Top Ten Tuesday: hidden gems

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday is 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 is open season, so I’ve picked a topic I missed out on a while back: my favourite hidden gems.

A couple of years ago there was a Top Ten Tuesday that looked at under-rated books with under 2000 ratings – and back then I focused on books with under 1000 ratings. This time I’m upping the ante: my hidden gems have under 200 ratings… (by comparison, my ‘most rated’ book is The Hunger Games – over 5.5 million people have rated it on Goodreads. Blimey).

Dark Ages – John Pritchard

This is so backlist I’m not sure it’s still in print, but I recall it as a deeply unnerving timeslip fantasy. CND activist Fran doesn’t know what she saw on Salisbury Plain, but it scared the hell out of her. Returning to face her fears, she meets an ancient warband summoned from a star chart and her life changes again. Forget King Arthur: get ready for time-travelling Anglo-Saxons.

The Stars Seem So Far Away – Margrét Helgadóttir

I love a post-apocalyptic tale, and I particularly liked this one’s Arctic setting and low-key focus on relationships and coming to terms with the past. Yes, there are threats to be overcome, but the general tenor is a low-key, quiet tale of a desolate future that I found thoroughly intriguing.

Water into Wine – Joyce Chng 

Low-key and intriguing are often a good descriptors for Joyce Chng’s adult work too (see also: mouth-watering: she always writes great food). Here her transitioning protagonist tries to start a new life when they inherit a vineyard on another planet. This novella tackles a lot of big topics for its short length.

The Witch and Her Soul – Christine Middleton

I knew more about the Salem witch trials than our homegrown Lancashire equivalent. I loved this fictional account of the Pendle Witches. It conveyed how stifling society was, how limited the opportunities for women – and how precarious a place they occupied in it, at risk of envy and gossip. Sadly, it appears to be the author’s only book, because I’d cheerfully snap up anything she wrote.

Metronome – Oliver Langmead

I hadn’t heard of Langmead before Subjective Chaos, but this little gem gave Under the Pendulum Sun a fierce competition for Best Fantasy. An old man’s vivid dreams take an unusual turn when he is recruited to join the fight against a rogue Sleepwalker and her nightmare allies. Richly imagined and wonderfully atmospheric, this won all our hearts.

Hallowdene – George Mann

I’m entertained by George Mann’s latest series: macabre murders in the English countryside with supernatural shenanigans at their root. I love that his young sleuths apply conventional methods to unconventional situations – and if it’s not usually hard to guess whodunnit, the investigation is always fun.

Shelter – Dave Hutchinson

Rural Berkshire is ripped apart by a blood feud in a world of rising waters and decaying technology. I’m going to keep banging on about Shelter because it was one of my favourite reads this year (and if you enjoy Wyndham but think he was a bit too cheery, then this one’s for you). I appreciated that Hutchinson could surprise (even shock) me no matter how familiar the basic narrative.

The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales – Yoon Ha Lee

This collection of flash fiction first got me intrigued by Yoon Ha Lee’s storytelling. Expect fox spirits and witches in tales so short they’ll be finished before you finish your cup of tea. In spite of this, I found them absorbing and satisfying – it’s amazing what you can do with very few words when you know how to use them.

A Matter of Oaths – Helen S Wright

A much overlooked backlist gem that got a rerelease last year. This is a firm favourite of mine: queer space opera with cyberpunk tech and the tricky politics of immortality and feuding guilds. I love this for its vibrant characters and their relationships – I’m still sad there was never a sequel.

Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef – Cassandra Khaw

Rupert Wong is a chef to an influential family of ghouls; his girlfriend is a langsuir; and he’s constantly caught between warring deities. I expected this fantasy horror to be too gory for me, but these nasty little novellas are a thrilling melange of mythologies and pantheons (and yes, hella gory). Khaw’s prose is scintillating and her storytelling is unexpectedly touching. I’m looking forward to Rupert’s return next year.

What books do you think deserve more attention?