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Discover the top rated books I’ve ever read that are the most amazing five star books everyone should also read (including you!).

five stars over a book

This full list of my highest-rated books is something I’ve wanted to compile for a while now. As a reader of roughly 1,000+ books in my lifetime, a former English student, and a full-time book blogger, I’ve developed a really robust list of great books to read at this point in my life. And there’s no point in keeping it all to myself!

So, this is kind of my own personal list of best books to read, BUT I wanted to also be really helpful to YOU in sharing it, so I did force myself to abide by some rules for my selection criteria so you get a really comprehensive and reliable list of the best rated books you should pick up:

  • I had to have read and rated each book selected 5 out of 5 stars.
  • Each book had to be one I still often think about to this day.
  • Each book also had to have widespread popularity with many other readers, bestseller status, awards and accolades, and/or a high average rating on GoodReads.

At the end of the day, each of these highly rated books had to be one I felt willing to “go to bat” for.

And, since all readers are different, I want to also note, I tend to most enjoy literary fiction and character-driven novels. So, that definitely influences my best rated books.

I thought it would be too overwhelming to organize this list of top rated books into one long list, so I have segmented this list into genres. That way, if you have a favorite genre, as many readers do, you can skip to it and find a smaller list of highly recommended books for your particular reading preference. Of note, however, many books fit into several genres, so I had to pick one most relevant category for each of these five star books.

Top Rated Books

Below are all my top books to read separated by genre. Trust me, they are ALL amazing books to read!

Book of the Year Winners

First are my #1 top rated books for each of the past several years.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: This Pulitzer Prize finalist is one of the best books of the 21st century. It’s essentially about an unbreakable sibling bond. After the Conroy family moves into “The Dutch House” outside of Philadelphia, Maeve becomes like a mother to Danny as they grow through decades of life and often return to the nostalgia of their childhood home. The ending gave me CHILLS. It’s absolutely best on audio, as it’s narrated by the one and only Tom Hanks.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano:  This Oprah’s book club pick is a modern family saga with nods to Little Women is my current favorite book of the past several years. Through masterful literary fiction and characters who feel alive, it explores themes of family, love, forgiveness, and SO much more.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave: When a husband disappears into thin air, his new wife and his teenage daughter must come together to piece together his past, with twists you won’t see coming in this #1 bestseller of over 2 million copies. I couldn’t put it down and had a major book hangover from it, particularly because it really makes you think, “What would I do?”

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: This epic tale of friendship and video games earned many “book of the year” awards. Sam and Sadie create their first blockbuster video game before even graduating college, but over 30 years, their friendship experiences the peaks and valleys characteristic of love, family, and work — all mixed together. When this novel reaches its climax, it becomes something truly remarkable.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett:  Another mega award winner and #1 New York Times bestseller, this is a heavily thematic story of two light-skinned Black sisters, who go on to live life as different races. What makes it especially memorable with a full cast of unforgettable characters.


Book Series

Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This 3-book series (of all five star books) begins with an incredible opening line that tells you someone is dead at the end, so you immediately know there’s an epic tale to be unraveled. On its face, this book is the coming-of-age fiction story of the junior ice hockey team on a quest to compete in the national semi-finals. But, dig deeper and there’s a whole spider web of conflict and interconnectedness amongst the members of this small forest town that will leave you absolutely breathless.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: I can’t imagine there’s anyone who isn’t already familiar with this bestselling book series of all-time. So, if you have not yet read these top rated books, I’ll simply implore you to do so. It is NOT just a kid’s book about wizards. It’s a masterfully crafted saga of good versus evil, that just happens to have a lot of magic too.


Celebrity Book Club Picks

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid:  The uber-popular documentary-style Reese’s book club pick (and Book of the Month’s Book of the Year) about the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band (like Fleetwood Mac) comes complete with song lyrics and is SO incredibly unique. Works both in print and on audio (I read it both ways.)

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: This Oprah’s book club pick and Pulitzer Prize winner is a character-driven, coming-of-age story of a modern Appalachian man who grows up in a world of poverty, the foster system, and addiction. Through the empathetic and colorful protagonist, who experiences blow after blow in life and must fight for his own survival, the reader gets a firsthand look at the struggles facing many Appalachian Americans today.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This #1 New York Times bestseller and Reese’s book club pick is one of the most well-written I’ve read in several years now. Set in 1990s American suburbia, it’s about everything that combusts, both literally and figuratively, when race, class, and preconceived notions of motherhood collide in a small community. The Hulu adaptation is fantastic as well!


Children’s Books

The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin: I spent most of my childhood simply devouring anything and everything about this beloved series of friends and young entrepreneurs. The lessons were never too preachy and the characters felt like real friends who I still think about today. This is the series that solidified my status as a lifelong avid reader.

Original American Girl Molly McIntire Books: I also couldn’t get enough of this children’s book series in my life. Not only did I see myself in Molly (because we look alike), but I also learned more about my own family’s history through her life during World War II. Beyond that, the seasonal American Girl doll catalog was utterly dreamy… yet always SO out of my reach.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg: This Caldecott Medal winner was, hands down, my #1 favorite book of my childhood. Seriously, every week during library class at school, I would even “check on it.” It’s stood the test of time for children and adults alike because it conveys both the magic and the nostalgia of Christmas exquisitely, in both written and illustrated formats.


Classics

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: I have a special place in my heart for classics I chose to read on my own at a young age, and The Bell Jar is one of them. It takes you deep into the mind of a depressed, anxious, and neurotic young woman struggling with coming of age. The inner dialogue of this character is something I have remembered for decades.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: This literary portrait of one very well-known character is both exquisitely crafted and quick to read. In just one sitting, you’ll be captivated by the lush descriptions and unparalleled attention to detail that Capote brings to Holly Golightly. Yes, if you watched the movie you should still read the book. And also, I recommend the audio version narrated by actor Michael C. Hall.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: This is another classic I chose to read on my own at a young age and loved. It’s as satirical and apocalyptic as Vonnegut’s other books, but this one just resonated with me more, instantly becoming one of my top-rated books of all time.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck: While I was initially put off by the length of this required high school reading, it became my all-time favorite book for several decades of my life. It’s a compulsively readable retelling of the story of Cain and Abel told through the Hamilton and Trask families, sharing themes of good versus evil. And, it really sticks with you.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: This is the ONE classic I think most avid book readers should tackle at some point in their reading lives. Why? This American Civil War-era story of sisters and family is all the things: charming, endearing, memorable, ahead of its time, and easy to read.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: The most classic of all love stories, an enemies-to-lovers tale that everyone’s heard of AND should read too, period. Go ahead and watch all the fantastic adaptations while you’re at it, too!


Contemporary Fiction

Long Bright River by Liz Moore: This is one book I still think about all the time, many years after reading it. I call it “a thriller with a conscience” that explores the opioid epidemic through the lens of one Philadelphia family — one sister who’s a cop, the other a missing addict. While the thrills keep the reader engaged, they aren’t the slightest bit gratuitous, which is why I placed it in this category.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This book very unexpectedly blew me away. I expected your standard high school outcast coming-of-age story, but what I got was a multi-layered tale with a major plot twist that kept me thinking for weeks afterward and has a major plot twist

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Marie Semple: This modern story of motherhood and maintaining one’s sense of self is just so quirky and memorable. Bernadette is “a hoot” and truly one of my favorite literary characters. Her family and neighbors think she’s “lost it” after a series of events go hilariously wrong. In one final theatrical event, she disappears, on a quest to regain her creativity and purpose.


Diverse Themes

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: This novel is popular with readers for good reasons! It’s a suspenseful “own voices” book about African immigrants and their New York employers, and it tackles race, class, and the economy through many lenses at the time of the Recession. It just happens to do so in a really unputdownable way.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx: I’m of an age to know that when the movie adaptation of this short story was released, it was all the rage. Both perfectly conveyed the secret love story of Ennis and Jack, two sheepherders who begin a relationship one Summer while working with each other in the wilderness of picturesque Wyoming. It’s truly one of the most beautiful and haunting stories I’ve consumed.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: This Pulitzer Prize Finalist, National Book Award Finalist, and multi-award winner is set amidst the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s, and it exquisitely weaves the beauty of art and what remains together with the tragedies of friends and lovers dying off one by one. One chapter, in particular, is one of the most poetic works of fiction I have read. I think about this book all the time.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This multi-award winner (including GoodReads “Best of the Best” EVER) and #1 New York Times bestseller also happens to be the most immersive audiobook to which I’ve listened. It’s a “Black Lives Matter” story that exquisitely explores the death of a young unarmed Black man at the hands of a cop through the eyes of teenager Starr, who lives in two worlds — her diverse neighborhood and her cookie-cutter private school. The dialogue is so utterly riveting and the characters are so utterly multi-dimensional.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: This is a beloved book that tops many avid readers’ lists of favorite books of all time. It’s a character-driven novel that follows a gay man in Ireland from the 1940s to the present day, as he copes with his sexuality during turbulent times and places in history. And it has the best-written dialogue I’ve ever read.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride: a love-affirming novel set in 1926 suburban Pennsylvania, where immigrant Jews and African Americans live peacefully. A young, deaf, and orphaned boy named Dodo is institutionalized at a local asylum and his Jewish Chicken Hill neighbors and extended African American family members plan to rescue him in this masterpiece about race, religion, disability, and the power of community.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This is the very much beloved story of an aged, glamorous Hollywood actress recounting her life story and the truth behind each of her seven husbands. So, what’s diverse about that? Well, I hate to be vague, but I really think you need to read the book to learn that. Trust me, it’s worth it. I’m pretty sure it’s been a bestseller for several years now.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: I swear, EVERYONE loves this story about the process of parenting a very young transgender child. The reader goes along for the journey and gets to step in the family’s shoes, as they try to figure it all out as they live it. It’s intimate and tender, written from the personal experience of the author, which, I believe has made it such a heartfelt success.


Historical Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: This just may be the number one book of these five star books that I think about most often. It’s about a man (“The Count”) sentenced to house arrest in a glamourous Russian hotel and how he changes and finds purpose over the decades of time, based on his circumstances and those he meets in his very limited world. Both he and the hotel are absolutely unforgettable!

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This favorite of celebrity book club host Jenna Bush Hager is my top pick for books I would love to see adapted into a mini-series. It’s a tour de force that stretches contents and generations, beginning in 18th Century Ghana, where one sister is a slave and the other leads a life of comfort, and traveling through time to show how these backgrounds impact future generations.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: This World War II fiction based on a true story absolutely shocked me about the shocking experiments conducted on women in a World War II concentration camp, yet it also provides hope, thanks to the exquisite craftsmanship of the author. It quickly became an all-time favorite.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: Speaking of favorites, this is actually my current favorite book of all time. After two poor young girls in the slums of Naples, Italy, post-World War II share a book, they become forever friends. The difference is that one is naturally brilliant but remains uneducated, while the other is less naturally gifted but becomes highly educated. Along with an entire neighborhood of characters, themes of gender, education, class, Italian politics, and more are explored. (Related Post: My Brilliant Friend Book Series)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: This #1 New York Times bestseller is a modern fan favorite, beloved for its emotional depth in conveying the harrowing story of two different sisters in World War II France in the most captivating way. It’s another one of those books that everyone loves and recommends.

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand: I’ll read anything by this “queen of the beach reads,” but her light historical fiction drama set during a momentous Summer in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard is the one that has captivated me most. There’s just so much that happens during that time and in those places, and she captures it so well. She left me Googling anything and everything about it.


Literary Fiction

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: This is a decades-long story of four siblings whose dates of death are predicted when they are children. What’s remarkable about it is that it both takes you on a journey with them and makes you think DEEPLY about major life questions at the same time.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman: This bestseller of over 2 million copies is both heartwarming AND heartbreaking. Outwardly, Ove’s a stereotypical elderly curmudgeon with a short temper. But inwardly, he’s grieving the loss of his wife and dealing with his own mortality as a dying man living out his older years, when he befriends an annoying neighbor. It’s definitely one of my most memorable reads ever.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:  This modern classic dark academia novel is exquisitely crafted from start to finish. It’s a literary thriller that takes the reader to a New England university in the 1980s, where a group of friends becomes obsessed with classic mythology and spirals down some dark (and deadly) paths. It contains some of the best writing I’ve ever read.


Memoir

Becoming by Michelle Obama: I don’t think I know anyone who has ever disliked this memoir of the charming former First Lady of the United States. It’s her life story, in her own words and voice, from the beginning through her time in the White House, and what makes it so unforgettable is her relatability.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: This book was never meant to be a book. It’s the diary of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland and, what’s always struck me about Anne was her “old soul” – for a teenager writing in a diary under horrible circumstances, she professed some of the most complex views of her time.

Educated by Tara Westover: I don’t know if I’ll ever NOT feel completely shocked by this memoir. It’s about a woman who grew up off-the-grid in a survivalist family (where both wild AND abusive things occurred), then grew up to become a traditionally educated student at Harvard.

From Scratch by Tembi Locke: This memoir left me teary-eyed, and I still get “all the feels” thinking about it years later. Tembi Locke is an actress, as well as an exquisite writer, who captures her emotions in a way that makes you empathize with her story of grief and resilience after the death of her husband at a young age.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller: This Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography is the memoir of the Stanford sexual assault victim” and, trust me, it makes you question everything you ever thought you knew about sexual assault.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett: In this memoir, bestselling author Ann Patchett gets real about a difficult, yet loving friendship she had with a fellow writer battling medical problems and demons, as they both came of age. I could not put this one down. Patchett’s narration of events is so tender and authentic.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This #1 New York Times bestseller and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize was the first audiobook to which I ever listened, and I never forgot its lasting impact. Kalanithi is a 36-year-old neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer who questions the meaning of life with exquisite detail and complexity. After all, what makes life worth living, when you unexpectedly come face to face with your own mortality?


Other Non-Fiction

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff: This bestseller is best consumed by way of its award-winning audio format. A minute-by-minute account of 9/11, it’s told entirely through the dialogue of five hundred people, from children in various parts of the United States to President George W. Bush. It was one of the most fascinating books and meticulously researched books I have ever read. I want it in every American’s hands (or ears, because the audiobook is so superb).

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab: I call this bestseller “The Boundaries Bible,” and it’s become really popular with readers of The Literary Lifestyle as well. After all, we live in boundaryless times. It’s an absolute life changer, period.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: This book consists of the “best of” advice columns from the bestselling author’s “Dear Sugar” column in The Rumpus. There’s something so intimate about seeking and giving advice between strangers, and Strayed handles it with empathy, honesty, and a bit of humor. It felt so captivating to read.


Romance

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo: One of the top sellers with readers of The Literary Lifestyle, this fictional story about lost love is the only book that has ever made me actually sob.

Normal People by Sally Rooney: For fans of character-driven novels, this beloved book chronicles two complex young adults who you both love and hate as their timing with each other never seems to align.


Thriller

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Like so many other readers, this shocking thriller kept me absolutely glued to the pages. Beloved Amy has gone missing, and her husband is the prime suspect. As the evidence comes in, it all points to him… or does it? There are shocking twists and depravity the likes of which you haven’t seen before.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: For many years, this popular thriller was my favorite book. From the outset, the reader knows a teen is dead and, as the killer is hunted, the family copes with their grief. Indeed, the focus on family and grief is what made this suspenseful novel better than the rest for me.

The Push by Ashley Audrain: This is of the most thoughtful literary thrillers I’ve ever read that really “pushes” boundaries at the same time. (See what I did there?!) On the surface, it’s about whether one mother’s daughter is “good” or “bad.” But, beneath, it’s a complex rumination on motherhood and generational trauma that really makes you think.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier: This PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick is moody and atmospheric in uncovering the truth about the mysterious death of the first wife of a wealthy man to his new, lower-class wife. It’s easy to read for a classic AND it’s super indulgent and intriguing at the same time.

Verity by Colleen Hoover: The most common reaction to this book I hear is simply, “OMG!” It’s the most disturbing book I’ve read, and I read it in one sitting, which is really uncommon for me as a slow reader. Verity is an author injured in a car accident, and struggling writer Lowen agrees to finish her books. But when she begins to sift through Verity’s notes and study her demeanor, something feels…off. Trust me, that’s only the beginning of this jaw-dropping roller coaster ride.

Conclusion

My top rated books of all time are good books to read if you want something that comes highly rated by myself, GoodReads readers, book buyers, and the critics. All of the preceding books are five star books that made a lasting impact on me, and which I totally vouch for, especially if you, like me, love some good character-driven literary fiction.

Related Posts

If you’re still deciding what books to put on your list, check out these posts next:

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2 Comments

  1. What about Abraham Verghese’ the Covenant of Water? What about A Fine Balance by Rohintan Mistry? What abot Salman Rushdie?