All Booked | Things I Love in Books

What Makes a Five-Star Read for Me

This edition of All Booked was originally emailed to subscribers on February 14, 2023. To receive our literary newsletter in your inbox, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.


Hello, book lovelies!

It seems like a missed opportunity if I don’t take today’s newsletter to talk about things I love most in books. I have been thinking about this over the past few weeks, as I have been trying to hone in on my 2023 reads. If a book includes at least one of these things done well, then it’s almost guaranteed a five-star read from me.

1. Podcast: I love podcasts in books, but it’s not enough for the podcast to be mentioned or referenced. I want to read parts of the episodes. Bonus points if the audiobook narrates these parts like an actual podcast, including intro song and all!

2. Ice Hockey: This is a bit of a strange one, but every book I have read specifically about high school ice hockey teams I have given five stars. The books are about so much more than the sport, but I find the setting of high school ice hockey gives so much heart to the book. To me, ice hockey may be the most romantic sport out there.

3. Memoirs About Food: Food is my love language. To me the perfect date is sitting across from my husband at a restaurant for two or three hours while we slowly eat our way through one dish at a time. I love food, but more importantly, I love sharing the experience of food with those I love most. In memoirs about food, I get to have that experience with people who also love to share the their love of food.

4. Found Family: This is my sentimental side shining through. I’m a sucker for any stories where a character who has lost their way in life, or who hasn’t ever quite fit in, finally finds their people and learns what it’s like to have people love and care about them.

5. Locked-Room Mystery: This is probably the most rocky of the five, because it is the most risky. I have read many locked-room mysteries that were not good, but the few that I have read and loved are so good that I will continue to pick up books with this trope. I love the fact that the “killer is in the room.” Sometimes mysteries and thrillers can be so far-fetched and there is no way that the reader can guess who did it, but with locked-room mysteries, you know all the suspects, and with a little detective work of your own, you may be able to piece it all together before the reveal at the end.

Below I have included one of my favorite books that fits into each theme or trope listed above. Most of these I have talked about before, but here’s your extra push to pick it up if you were on the fence.


I am a big believer in going into a book knowing as little as possible. I try not to read too much of the synopses or reviews, since most of them over-share. My pitches below are short and sweet just for that reason.


Credit: Courtesy

Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim may be my favorite mystery thriller of all time. We follow a true crime podcast host, Rachel Krall, who is investigating and recording her new podcast season following a rape case in a small town.

What makes this book a favorite of mine is the presence of the podcast. We actually get to hear Rachel record her podcast episodes as she discovers new information about the case. The audiobook adds to that experience. 


Credit: Courtesy

Michigan vs. the Boys by Carrie S. Allen follows the story of Michigan Manning, who loves ice hockey. The funding for her high school girls’ team falls through, but that doesn’t stop her from playing. Michigan decides to try out for the boys’ team.

This young adult novel packs a punch and is for fans of Beartown.


Credit: Courtesy

I just talked about Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci a few months ago, but I wanted to bring it up again. Tucci finds the perfect way of weaving his love for food and family throughout the personal account of his life. I won’t go into too much detail, but if you love food, family, and life values, pick this one up. 


Credit: Courtesy

This found-family novel is such a sweet story following Mika Moon, a witch who has been mostly alone her whole life. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna delivers on the cozy atmosphere, and its storyline is so wholesome. It’s sure to be your next favorite read.


Credit: Courtesy

Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party was my first book by this author. Since then, I have picked up her other two novels, but this one remains my favorite. We follow a group of friends who, every year since college graduation, take a trip over New Year’s together. This time, they go to a remote island in the middle of a historically bad snowstorm.

The atmosphere of this book is impeccable and is perfect for winter. If you’re looking for a locked-room thriller, this is it. 


As always, I would love to hear from you. What are some things in books you love? Do you have any book recommendations that have any of the things I love? Let me know!

Your smitten bookworm, Emily

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