, the line between magic and reality grows thin. If she makes the wrong move, she'll lose far more than just a game.


My review: I have a massive amount of respect for this novel because it handles a terrifying topic in a way that children can understand. The fox and squirrels are obviously stand-ins for abusers and the people (or squirrels) they abuse, but the abuse is shown in non-gratuitous ways. The human characters learn to spot the signs of abuse and stand up for themselves.

Unfortunately, there are kids in the world who really need this book. They're living in dangerous situations and are afraid to ask for help. This novel could be comforting to them. The author shows how abusers can be scary and charming at the same time. She also shows that life can get better once the abuser is gone. The book tackles a dark subject, but it leaves the reader with hope.

Like many middle grade books, this one is heavy handed with its morals, but don't let that stop you from reading it. There should be a copy of A Game Of Fox & Squirrels in every middle school library.

My star rating: ★★★★

Buy it on Amazon



Young Adult Fantasy

Goodreads Rating: 4.15

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first . . .

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

My review: This is the second book in the Wayward Children series, and I love it just as much as the first. The series is so creative!

Wayward Children is a portal fantasy that follows a group of teens at a boarding school. The kids have all traveled through portals to hidden worlds. Then they came back. They ended up at the school because they can't cope with life in our world. They're desperate to find their portals again.

Down Among The Sticks And Bones is the story of Jack and Jill, two twins who discover a secret staircase inside an old trunk. Jack becomes the apprentice to a mad scientist. Jill joins a vampire coven. It's quirky. It's quick to read. It shows the dangers of forcing your kids to be what you want instead of letting them be themselves.

I wish these books were longer so we could get more world building. I need the next one right now.

My star rating: ★★★★

Buy it on Amazon

I predicted I'd give all of these books 5 stars, and I ended up giving none of them 5 stars. I think that just proves I'm a picky bitch. I'm not mad about it, though. For me, a four-star book is a really good book! The majority of these got four stars.

Is there an unread book on your shelf that you think will get five stars from you?


  1. Your reviews were as entertaining forever. It is interesting reading the Little House books as an adult. I think different things capture our attention now than when we were younger.

  2. I am one of those people who just cannot get into Victoria Schwab. I've tried a couple and they've been such misses for me.

  3. I imagine rereading the Little House books as an adult brings a whole new perspective. Things I didn't bat an eye at as a small child would seem plenty troublesome now.

  4. You make some good points about Little House on the Prairie, and they are part of why I haven't wanted to reread the books in decades. The farther we get from that period in history, and the more we understand about racism and colonialism, the more uncomfortable I get with reading books imbued with that worldview.

    I enjoyed your other reviews as well, particularly The Game of Fox and Squirrels. You're absolutely on target with that one.

  5. Love this! So I did not love This Savage Song so I feel like I won't love the sequel either. Maybe I should ujust read the ending heh. I also really liked One! And Saga, of course. Hamnet does sound dreadfully boring, especially knowing what it is about- like is it supposed to be a twist that the husband is Shakespeare? Bad job there if so!