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Look, I know we are all bombarded with the exciting ‘best of the year’ lists this time of year, but what about all the almost-favourites and best surprises of the year? You know, the shockingly good debuts, the novellas and short stories that left a bigger mark than you expected, the 4 and 4.5 star reads that just came completely out of left field and deserve some love, or even a few unexpected faves that gave you a bit of a reader identity crisis?

Today, I am taking the time to spotlight all those gems. And no, this is definitely not me procrastinating making my official ‘best of the year’ list… why would you think that? And it’s also absolutely not an excuse to recommend even more books to you (say sorry to your TBR from me). While these didn’t make my ultimate favourites list, they all get a glowing recommendation from me.

Now, I don’t want this post to become painfully long, so instead of rambling on here, I will just link all my reviews (if I’ve written one) and you can find out more about my thoughts there. Just click on a book’s title, and you will be taken straight to my review.
Most of these reviews are on my personal Goodreads though, so they may be a lot shorter and less in-depth or ‘professional’ (what does that even mean?) than the ones I’d post on the blog. But honestly, who cares? We’re just here to have fun!

Okay, that’s probably enough babbling. I hope you are ready to be exposed to my wildly eclectic reading tastes, let’s dig in!

The ‘How Dare This Debut be
This Good?!’ Surprises

Starting this list off strong with some ridiculously impressive debuts. I mean, who allowed these authors to start out THIS good?! All these books absolutely blew me away and could very well have landed on my favourites list on any other year. I am calling it now, these authors are going places, and I will be following their journeys every step of the way. Needless to say, go read these books!

The ‘How Did This Novella Make Me Feel So Much?!’ Surprises

Look, I loooove me a good chunky book to sink my teeth into, but sometimes a good novella can also just really hit the spot. These six novellas all packed an incredibly punch in just a few pages, and have stuck with me throughout the entire year. Whether they made me laugh, cry, cheer, or shiver with dread, they all left a way bigger impact than I could ever have anticipated. Simply brilliant storytelling!

The ‘How Did This Short Story (Collection) Make Me Feel So Much?!’ Surprises

Forget novellas, these crazily talented authors managed to deliver some of the highest quality storytelling in very few words. These are the types of stories that you can read in one sitting, but which will linger on in your mind for days, weeks, or even years to come. Absolutely phenomenal!

The ‘Completely Out of Left Field Fave’ Surprises

As the title of this category says, these books came completely out of left field and just surprised me in all the best ways. Though, especially Cassandra Clare and Roshani Chokshi deserve a round of applause for how spectacularly they transitioned from YA to Adult with these novels, that’s not an easy feat! And the other two have just refused to leave my brain, which is an equally impressive accomplishment considering how crap my memory is, trust me.

The ‘This YA Actually Knocked My Socks Off’ Surprises

First of all, YA actually rocks. The diversity and originality that can be found in that age-range is simply astounding, and don’t even get me started on the sheer enjoyment level. However, it’s rare for me these days to find YA stories that actually resonate with me on a deeper emotional level. But these four books, they accomplished that… and then some. The next time you want a bit of an easier read that still has incredible depth, consider picking one of these up. You can thank me later!

The ‘Wait, Do I Actually Like Romance?’ Surprises

Now, I am not afraid to admit that I am a bit of a cold-hearted grump when it comes to romance, and I tend to avoid anything even slightly spicy/smutty like the plague (more power to you if you like it, but I am peacing the F out). However, these romantic relationships just made me kick my feet and had my heart fluttering in ways I wasn’t ready for. Also, yes, the queers are winning here and we love to see it!!

The ‘This Finale Stuck the Landing So Well’ Surprises

These could be surprises for the sheer fact that I even made it to the end of a series (hi, serial series starter here), but aside from that these finales also just hit all the right beats. While these series were all super strong the entire way through, these finales truly surprised me in becoming my favourite book in each of their respective series. Whether they were utterly satisfying or beautifully bittersweet, or maybe an interesting mixture of the two, these conclusions were just everything I could have wished for. Hats off to all these authors!

The ‘Couldn’t Tell You Why But I Had Such a Blast’ Surprises

And now we’ve come to the weird selection of books that made me question my own reading tastes a bit. My first ever Dramione fanfic that ripped my heart out in all the best ways; a weirdly hilarious non-fiction about the death industry (or really, 3 of these because I devoured all of Caitlin Doughty’s books back to back); and two ridiculously entertaining fantasy romances that I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. I binged all of these books like nobody’s business and got slightly more obsessed than I’d like to admit. Fun times, it was a wild year.

The ‘I Can’t Think of a Category But I Was Surprised’ Surprises

And last but not least, a category that should speak for itself. I couldn’t fit these books into any of the other categories, but they surprised me all the same so here we are. We’ve got a children’s classic that hit me way harder than I could ever have anticipated, a litfic that emotionally destroyed me and a litfic that was slightly unhinged and morbidly entertaining, and a fantasy sequel that went some brutal places I wasn’t expecting but absolutely loved. Surprises all round!

And just like that, we’ve come to the end! I hope you found some new books to check out, and hopefully they will be just as pleasant a surprise for you as they were for me! Or if you’ve read any of these, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter/X  and let me know what you thought of them. My doors are always open for bookish chats!!

I guess this means I now have no more excuses to keep putting off finalizing my ‘favourites of the year’ list. It’s starting to look exciting, so keep an eye out for that grand finale on December 31st, and prepare for some unapologetic gushing. Cheers!

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Best Surprises of 2023

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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