10 Books That Exceeded All Expectations

This post came about as part of my very first throwback and a book feature (you can read more about that here).

The idea is to pair books with a travel photo taken the day you post.

On 17 July 2018, my husband and I were travelling around Europe in our camper van and we parked up next to this incredible lake on the outskirts of Mont Cenis, a quiet little ski resort in France.

I always associate this particular pit stop with exceeding all possible expectations. The fact we just stumbled across it made it all the more special. Seriously, how is this place even real?! No photo can do it justice 😍

So, back to the book pairing.

In honour of this beautiful little spot that exceeded all of my expectations, here are ten books that did just that too:

  • The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal
  • Questions of Perspective by Daniel Maunz
  • The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  • Postscript by Cecilia Ahern
  • Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Things we Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  • The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
  • Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  • The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal

    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Published: 2 May 2019
    By: Picador

    I read this book in November 2018 before it received the hype it 100% deserves. At the time, I actively avoided historical fiction thinking that books were either written in an archaic language impossible to translate or that they lacked depth.

    Boy, did this book prove me wrong.

    I had very recently joined NetGalley and was intrigued by the obsessive natures this book seemed to possess. I was also very trigger happy with my requests at the time. Thank goodness I gave it a chance because it quickly became (and remains) one of my favourite historical fiction novels to date.

    Set in London, 1850, The Doll Factory explores themes of love, art, and obsession. It shifts between Iris, a young girl who paints dolls but dreams of become a real artist and Silas, a lonely taxidermist who craves the love of another. Over time, we watch as Iris becomes wrapped up in her life and Silas watches from the sidelines, his obsession growing with every passing glance.

    The main reasons this book blew me out of the water was the simple yet intoxicating writing style, the rich character insights, and the chilling narrative. Find it on Goodreads.

    Questions of Perspective by Daniel Maunz

    Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
    Published: 14 May 2020
    By: Black Rose Writing

    If there’s ever going to be a book that sums up the phrase ‘I had no idea what I was getting myself into,‘ this was it. The author reached out to me through my blog and I’ll admit, I was sceptical. Firstly because I haven’t had great experiences with authors contacting me directly. Secondly because the book sounded like nothing I’ve ever read before (paranormal fantasy, what even is that)… That ounce of intrigue was enough to make me accept (not that I ever need much persuading, let’s be honest).

    Again, thank the lord.

    This book was LIFE CHANGING. That’s the only way I can describe my feelings when I all-too-soon reached the end of this spectacular novel. It followed one man’s journey of self-discovery and was one of the best character-driven novels I have ever read. It made me re-evaluate my life, set new goals, and appreciate the world around me. Read my full review of Questions of Perspective here.

    The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Published: 11 February 2020
    By: Quercus

    Despite this book featuring as one of Reese’s book club picks, I still wasn’t 100% sure it would be something I enjoyed. As well as historical fiction, this book also had fantasy elements with Chinese folklore and magical realism. Nothing like that normally features in my go-to genres, but that is the best part about choosing books outside of your comfort zone.

    The Night Tiger exceeded all my expectations purely because it’s not something I’d usually choose. I was captivated by the story, myths, legends, and fate. The term ‘swept me off my feet’ would perfectly sum up my feelings after I finished this book. I was absorbed in the 1930 Malaysian culture and couldn’t wait to read more from this era. This book was basically everything my blog represents. Check out my full review here.

    Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

    Genre: (Epic) Classic
    Published: 1862

    Who would have known that 1200+ pages of French literature written in the late 1800s could be translated into a beautiful and emotion-filled story of love, death, and redemption?

    Not me, that’s for sure.

    It took me six joyous months to read Les Mis from cover to cover. As part of an IG readalong (which I’m not ashamed to admit I joined because I was so freaking intimidated by this beast of a novel), we were scheduled to read between 60 and 90 pages a week, leaving plenty of time to fully absorb and reflect on Hugo’s words.

    Now I am quite fond a classic these days. But I’m, again, the first to admit that some of the language/phrasing/plot goes way over my head. But Les Mis isn’t like that – not from a writing style perspective anyway. It flows and there are so many parts in this story where you CANNOT PUT THE BLOODY THING DOWN (and that’s not the best when it weighs a shit tonne).

    That’s not to say parts didn’t go over my head. There were hundreds (no, I’m not exaggerating, I wish I was) and hundreds of pages dedicated to the French Revolution, French politics, French sewers (actually I liked that part because come on, sewerage💩). I probably understood 10% (and I’m being generous to myself) but that’s not to say it didn’t add context and depth to a novel that was based more on true societal reflections than some made-up happy-ever-after garbage.

    The parts I didn’t understand were vastly outweighed by the parts that pushed my emotions to breaking point. We’re talking fear, heartbreak, hope, shock, disgust – you name it, Les Mis will make you feel it. I thought at first that I’d give up pretty quickly, destined to never touch the tome again. What I found was a light in the darkness, a story that touched me deeper than any other. It IS huge and it IS daunting but believe me when I say that it is worth every hour you spend getting lost in the underbelly of Paris. Add it to your Goodreads TBR so you don’t forget 😉

    The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Published: 3 October 2019
    By: Pamela Dorman Books

    Don’t let me lull you into a false sense of security, I’m going to put you straight right now and say that I did love not Me Before You (you heard me) and pretty much dismissed Jojo Moyes entirely after that. But then my book club suggested this one and I tried to get out of it but then one of the girls found me the free audio book and I was semi-forced to join. It’s a good job I did though because The Giver of Stars turned out to be pretty damn good.

    As you’ve probably guessed, my expectations were scraping the floor before I even gave this one a chance. Prime example of never judge a book by the author.

    Like I said, I listened to the audio book which totally shaped the experience for me. The narrator was engaging and even though the book was 14 hours long, I was constantly looking for extra chores just so I could keep listening.

    By now you know that I love historical fiction and this one, set in Depression-era America, was everything I look for in a HF novel – a slow build up of events, a rich setting, and an educational insight into historical events. It’s about a group of independent women who became known as the Packhorse Librarians and follows their enthralling journey as they strive to deliver books to those in need. There’s so much more to the story and all I can say is give it a chance (I highly recommend audio). Check it out on Goodreads.

    Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

    Genre: Romance
    Published: 19 September 2019
    By: HarperCollins

    Unpopular opinion alert: Romance and I are not pals and I actively avoid the genre as I find the plots too predictable/samey same/boring/unnecessarily steamy. Call me a prude or an unromantic but I prefer my books to have a bit more substance.

    However, that’s not to say I NEVER read them – if there’s a FOMO book doing the rounds, chances are I’ll jump on the wagon. I requested Postscript without even reading P.S. I Love You (this was embarrassing, I genuinely thought I had but turns out I’d only seen the movie, which by the way is a million times better than the book…). Yes, turns out I hated P.S. I Love You which I read right after I was sent Postscript. I was gutted. I went into Postscript with the lowest possible expectations. However, this must be one of the only exceptions where the sequel far outweighed the first book. Thank goodness it did because I was not looking forward to sitting through P.S. I Love You round two…

    The amateur writing-style in P.S. I Love You was replaced by a strong narrative that pulled me in from the very first page. The characters were much more likeable and I really felt the emotion through the pages. I sobbed my heart out and thought it was brilliantly crafted. I fell in love with the P.S. I Love You Club and my heartstrings were well and truly pulled.

    See, I’m not entirely heartless! My rec – watch the first movie and then READ THIS ONE.

    Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Published: 14 August 2018
    By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

    Please ignore this horrific photo (I wasn’t aware of the whole camera angles thing back in 2018. This pic is a memory in itself).

    I know what you’re saying “Hayley, this book has HUGE HYPE so how could you not have high expectations?!” When I read this one, I was actually ahead of the hype for the first time ever so I hadn’t really seen much about it. A few of my fave bookstagrammers had posted raving reviews so I bumped it up my NetGalley list but I was not expecting it to be half as brilliant as it was.

    I’ve read a lot of books since 2018 but this one remains the best one. Heck, I’d go as far to say it’s the best book I’ve ever read and I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that. Check out my full review of brilliant Crawdads here.

    The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Published: 26 February 2019
    By: Hachette Australia

    There’s a very good reason why The Things We Cannot Say is appearing on this list. It wasn’t so much that my expectations were low, but I just didn’t think any WW2 book would ever come close to topping Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller.

    Kelly Rimmer was that exception.

    I’m sceptical with Holocaust books these days as there are so many being churned out that it’s hard to know which ones are genuinely researched and which ones are just being published for profit.

    The Things We Cannot Say is 100% in the former category.

    I’d never heard of Kelly Rimmer until I read this novel. Now, with just one book, she’s one of my favourite authors. This book is easily a contender for my best book of 2020 and is still way out in first place. I developed such close connections with the characters, I felt like they were family. My emotions were all over the place – relief, sadness, heartbreak, closure, disbelief, love – you name it, I felt it. I don’t want to give too much away but this is definitely my biggest recommendation of the year so far. Add it to your Goodreads or forever miss out on one of the best war stories ever written.

    The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

    Genre: Thriller (Nordic Noir)
    Published: 6 June 2018
    By: Harper
    Translated by: Caroline Waight

    If you’ve been following for me for a while, you’ll know that I absolutely rave about The Chestnut Man. It made my top 10 list for 2019 and if anyone is asking for a good thriller, chances are I’ll be pushing this one at you hard.

    As with romances, I tend to avoid thrillers nowadays. Even though it’s a genre I enjoy, I find it increasingly hard to find a thriller that ticks all the boxes. I need realism, motives, suspense, red herrings (but not too many) and twists that send my jaw to the floor. This book that and so much more. Seriously, if you love a thriller but struggle to find a five-star, give this one a go. Keeping this one short so here’s my full review if you want to read more.

    Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

    Genre: Contemporary Fiction
    Published: 18 June 2018
    By: HarperCollins Australia

    Another incredible novel that made it onto my top 10 books of 2019.

    I had no idea what to expect with this one, so naturally I didn’t think I’d like it. If you read the description, it honestly sounds bonkers. It did take a while to get invested but once I’d crossed that threshold there wasn’t any going back. This book is quite simply a work of complete brilliance. It was refreshing and poignant, unlike anything I have ever read before. I truly believe it will be a classic for years to come. Read my full review of Boy Swallows Universe here.

    This list could easily be never-ending (which basically shows just how little expectations I often have😂). Which books would be on your list of low expectations that ended up blowing you away? Any on here that you agree/disagree with? Let me know in the comments!


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