Should You Trust Goodreads? – Reading the Lowest-Rated Books on my TBR

Some of my favorite books, like A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo or The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, have an average rating on goodreads that is lower than 3.5. Will that ever happen again?

If you’re wondering: yes, I did start writing this post in 2018. Low-rated backlist isn’t a priority for me, and that’s how it took me months to read five books.

The Books

Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns: 3.18 avg

  • expectations: it probably won’t be the best thing ever and the writing won’t be that good but it will be entertaining anyway because can you get f/f space pirates wrong (and both women are space engineers! Who become pirates because of student loans!)
  • reality: you can get f/f in space wrong! It was boring and dull and badly-written. The two PoV characters felt like the same person and the side characters didn’t feel like people at all. I DNFed this out of boredom.
  • my rating: 2.5 stars, and I was feeling generous.

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke: 3.42 avg

  • expectations: a sci-fi book set in Antarctica. How cool is that. I’ve heard there are also lesbians! The pacing is probably not going to be great (…I think I’m going to be somewhat bored) and I have no idea how the worldbuilding will be, but I hope it will work. Also, I thought the writing in the first chapter was pretty?
  • reality: It was fine. And since I currently don’t have the time for books that are just fine and this didn’t feel like it was going to do anything more – also, one of the PoVs had an uncomfortable amount of subtle misogyny in it – I DNFed it
  • my rating: no rating, but it was probably going to be a 2.5-3 (lower than the average).

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi: 3.24 avg

  • expectations: slow-paced, but it’s very short non-western (Nigerian-inspired) fantasy. While I won’t go into it with high expectations, I don’t think I’ll hate it (or it wouldn’t be on my TBR). Also, when I read the first chapter I thought the worldbuilding was really cool, it can’t ruin that. I hope. If it does, I’ve never been this wrong about worldbuilding before.
  • reality: It did end up being a slow-paced non-western fantasy with a very interesting worldbuilding and very uninteresting/poorly-written everything else. The main character wasn’t too annoying, but this story has the messiest pacing ever and the side characters’ motivation often didn’t make sense (of course, all the girls are in some way fascinated by the male main character, in case you thought it wasn’t going to be that kind of book), but I loved the world and its magic system.
  • my rating: 3.25 stars. Which is the average rating.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter: 2.97 avg (!! It was 3.35 when I read it in January, and it keeps going down)

  • expectations: reading the reviews of this one will be… fun. Many people want to read it because the synopsis reminds them of The Cruel Prince, but I know Sarah Porter is very much not the kind of here-for-the-aesthetic fun that Holly Black is (…so many people are going to hate this book). The question, for me, is: will this be whimsy, pretty, macabre nonsense I love like Vassa in the Night or creepy, make-you-sick and DNF like When I Cast Your Shadow?
  • reality: I was right, this book is getting all the bad reviews – the rating keeps lowering so quickly! I’ve never seen such low ratings before publication. This is the kind of creepy, ugly, so-disturbing-it-makes-you-feel-sick story like WICYS – and now I think I could like that book too, maybe. Never-Contented Things is an ugly story with a beautiful message about trauma and getting out of a toxic relationship, with incidental creepy faeries. It’s… not fun, definitely not the kind of entertaining here-for-the-aesthetic fun TCP is (I knew it wasn’t going to be), but I think it’s very important in its own way. And well-written, if weird as fuck. [I recommend reading the trigger warnings here before trying it if you’re interested]
  • my rating: 4 stars, this book deserves better and better marketing.

I don’t know what it was exactly about my review of this book that people liked so much, but scattered between posts on here and on goodreads, more people have told me that they were going to read it because of me than for any other books, including the ones I regularly rave about. I appreciate your trust, but what am I doing wrong in my normal positive reviews, and if people are going to read a book because of me, does it really have to be this one
(I hope those of you who want to read it end up liking it, but I’d totally understand if you didn’t. I think its message is in the right place but it is unpleasant and weird, there’s no other way around that)

Moonshine by Jasmine Gower: 3.48 avg

  • expectations: the writing won’t be that great but I will at least like the queer rep (there’s a lot of it) and prohibition-era fantasy has a lot of potential as a concept. Also, it looks very bright and fun and I hope it’s not just a misleading cover.
  • reality: the writing wasn’t great, but I liked the world and the queer representation.  It was bright and fun and there were so many magical party scenes, weird gay faeries, and other magical shenanigans. Weirdly, the main character had no reason at all to be the main character – she didn’t make any decisions that impacted the plot until the very end, and I don’t really get why this book was her story at all. But I got this one completely right!
  • my rating: 3.5 stars, which is the average rating.

Should You Trust Goodread Ratings?

So, out of five books, I only cared about three enough to finish them, and out of those three, the only one I felt strongly (but not favorite-strongly) about was Never-Contented Things, which is also the one with the lowest rating. I think the answer to this question is “mostly, but not when it comes to really weird books, since you like them, Acqua”.

But let’s see how much this is true with books I’ve already read.

The Lowest-Rated Books I’ve Read

I’m only going to include books that I read since the second half of 2016, because I don’t remember enough about the ones before/my tastes have changed too drastically since.

Three Sides of a Heart by Natalie C. Parker (3.15 avg): I disagree, so much. This anthology actually taught me that love triangles have a lot of potential and can be great, especially if they’re queer, but I know that many people think love triangles mean that a book is bad quality, so… I’m not surprised by the ratings.

Twisted Romance by Alex de Campi (3.19 avg): this is my favorite anthology, since it’s weird and very queer and also diverse in other ways and about unusual romances (in both comic and prose). I love it a lot and I don’t understand the bad ratings.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston (3.22 avg): I mean, yes, this book had probably the most nonsensical and inconsistent worldbuilding I have ever read, so…

Web of Frost by Lindsay Smith (3.25 avg): I agree. This was such a waste of a good concept. Read Shadow and Bone or Wicked Saints instead, they have very similar themes, worldbuilding and romance, but Web of Frost is the cheap and badly-written version.

The Highest-Rated Books I’ve Read

I’m going to exclude books that aren’t out for months because not enough people have read them and I’m going to exclude sequels because sequels always have a higher average rating since those who hated the first book don’t read them, usually.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (5.45 avg): deserved, of course.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (4.47 avg): still one of the best YA fantasy books out there. I think the hype is somewhat exaggerated at times, but I think it mostly deserves it.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare (4.45 avg): I think this book has a major infodump problem and that so many parts of it should have been cut, so I don’t really agree, but I still think it’s Clare’s best one.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (4.45 avg): exactly what this book deserves. I loved Xiomara’s story so much and I’m so glad it’s not an underrated read anymore. It’s such a gem.

The Complete Answer

So, do I trust goodreads’ average ratings? Mostly, but not with sequels, not with books that won’t come out for months, not with anthologies, and not with really weird books.

Do you trust goodreads ratings?

21 thoughts on “Should You Trust Goodreads? – Reading the Lowest-Rated Books on my TBR

  1. this is such a clever idea and interesting post!!! i thoroughly enjoyed reading your expectations vs reality and the juxtaposed ratings. to be honest, i didn’t think much of goodreads ratings to pay attention before, but now i will!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked it!! I started paying attention to it when I noticed that there was a way to sort the books for average rating on goodreads… and then this post was born

      Liked by 1 person

  2. oooohh this is such a good post idea!! I care more about goodreads ratings than I’d like, tbh. a lot of times I feel like I should be giving a book a higher rating just because the avg rating is so high. I do trust goodreads ratings when it comes to older backlists though, just not with classics and definitely not with sequels.

    also, I don’t really read weird books, but you make me VERY curious about Never-Contented Things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same, since I started noticing them I started to realize that I do care about them, probably more than I should, but seeing the average ratings of some of my favorite books, I try to remember that just because they exist it doesn’t mean I have to trust them

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was such an interesting post!! I have liked books with a low average rating (like The Star-Touched Queen), but it also went wrong with Empress of a Thousand Skies, so I feel like it depends on a few things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked it! And I agree about Empress of a Thousand Skies, I found it a mostly fun read but the more I look back on it, the more I realize that it wasn’t good at all. So many inconsistencies and forced plot points. The Star-Touched Queen, however, deserves better

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My personal experience with Goodreads is that people tend to rate high. If a book has below a three star rating, I usually trust it’s actually that bad. It’s the ones that are, as you have here, like a 3.18 that are more on the fence for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny because the only one of these I actually cared about is the only one with an avg rating under three, but I mostly agree. I don’t think I would have given it a chance had it been under three when I started reading, and I’m not sure what that says about me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting post… And I completely agree about Three Sides of a Heart… I usually don’t mind love triangles, so some stories in that book were quite a treat 😊😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked that anthology too! To this day, I still haven’t found one in which so many stories worked for me, or that made me completely change my mind about a trope.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was actually my first anthology and it made me quite fond of them. But I agree that I haven’t read any which was so true to a trope before, and done so well…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post!!!

    I think I used to trust GR average ratings a lot more than I do now. Now they’re just general guidelines for me, something I glance at because it comes naturally and it tells me what to expect when I scroll down and look for reviews of people I trust. But I generally don’t let avg ratings dictate whether I buy/read the book or not (especially after seeing stuff like the Never-Contented Things reviews).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there are reviews from people I know I can trust, they’re far more important to me than the avg rating too – but the problem is, books that have a low rating are also the ones most likely to be less reviewed (I don’t think any of the people I interact regularly with reviewed one of the five books I read for this post). It kind of feeds itself, even though I try to remind myself that avg rating can be misleading, especially with polarizing books.


  7. I usually don’t put too much stock in overall GR ratings, because I like to form my own opinions. And I’ve gone both ways: loved books with low ratings and disliked books with high ratings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I try not to, because I’ve had both of those reactions too, but it’s also true that I often agree when it comes to non-sequel novels.


  8. This is such an interesting discussion!

    I try to take Goodreads ratings with a grain of salt, but they affect me more than I would like. If, say, I’m on the fence about buying a book, I’ll glance at the average GR rating, and if it’s low I won’t buy the book.

    If I’m just trying to decide whether or not to read a book, I’ll usually read the 2-star or 1-star reviews to try and gauge what the major issues with the book are. Sometimes people have issues with things that just don’t bother me. I also tend to pay more attention to the reviews of people whose tastes more closely match mine, although this can sometimes be a hit or miss too, since tastes can still vary pretty widely! I’ve yet to find a fellow reader/reviewer whose tastes match mine precisely.

    Also, I am definitely one of those people who you have convinced to read Never Contended Things! The more twisted a book is, the better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “the more twisted it is, the better” = I agree, but I’m not sure most people do (…the ones on goodreads certainly don’t), so every time I mention this book, I feel like I need to put twenty disclaimers on the post.

      I do that too with negative reviews! Some have even convinced me to buy a book, it can happen when I find one that complains about things I like (the villain is attractive and sends a bad message to kids! too much gay! or things like that)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a creative and wonderful post! Your discussion posts always inspire me to create my own, because you always bring up such interesting points about books in different ways ^_^ This year, I definitely want to try & pay less attention to goodreads ratings because a books 3.5 could be my 5-star read & its good to keep an open mind about the books I want to read!

    Liked by 1 person

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