Top Ten Tuesday: books that surprised me

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week, we’re talking about books that surprised us – for better or for worse!

It’s hard not to have preconceptions when you pick up a book. Maybe you heard about it from someone who loved (or hated) it. Maybe you’ve read the author before and have an idea of what their work is like. Maybe you just read the blurb (and OH MY do we all know how misleading that can be!). But when you read it, it’s just not what you expected at all. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer
From the blurb, I got ‘environmental apocalypse’, secret government agency and a hint of thriller. It, erm, almost sounded Michael Crichton-esque. I’d never heard of Vandermeer or New Weird at the time, but frankly, I’m not sure it would have helped if I had: Annihilation is an experience (as is the film. Bloody hell). Ambiguous, introspective and haunting. Oh, and way better than Michael Crichton.

Food of the Gods – Cassandra Khaw

I don’t read horror. I don’t enjoy horror. Horror has a tendency to make me squirm and feel a bit sick, and I don’t actually find being scared a pleasant experience. Also, cannibals. But duty demanded and… Rupert Wong is great. Not always easy to read (yes, I squirmed in places, especially during the sequel), but it’s also very funny and the spectacular array of mythology on display is dazzling.

Tongues of Serpents – Naomi Novik

I adored the Temeraire books (a surprise in its own right, as I don’t much like military fiction and I’m not interested in the Napoleonic Wars) right up until I hit book six, like a door to the face. I have few good words to say about it (or the subsequent books). There’s nothing worse than being disappointed by a favourite.

World War Z – Max Brooks

I love a good apocalypse, but I rarely read zombie fiction. On the plus side, when I do it tends to be really bloody good (…wait, sorry, I didn’t mean to pun, but it’s there now and too appropriate to remove). I can’t even recall why I read WWZ as I was sure I’d hate it, but I’m glad I did – it was one of my top reads that year for its eyewitness accounts and clever plotting.

The Quick – Lauren Owen

I picked up The Quick thinking it was a Victorian London-set Gothic novel about a secret society of magicians (I’m still not sure where I got that from). Instead, it’s a vampire novel, although the rest of my expectations are borne out – and a decent one, if a little flabby, which (unlike most Victorian vampire novels) has points to make about gender, class and sexuality.

The Split Worlds – Emma Newman

Honestly, I don’t think anything about the Split Worlds series was quite what I expected to begin with anyway, and then All is Fair (book 3) came along and turned almost everything I knew upside down with its take on the Sorcerers and the Elementals. Thankfully, it just kept getting better for it!

Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

I gave this to a friend as a gift (and later bought a copy for myself before I heard her feedback). I still apologise every time it comes up. This ‘inspired by true events’ tale about a London lad who survives a tiger trying to eat his head sounded like solid period adventure, possibly with bonus zoology. Instead, we got bonus cannibalism and extended trauma. I did not deal well.

Deep Seas and Foreign Going – Rose George

I had no idea container shipping was such a fascinating topic, but George’s account of her journeys (as an observer) aboard a Maersk ship was near unputdownable. The intricacies of flagging out, the threat of piracy, the isolation and abandoned humanity – nothing under the skin of this industry was quite what I expected, and I certainly didn’t expect to care so much.

Feed – Mira Grant

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Feed. Having said I rarely read zombie fiction, this is another excellent twist on the genre – the zombie post-apocalypse, with humanity getting on with life in spite of it, as the setting for a political thriller. But there’s Something That Happens In the Final Act that I didn’t see coming (but is obviously massively spoilerific, so the less said the better – details under tags in my review, if you’ve already read the book).

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

I know, I know, not my usual read – but I read Jude at school for English Lit (voluntarily; it was on the extended reading list) and the surprise was just how much I loved it. It’s called Hardy’s most depressing novel (which is saying something) and it’s not far wrong – but I found it compelling, unlike the dreary monoliths of Dickens, Gaskell and Eliot, which did little for me then or now.


What books confounded your expectations?