Year in Review: Most Surprising of 2019
I love the feeling of picking up a much anticipated 5-star prediction as much as the next person. Yet, what’s sometimes even better is starting a book without any expectations, only to be blown away by it. Whether you knew nothing about it, or had heard some bad reviews that left you sceptical, it’s always nice to be surprised. Today I count down my five biggest positive surprises of 2019.
The first two books on this list fall into a similar category, as they represent a genre I never thought I’d come to enjoy: modern horror. The only horror novels I’ve enjoyed before this year have been classical horror novels like The Haunting of Hill House or the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and the occasional sci-fi horror novel like Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Other than that, I tend to steer clear from horror novels as I’d always thought them not to be “for me”. That idea might need to change as I read and enjoyed some amazing horror-thrillers this year. The Anomaly makes it onto this list for being the first to lead my horror-winning streak. I found this book in a bargain bin second-hand and picked it up without any expectations. After the first few pages, I could not put it down. I read the second half on the train and intentionally missed my stop so I’d be able to finish this book. The best way I can sell this book is to say it’s that this is a bit like Indiana Jones-meets-X-files with a hint of Buzzfeed Unsolved sprinkled in. Other than that, I implore you to let yourself be surprised by this story. If you want to know more of my thoughts, though, a full review can be found here. Side note: as great as this novel was, the (very loose) sequel almost made it onto my most-disappointing list, so keep that in mind before you continue.
Within the same genre, we have The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher. I didn’t know this book even existed, until it appeared as a nominee on the Goodreads Choice Award. Now, this made me temper my expectations immediately, as although I enjoy following the Choice Awards, I often desperately disagree with the nominees and winners. The premise of a young woman having to clear out the house of her deceased hoarder-grandmother, however sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give the book a chance. Like The Anomaly: this was a thrilling ride, carried by an amazing protagonist who actually made me laugh during some of the dire times with her cynical wit. My full review can be found here.
Speaking of tempered expectations: I wasn’t even planning to pick this novel up in the first place, due to the sheer amount of (over-)hype it received. Especially when it comes to YA, it’s often the most popular novels that I tend to dislike the most, so I decided it would be better to leave this one be. I’m not sure what swayed me in the end: the fact that the audiobook was freely available to me, or perhaps that stunning Charlie Bowater coverart… Whatever it was: I gave this book a go, and ended up really enjoying it. Yes, it was somewhat cliché, but that’s something I come to expect from most YA fantasy novels. More importantly, the worldbuilding, pacing and characters were very well done and this novel offered me plain good time. Sometimes, that’s all you need from a book. Full review can be found here.
No. 2: Semiosis by Sue Burke
From YA-fantasy to hard sci-fi: Semiosis is a first-contact novel like none that I’ve read before. I didn’t properly review this novel, because I simply didn’t know what to say. To summarize the story, would be to give key plot points away. All I’ll say is that we follow three generations of space-colonists, crashed on the wrong planet, as they interact with the resident dominant species: an extremely interesting lifeform that is unlike any I’ve seen in other sci-fi. This book is bizarre, it’s smart, it’s engaging, and it’s probably one of the most original takes on alien culture I’ve ever read. I finished this in the summer and still continue to think of it on a regular basis. I recommend you go in fairly blind, and with an open mind for some (pardon the pun) “alien ideas”. If you like Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, you have to give this a try.
Last but not least, we have another extremely story, unlike many I’ve read before. The City of Woven Streets is a little known novel by Swedish author Emmi Itäranta, that received quite mixed reviews upon translation, yet completely swept me up in it’s world. I’m going to let this book introduce itself, as it was this premise and the way it’s written that drew me in in the first place:
“In the City of Woven Streets, human life has little value. You practice a craft to keep you alive, or you are an outcast, unwanted and tainted. Eliana is a young weaver in the House of Webs, but secretly knows she doesn’t really belong there. She is hiding a shameful birth defect that would, if anyone knew about it, land her in the House of the Tainted, a prison for those whose very existence is considered a curse. When an unknown woman with her tongue cut off and Eliana’s name tattooed on her skin arrives at the House of Webs, Eliana discovers an invisible network of power behind the city’s facade. All the while, the sea is clawing the shores and the streets are slowly drowning.”
This novel isn’t going to be for everybody, as it’s at times more about the atmosphere and writing than the plot. It has a wonderful and often unexplained dreamlike quality to it, which I personally adored, but I can see how that would throw many readers off. There are little (well-known) books to compare this to, so take it with a grain of salt, but if you liked Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (especially the first novel, where still much is unexplained), you might enjoy The City of Woven Streets as well.
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