10 Really Good Books with Fewer than 2000 ratings on Goodreads


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the Broke and the Bookish.

I know I have been very absent from the blog in the past month or so, but I promise I will be better about that in the future. There are some changes coming to the blog, but I will talk about that in my next post. For now, my TTT.

I thought this topic was going to prove much harder to post about, but given that I have just shy of 140 books with less than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads, the only hard part was deciding which books to put on this list. So without further ado, here are 10 books that you should consider reading, even though they don’t have many ratings to back them up.

One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns in Italy by Paolo Lazzarin–38 ratings

This coffee table book has the most beautiful photos as well as in depth descriptions (for its genre) of 101 places to go in Italy that are not Venice, Rome, Florence, or Milan. Divided into geographic areas, this book will definitely make you wish you were in Italy right this second. You know, if you weren’t wishing that already…

Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe–63 ratings

I’ve used this book before to cook from (sugar beans and rice), and I am actually a little surprised this book doesn’t have more ratings because it’s quite good. It’s a fictional account of a young South African woman who is albino. It deals with ostracism, poverty, family, and hope. It’s fairly quick to read, but it stays with you.

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside by Andrea di Robilant  –127 ratings

If you haven’t read Robilant’s nonfiction and you’re interested in Venice, you’re missing out. I love the way he mines his family history for interesting stories and then backs them up with tons of research and an engaging nonfiction style. This particular book is an account of Robilant’s search for the identity of a very specific rose that grows at his family’s former home. Not even experts in the field have been able to identify it. The book talks about the people Robilant encounters and the significance of this rose and roses in general. It sounds like the weirdest, most specific subject, but I finished it in a single sitting. The two other works of his I’ve read, Lucia and A Venetian Affair, (which I made this Italian hot chocolate from) discuss the lives of his ancestors with plenty of Napoleonic goodies in the first and a wonderful forbidden love story in the second. They also have fewer than 2,000 ratings and are well worth reading.

Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright–130 ratings

It doesn’t surprise me that it’s mostly nonfiction that has such low rating counts, as it’s usually on very niche topics. But if you’re a reader, chances are you’re interested in what other people read. I found this tour through Wilde’s library to be a fascinating way to conduct an autobiography. This brioche recipe was inspired by the book.

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer–347 ratings

Short story collections also populate the less than 2,000 ratings category. They’re not read quite as often as more lengthy fiction, but they can be treasure troves of great writing, especially when they revolve around an interesting theme. This collection includes 50 writers who reimagine popular myths.

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change The Way We Think About Our Lives by David Sloan Wilson–558 ratings

This book was assigned in my anthropology class, and I found it both engaging and accessible. A great way to learn about the ways evolution affects our everyday lives.

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes–1,073 ratings

There’s some great poetry out there being written by modern poets, and this National Book Award winner is just one book that’s definitely worth perusing. This collection revolves around themes of fire and time. Hayes writes in a prose-like style with incredible rhythm and energy. Here’s a stanza from his poem “For Brothers of the Dragon”:

“I am full of dirt sometimes. I am trying to tell you a story/ without talking. I promise nothing I write about you/ tomorrow will be a lie. Instead of fiction, brother,/ I will offer you an apology. And if that fails,/ I will drag myself into your arms crying, Speak to me.”

Poetry is something that people tend to shy away from reading because they think they don’t “get it” and that it’s therefore not for them. But no one “gets” a poem. It’s a puzzle with no key, and it’s worth reading it, or better, listening to it just to think about why you enjoy or don’t enjoy it. It’s not about deciphering so much as grappling, thinking. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to let it move you. Okay. Poetry rant over.

Run River by Joan Didion–1,170 ratings

Didion is hard to read when you’re not expecting her style. She is one of the least sentimental writers I’ve ever encountered, but she’s the master of the odd, but interesting fact or detail that lends so much to characterization and atmosphere. This novel is her first published book, and of all her books it’s my second favorite (after her essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem), about a dysfunctional Californian family.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons–1,178 ratings

I really, really, really liked this book about a Jewish woman whose husband vanishes. It talks about identity, marriage, heritage, and longing. And it will make you so hungry.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward–1,909 ratings

This book just makes the list at 1900 ratings, but I couldn’t leave it out. Told in a series of long short stories, the book examines different women–all readers. There are some narrative connections, but for the most part they’re independent stories about women of various ages engaging in my favorite pastime. A really interesting book I can’t recommend enough.


Now over to you. Have you read anything on this list? What are your own favorite underrated books?




Top Ten Tuesday: 6 Books that Changed My Mind About Short Stories


Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic was to find 10 books that you read recently that were outside your comfort zone. I read pretty much everything, and there’s not a lot that I’m uncomfortable with, but last year’s challenge gave me the opportunity to read a lot of short story collections, which are not typically my first choice.

When you take writing classes at college, you read a lot of good stories and you write a lot of bad ones. The form is an interesting one, an old one. It always made me feel that maybe I didn’t have enough to say–or that I didn’t have anything to say that was at once shocking and everyday, new and simultaneously true to the oldest parts of human nature. I didn’t mind that most short stories had bleak endings. But I did mind that they had bleak middles and bleak beginnings for the most part. I felt that many of the most famous stories left me feeling nothing. There were standout stories of course, there always are, but they all sort of blended together in a sad way and left me thinking maybe I just don’t like short stories, maybe they’re not for me.

But I couldn’t allow myself to feel that way forever. I couldn’t write what I didn’t read. And I wanted to write short stories, at least give it another go. People always recommend certain collections, or sometimes you just find them, so I figured I’d give it a try and read some (hopefully) amazing books.

What I found sort of reassured me in a way. Short stories weren’t awful things to be avoided on the same level as dentist chairs and oil changes (does anyone else hate having to go do that? ugh). Instead short stories could be…magical. I think the magic, the fantasy is what does it for me. The endings might still be bleak but the stories make you feel things–hope, fear, sadness, triumph, anger. They transport you.

I also found that collections by a single author were preferable to anthologies. I think this is because I enjoy being immersed in an author’s style and that’s hard to achieve in ten or twenty pages before moving on to the next author with a completely different style. But a whole collection is more like a family album than a snapshot, and it’s easier to get your bearings and focus on the individual story. You start to see family resemblances.

The ones without fantasy or fantastical elements I have to say I respected and appreciated more than loved. Some of the stories were wonderful, but some felt more crushingly bleak. On the whole I tend to favor the absurd and the fantastical. There are writers with an immense gift for describing human nature, but that is rarely a rosy subject.  In the past year, I’ve learned more about what a short story has to teach and offer me, and I think that if you have been as resistant to the format as I have, you should read a couple of these collections before you give it up entirely. You may even change your mind.

  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  • Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  • The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
  • Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  • Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

Have a favorite short story? Let me know in the comments.

Women Writers Reading Challenge: #68-75 The End



At first I was going to post the rest of the reading challenge one book at a time, like I did for all the rest of the books, but then I decided that would take weeks to get them all out there, and meanwhile I wouldn’t be able to start posting this year’s books. So I decided to do one great big post with all of the last 8 books.

Next week, I’ll do a retrospective post on my year reading women.

#68: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

This book of short stories was really great: clever, tongue-in-cheek, and a bit dark. Her writing is immensely controlled and each word feels deliberate. The title story was one of my favorites, where Margaret Thatcher’s would-be assassin breaks into a house so he can take aim from a good vantage point and has a very telling conversation with the house’s owner. Her stories are really well done and I recommend them for anyone who:

  • likes to read writers who are just.so.talented.
  • likes English authors and English settings
  • is intrigued by the title (that’s why I picked up the book in the first place)


#69: From Whitechapel by Melanie Clegg

This particular book was on my currently-reading list for ages, not because the book was terribly long, but because it was an e-book, and I’m awful at finishing those. I just don’t like to read on screens all that much. Unless it’s a blog or an article. Anyway, Melanie Clegg is a terrific blogger and her blog Madame Guillotine has me constantly drooling over potential trips to the UK. The story here is about Jack the Ripper, and in particular the effect that his serial killing has on some of the women who know the victims. The story (despite its subject matter) is very sweet and fun, and the women are interesting and feisty. I wish that Clegg had a better copy-editor–the book could use a closer look–but it’s pretty good for being self-published historical fiction, and is a great way to while away some time.

For people who:

  • like historical fiction of the seedy side of London variety
  • want to support indie authors
  • need a book to put on their e-reader for their next vacation


#70: We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill

Victoria and the Victorian era are endlessly fascinating to me. I love strong women, and Victoria is caught up in a rare and crazy time–she is one of the most powerful women in the world and yet she’s constantly being told that her place is behind a man’s. She reinforced these traditional values in her own life, and so by its very nature her life is full of dualities and strange connections to power. Her relationship with Albert is the stuff of legend, and yet it was not a simple relationship by any means. Gill takes a deep look into the backgrounds of the young girl who was never supposed to be queen and the young man who shouldn’t have been important enough to be an English monarch’s consort. She talks through their courtship and subsequent marriage in a way that is engaging, highly interesting, and obviously well-researched. This was one of the most engaging biographies I’ve read in a long time, and I love the tension that having two subjects produces and the ultimate balance that Gill achieves.

For anyone who:

  • Loves those crazy Victorians despite all their flaws
  • Needs a good biography to read, stat
  • Is interested in the European monarchy, politics before the first World War, women’s rights, or great love affairs

#71: The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

I don’t think there’s that much that needs to be said about Sylvia Plath’s poems–she’s one of those poets that’s famous enough to be known by the general public, even those that don’t read poetry. Some of her poems are magnificent, many of them are very powerful, and the majority of them are very dark. Her early poems in particular seem to be in love with words (to the point of being sometimes a little difficult to read aloud), and I find that most of the time I’m not in the correct frame of mind to totally appreciate them (too happy). However, I respect her talent a lot, and I’m sad that died so young. I think her work could have only improved with time.

For anyone who:

  • Likes their poems like they like their coffee/tea–very dark with no sweetener
  • Anyone who’s intrigued by Plath’s legend and wants to know more
  • Is in a dark place and needs someone to understand how they feel (Public Service Announcement: we all get in those moods sometimes, but–please reach out to loved ones if you need help… Plath had so much to offer the world, and so do you)


#72: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Even though this book is decently long, I thought it went by pretty quickly. It’s not exactly a book I’d call action-packed, but its characters are interesting and complex and the writing is good. It has to do with a man who attacks a painting at a National Gallery, only to be caught and taken to a psychiatric facility. The psychiatrist tries to help his patient, who has decided to remain mute for almost a year, so he reaches out to the patient’s loved ones to start reconstructing his life. Along the way, he discovers a dark secret in fine art’s history.

For people who:

  • like books that say a lot about human nature, even if the plot moves slowly
  • are interested in (fictional) art history, contemporary art, Impressionists, and painting
  • are interested in psychology


#73: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Can I just say I want to be Kelly Link when I grow up? I think this woman is single-handedly responsible for making me fall in love with short stories. Well, Link and Angela Carter. I’m in love with her particular brand of magical realism, and I can’t get enough of her writing.

For people who:

  • like all the trappings of magical realism, including witches, zombies, and things that are hard to describe, that you’ve never seen, and that you really, really want to be real (or are afraid just might be)
  • want to see a great writer at work
  • who want to give short stories a try (she’s one to start with, especially if you like magic)


#74: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

I’ve long since run out of Austen books, but I like reading novels from a roughly contemporary time period. This is Gaskell’s last book, and it’s actually unfinished (though she only stopped about a chapter from the end, so it’s easy to tell what happens). Not all of the characters are very likable, especially from a modern perspective, but Gaskell really draws on this, embraces it, and her characters end up being very well drawn and never shirk from displaying their foibles. Her drawing room scenes are done with such delicateness; they are exquisite. She is a master of the nineteenth century polite burn. This book is long, but is well worth the time investment.

For people who:

  • like classics and have run out of Austen or Bronte novels
  • need to retreat back in time
  • like Masterpiece and/or BBC mini-series


#75: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

This book won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, which is quite unusual, but it definitely deserves the acclaim. It’s written in a style that I could describe as newspaper or headline-esque. The sentences are short and clipped (though not lacking in detail or description), with an emphasis on verbs and a reduction of some of the more traditional sentence structures. It’s a very interesting style, though it can take a while to get into. The story follows Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman as he loses his cheating wife in a car accident and decides to move back to his ancestral (though never before seen by him) home in Newfoundland.

For people who:

  • are looking for something different with great writing
  • are interested in journalism, ships, Canada, or the way we rebuild ourselves after loss
  • who like stories that take place in unforgiving landscapes


And there you have it. My last 8 read of 2015. I hope some of these books make it onto your 2016 reading list. Have you read any of these books or writers? Which would you be most interested in? Let me know in the comments.



Women Writers Reading Challenge #62: Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill


I read this book right on the heels of Lorrie Moore’s book Self-Help, which was unavoidable since it was due at the library, but was nevertheless a mistake. Where I felt that Moore showed compassion, Gaitskill seemed objective almost to the point of being clinical sometimes. Her stories are still very good and move nicely, and still have a lot to say about the human condition, but they didn’t move me nearly as much. There was one story in particular that I admired, which was about an old man who visits a prostitute and feels much more for her than she feels for him. There was something really touching about it and it stuck with me for a while afterwards. In all, it’s a collection worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the work of feminist authors.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #61: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore


Some books have a reputation that precedes them. People talk about them with reverence as if they are a gift given down from the writing gods. I’m usually a bit cautious about these books because there are quite a number of brilliant writers that I’m not all that enthusiastic about. Hemingway comes immediately  to mind. In college, I kept an ongoing list to which I would add books or films that professors mentioned that sounded interesting or particularly important. I’ve read and I’ve scratched off some of those books, but this one has been on it for a while. When it came up on several must-read lists, I knew I could ignore it no longer.

And it turns out, in a bizarre twist, that this book is everything it’s cracked up to be. Moore writes about her characters with sympathy, but she doesn’t let them get away with very much. If they’re capable, they have to face reality. But though it’s often a harsh, disappointing reality, Moore writes with humor and enough compassion for humanity that the stories don’t feel bitter or cynical. It seems that if she could, she would really like to help her characters even if the biggest take away from the book is the only people who can help us are ourselves, and often times we’re unable to do just that. This is a monumental book by a great writer, and if you’re interested in short stories at all, your education will not be complete until you read this book.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #26: Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link


I’m always a little wary when it comes to short stories (probably holdover trauma from getting a writing minor and reading the same kinds of short stories over and over again…). I’ve only recently discovered a love for stories that feature the fantastic. If it’s based on a fairy tale, is dark and twisted, or has sci-fi elements, I’m totally in. I’ve also discovered that I’m much more likely to make it through a collection written by one person or that has a central theme rather than a “best of the year” collection, which has too many shifts in tone and style for my liking. I like the continuity of novels, so a short story collection with one author is very appealing.

Kelly Link’s collection has got to be one of my absolute favorites as far as short stories go. Her stories have fantastical elements, but she doesn’t spend time either trying to make them seem normal or particularly out of the ordinary–they just are. Instead, her stories focus on human elements: the tug between our desires and our rational minds, our grief over things lost, our longing for what might be. She captures some of the most amazing strengths and debilitating weaknesses humans exhibit, all while maintaining an interesting setting that imposes its own rules on the characters.

If you’re interested in some really great short stories, you should give Kelly Link’s work a try. Her work is simply awe inspiring. It makes me want to give writing short stories another try.