Book Broads • Books That Have Surprised Me

by Portia Turner

Independent bookstores received advanced readers copies of books all the time. Some of them are amazing (shout out to you, new David Sedaris) and some are just terrible. And then there are the books that surprise you. We recently received a copy of Odd Birds by Ian Harding. My coworker and I are big fans of the show Pretty Little Liars (though we will probably deny it if you ask us) and so we got great entertainment over the fact that good old Ezra Fitz himself had written a memoir. I mean, he’s 30! What does he have to talk about? The book became a joke between the two of us (that none of our coworkers understood because they are clearly not as cultured as we are) and we decided that we would book club it.

Katie took it first. I kept asking her for updates and she just kept saying, “It’s way better than it has any right to be! His writing is actually really funny.” When she handed it off to me, she said, “I actually really liked it. I gave it four stars.”

I love Katie but I wasn’t sure that I could trust her opinion of the book. I mean, this was a book we joked about for so long! It can’t actually turn out to be that good! And then I sat down and read the whole thing in less than 24 hours. It was great. Katie had been right. It had been really funny! And his writing is great!

This experience got me thinking about how nice it is to be surprised by books. And so I decided to share a few books that have surprised me with you all. There have been plenty of great surprises but I decided to focus on a few things when choosing these three. First of all, they had to be books that are already out cause I know that you will all want to run out and get them after reading this. Secondly, I wanted them to be books that all surprised me in completely different ways.

First up is My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (aka the Lady Janies). This one was a classic case of misjudging a book by its cover. The description on the back of the book described it as a comedy version of the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey so I took it because I love that stuff. The cover, though, is terrible and so it didn’t motivate me to read it. I kept moving back further and further on my TBR list. That all changed one day when I was reading Publishers Weekly only to discover that it had received a starred review. I decided that I needed to get past my opinion of the cover and give the book a chance. And holy crap, I am so glad I did! This book is amazing! It’s hilarious, filled with Princess Bride and Holy Grail References. It is incredibly witty and cleaver. It has one of the best narrators I have read in a long time. I passed it around my friends and everyone who read it loved it. I was not expecting this book to become so beloved! I’ve recommended it so many times and feel happy anytime I see someone buying it because I know that they are in for a fun ride.

The second book on this list takes me back to my very first week working at The Book Cellar. My coworkers showed me where all the free books are kept and I grabbed one because I just happened to like the cover. My experience with advanced readers copies at Barnes & Noble had been terrible and so a part of me thought that publishers just sent books that they were having a hard time selling. I wasn’t expecting anything but thought, hey, at least this one is pretty. It may not be any good but it will look great on my bookshelf. That book was Eleanor by Jason Gurley and it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. Everything about it was completely unique. The writing is great and his unique concepts are so interesting and cool. I sent it to my mom and she loved it as well. This book taught me an important lesson about reading in advance though. I read it in September and it didn’t come out until January and those months of waiting before I could recommend it to anyone absolutely killed me.

Finally, I’m going to talk about a book that surprised me because of the subject matter. I’m not a big sci-fi reader and I really have a hard time with time travel. I find myself being far too focused on how messed up things would be if time travel actually happened and can’t focus on what is actually happening in the book. Our Penguin rep kept coming by and talking about this book called All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai and describing it as a time travel book and so I kept thinking, this book is probably great for someone working here but not me. But then I went to Heartland Fall Forum, a book conference for Midwestern booksellers, and had the pleasure of meeting Elan in person. He was absolutely fantastic so I decided that I needed to give his book a chance. And holy crap! It is completely amazing! Sure, it is a time travel book but it’s also so much more! It is more a story about people and what it means to be a functional person in the world. Elan is a screenwriter and his background is incredibly clear. I was able to so easily visualize the whole book as I was reading it. And I have sold a lot of copies to people by describing it as a time travel book that isn’t about time travel. I can’t explain how great this book is.

So I guess that this is all to say that good can come from reading something that you don’t usually read. Pick up something that you wouldn't usually. You could be pleasantly surprised.

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