Let’s Talk Bookish – What Makes a Book a 5 Star Read?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where they discuss certain topics, share their opinions, and spread the love by visiting each others’ posts.


Prompts: How do you decide whether a book should get 5 stars? Do you try to keep 5 stars rating prestigious, or do you give them generously? Do you have a checklist of things a book must accomplish to be 5 stars? Are 5 star books perfect, or just very good? What are some of your favourite 5 star reads? What made them stand out?

Penultimate day of July, welcome everyone! This week’s topic is a classic, as everyone will have a different view on what is a max rating for them. Can’t wait to see what everyone else says, but for now, here are my own thoughts:

Obviously here at DTRH we have our Drink Me Potions rating, and Andge has so kindly set up a page just to explain all that in great detail. There Andge explains a 5 Drink Me Potions rating as: a masterpiece, something she would read and re-read, and definitely recommend to everyone.

For me, in general I think this aligns with what I also consider my max rating. Although re-readability may not always be feasible for the thriller/mystery genre, since suspense and novelty is a huge part of it. Both of us here at DTRH definitely do try to keep our 5 star rating prestigious. Of course we award it to any book we find to be that level, but in general also do try to keep 5 stars to a minimum. After all, not everything can be our favourite. I feel like this tends to leave many good books at a 4.5 star rating as well – but here at DTRH, anything 4.5 or 5 is a definite recommend from us!

I myself do not have a checklist. Whether something is 4.5 or 5 star really is just a feeling. Now some might consider that a bit nebulous, but I mean ratings are subjective are they not? I almost want to say that 5 star books just have that little bit something extra, something sparkly that sets them apart from the other 4.5 stars. That usually pushes it over the edge for me. Or in other cases, books that are almost 5 star except for one tiny little thing that I didn’t like – that usually leaves it at 4.5 stars. I would say in general good plot, good characters and character development, as well as good pacing/emotional value will often add up to the big 5.

5 star books aren’t always perfect. Perfection is also subjective. But in my mind if I give a book 5 stars it’s not necessarily that it was written very well or that it had certain elements (though it most often does). It usually means that I myself personally enjoyed it to the maximum level that I can enjoy a book. It probably took me on an emotional journey, I probably got super attached to the characters, I probably got lost in the fantasy world, all these things add up to give me a super magical experience reading – the thing we all chase after when we read books, no?

As I may have mentioned before, my two favourite books are Memoirs of a Geisha and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I would say the big reason these two are my favourites was the true sadness and anguish that it was able to evoke in me whenever the protagonist faced unfavourable or unequitable conditions. The emotional journey that I was taken on of someone’s life was truly something so magical and these are ones that I will definitely re-read one day.

What are your all-time favourite books? Let me know in the comments below!

wrap up

July 2021 Wrap Up and TBR

Hello friends! It is a gloomy, rainy day here but I am so glad it’s Thursday and almost the end of the week. However, where has July gone?? I feel like the summer season has only just begun and yet it’s already halfway over.

July was a crazy month for me. If you read some of my other updates this month, you’ll know that we brought in a new puppy into our home and she has been both a source of joy and pain. Still figuring out the biting and potty training stuff, but I love her to bits already. If anyone’s ever interested, maybe I can post some stuff about her here somewhere – though not 100% sure what that’ll have to do with books but oh well.

Okay, now onto the books, which is what you’re all here for! This month was such a good reading month. Not because of the number of books I got through, though I am happy the additional puppy training and walks didn’t take away from my reading too much, but because of the quality of books I read. I loved SO many of these, and they blew me away with their characters, plots and author writing styles. Let’s break it down, shall we?

What did I read this month?

5 Drink Me Potions

If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

  • If you’re looking for a mean girl falling in love with a Shakespearean twist, look no further! I loved Cameron Bright as our protagonist as she balances changing her character for herself instead of for someone else while holding true to who she is that didn’t have to changed for anyone. The romance was the cutest enemies-to-lovers I’ve read and I just couldn’t stop smiling through it all! Definitely a perfect summer read.

Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

  • The sequel to the hit A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is just as amazing as the first, which is a super high bar to follow. Amateur sleuth Pip wanted to leave behind murders after the ordeal that came crashing down in book 1, but a mystery and potential crime comes to her and this one may leave more scars behind. It was a little eerie, especially reading at night, but I couldn’t put it down or look away as Pip and friends navigate another challenge, but this time in front of a large audience who are watching their every move and/or misstep.

4 Drink Me Potions

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

  • The world building was great and the descriptions of Sicilian food made my mouth water half the time (don’t read this on an empty stomach!), but what made this book so great was the tense relationship forming between Emilia, the twin who survived some dark magic attack on the witches in their area, and a Prince of Hell. It was slow burn and drove me crazy as they hunted down Emilia’s twin’s killer together. But of course, when dealing with the devil, one cannot trust them, can they? Or even worse, love them?

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

  • With twisty riddles at the heart of the story, who can resist diving into this book that asks the million (or should I say billion?) dollar question: how did a nobody like Avery Grambs inherit billions from a man she never met or knew? Shoved into the spotlight and the Hawthorne family/home, Avery navigates relationships with the 4 Hawthorne brothers and extended family as they all wonder why she was chosen in their place. Sometimes it focused less on the big puzzle and more on the characters and their backstory, but overall this was a unique gem of a read.

Heartbreakers and Fakers by Cameron Lund

  • Fake dating with a twist! Unsure why she kissed a guy she hated most of her life – and unfortunately her best friend’s boyfriend, Penny’s social life takes a dive unless she could convince everyone she did it for love instead of a drunken mistake. I love the fake dating trope when done well, and this was such a fun ride as Kai and Penny fake things…until it doesn’t seem so fake after all. Can people who annoy one another actually make this work? Maybe there’re more things in common between them than they ever knew. This was another great summer read!

2 Drink Me Potions

Bone Crier’s Dawn by Kathryn Purdie

  • The only book to fall short in my list this month, I wanted to adore Bone Crier’s Dawn so much since I loved book 1. However, the set up from book 1 didn’t make this one as dramatic or action-filled as I wanted, with a weird love triangle taking place between the boy Ailesse fell in love with and the boy she was fated to be with. I had hoped for more romance (not quite there), and an epic finale (also not there). The world building was solid as we learn more about bone criers (who call themselves Leurresses) and their role to guide dead souls, but it alone can’t carry the story. I had high hopes for this one and it just fell flat.

Current reading list

  • Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
  • A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

TBR list

  • Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
  • Witchshadow by Susan Dennard
  • They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

And that’s a wrap on July! Here’s hoping August is just as beautiful for you all. If you can, go out and breathe the fresh air, say hello to friends and read a good book.

4 star, YA

Review: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Inheritance Games #1

A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. 

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

I approached the newest series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes with a sense of wary excitement. Having loved and felt let down by her past stories, I wasn’t sure which side of the fence this one would land in. I am happy to say that The Inheritance Games hooked me with its main plot line and reeled me in with the characters I fell for.

Avery Grambs was an ordinary girl by all standards, possibly even less known than the average high school student as she was practically orphaned and living with her half-sister. Good with puzzles and strategy, here’s a girl who wanted to do actuarial science in the future – but only because it was something she could excel in and pays well. After all, she knew exactly how much effort it took to do well in school (not much at all between her jobs), so what would it look like to actually try? What a practical and intriguing mind.

Then comes the out-of-nowhere inheritance and the four Hawthorne brothers. Or should I say, half brothers? This family dynamic was super interesting with all the boys, their mother that they share, and aunts/uncles and family staff all under one roof, albeit a super large mansion-sized roof. I loved that each brother was different, although they could technically be put into a stereotypical box.

Grayson: the serious responsible one who is secretly a sweetheart underneath those frigid cold outer layers

Jameson: the adventurous, rebellious one that gives off bad-boy (or at least bad influence) vibes

Nash: the laidback cowboy one (they are in Texas after all) who prefers not to take on the mantle of responsibility

Xander: the sweet, fun, innocent one that is instantly your friend

I felt for Avery as she came face to face with these formidable brothers and having to navigate the sudden windfall all at the same time. Having not grown up with much money, suddenly she had to learn what it meant to be a billionaire. Who can you trust? How do you invest the money wisely? Wait, is someone trying to kill you now for your money?

Honestly, the riddles took a back burner to the relational aspects in this book. That may be why I docked off one star. I had wanted more clues, more of a hunt for the answer to everyone’s big question: why did Avery inherit everything (important) from a guy she had never known?

The little bits of clues and riddle hunting were fun and enjoyable. I always appreciate authors who craft some good puzzles for us readers to also figure out. I just wish it was a bigger part of this story. It may be that the next book will provide more now that we have been introduced to the family.

This leads me to what the story focused a little too much about. At the heart of the Hawthorne relationships Avery finds herself navigating is a love triangle between Grayson and Jameson. Obviously, I expected that from the synopsis. What I didn’t expect was some more convoluted past history between the brothers over another girl. One that didn’t end well for all parties and now impact their potential new fight over Avery. I don’t necessarily mind the backstory set up for the current-day issues, but it took up SO MUCH of the emotional arc of all three characters and impacted even the riddle hunting portion of the book. I would’ve been happier if it was limited in some capacity.

Disclaimer: if it’s not obvious yet, I don’t particularly have a great track record with love triangles. I thought I got over that particular issue in recent years, but nope. I wanted to love Jameson, I really did, but my heart just couldn’t get into their interactions. He wasn’t considerate to Avery at times, so focused on his love for puzzle solving, that I’m not sure what he truly sees in her. Or her in him, for that matter. He doesn’t have that sense of maturity, which if you read the differences in the brothers above, Grayson has in spades. So of course, I’m now Team Grayson unwittingly and hope my heart won’t be shattered in book 2. We shall see (and hope fervently).

By the end, I did appreciate where the storyline took everything and the new questions revealed from the limited answers we got at its conclusion. The pacing was good enough, and I really enjoyed Avery as a protagonist. She didn’t trust easily (which is good because we don’t want some naive girl here) but had relatively good judgment to discern when and who to rely on. Her puzzle solving mind was interesting to observe, and for the most part, I agreed with the choices she made. Although I came for the puzzles in this book, I stayed for the characterizations I enjoyed and the less annoying relationships that were forming. Here’s to waiting for the sequel!

Overall Recommendation:

The Inheritance Games brings an excellent plot line that puzzles and intrigues. Following a protagonist that doesn’t make me want to shout at her choices, I thoroughly enjoyed and empathized with Avery as she navigates a billionaire’s life that suddenly dropped into her lap. With a mystery at its heart to unravel and some romantic tensions in the form of a budding love triangle (yay…), there’s definitely plenty here to keep me flipping through its pages to the end for the twisty reveal. As more questions pile on top of the ones we already had, the sequel is definitely something I’m invested in! The only issue I had was this book had less puzzle solving than romantic entanglements (past or present). I hope book 2 will give us more puzzles and less complications in romance, but otherwise, this Jennifer Lynn Barnes novel was a win in my heart.