Don’t Buy the Hype: Read This Not That


Have you ever read a New York Times bestselling novel and wondered, That was terrible! Who the heck likes this book? And some books aren’t exactly terrible, they’re just … meh. Do you wish someone would tell you to read this not that?

Luckily for you, I’m willing to let you learn from my mistakes. Let me be the trailblazer who reads anything and everything. Take my advice on which hyped books are worth your time and which books to avoid. Because finding time to read is hard enough in our busy lives, don’t waste your precious time on overhyped books.

I seem to fall for it again and again. Excitement sets in as I read a book that has gotten lots of attention, and then the inevitable disappointment occurs when I realize the book is yet another letdown.

They say you have to kiss a whole lot of frogs to find that prince charming. Sadly, in my experience, this saying is also usually true when it comes to books. I feel like I waste my time reading so many hyped books that turn out to be duds. Just because a book is a best seller doesn’t mean that it is well-written.

If you’re always looking for a good book like me, then look no further. Last year, I read 55 books in all – that’s a total of 22,934 pages! Here are 14 books I read last year – 7 that are worth your time, and 7 that are not.

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Book cover for The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point
by Patry Francis

I think this is one of the best written books I read last year. Set in a Portuguese community in Massachusetts, young Hallie Costa forms a lifelong bond with Gus Silva after the murder of his mother. The story follows them through the ups and downs of their lives – going in directions I certainly wasn’t expecting. I particularly liked how this book examined the balance between the good and evil that lives within each of us. Patry Francis showed that life is complicated and doesn’t always end how we expect. The ending will leave you feeling hope for the future and make you reconsider the true meaning of soul mates.

Read This Not That

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

I see lots of recommendations for this book, and I’m really not sure why. The book starts with carer Kathy H reminiscing about her childhood at the English boarding school Hailsham. You know something is off about these kids and this school. Right off the bat, I realized what the big mystery was. I won’t be a spoil sport and ruin it for you in case you do decide to read it. What annoyed me most was that none of the characters truly showed any spark. Literally everyone just seemed to accept their fate, which seemed rather unrealistic to me. By the way, I absolutely love his book The Remains of the Day. Now, that is a book worth reading. 

Book cover for Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Related: 14 Books That Make You Cry Embarrassingly Hard

Book cover for The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were True
by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

If you like Liane Moriarty’s books, you should give this book a read. I actually think Whalen is the better writer of the two. Set in a small town in North Carolina, a near fatal drowning at the local pool ties a group of neighbors together. However, each person is carrying their own secrets, and, as in most good novels, all those secrets connect them together in unexpected ways. As the tangled web of lies begins to unravel, the characters must learn to accept their mistakes and forgive the mistakes of others. If you want a quick read or need a book to suggest for book club, give this one a chance.

Read This Not That

The Nest
by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

I was excited to read Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel. It rose to #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List and had such a great premise. The four Plumb siblings are about to inherit “The Nest,” a small trust fund their father left them that has blossomed into a gigantic windfall. However, their mother uses most of the funds to hush up one brother’s reckless scandal. Let the trouble begin since the siblings have been counting on the long-anticipated inheritance to fix their poor decisions. After a promising start, the story is executed poorly with side stories that don’t add to the overall narrative. There are just so many better books to read to waste your time on this one.

Book cover for The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Book cover for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng

Set in 1970s Ohio, Celeste Ng’s debut novel starts with the drowning of Lydia, the beloved daughter of James and Marilyn Lee. As the family struggles with her death, the author takes you deeper into the cracks and flaws of this mixed race family. It is a poignant character study into the dynamics of a family where all the parents’ unfulfilled hopes are pinned on one child, to the detriment of all. The story unfolds masterfully. By the end, I was in tears for these poor children and the damage that had been done by their parents’ selfishness. Celeste Ng’s writing is exquisite, and I’m putting her second book, Little Fires Everywhere, at the top of my to-read list.

Read This Not That

Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins

If you loved The Girl on the Train with its brilliant use of the unreliable narrator, you’ll probably be disappointed in Paula Hawkins’ second novel, Into the Water. Set in a small English town infamous for its “Drowning Pool,” this novel centers around two recent drownings that may or may not be suicides. As the police investigate, the secrets of all the characters are slowly revealed. That’s when you realize, you really don’t care. Their secrets aren’t that great, and the characters tie together poorly. Then the author decides to add a random mystical layer which feels forced. I definitely recommend you pass on this one.

Book cover for Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Related: 30 Books Every Millennial Needs to Read

Book cover for Girl at War by Sara Novic

Girl at War
by Sara Nović

I read this book cover-to-cover on a 3-hour flight and absolutely loved it. Historical fiction can be so much fun to read when you feel immersed in the time period. In her stunning first novel, Sara Nović tells the story of Ana Jurić, a ten-year-old girl whose life is upended by the start of the Yugoslavian civil war. The glimpses of modern war from a child’s perspective were fascinating. Yet, Nović doesn’t just cover the tragedies of Ana’s childhood. She jumps ahead 10 years as Ana returns to Yugoslavia to confront the ghosts of her childhood.  With beautiful observations and a riveting storyline, you’ll be glad you read this book.

Read This Not That

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave

Who doesn’t love a novel set during World War II? Recently, there have been some brilliant World War II novels –  All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, to name a few. In comparison, this novel fell flat. The story follows socialite Mary as she strives to help the war effort, fights against racial prejudice by befriending a black boy named Zachary, and falls into a love triangle with best friends Tom and Alistair. The author wrote this book to honor his grandfather’s service in Malta during the war. By far the best part of the book was the section where Alistair was stationed in Malta. If only he had written an expanded version of that section; that might have been a great novel.

Book cover for Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Book cover for Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley

A private jet flying from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City crashes into the ocean. The sole survivors are a young boy who is now the sole heir of his parents’ extensive fortune and Scott Burroughs, a down-and-out painter who just happened to catch a ride. The mystery of why the plane crashed unfolds masterfully and definitely keeps you engaged. But the beauty of this book is that it is more than just a thriller. It’s a commentary on the consequences of our 24-hour news cycle and the desperate need to know everything right away. This was one book I could not put down. 

Read This Not That

Dragon Teeth
by Michael Crichton

When I saw Michael Crichton had a new best seller, I knew I had to read it. Well, I shouldn’t have. There was a reason why Michael Crichton didn’t publish this while he was alive. Dragon Teeth is a story of student William Johnson caught between two competing paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope, who are willing to go to great lengths to sabotage one another. I actually didn’t realize the story is based on real people until the end of the book. It’s not factual enough to be a true history, but not as thrilling as you expect from a good historical fiction. Save your time and just read the Wikipedia article about Marsh and Cope. It’s basically just as exciting.

Book cover for Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Related: The Best World War II Novels of the Last Decade

Book cover for The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
by Sam Kean

Jaclyn’s husband actually recommended this book to me. Though the title is basically the book equivalent of click-bait, the book itself was extremely interesting. The subtitle, “The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by Trauma, Madness and Recovery,” would be more appropriate, though much less catchy. Sam Kean teaches about the various parts of the brain using compelling true stories that temper down the science heavy segments to make the book more relatable for the general reader. He expertly weaves the storytelling while not skimping on the science, giving you a fairly in-depth basic primer on the science and history of neuroscience. 

Read This Not That

Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond won a Pulitzer Prize for this book about how civilization has been shaped by geography and environment. Many of his points are extremely compelling … the first time. And then he repeats them, over and over and over. I listened to the audiobook while on a long road trip, and, by the end, I knew exactly what he would say next. His analysis of the evolution of human societies is solid and thought-provoking. If it had been half the length, I would have definitely recommended it. But my suggestion is to save yourself the effort and just read a detailed book review. 

Book cover for Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Related: 14 Incredible Books That Will Make You Think Differently

Book cover for The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

The Book of Joy
by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Do you feel like joy is missing from your life? In this book, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu met together for a week with Douglas Abrams to teach you how you can find lasting happiness in a changing world. These two holy men discuss the nature of joy, the obstacles to joy and the foundation you need to find joy in your life.  From the start, the love that these selfless men have for each other is apparent – they truly are best friends. Funny and enlightening, this book will leave you with a desire to find the joy within yourself.

Read This Not That

The 4-Hour Workweek
by Timothy Ferriss

Who wouldn’t want to work only 4 hours a week? I would love to travel more, and was curious how other people afford to travel full-time. What I discovered is that if you lie, make excuses, and basically sell your soul, you too can be like Timothy Ferris and have a 4-Hour workweek. Keep in mind that Timothy Ferriss is an arrogant, narcissistic jerk. You really really don’t want to be like him. The question is do you want a selfish life or a selfless life? So if you want fleeting pleasure, follow the ideas in The 4-Hour Workweek. If you want lasting happiness, you should read The Book of Joy instead.


Book cover for The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris

If you loved the post, be sure to check out our latest version of Read This Not That!

Tired of reading bestsellers that turn out to be duds? Here are 14 best selling books I read last year - 7 that are worth your time, and 7 that are not. books | book club | book recommendations | bestsellers | fiction | nonfiction

Tired of reading bestsellers that turn out to be duds? Here are 14 best selling books I read last year - 7 that are worth your time, and 7 that are not. books | book club | book recommendations | bestsellers | fiction | nonfiction
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  • Reply Sarah Lehman March 24, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I find it hilarious that you hated Into The Water by Paula Hawkins, but liked The Girl On The Train. I am the total opposite. I HATED The Girl On The Train, but I liked Into The Water. ??

    • Reply Rachael March 24, 2018 at 11:23 am

      Haha. To each her own. I sometimes worry about writing about books, because there is not hard and fast rule saying what books are good. It’s all opinion. But I’ve found people rather enjoy honest opinions.

  • Reply Karen Lyon March 25, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Hi Rachael: Love this post! I am in a book club, and a couple of the books above we have read. We would pretty much agree with your take on them. Celeste Ng’s book was beautiful, we all loved it, and like you, I have her next one on MY list. I will say we liked The Nest, although your review wasn’t far off… could be a bit of a mess. The writing, though, that was really good. Plus a satisfying ending.

    As for suggestions to read, not read: I liked The Fever Tree, by Jennifer McVeigh. It’s a historical novel about South Africa and includes an accurate description of how a smallpox epidemic among native Africans was handled by the Boer government. The romance in this was not my thing, but the overall story is interesting. I’d read it again. I also liked, The House of Silk, by Andrew Horowitz. Another historical fiction, and a Sherlock Holmes mystery, which I really enjoyed. Some of the books my group liked include The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. Really good, and is based on a true story. It’s the tale of two sisters in France during WWII. one of who is actively a Resistance member, the other a woman just trying to survive the Occupation. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce was delightful, we loved that one. I don’t want to tell you a lot about it, because the unfolding of the story is what makes the book. Basically an elderly English gentleman decides to visit a former co-worker to make amends for a decades-old wrong, and he makes the journey on foot, from one end of England to another. Most of us liked Frederick Backman’s My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry — but you have to be into magical realism for that one. Very different from A Man Called Ove, so I hear. Anothe one about making amends, with a lot of interesting characters.

    As for books to avoid: maybe The Goldfinch, by Donna Tate, which won the Pulitzer a few years back. Not a bad book, but at 700+ pages, way too long. DO NOT read The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. That’s a book that would fit into this column. Only one lady in my group liked it — sort of — most of us hated it, and few of us finished it. (And it’s only a couple hundred pages!)The main character, is a woman in a loveless marriage and from rigid, overbearing family who decides on a whim to become vegetarian. For some reason the decision wreaks havoc with all her relationships. I don’t understand the buzz on this one at all, but all the critics rave about it. Whatever! We didn’t find the writing to be all that extraordinary, and it was really hard to even care about the characters. Here’s my other DO NOT read: George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. (Unless you like a very disjointed, avante-garde style of writing.) This is another novel that got great reviews, won the Man Booker Prize, is going to be made into a movie (??!!??) and I think it’s dreck, frankly. Of the eight women in our group, we were evenly split on liking it/not liking it to one degree or another. Most of us did agree that it’s confusing as hell, and some of us just thought it was too much work to read. Don’t waste your time if you like the more traditional style of plot development, clear themes, and good old-fashioned character development! I hope you don’t mind the long comment! Can you tell I love talking about books?

    • Reply Rachael March 25, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      Oh, I haven’t ever heard of The Fever Tree. Added that to my to-read list. I haven’t read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry yet, though it’s on my list. I have read The House of Silk and the Nightingale. Both excelent books. I actually just took A Man Called Ove back to the library without reading it. I accidentally got the large print copy, and the print size was too distracting. I’ll have to check out his other book then. So many books and so little time.

      I actually like The Goldfinch, though I hated The Secret History. It was a bit long. Thanks for the warnings on the other books!

  • Reply Deanna March 26, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Excellent. I love how you mention that Michael C didn’t publish that book while still alive. If the author chose not to publish, others probably shouldn’t publish it either. I’m currently reading A course in miracles made easy by Alan Cohen. Liking it so far, but then again I loved his Daily Dose of Sanity too, so much so I keep a perma link to it on my blog I honestly think there are nuggets of wisdom for just about every reader in that book.
    I too read the 4 hour workweek and had similar thoughts to yours. I felt like I needed an extra hour in church after I read it. I’ll have to check out a few of your recommendations. thanks for sharing

    • Reply Rachael March 26, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      I’ll have to check out Daily Dose of Sanity. Especially if you love it that much! Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Reply Casandra April 24, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH! You totally read my mind because I was looking for some good books to read. I’ll definitely be adding these to my Goodreads account. I loved your post and your writing style. Again, thank you. I cannot even begin to imagine how long this took to write, but it has not gone unappreciated.

    • Reply Rachael April 24, 2018 at 8:39 pm

      Thank you so much! It’s good to hear when people appreciate your effort.

  • Reply Anonymous May 27, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Hey I just wanted to say that I read Little Fires Everywhere and I loved it!!! One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Definitely read it and you won’t stop recommending it. Thanks for recommending Ng’s other book!

    • Reply Rachael May 28, 2018 at 12:01 am

      Now I’m even more eager to read it!

  • Reply Randa June 7, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    I had to LOL – I am just about finished with Into The Water and you are SO RIGHT. I don’t care. It has been a struggle to finish it. Loved Girl On The Train though. Thanks for the list, I can’t wait to add these to my things to do list! ; )

    • Reply Rachael June 7, 2018 at 10:26 pm

      I know! It was such a disappointment. Maybe her next book will be better.

  • Reply Tasha September 1, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I have the Celeste Ng book on my shelf but have yet to read it. I tend to go by synopsis and reviews rather than bestseller lists.

  • Reply DJ Sakata September 1, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I loved The Things We Wish Were True

  • Reply Cia Black September 1, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    I don’t I’m at a cross between a few of these.

  • Reply Christine September 1, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Some great recommendations! I love the idea behind this post.

  • Reply Jordanne September 2, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    I feel so out of the loop – I haven’t heard of any of these! I love the idea of this post though, and the layout, just in love with your blog’s whole aesthetic, I’ve subscribed 🙂

  • Reply Karla Strand September 2, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Great list! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Whispering Stories September 3, 2018 at 4:57 am

    I’ve not read any of them so couldn’t comment on how good any of them are. Great post.

  • Reply CJ | A Well-Read Tart September 13, 2018 at 8:11 am

    So glad that someone else thought THE NEST was way over-hypped! I was very disappointed in this book; I just found it so bland. I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but it just never did, lol.

  • Reply Libby December 21, 2018 at 7:42 am

    I really enjoyed “ Forty Autumns” and “Next year in Havana”. Both books were about families torn apart and separated by political division in their countries. The first was in Germany and the other Cuba.
    And for what it’s worth when discussing overhyped books, I would put “The Great Alone” at the top of the list. It went on and on. I kept thinking it would get better, but not for me.

  • Reply Rachel Foster January 5, 2019 at 3:19 am

    I read “Never let me go” for a challenge prompt and I totally don’t think it lived up to the hype. I only wish I had seen your list and found you guys ages ago! Could have saved me from reading some dud books!

  • Reply Holly January 8, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations! Haven’t even heard of some of them. Going to put a few titles on my want to read list.

    I agree about The Nest as well. I didn’t care for it.

  • Reply Tara Mallick February 19, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    I love this post and your ingenious idea of “Read This, Not That”! I’ve had most of these books in my book pile forever and I haven’t read them because I didn’t know if they lived up to the hype. Thanks!

  • Reply Fran March 14, 2019 at 7:04 am

    I thought Girl on the Train was awful!! However there’s a book called The Girl From the Train which was a fantastic WW2 story about an orphan.

  • Reply Anonymous March 21, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    If you don’t understand a book it doesn’t mean the book is bad.

    The whole point of Never Let Me Go was their acceptance of their fate and their lack of doing anything about it due to social conditioning. You basically said “I missed the point so don’t read because of the point, read this completely opposite book instead.”

  • Reply Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins May 8, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Great advice, here! I wouldn’t touch 4 Hour Work Week with a ten foot pole (though I loved hearing them cover it on the By The Book podcast!), and I’m totally skipping Into The Water. Bit bummed to hear Never Let Me Go misses the mark, though – I’ve got it on my to-read pile, because I was surprisingly pleased with An Artist Of The Floating World and wanted to read more of his stuff. Might give it a try anyway, but at least you’ve tempered my expectations if it’s a let down 😉 cheers!

    • Reply Rachael May 11, 2019 at 8:35 am

      Have you read Remains of the Day? That’s my favorite by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m curious to see what you think of Never Let Me Go. some people love it, but I just did not.

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