Top 5 Tuesday || Books That Exceeded Expectations

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Some books are exactly what you expect…and some go above and beyond!

Typically, I’m pretty good at guessing how much I’ll like a book, but today’s T5T topic is all about the books that exceeded expectations! Shanah @ Bionic Bookworm Blog gave us a topic that’s perfect for sharing hidden gems, don’t you think?

So go on, take a look at the books that impressed me the most!

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A Blade So Black Cover

I’ve mentioned it before, but Alice in Wonderland is one of my least favorite stories to do retellings of. I struggle to find ones that actually click, and I think it’s because of the nonsense nature of the original. But L.L. McKinney knocked it clear out of the park with A Blade So Black, creating an Alice retelling that brims with life and love. And a fair bit of danger, plus a whole lot of Black girl magic! If you haven’t picked it up yet, maybe my review of it can convince you?

Really, though. Every time I think about this book, I realize I’m more impressed with it than I thought, and I can’t wait to see where the Nightmare-Verse goes with A Crown So Cursed!


Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory Cover

I first read Karen Memory when I was starting to branch into adult SFF more, somewhere around the end of high school and the beginning of college. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, since steampunk isn’t my favorite genre, but here I am, still in love! I’ve yet to read Stone Mad, the sequel, but I haven’t forgotten the wonderful queer ladies of Karen Memory, or their alternate universe Seattle brimming with danger and mystery.

Usually, I pitch this book to folks as steampunk murder mystery lesbians, and had I known that before I dove in, I don’t think I would have been skeptical at all.


Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Loveboat, Taipei Cover

As a rule, I’m generally not super into contemporary. I’ve struggled to get interested even in summaries in the past, and rarely put it on my shelves. Some nudging from other bloggers and their rave reviews sent me to the library, though, and thank goodness. You’ll get to see more of my feelings tomorrow (and you guys, there are so many feelings), but for now, let me tell you this: I laughed, I cried, and I cannot stop thinking about how disappointing it is that I couldn’t just keep the copy I borrowed.

BUT, this means there’s a copy on my library’s shelves for others to enjoy the hell out of, and I’ll just have to go and buy it for myself! Not a bad deal at all, honestly. And it means Loveboat, Taipei is sooooo deserving of landing on a list about books that exceeded expectations.


Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road Cover

I am the biggest chicken on the planet, so I tend to approach ghost stories with a bit of wariness. I do the same for new authors, too, and I hadn’t encountered Seanan McGuire until Sparrow Hill Road.

Now, my only regret is that I didn’t pick up her work sooner.

Sparrow Hill Road was a masterful series of vignettes woven together into a larger story, and Rose Marshall is a brilliantly complex heroine. Every word is placed with care, and there’s a sort of homesickness to it all, a touch of nostalgia. I can’t explain just how much I adore it, and I’m starting to feel that it’s time for a reread…


The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

The Empty Grave Cover

Yet another ghost story, but this time at the end of a series! The Empty Grave was poised to be excellent, given the strength of the series up until then, but wow. I feel very strongly about series finales, especially when we’re past the point of a duology or trilogy, and The Empty Grave delivered on all counts. Every plot thread wrapped up neatly, as did the character arcs. What little remains unsolved is artfully indistinct, up to the reader to imagine.

Plus, I could never say no to spending more time with the ghost hunters of Lockwood and Co. Banter and action and a hint of emotional turmoil because they all care so much? Sign me up!


There’s so many books that exceeded expectations on my shelves. I couldn’t possibly fit them all in one post, and narrowing it down to five was a stretch at that! But looking back, I have no regrets about choosing these five. They all struck me in different ways, and they’re all still with me, even with years between reads. If you have the chance to pick any of these up, I highly recommend doing so!

And while you’re at it, you should let me know what books went above and beyond for you! Which ones have stuck with you the longest? Which ones smashed every expectation you had with aplomb? Let’s chat!

3 thoughts on “Top 5 Tuesday || Books That Exceeded Expectations

  1. I haven’t read any of these books, but I am really glad that all of these books exceeded your expectations! I find that when I pick up a book with no expectations and no info on my friend’s thoughts on it usually winds up stealing my soul. Top of mind for me: The Fever King, This Mortal Coil, and Roar!

    1. Having no input before definitely tends to help! I love recs from my friends, but the completely fresh experience can really change things. And I have Roar on my shelves. I’ve hesitated, though, since one of my best friends hated it. Going to have to give it a try!

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