Welcome to the second post in my End of the Year Series, where I look back at my reading for the year and give you all a recap of the best, the solid, the most surprising, and the most disappointing books. I will also be posting my 2021 Reading Plans, 2021 Personal & Reading Goals, and 2021 Most Anticipated Releases at the end of this series!
Today, I will tell you about the books that surprised me most this year. I will also talk about who may want to try each book, why I added them to this list, and include content warnings for each book. These books are comparable to my best reads of the year, but they specifically surprised me to make this list. This list will not include any books from other categories. For example, there are some books in my Best Reads and Solid Reads that could have been on this list (and vice versa), but I made a vow to myself not to repeat books across lists in order to keep things interesting (and make my life harder lol).
All book covers are from Goodreads. Books are listed in no particular order.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This all-ages horror fantasy novel is about a young girl who moves into an old house that was split into several flats. The neighbors are a bit odd, but not nearly as concerning as the strange door in the parlor that sometimes leads to a flat identical to Coraline’s except for one thing: her parents and neighbors in this alternate version of the house all have buttons for eyes. At first everything seems much better than her boring, lonely life back home, but she quickly realized her “other mother” wants to change her and keep her there forever. She also meets the lost souls of previous children in her same predicament and must do all she can to save herself, the lost children, and even her parents.
If you can handle a more thrilling and unnerving read, then this book is amazing. I don’t read a lot of horror or anything remotely negative to be honest, but this book is a new favorite. I didn’t (1) expect this book to be so scary, because I had seen the whimsical movie and enjoyed it, and (2) I didn’t expect this book to be so much fun at the same time. I loved the experience of reading this book (even if it left me jumpy for a few days), and I can see myself reading it again in the future.
Rats, doll-like features, child abduction, spiders, ghosts, dead children, lost souls, neglectful/absent parents, bees, falling, and crawl spaces.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Frozen 2: Forest of Shadows by Kamilla Benko
Sandwiched in the time between the Frozen movies, this book explores Anna’s life as Elsa adjusts to being queen of Arendelle. All Anna wants is to help her sister, but since she’s become queen, Anna feels like Elsa doesn’t need or want her help. Just before Elsa is set to leave Arendelle on a grand tour of the world (leaving Anna behind), a blight strikes the land giving Anna a chance to prove herself to her sister. But in the process of trying to make her dream come true, she may have awakened a dream much more sinister.
This middle-grade is perfect for anyone who enjoyed the Frozen world but desired more depth and development from the world and characters. I listened to the audiobook for this novel and adored every second of it. The writing is well done and the story is true to the world Disney has created. This book is just overall much more enjoyable and deep than I had anticipated it being. I did not expect to enjoy a middle-grade book in the Frozen world as much as I enjoyed this.
Chases, feeling unwanted/unimportant, nightmares, wolves, possession?, small spaces, eternal sleep and dark forests.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Heartstopper Vol. 1-3 by Alice Oseman
Not only is this YA Web Comic turned graphic novel an adorable and heartwarming romance, but it is also a story about self discovery, navigating relationships, and life as a teenager in general. This is a teen romance that explores some heavier topics, so please read the content warnings if you are sensitive to specific themes.
If you enjoy fluffy romance with countless wholesome moments and a lot of kissing, then this series is worth the read. Oseman uses a fluffy, swoon-worthy romance between two highschool boys in Europe to facilitate some pretty heavy, yet important conversations about teen life. And, let me tell you, Oseman does it well.
After reading the first volume, I didn’t think this series would be any more than just a fluffy romance with generic characters, but by the stars was I wrong. The story following the first volume is shockingly deep and really fleshes the characters out. I was so pleasantly surprised by the depth that the later volumes explored. So if you were hesitant of after the first volume, please continue with the series (it’s free on Tapas), because it gets a lot better.
Forced romance (nonconsensual advances), forced outing, homophobia, eating disorders, biphobia, bullying, anxiety, absent parent, cruel siblings, fainting, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This historically impactful short story was written by a woman who was treated in a similar way to the character in this story for postpartum depression in the 1890s. This story actually influenced doctors of the time to research other methods of treatment for depression, because of how much this character goes through.
This story follows a woman who does not feel as happy as she thinks she should after having her baby and her journey through a popular treatment of doing absolutely nothing. During her solitary confinement in their home, this woman begins to see things in the ugly yellow wallpaper and things get a little out of hand as she spirals deeper into a mental breakdown.
I read this book for a university course, and I did not expect to love it as much as I did. I could not get this story out of my mind for months. Now that I myself am pregnant, I once again can’t get this story off my mind.
If you are interested in a historically important and kinda freaky story, then I recommend giving this one a try. It is hard at times to watch the main character feel guilty for not loving motherhood and slowly spiraling into insanity, but it is very insightful and interesting still.
Psychosis, insanity, pregnancy, postpartum depression, isolation, mental breakdown, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
What graphic novel would I recommend to literally everyone? This one. It’s this one right here. This exploration of identity and gender is pure joy from beginning to end. This book had me crying tears of joy at the end, and every person I’ve forced to read this book (even those who aren’t readers) have fallen in love with it.
I can’t say too much about it, other than the setting is France, there is drag, and the “romance” is not what you’d expect. Please, please read this book if you can.
(PS: I loved this book so much that I actually bought myself a copy to reread over and over. I don’t usually find graphic novels to be worth the price tag for how little time we spend reading them, but this one is very worth the price in my opinion.)
Xenophobia, forced outing, unaccepting parents, arranged marriage, lack of acceptance towards drag queens, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
The Simple Wild (Wild #1) by K.A. Tucker
Posing as a steamy enemies to lovers romance, this adult romance in the Alaskan wild has a depth I did not expect. This romance follows a woman from Canada who goes back to her birth place in the Alaskan wild to visit her ill father whom she no longer has a relationship with. On this journey, she must transcend her city girl tendencies to survive the more rural way of life, while discovering herself amongst a family she never knew.
This book explores some deep topics revolving around family and life that most romance just doesn’t do. Probably because it’s pretty depressing in contrast to the romance plot the book is marketed as. I did not expect this popular, steamy romance to have so much depth and actually make me cry. The end of this book is bittersweet, because Tucker took some risks with a sad ending to the plot but happy romance to contrast it. This won’t be for everyone, but by the stars it still hurts my heart and makes me smile months later.
If you like a steamy enemies to lovers romance with an overall plot that discusses family and loss, then I cannot recommend this book enough. The writing is amazing, every character has a history/depth, and the setting is stunning. Al of that, in addition to a heartbreakingly realistic plot surrounding family and identity. My only warning to you for this book would be the main character. She is a breath of fresh air, but not in a good way (in my opinion). She is very self-centered and unlikable, but that doesn’t change much by the end of the book. So keep in mind when reading this book: Calla can be pretty annoying with her immature/egocentric tendencies, but the other characters make up for her misgivings 100%.
Full review here.
Cancer, death, divorce, therapy, absent parent, plane accidents, stuck in wilderness, steamy sex scenes, realizing parents are flawed people, step parent, loss of parent(s), egocentrism, mourning, banter that borderlines bullying, lying, prejudice, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
The Witch Boy Series (Vol. 1-3) by Molly Knox Ostertag
This YA graphic novel series follows a young boy who wants to be a witch, but that’s seemingly not possible when the traditions of his family state that boys are shapeshifters and girls are witches. No exceptions… or are there?
This graphic novel series seems like a magical adventure with important commentary on gender norms and family expectations, but it is so much more than that. There are discussions about family, adoption, identity, and much more. This series has more depth than many in the medium that I’ve read and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The magic is well explained, the family is a joy to learn about, and the plots are surprisingly complex for such a limited medium. Graphic novels come with certain expectations about how much they can do with limited space, only pictures, and storytelling through dialogue. But this series exceeds those expectations in a way that I just did not expect.
If you are looking for a graphic novel series that has depth, interesting characters/world/plot, and a lot of cool magic, then please pick this series up. Ostertag has done something amazing with this series, and I yearn for them to continue this series.
Family issues, family expectations, bullying, demons, magic, fear of oneself, separation from family, death of family members, competitions, deceit by family member, misconstrued familial concern (like concern from love projected in unhealthy manner), heights, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw
This YA murder mystery has a paranormal twist and some magical themes that I did not expect. This story follows a young witch who finds a boy in the forbidden woods who should be dead, because only the Walker family can enter said woods. Things get even more strange as news of another boy from the boys camp going missing reaches our main character. So, as Nora grows to enjoy this mysterious boy’s presence, she also begins to question his secrets and unlikely circumstances. Should she trust him? Should she not? You will just have to read it to find out!
If a murder mystery with a magical winter backdrop sounds intriguing to you, then I recommend giving this fast paced and twisty teen drama a try. The plot is quick, and the mystery interesting. I did predict the ending pretty early on in this book, but I personally found that to be good writing since the author left good clues throughout the book that validated the ending to the reader. As in, the author wasn’t trying to outsmart the reader or take a random turn, but instead drop bread crumbs for a younger audience to get a kick out of following.
There are a few reasons this book surprised me:
- The main character’s magic (since she’s a witch) was a nice tip of the hat to modern witchcraft, like Wicca. It was obviously inspired by such practices, and although it is not a perfect portrayal of the real thing, I found it refreshing as a Pagan to finally have a character I can relate to in this way.
- The murder mystery aspect of this was not something I expected from the synopsis. I expected to just figure out what happened to Oliver and follow the main romance, but this book has a lot more than that going on.
- The family history (and documents) that are sprinkled throughout this novel are such a wonderful addition to this story. They are well placed and added a layer of storytelling that I really appreciated.
I have a more in depth review of this book in a video I made when I worked at the library. It is a book review and bullet journal aesthetic board, so click here if that sounds interesting to you!
Murder mystery, bodies of water, drowning, bullying, death of family members, absent parents, witchcraft, thrilling moments, near death experiences, being held captive, teen drinking, dark forests, kissing scenes, trapped in the woods without power or a road out, snow storm, frozen lake, thrilling moments, self-doubt, killer trees, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my Most Surprising Reads of 2020!
Don’t forget to check out the the other posts in this series:
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