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.
5 Star Books For Book Clubs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Highest Rated Books: Fiction Bestsellers
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Historical Fiction Books Rated 5 Stars
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.
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. Read more →
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.
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.
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.
Thrilling Five Star Mysteries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top Rated Books of All Time – Science Fiction & Fantasy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 Star Rated Books: Memoirs
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Nonfiction 5 Star Books to Read
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Five Star Classic Books
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Five Star Books For Kids and Young Adults
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What 5 star books do you recommend?