Five Stars.

I am stingy with my five-star ratings.

I’ve been tracking the books I read on Goodreads.com for about ten years now. 257 of them are in my “read” category, and of those 257, I gave ten books five stars.

When you’re rating a book and you mouse over the stars, here’s what the mouseover text says:

★ - did not like it
★★ - it was ok
★★★ - liked it
★★★★ - really liked it
★★★★★ - it was amazing

Well obviously these are very, very high standards and are not to be taken lightly. Most really great books don’t top a four-star rating for me. The vast majority don’t even break three stars, to be honest. And for me to call a book amazing, it has to blow my socks off in a particularly memorable way.

When DiAnne talked about books all the way back on day 9 of NanoPoblano, I considered a top ten list… but top ten lists shift and shimmy based on mood and the passage of time. My five-star books, on the other hand, remain five stars.

With that in mind, I’d like to share six of the books that I rated five stars on Goodreads.com. These are all fiction, although not all of my top-rated books are.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

This book is the newest one on the list by a wide margin, and was also the 2017 Newbery Medal winner. The story is full of magic and moonlight and witches and one Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and I don’t want to say more because it would just spoil the story- you only get a first time reading book this magical once. This is technically written for young readers, but I enjoyed it perfectly well as an adult. The story definitely did not go where I expected it to go, and I’m in love with half the characters, especially the aforementioned Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Really now, who doesn’t want their own Perfectly Tiny Dragon companion?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (series) – Douglas Adams

The link above is to the “Ultimate” edition, which really just means “five of the novels and a short story.” I love this entire series, end to end, and I have for most of my life. I started reading this series when I was about nine years old, and I remember being absolutely delighted when new books in the series kept coming out over the following years- my first exposure with the habit of great genre titles to make you wait for the next installment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has been books, radio shows, an LP, a television miniseries, still more radio shows, comic books, trading cards, and so much more. When I went to Edinburgh in 2012, the entire trip was built around the fact that the cast of the radio show was doing a live performance, with Neil Gaiman as the voice of The Guide. Going to that show was the culmination of three decades of love for the HHG franchise. The entire series is fluffy good fun and I enjoy re-reading it once every few years.

Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

While all of the Discworld novels are entertaining, the seventh book in the series is somewhat separate from the rest of them- it has no shared characters from the rest of the series, and has little to do with the story arcs from the other novels.

The book is a hilarious satire of religion and faith, set in the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, which is basically Discworld’s answer to Egypt. The story is about a twelve-year-old Pharaoh named Pteppic (the P is silent), newly graduated from the Assassin’s Guild, as he tries to meet his responsibilities, build a pyramid for his recently deceased father, and deal with a headstrong handmaiden named Ptracy. (Again, the P is silent.) There are mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and a mathematical genius named You Bastard who happens to be a camel.

I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by Egyptian culture, pyramids, and the like, so this was just a delight to read from cover to cover.

Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land is another one that I like to re-read every so often. First released in 1961, it tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human being who was raised on Mars, away from any other humans. The story begins with his return to Earth, and shows him learning to deal with other people and their complicated lives for the first time. So-called “Human Nature” is alien to him, and he introduces the world to his own beliefs and values.

This book is the origin of the term grokking, or “to grok,” a word that has its own Wikipedia page and is now in the dictionary. The Library of Congress named it one of 88 “Books that Shaped America.”

It’s really, really good.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer this one. I love it dearly and it’s another one that I re-read once every few years. Here’s what it’s about:

What if the end of the world was going to happen next Saturday, just after tea, and the major players in the end times have misplaced the antichrist? This book is the story of that eventuality. Among the very large cast of characters is Aziraphale, the answer to “what if C-3PO was a fussy angel instead of a fussy droid,” a fast-talking, fast-living demon named Crowley, witches, Witchfinders, hellhounds, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and of course the antichrist.

Good Omens was notably adapted for television last year, and that was one program I had been waiting for since the first time I read the book in the early 1990s. I was utterly convinced that it was completely unfilmable, but if modern technology can give us a convincing Balrog and an updated Howard the Duck, it can certainly show us the end of the world. It turned out to be completely delightful and I’m incredibly happy with it, but it still only captured about two-thirds of the wonderfulness that is this hilarious, amazing book.

Still Life With Woodpecker – Tom Robbins

While most of this books listed in this post are in no particular order, I chose this one for last because it is the only title that is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Still Life was written by Tom Robbins in 1980, and it concerns the love affair between a red-headed environmentalist princess and an outlaw.

The novel repeatedly addresses the question of “how to make love stay.” Although it is set in more or less the real world, it most definitely has elements of fantasy. It is at times quite funny as well.

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also been looking at other people’s reviews of these books on Goodreads, and this one is divisive- a great many people leaving reviews did not like Still Life With Woodpecker. Ah, well, to each their own.

What are some of your top-rated favorite books?

50/52 (and 29 of 30!)

What really scares me.

There was a thing in the news last week about a man who was waiting for a bus in the Bronx when a sinkhole opened beneath his feet and he fell fifteen feet into a hole filled with rats.

Around the same time that I learned about this, my sister posted her “Question of the Day” on Facebook, and in honor of the Halloween season, she asked what people were afraid of. I had already been thinking about this, and I answered the two things that truly scare me: Triffids and Sinkholes.

I will elaborate.

If you aren’t familiar, The Day Of The Triffids is a 1951 science-fiction novel by author John Wyndham. It’s been adapted for radio, television, and movies several times over. The Day of the Triffids was even the inspiration for 28 Days Later. Triffids are tall, venomous, carnivorous plants that can actually get up and move around. They’re not particularly fast, but they have a whip-like stinger that can blind and even kill a person. They’re originally cultivated because they produce oil but they get loose because of course they do. Things are made worse by a meteor shower (in some versions it’s just lights in the sky) that renders everyone in the world who sees it entirely blind. The rest of the story is familiar to anyone who loves Zombie fiction because with most of the world blinded, society collapses almost immediately. After that, it’s a dystopian post-apocalyptic wonderland, but with man-eating plants instead of shambling undead.

I want to state clearly that I know that Triffids are fictional. Of course I know they don’t really exist. Nowhere on Earth is there currently a known plant capable of killing and eating humans. That being said, if we were ever going to get a Triffid infestation, 2020 would be the year for it. Regardless, a thing doesn’t have to be real to be scary.

Sinkholes, on the other hand, are very real. And they terrify me. The guy in that news story at the beginning of this post was swallowed by the ground in seconds. Then he was stuck down there, unable to move and covered in rats, for at least half an hour before fire rescue could pull him out. He was afraid to open his mouth because he was scared a rat would climb inside.

This is terrifying, and it happens a lot. Do a web search for “man swallowed by sinkhole” and check out the terrifying results. In 2013, a Florida man was asleep in his bed when a sinkhole opened beneath him and just swallowed his whole bedroom. That guy didn’t survive- his bedroom was just gone, in a matter of seconds. They had to evacuate nearby houses because it was continuing to widen.

There are lots of terrifying sinkhole stories. In 2010, a sinkhole 65 feet wide and 300 feet deep opened in Guatemala and it took out a three-story building.

In Florida, sinkholes are particularly active and unpredictable. In Gainesville, near the University of Florida, there’s a 120 foot deep sinkhole that has been there for so long they’ve named it Devil’s Milhopper and they’ve established a state park to contain it. It’s so deep that it has a slightly different microclimate at the bottom than at the top.

Then there’s Lake Eola. Lake Eola is in a central part of downtown Orlando, and there are events there year round. I’ve been there hundreds of times. If you don’t know the area, you’ve still probably seen Lake Eola because any time a television show “takes place” in Orlando they inevitably show pictures of Disney and then pictures of Lake Eola. The fountain and the band-shell are fairly well known and often photographed.

Here’s the thing about Lake Eola though- the lake is a giant freaking sinkhole. Or at least it’s on top of one- roughly a hundred feet east of the fountain, there’s a twenty-three foot sinkhole. Meanwhile, the city has sprung up around it, skyscrapers and thousands of people living and working nearby.

And everyone is perfectly calm.

And nobody (except for me) is freaking out that we’re all pretending that a giant gaping whole in the ground is perfectly and completely normal.

Sinkholes are terrifying, friends.

What is scary to you?

25/52 (and 4 of 30!)