Surprising Five-Star Reviews

First off, it should be noted that my five-star reviews are completely subjective. Basically I give books five stars completely based on mood and how I felt in the moment.

In an effort for full-disclosure, when it comes to most of my reviews on Goodreads, I rate the book before I finish. I'm not one who thinks an ending makes up for the rest of the book. If I enjoyed the ride AND the ending, then it gets five stars.

Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull: This is the fifth in the Fablehaven Series. I completely enjoyed this fanciful series. And laughed out loud on many occasions. These books are not meant to be taken seriously and that's why I found them so fun.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel: I read this in the early 2000's, and by read I mean listened to. I had an iPod Shuffle that hung around my neck with a white chord. And I remember when I finished it, I was mowing the front lawn. The ending made me stop in the middle of the job and just stare at the grass. "Did I hear that right?" is the question I asked Dad. "Yep. What did you think?" "Well, that was an amazing ride." The first half of the book, our character Pi takes us through his view of religions and what it's like to grow up in a zoo. The last half is an adventure thriller of the best kind. The Life of Pi completely captivated me from start to finish.

Beauty by Robin McKinley: This book is such a fun take on Beauty and the Beast. I really enjoy Robin McKinley's writing but haven't read anything else by her. I've read this book several times and have enjoyed it each time.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim: This book was completely a lark. Made even more delightful by the fact that I had been in April the year before and could easily imagine the setting. I find it completely enjoyable to read books about places I'd been before. Let alone add cute little love stories. 

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: This adventure story completely surprised me. Fantastic writing and a strangely captivating storyline. There are really odd moments about non-humans that they run into, but besides that. A super fun enterprise.

What offbeat five star reads do you have?

Jessica SmithComment
The Writing... Oh the Writing

Have you ever read a book that you thought, "I didn't know that words could be so beautiful?" Some have told me that Shakespeare does this to them. It elevates their reading experience to something sublime.

Beryl Markham did this for me. 

Who is Beryl Markham? Well, I'm so glad you asked.

She is someone who writes so wonderfully well that each passage was surprising. She made vignettes from her formative years so captivating through her words that it was difficult to stop. For one brief moment, she talked about a spider and it made me love that spider in a way that hasn't happened since EB White.

It's important to note that Markham's book, West with the Night, isn't for everyone. If you need a plot-heavy book, or one with really strong characters, or one that dives into difficult topics, this book isn't for you.

If you enjoy words and become giddy at words that uniquely combine together in a fresh way. And stories that are very human. Then this book is for you.

I was devastated when this book was over. I'll have to search to see if Markham wrote another book. If so, I need it in my life.

Jessica SmithComment
Five Must Reads to Inspire Creativity

Mommy by Maurice Sendack

The ultimate pop-up book. This book's intricacies will amaze you.


Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

No person has ever created a character as completely as Lucy Maude created her Anne. Whenever I dive into the world of Prince Edward Island, it's so easy to imagine-- it takes no effort to picture Anne taking a stroll in Lover's Lane or walking to the Avonlea school. 

She is a beautiful character and I'm continually amazed at Montgomery's ability to make Anne so real. Creating a character is one of the ultimate creative challenges.


Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

One of the best creative exercises is to consider someone else's perspective. And why not start with a worm.


Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

No book sets a scene as well as Night Circus does. Erin Morgenstern was a stage producer and has translated those skills to writing. It's a master's class in creating an ambiance.

Just a note about Night Circus: it's best read in the fall. And if you can, listen to it. Jim Dale reads it and it's basically the most magical thing ever. At the beginning one of the characters drops the f bomb out of nowhere, and there's a slightly uncomfortable scene near the end. Just skim that part... Ahem


The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

One of the most practical uses of creativity is problem-solving. Which Sir Percy Blakeney does on a grand scale. This piece of fiction walks the reader through a scheme pulled off by seemingly one of the most ridiculous characters ever written. Delightful read. Profound use of creativity.

Jessica SmithComment
Favorite Audiobook Readers

Here is another post about Audible.com being my favorite thing. This time I want to focus on which readers are the best.

Jim Dale is by far and away the best audiobook reader. He's the one that reads the Harry Potter series and The Night Circus. His voice is just magical. And you may also recognize him from singing to the folks of Passamaquaddy.

Juliet Stevenson. She brings Jane Austen's books to life. She's a fantastic reader, so easy to follow. You may recognize her from a few movies as well.

Dan Stevens. Yes. The Beast is an incredible audiobook reader. I've listened to Frankenstein and And There Were None. Holy Moley. He pulled me into the story so quickly. So much so I couldn't listen to the book at night. I was too scared!!!

There are a few suggestion for you! I'd love to know if you found an audiobook reader that you love.

Jessica SmithComment
The One Thing That Made Reading Possible for Me

Ok. So I have something to confess. I think I've only told this to one person in my entire life. And it is a true story.

My reading comprehension is REALLY low. When I read something in my head, I don't get it. It doesn't make sense to me. I did okay on the ACT, but the part that I failed was the reading comprehension section. Which is why most of my life I have only read the young adult genre (lots of story, not much work).

About ten years ago, I had set a goal for myself. To be literate in the classics. I think there is true power in literature. But I knew I would never be able to achieve this goal without help because I couldn't understand what was on the page no matter how often I re-read it. 

Enter my life saver. Audible.com. No kidding. Last year I was able to read 75 books. Most people don't call listening to an audiobook, reading. And I would have to politely disagree. Being able to listen to audiobooks has opened countless doors for me (more on that to come). 

If you're new to Audible, check it out. Yes, they now have all the Harry Potter books! Jim Dale is probably the best narrator out there.

See my next post for a list of fantastic audiobook readers.

Jessica Smith
Ideas to Improve Your Reading Experience

I'll get straight to it. Reading should be completely enjoyable. Here are some ideas for you:

  1. If you find a book isn't for you, stop reading. And count it as read. Don't feel guilty. It's not your cup of tea and that is totally fine. 
  2. Watch the movie first. If there is a movie based on your next read, watch it! It helps you know the story. I find when I watch the movie first, I tend to enjoy the movie and the book more. 
  3. Read a summary of the book before you begin. This will help you understand which portions of the storyline are important.
  4. In contrast, relish the feeling of not understanding what's going on in the story. Trust that the author will make it all make sense, just let the story play out.
  5. Try reading out loud. Read aloud to your spouse, child, grandchild, parent or grandparent. Some of my favorite memories with my grandmother include reading to her.
  6. Only pick books that call to you. Have you ever just known a certain book would be one you would love? Trust that! Dive into those books.
  7. This applies particularly to the classics, not only should we enjoy the storylines presented but we should appreciate the language used. It can be confusing, but slow down and savor the descriptions the author gives.

I hope you find these helpful!

Jessica SmithComment
Nourishing the Soul

We truly believe that reading can nourish the soul. Enjoyably we are surrounded by binge-worthy shows and books. This is exciting and fun, but it's important to spend time in the classics. Spend time in books that expand our vision, broaden our vocabulary, magnify the images already conjured in our minds, and satisfy that divine piece in us.

Here at Good Friends Good Books, we will work to recommend books that will spark the divine in you. In addition we will balance this with other enjoyable reads.

If you would like to further understand our philosophy, we'd recommend reviewing this talk given at Brigham Young University in 2012.

Jessica SmithComment