For Independent Bookstore Day on April 24th, I wanted to celebrate lesser known books that many people have never heard of!
Okay, let’s be honest, if you’re a book lover, you’ve probably heard of some of these books. But hopefully in this list of the 50 Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of, there will at least be some that are new to you. Or perhaps there’ll be some books you’ve heard of, but didn’t realize that you should give another glance to.
My purpose in making this list is that I know this blog tends to focus on big, flashy bestsellers, but I wanted to give some attention to lesser known books as well. I guess I probably should have called this “books more people should read” or something like that. Maybe I’ll retitle it, but anyway.
Mostly, I had a hard time finding a list like this, so I figured I needed to compile it myself. A lot of lists I saw were comprised of a ton of classics, which isn’t quite what I was looking for. Others had books that were a bit too obscure that were focused on very niche audiences.
For this list, I focused on great contemporary books that have less than 50K-ish ratings on Goodreads (as of April 2021), with a handful that don’t quite fit that criteria, but which I wanted to recommend anyway. In general, too, I also tried to stick to authors that don’t have another book that’s a huge bestseller to help introduce people to more books and more authors. I was looking for books that were lesser known but intended for a fairly general audience.
To really find books that people love but others haven’t heard of, I cast a wide net for these titles. While most of the books are general fiction, there’s a couple young adult titles, a touch of sci-fi/fantasy, etc. If you have a suggestion for this list, feel free to drop it in the comments!
What It's About: All you have are your words. Adunni is a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education. As the only daughter of a broke father, she is a valuable commodity. Removed from school and sold as a third wife to an old man, Adunni's life amounts to this: four goats, two bags of rice, some chickens and a new TV...Publication Date: February 4, 2020
What It's About: This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books...Publication Date: October 1, 1990
What It's About: Hundreds of years in the future, the world is an alarmingly different place. Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour.
Eddie Russett is an above-average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane - a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed...Publication Date: December 29, 2009
What It's About: A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie...Publication Date: March 8, 2016
What It's About: This is the women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s. They have waited long enough for their turn . . .
This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all . . .
In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames...Publication Date: May 2, 2019
What It's About: In America, demons wear white hoods.
In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan's ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth...Publication Date: October 13, 2020
What It's About: From the bestselling author of Savages (now an Oliver Stone film).
This novel of the drug trade takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption, betrayal, and bloody revenge. Art Montana is an obsessive DEA agent. The Barrera brothers are heirs to a drug empire. Nora Hayden is a jaded teenager who becomes a high-class hooker...Publication Date: April 26, 2005
What It's About: A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.
Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts...Publication Date: June 16, 2015
What It's About: The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller and Booker Prize Longlisted novel Lanny by the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.
There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about...Publication Date: March 5, 2019
What It's About: Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman.
Blindsided by her mother's sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan...Publication Date: March 3, 2020
What It's About: From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a familiar story with a dark hook—a tale about Peter Pan and the friend who became his nemesis, a nemesis who may not be the blackhearted villain Peter says he is…
There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth...Publication Date: July 4, 2017
What It's About: Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson's taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone...Publication Date: September 17, 2019
What It's About: An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born "with one foot on the other side." Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities...Publication Date: February 13, 2018
What It's About: My name's Griz. My childhood wasn't like yours. I've never had friends, and in my whole life I've not met enough people to play a game of football.
My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came...Publication Date: April 23, 2019
What It's About: A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.
In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go...Publication Date: October 4, 1999
What It's About: A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer.
Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living...Publication Date: July 23, 2019
What It's About: Camden, NJ, 1948. When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth's, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says...Publication Date: August 7, 2018
What It's About: An alternative cover edition for this ISBN can be found here.
A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family–and a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for–and everything she feared.
Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had...Publication Date: January 5, 2021
What It's About: After a storm has killed off all the island's men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm...Publication Date: February 6, 2020
What It's About: An elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other's fears, whims and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges - one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the island itself, with its mossy rocks, windswept firs and unpredictable seas...Publication Date: Not Available
What It's About: A modern classic, Einstein's Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over...Publication Date: November 9, 2004
What It's About: WINNER OF THE WILBUR SMITH ADVENTURE WRITING PRIZE - From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an uplifting, irresistible novel about two women on a life-changing adventure, where they must risk everything, break all the rules, and discover their best selves--together...Publication Date: July 23, 2020
What It's About: Brothers Nathan and Bub Bright meet for the first time in months at the remote fence line separating their cattle ranches in the lonely outback.
Their third brother, Cameron, lies dead at their feet.
In an isolated belt of Australia, their homes a three-hour drive apart, the brothers were one another's nearest neighbors...Publication Date: October 23, 2018
What It's About: In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary...Publication Date: March 31, 2020
What It's About: Beautifully written and taking us into an exotic land, Karen Connelly’s debut novel The Lizard Cage is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.
Teza once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship. Arrested by the Burmese secret police in the days of mass protest, he is seven years into a twenty-year sentence in solitary confinement...Publication Date: September 27, 2005
What It's About: Akata Witch transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied...Publication Date: April 14, 2011
What It's About: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.
Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother's birth through the lens of his camera...Publication Date: October 1, 2019
What It's About: I'm dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world...Publication Date: August 28, 2006
What It's About: In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how...Publication Date: April 15, 2010
What It's About: Being the middle child has its ups and downs.
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties...Publication Date: October 3, 2017
What It's About: A poignant, heartfelt new novel by the award-nominated author of Together Tea—extolled by the Wall Street Journal as a “moving tale of lost love” and by Shelf Awareness as “a powerful, heartbreaking story”—explores loss, reconciliation, and the quirks of fate.
Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr...Publication Date: June 18, 2019
What It's About: When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn't expect a reply.
When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, neither does he.
They're both searching for something - they just don't know it yet.
Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future...Publication Date: May 17, 2018
What It's About: High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things...Publication Date: November 7, 2006
What It's About: Into the 'autobiography' of Clau-Clau-Claudius, the pitiful stammerer who was destined to become Emperor in spite of himself, Graves packs the everlasting intrigues, the depravity, the bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, soon to culminate in the deified insanity of Caligula...Publication Date: October 23, 1989
What It's About: Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.Publication Date: January 1, 1990
What It's About: An intensely powerful new novel from the best-selling author of The Bastard of Istanbul and Honour
'In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila's consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen...Publication Date: December 1, 2023
What It's About: A deeply personal work about hope and identity in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of belonging and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque adventure -- at its heart, it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home...Publication Date: September 15, 2020
What It's About: John Dies at the End is a genre-bending, humorous account of two college drop-outs inadvertently charged with saving their small town--and the world--from a host of supernatural and paranormal invasions.
This edition is newly rewritten by the author with additional material and an even more epic epic of slackers versus the occult!
David Wong has updated the Lovecraft tradition and infused it with humor that rather than lessening the horror, increases it dramatically...Publication Date: January 14, 2020
What It's About: Charles Carter—a.k.a. Carter the Great—is a young master performer whose skill as an illusionist exceeds even that of the great Houdini. But nothing in his career has prepared Carter for the greatest stunt of all, which stars none other than President Warren G. Harding and which could end up costing Carter the reputation he has worked so hard to create...Publication Date: September 5, 2001
What It's About: From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe comes a deeply personal novel about race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play.
Willis Wu doesn't perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he's merely Generic Asian Man...Publication Date: January 28, 2020
What It's About: NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER - WINNER OF THE STORY PRIZE -"LOS ANGELES TIMES "BOOK PRIZE FINALIST -A "NEW YORK TIMES" NOTABLE BOOK -NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, USA TODAY, "AND "MIAMI HERALD "- NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY "The Washington Post "NPR "Marie Claire St...Publication Date: August 18, 2015
What It's About: The recipient of extraordinary acclaim from critics and the bookselling community, Tan Twan Eng's debut novel casts a powerful spell and has garnered comparisons to celebrated wartime storytellers Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.
Set during the tumult of World War II, on the lush Malayan island of Penang, The Gift of Rain tells a riveting and poignant tale about a young man caught in the tangle of wartime loyalties and deceits...Publication Date: May 5, 2009