Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Underrated Books I've Read in the Last Year

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! 

Well, we're officially over two weeks into the new year, and so far, things are pretty okay. I have successfully stuck to my no-buying-books promise, we've celebrated my Dad's birthday weekend, and I'm pretty sure I've spent more time at the gym than I did in all of last year in total.

Still, that doesn't mean I'm completely done with last year just yet. No matter the fact that I'm four titles into 2017, some of my fave reads of the past won't stop rattling around in my head. That's why I was so happy to see that today's "Top Ten Tuesday" theme, was about your favorite under-rated books of the past year!

PSA: Not all definitions of "under-rated" are the same. For some, it might represent books from indie publishers or forgotten releases from previous years; for others, it's just a casual list of books they'd like to see talked about more, regardless of how much they've been talked about already.

For me, under-rated reads strike a kind of middle ground: they're books that have been read by fewer than I think they deserve, books that don't have the kinds of fandoms that will readily supply them with a television show adaptation. Some are widely-advertised titles with niche audiences that I think more general readers should be willing to take a chance on, while others have target buyers that are so niche you might never even have heard of them!

Regardless, I invite you to take a chance on some of these under-rated titles. I think you might really like them!


1. Spinster, Katie Bolick
This book, at least to me, was originally marketed as some kind of rebellious, girl-power memoir of one woman's life in the singles lane while writing for various magazines in New York. But instead of a Sex in the City spinoff, this nonfiction read is more akin to a historical collection of some of the fearlessly independent females of the same profession, who the author saw as role models of sorts while making the attempt on her own. Those looking for cocktail hour exploits would probably leave disappointed, but fans of books like Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies would feel right at home.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
Being that the book was written by a bestselling author, whom I happen to already adore, this was an oddball choice for this list. But it perfectly hits so many of the selling points that I long for in YA - a fiercely independent and athletic heroine who loves her family and isn't afraid to kiss as many boys as she wants, LGBT representation, convincing interweaving of contemporary and fantasy elements - that I continue to be shocked when I don't see it on such lists of recommended reads for the genre. Not only is the book super fun, but it gets so little credit for the unique points that make it so strong.

3. Kate Beaton's Step Aside, Pops and Hark, a Vagrant! comic collections
Now, it's one thing to make a comics collection. It's quite another to originally print all of your comics online. But when you also factor in that those comics are based off of content as delightfully weird and varied as obscure historical figures, fictional heroes from works of classic literature, and take-downs of flawed anti-feminist ideology, it's a whole other thing on its own.


4. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
Once again, another fantasy read, but this one for the middle grade set... or is it? As a boy escaping a stifling family life in WWII era England makes his way through the terrifying and mysterious world of fairy tales, you question pretty quickly what age range this book is acceptable to read. Because of this, many youngsters may be cautioned not to read it, while the older sets might overlook it because of the intended audience. (My take? I read it once when I was 13, and another time when I was 22. I absolutely loved it both times.)

5. Down the Rabbit Hole, Holly Madison
Now if the gaudy pink cover didn't scare you off, the subject matter did: a former Playboy bunny reveals the far less glamorous life that really laid beyond the television screen. However, even if you're not a fan of the Girls Next Door, you'd be foolish to assume the realities of this reality star. Through her time at the mansion, not only did Holly earn herself producer roles and titles with both the show and the magazine, but she endured psychological abuse that left her swirling in the depths of depression for years. Her rise-and-fall-and-rise-again redemption tale was such a hit with my sister and I, that I even have its sequel memoir, The Vegas Diaries, on my shelf for this year.

6. One More Thing: Stories and Stories, B.J. Novak
Once again, a weird pick for an "under-rated" books list, especially because it was a New York Times bestseller when it was originally released. But here's the thing: almost no one I know has read this book (unless I was the one pushing it on them), and those who had even heard of it, passed it up for memoirs from Novak's compatriots, like Mindy Kaling's memoirs. Still, this collection of hilarious short stories does not get enough credit for revitalizing comedic writing in short form for print, at least for me.


7. Why We Write About Ourselves, edited by Meredith Maran
Probably one of the most fascinating quick reads I read this year, each chapter of this nonfiction collection of casual interviews chronicles the reading pasts and writing presents of prominent voices in the memoir genre, asking the simple question: Why do you write about yourself? What they answer gives far more clarity to a genre typically written off as self-indulgent in the best and narcissistic in the worst. Definitely worth an afternoon or two, and who knows? Maybe it will prompt you to jot down some memories of your own.

8. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
One of my last-minute books of last year, ended up being one of the first ones I thought of when compiling this list, not just because of how recently I had read it, but because of how desperate I am to talk about it with someone. This collection of brief comics involving characters of varying sexualities and genders - without a harmful binary in sight - really shows how much potential there is in a format that could still use a lot more diversity within it.

9. Shake the World, James Marshall Reilly
While checking job-hunting books out of the library after my third month of serious job hunting is starting to seem more like a self-punishing practice than a helpful one, this book was a diamond in the rough. While its cover and tagline - "It's not finding a job, it's building a life!" - were almost too cheesy to check out, the interviews and lessons contained within make it invaluable, especially for those of an artistic and entrepreneurial mindset. Through interviews with company founders to philanthropists, world travelers and homegrown heroes, this book pushes the idea that if you can't find your dream job, it's probably because you haven't created it yet. (While that still doesn't solve my college debt crisis, it's a nice thought.)

10. The Wicked and the Divine series, Kieron Gillen
Damn, what a weird way for my childhood infatuation with world cultures and religions to suddenly pay off. This series - about a pantheon of pop stars who personify ancient gods from across the world, granted power and vitality until they die after two years - was weird enough to make me a little skeptical at first, but after Volume 1, I was a true believer.

So, like I said, maybe some of these books don't qualify as "under-rated" to you. How do you decide if a book fits that kind of a profile, or whether it's just-the-right-amount-of-rated? Let me know, in the comments below!


  1. Loved your list! I read the Darkest Part of the Forest last year too and adore it! The LGBT rep was part of what made it so much for me.

  2. Oh I totally didn't give Holly Madison's book a second thought but you have me reconsidering. I love celebrity memoirs so I might have to pick it up. BJ Novak's is on my TBR already though. Greta list!

  3. Most of these are new to me! I'll have to check them out. I really love Holly Black's books. I need to read The Darkest Part of the Forest! Great list!
    My Top Ten

  4. Definitely just added The Book of Lost Things to my TBR! How could I not after seeing that gorgeous cover and hearing your high praises? Great list :)

    My TTT

  5. I want to read Spinster, The Wicked and the Divine, and Holly Madison's book too!

    Here's a link to my TTT post for this week: http://captivatedreader.blogspot.com/2017/01/top-ten-tuesday-ten-underratedhidden.html

  6. Oh I really really want to read The Book of Lost Things! It sounds FANTASTIC and magical realism is just about my favourite thing of ever.😍 And I absolutely love The Darkest Part of the Forest too!! I think Holly Black is totally underrated, which is weird when she's a bestseller right?! I guess people who love her books just aren't bloggers??😜

  7. Spinster disappointed me, but I'm really interested in the Holly Madison book! I Girls Next Door used to be my go-to brainless TV guilty pleasure