I (tried) reading the Top 15 Goodreads Historical Fiction of 2020…It went horribly wrong (Part 1 of 3)

I don’t know if this is just me, but every time the Goodreads Awards come around each year, I am left scratching my head and wondering why I’ve read little to no books on each list. If you didn’t know, Goodreads has these yearly awards where they post 15 top books in different genres (like fantasy, nonfiction, debut novel, etc.) to be voted on my Goodreads’s members. These narrow done to the top 10, then top 5, then final winner (I think…).

Now, I understand why I wouldn’t really have read many on the list of genres like science fiction or poetry, because I don’t read many of those genres. But even the genres I read a lot like mystery and historical fiction, I’ve maybe read like two or three of the books at most. And I have always thought it was unfair to vote unless I had read all of them. What if I vote for a book because it’s the only one I read, when there’s an amazing book I should be voting for that I haven’t read.

So, because I’m clearly not the brightest, I decided to read all 15 of the Goodreads books in the historical fiction genre. And boy…it’s a task. I had only read two of the books, and given them only two stars each. Which did not help me in my quest to find the best book on the list.

The Pull of the Stars

The first book I had already read was The Pull of the Stars, which follows a nurse after WWI working in a hospital’s maternity ward. It was released on July 21, 2020.

I have a fuller review on Goodreads, but basically this book had interesting procedure about being a nurse (graphic, but interesting), but the plot was non-existent and the majority of characters were dislikeable. I was surprised to find this book on the list of top 15 historical fiction books of the year, both because I heard nothing about it and because it’s really forgettable.

My Rating: 2 Stars

The Jane Austen Society

This is the second book I had already read. Unlike the last book, I can completely see why this book is on the Goodreads list because it was such a hyped book.

A basic summary of the plot is that it follows a group of characters after WWII who form a Jane Austen book club. The main problem I had with this book was there were way too many characters. The moment I would start to get to know one character, it would jump to another. I was really disappointed with how flawed this book was for being so hyped.

My Rating: 2 Stars

A Long Petal of the Sea

So I started the official challenge with reading this book, because it was relatively short (at least compared to others on this list) and it looked to be kind of a basic historical drama/romance set during the Spanish Civil War and WWII.

However, I ended up DNFing this book halfway through. It follows a doctor and his brother’s pregnant girlfriend mostly as they try to escape Spain for peace, but this story was so bogged down with too many characters and political opinions of the author. I personally didn’t like the anti-religious sentiment, but it also didn’t make sense for so many of the characters to dislike religion because most of Spain at the time was highly religious and this book lacks that. Basically, I just gave up pushing myself to read this book.

My Rating: 1 Star

Deacon King Kong

Finally, I read a book I absolutely loved! This book is set in NYC during the 1960’s and is centered around a mostly black church and their deacon, who is obsessed with an alcohol called King Kong (thus the title) and shoots a drug dealer in the street (the inciting incident).

This book was exceptional, and my only criticism is that it follows too many characters and several of the side plots could have been written out without losing anything. But the array of character perspectives I did love, from poor blacks, to Italian mafia, to white cops. It balances dark realism and hilarious humor perfectly. It was an amazing read and, as of now, it is definitely my favorite of the nominees.

My Rating: 4 Stars


I was pretty sure I would like this book, because it’s a fictional retelling of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who died young and who he named the famous Hamlet play after. There were some things I enjoyed about this book of young fictional Shakespeare and his love for Anne (called Agnes in this book) and following life. For example, I liked how detailed the description of 16th century England was.

However, there were two things I really didn’t like about the book. One, it’s filled with so many descriptions the entire story is bogged down. I’m not a huge fan of flowery writing in general, and this one really gets carried away. Second, I felt some great distance between the characters and the reader. It’s like you’re watching a movie from far away and never get to know the characters well. Because of that, I really didn’t like the book.

My Rating: 2 Stars

So, there are the first five book nominations. Honestly, so far I’ve only liked one, which is not a great ratio. I am hoping do read 5 a week and get done in two more weeks. I was hoping to do all of them in a week and realized that was impossible.

So, have you read any of these books and what is your view of them? Also, do you have an opinion on the Goodreads’ Awards in general? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

26 thoughts on “I (tried) reading the Top 15 Goodreads Historical Fiction of 2020…It went horribly wrong (Part 1 of 3)

  1. This is really interesting to me … Hamnet for example when you talk about flowery writing. I didn’t really know what it was until I became a beta reader for a friend and wowza, it was everywhere in her work. Difficult one to talk about. But, selfishly it has helped me look even more critically at my own work. I find the more I read, the better I get which is perhaps obvious but in my little mind, a complete revelation. And now, you’re doing a lot of the work for us! Also, about the Jane Austin book …. I’m so with you about too many characters. Perhaps I’m getting old, but unless I’m reading a book cover to cover in a short space of time, I just forget who on earth all these are! So again, many thanks! Katie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had only read three books out of all of the categories, and have one more in my pile of TBRs. I voted for 2 of the 3 that I have read and really enjoyed. The third I didn’t vote for because it missed the mark for me. Who picks the books for each category? Are they the most popular reads on Goodreads? 🤷‍♀️ I am always left scratching my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post! I too wonder how I am possibly missing out on so many “good” books, and then I realize…”oh, they’re not THAT good.” 😉 Also, Goodreads doesn’t seem to know the best books! I’ve read some AMAZING BOOKS this year and (others REALLY liked them too) and Goodreads doesn’t seem to be with the program. Unless…Goodreads and I are on two completely different programs…ANYway, I really liked this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I also started A Long Petal of the Sea for a book club but I didn’t finish it – the beginning was somewhat interesting but then it jumped around so much and there was too much “telling.” I’ve heard mixed things about Hamnet and I think I’ll skip it. I’ve done a few of these projects of reading all the books from an award shortlist, and I usually don’t like more than a few of them … the award choosers and I are just not in sync.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am glad I’m not the only one who puzzles over how it is that I’ve read only the barest handful of books listed in my favored genres. I truly believe that the books are chosen based on publisher recommendations rather than readers’ preferences.

    Liked by 2 people

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