The holiday season is coming up, so I thought what better time to dish out some lesser known book recommendations than now? After all, books are the perfect gifts for people who read a lot, but it can also be hard to pick something they don’t already know… I hope I can help a little: here are a few tips organized by genre, so that no matter what you or your bookish friends like, there will hopefully be something suitable! Not all of these are completely unknown (since I wanted to have a good mix regarding age groups and still recommend good books), but they’re definitely ones I haven’t seen around as much in the online book community. I hope at least some of them are new to you!
Contemporary: The Girl Who Saw Lions by Berlie Doherty
I have yet to find anyone apart from me who has read this, which is such a shame because The Girl Who Saw Lions is just really, really good. This is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story (Yes, both are possible simultaneously!) following two girls: Rosa, who lives in Northern England, and Abela, who comes from a small village in Tanzania. Rosa is perfectly content living with just her mom and going ice-skating and shopping together. She has never needed anyone else in her life. So when her mom announces that she would like to adopt a second child, Rosa is horrified. She has always suspected that her mom would rather have a white child that looks like her, not a half-Tanzanian kid who people don’t even realize is her daughter. Meanwhile, in Africa, Abela has to struggle with hardships of her own. Her mother is dying of AIDS and no one really knows how to deal with Abela after the inevitable happens. This is a harsh story, but it feels utterly real and so important. And, despite the problems it deals with, the book has so many wonderful family moments as well – if you’re a book-crier, you’ll probably cry reading this, but it will also give you those warm and fuzzy coziness vibes.
Literary Fiction: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
This is for those of you who like a good slower-paced, introspective story focused more on characters rather than plot. There are two main characters – one of them is Augustine, an elderly scientist who has been studying the universe all his life. When a global catastrophe leads to the evacuation of his fellow researchers, Augustine decides to stay behind at their research center in the Arctic Circle, where he eventually meets a mysterious girl that slowly forces him to face his past. Meanwhile, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the spaceship Aether, returning to Earth after a mission to Jupiter, when all contact to Mission Control breaks down. Suddenly, Sullivan is cut off from everyone and forced to confront the sacrifices she made to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut. Good Morning, Midnight is a slow, beautifully written story that makes you question what is important in life and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a deep, less action-packed story.
Historical Fiction: The Longest Memory by Fred D’Aguiar
For anyone looking for a shorter read that still has lots of punch, an important story, beautiful writing and compelling characters, The Longest Memory is one I’d definitely recommend. The book takes place on a plantation in the American South in the late 1700s and early 1800s, revolving around a slave called Whitechapel. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Whitechapel is dying, and through a series of flashbacks told from various different narrators in various different styles that ingenuously reflect each narrator’s character (there is poetry, journal entries, stream of consciousness passages, “regular” third and first person narration, you name it), you slowly piece together the story of his life on the plantation and the lives of the characters around him.
Science Fiction: Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Michael Crichton is probably best known for his novel Jurassic Park, but I think that, so far, Micro is still my favorite book of his. Unfortunately, Crichton died before he was able to finish it, which is why Richard Preston took over. However, you really can’t tell that this was written by two people – the story flows along seamlessly! We follow a group of graduate students who were invited to Hawai’i in order to work for a mysterious biotech company. Once they arrive, though, a very different scenario than the one they imagined unfolds. The students find themselves shrunk to the size of mice and abandoned in the rain forest, which suddenly appears a whole lot more dangerous than it did before…
Fantasy: The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron
I’m actually due for a re-read of these myself, but I remember absolutely loving this series as a kid. Rather than the old wizard we know from most Merlin/King Arthur stories, this book follows a young boy who has lost his memory and past on his journey to discover his true identity and powers. I think middle-grade readers in particular would enjoy this!
Dystopian: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Granted, this series does have its flaws, but I absolutely adored it when I was about 16, and I still like returning to it now, especially this first book. The story takes place in the future, in a world where dangerous aether storms plague the planet. Part of the population have taken refuge in large domes, passing their time in a virtual reality world. The others have been left to fend for themselves on the outside and have come together in tribes in order to survive. The two worlds meet when a girl called Aria is exiled from her enclosed city and cast into the wilderness. There, she meets Perry, an Outsider, and, in Aria’s eyes, a savage. However, if she wants to survive, she has to trust him. And Perry needs Aria, too, since she has technology he has been desperately searching for. This has a really cool world, a fair amount of politics, super-power-like abilities, and a great hate-to-love romance. Fans of YA dystopias are bound to enjoy this one!
Crime: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is basically the queen of crime fiction, so I suppose you can’t really say that this book is not well-known. However, it’s definitely one of her lesser known novels, so I thought I’d give it a mention here. It follows a young woman named Gwenda, who wants to settle down with her new husband and is looking for a house in the English countryside. To her surprise, she manages to find just what she was looking for, and for a good price, too. Gwenda buys the house and starts renovating but discovers along the way that she knows things she shouldn’t. What the old wallpaper looked like. Where a door used to be. And that something absolutely terrible happened on the stairs… This is crime fiction at its finest, and I’d highly recommend it!
Middle Grade: Leon and the Spitting Image by Allen Kurzweil
(I know, I know – Middle Grade isn’t a genre… But do you want the recommendation or not?)
To say this book is weird doesn’t even cover it – but in the best possible way. This is a childhood favorite of mine that I adore to this day 🙂 It is the story of a boy named Leon, who lives with his mom in a hotel that houses guests other hotels won’t take, and who has just entered fourth grade. Leon’s school is under the impression that “nimble fingers make nimble minds” and has therefore always placed huge emphasis on the arts. And Miss Hagmeyer, the fourth grade teacher, is known for taking the school’s motto very seriously. Every year, her students have to turn in a variety of sewing projects – but unfortunately, Leon’s fingers aren’t exactly nimble… However, when Leon discovers that creating a likeness – a spitting image – of a person can give you control over them, his motivation for sewing suddenly changes drastically. This is a really fun book with great friendships and wonderful characters, and one that I’d recommend to everyone, regardless of this book’s target audience!
Classic: Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery
This is for those of you who’ve already read Anne of Green Gables and need more. L. M. Montgomery’s other heroine might not be as vivacious as Anne is, but I love her all the same. Like Anne, Emily is an orphan, but unlike Anne, she hasn’t been one all her life. Emily misses her dead father dreadfully, and when she is sent to live with her mother’s snobbish relatives, she is sure she will never be happy again. However, as Emily slowly gets to know the farm and surrounding town, and as she begins to make friends, she eventually realizes that life at New Moon might not be so bad after all. This is a heartwarming Canadian classic I can highly recommend!
Biography: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley
This is probably the most unusual biography I have ever read – and I don’t think a biography has ever made me come this close to crying before, either. When the author was five, he went to accompany his brother to a train station somewhere in India, meant to take a short nap in an empty train car, and woke up hundreds of miles away from home with no idea where he was. Nobody knew the place he said he was from, and in the midst of all the chaos, Saroo ended up on the streets of Kalkota. Eventually, he made his way to an orphanage and was adopted by an Australian couple. However, as much as Saroo loved his adopted family, he never forgot where he was from and what his family back in India must be going through. He never gave up on finding his way back, and once he was an adult and had Google Earth at his disposal, he started searching – not knowing where in India to look and basing everything on his childhood memories of his home and that fateful train ride. This is an amazing book; I highly recommend you check it out! (And for those who are interested, there’s also a movie based on this. It’s called Lion.)