Reading wrap-up #57: top 5 rated on TBR

Another special edition of a reading wrap-up a while in the making!

I think I rate books a bit harsher than most people, especially for five star reads my standards seem higher than most. On the flip side, I never give one star reviews (if it’s that bad, why don’t you put it down? I’ll never understand), so I like to think those more or less cancel out or perhaps I rate half a star lower than the average reader.

I saw a YouTube video a while ago (forgive me I don’t know who it was) that read the top rated books on their TBR and I wanted to do the same. So I looked at my own TBR list on 01/11/21 and these were the five highest rated of my 540-something books:

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (4.62)

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (4.59)

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (4.58)

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (4.58)

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough (4.54)

As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:

  • (★★★★★): Loved it
  • (★★★★): Really liked it
  • (★★★): Liked it enough
  • (★★): Didn’t care for it

Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Image result for just mercy book coverRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, social justice

GoodReads rating: 4.59 / 5 (161,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Summary: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned… One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.”

Warning: This book contains mentions of sexual assault and murder and themes of racial violence.

Dates read: 1/29-2/9

Thoughts: I don’t know why I put off reading this book, it was incredible. The topic is very heavy and made me cry a few times, but it’s so important to know. I love how it focused on a range of different cases and how different people (women, those with mental illness and disability, children) suffer differently. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Other adaptations: The 2019 movie with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx is well-liked. I’m sure it only focuses on McMillian’s case, however.

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (Oprah's Book Club Summer 2018 Selection): Hinton, Anthony Ray, Hardin, Lara Love, Stevenson, Bryan: 9781250124715: BooksRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir

GoodReads rating: 4.63 / 5 (36,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Summary: “Anthony Ray Hinton was poor and black when he was convicted of two murders he hadn’t committed. For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement in a tiny cell on death row. Eventually his case was taken up by the award-winning lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 15 years for this to happen. How did Hinton cope with the mental and emotional torture of his situation, and emerge full of compassion and forgiveness? This is a story of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.”

Warning: This book contains themes of racism throughout and mentions of rape and murder.

Dates read: 2/23-3/8

Thoughts: This book was a perfect companion to Just Mercy as Bryan Stevenson was actually his lawyer (briefly mentioned in Just Mercy) and wrote the introduction. I think I preferred Just Mercy to this book because it was more focused on a variety of different stories. Just Mercy had a bigger impact on me and made me cry a few times where this fell slightly short, but still impactful.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants: Kimmerer, Robin Wall: 9781571313560: BooksRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, science, environment, spirituality

GoodReads rating: 4.58 / 5 (24,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book and audiobook (borrowed from library via Overdrive)

PopSugar prompt: A book by an Indigenous author.

Summary: “As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.”

Dates read: 3/3-3/21

Thoughts: I was immediately taken by this book. I have been extremely interested in environmental ethics for close to a decade now and wanted to know more about the relationship between the environment and religion/spirituality. This book is both very informative and absolutely beautifully written. This book is an easy five-stars as I’ve thought about it pretty much everyday after I finished it.

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

A Life on Our Planet: Attenborough, David: 9781529108286: BooksRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, science, environment, biography

GoodReads rating: 4.58 / 5 (24,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book and audiobook (borrowed from library via Overdrive)

PopSugar prompt: A book where the main character works at your dream job.

Summary: In David Attenborough’s 94 years of being alive and over half a century of documenting life on earth, he gives his witness statement for how the world has changed in his lifetime.

Dates read: 3/23-4/3

Thoughts: I really liked this but preferred the documentary (more on that below). I wish Attenborough would detail even more specific locations and how they changed or included more pictures. Not much can compare to the visuals of Attenborough documentaries so he had a lot to live up to in a book. Not to mention the documentary is pretty much verbatim from the book. Not much is lost if you watch the documentary and skip the book which is why I only gave this four stars.

Other adaptations: Before I read the book, Grant and I watched the documentary which came out six months after the documentary. We’re all familiar with the stunning videography of the Attenborough documentaries and his soothing voice. This is the first time in my memory a documentary has made me cry (this extremely upsetting clip of walruses falling off cliffs). However, it did end on an uplifting note as all his documentaries do. I definitely prefer the adaptation to the book.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents - National Book FoundationRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, history, race relations

GoodReads rating: 4.58 / 5 (24,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (purchased for Kindle)

Summary: “Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.”

Warning: This book contains themes of racism and graphic descriptions of violence throughout.

Dates read: 4/4-4/10

Thoughts: For something in Oprah’s Book Club and with the extremely high GoodReads rating, my expectations were huge. The first 15% or so was slow but then it really picked up and I couldn’t put it down (see what I did there?). I was absolutely shocked of the extent of abuse still when I didn’t think I could be more shocked, it’s awful. This is one of those books that I’ll be spewing facts from and recommending for a long time.

Have you read any of these? What are you top 5 rated books on your TBR?

Photo by Radu Marcusu.


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