5 Exceptional and Extraordinary Books Unlike Anything We’ve Read Before

October 20 2020

One of the greatest parts about being a full-time book lover is the ease with which we can immerse ourselves in a life entirely unlike our own. Between far-fetched surrealism and glimmering sparks of magic, books open a reader’s imagination to the unthinkable. As we fill our bookshelves with various genres of eccentric tales, wildly unique stories capture our attention. If you too are looking for a riveting and unusual novel, here are five books to pick up, guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever read.  

Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield

Holly’s Pick #1:  ONCE UPON A RIVER is truly a remarkable work of magical realism. Set in a small town along the Thames, a community is disrupted when a mysterious girl, pronounced dead, comes back to life one night at the local inn. Three families all claim that this girl must be their long lost relative: a wealthy mother whose daughter was kidnapped, a farming family whose son’s forbidden liaison begot a child, and a housekeeper who’s been separated from her younger sister. As the mystery of this girl unravels, the members of this small circle reveal their secrets. If you are not used to the world of magical realism, this is a great book to start with. Filled with rich and atmospheric writing, ONCE UPON A RIVER will truly captivate any reader. 

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Once Upon a River
Diane Setterfield

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Animal Farm
by George Orwell

Kerry’s Pick:  To be fair, it isn’t that hard to blow a fifth grader’s mind, but that school year was a pivotal one for me because I had a teacher who encouraged me to read the classics. So I picked up one he mentioned—George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM—and made a shocking realization: sometimes the government lies to us. Until then, I had no idea this was even a possibility. The revisionist proclamation by the pigs that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” completely changed the way I looked at history, current affairs, and governments of all types. 

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Animal Farm
George Orwell

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Last Day on Earth
by Eric Puchner

Holly’s Pick #2:  Sometimes the absurdity of everyday life is just enough to astound youA boy on the edge of adolescence fears his mother might be a robot; a psychotically depressed woman is entrusted with taking her niece and nephew trick-or-treating; a reluctant dad brings his baby to a debaucherous party; a teenage boy tries to prevent his mother from putting his estranged father’s dogs to sleep. Everything about this book is unusual and absurd. LAST DAY ON EARTH revolves around the endlessly complex, frequently surreal system of family life. 

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Last Day on Earth
Eric Puchner

From the award-winning author of Music Through the Floor and Model Home, a riveting and profoundly moving story collection by a writer “uncannily in tune with the heartbreak and absurdity of domestic life” (Los Angeles Times).

A boy on the edge of adolescence fears his mother might be a robot; a psychotically depressed woman is entrusted with taking her niece and nephew trick-or-treating; a reluctant dad brings his baby to a debaucherous party; a teenage boy tries to prevent his mother from putting his estranged father’s dogs to sleep. Ranging from a youth arts camp to an aging punk band’s reunion tour, from a dystopian future where parents no longer exist to a ferociously independent bookstore, Last Day on Earth revolves around the endlessly complex, frequently surreal system that is family.

Eric Puchner, hailed as “technically gifted and emotionally insightful” (The New York Times Book Review), and someone who “puts the story back in short story” (San Francisco Chronicle), delivers a gloriously original, utterly memorable collection that evokes both the comedy and tragedy of our lifelong endeavor to come of age.

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The Three-Body Problem
by Cixin Liu and Ken Liu (translator)

Elizabeth’s Pick:  After years of friends recommending award-winning Chinese author’s Liu Cixin’s sci-fi masterpiece (and seeing it everywhere from the hands of fellow subway readers to President Obama’s reading list), I began listening to the audiobook to understand what everyone had been talking about. I’m now nearly finished with the final novel in Cixin’s trilogyneedless to say I was hooked! THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM is set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous and violent period in Chinese history, where a secret military project begins broadcasting signals into the universe in search of other intelligent life. When a message returns to Earth, one individual’s decision to reply sets off a chain reaction that will impact humanity forever. With an alien fleet en route to invade Earth, divisive campseach convinced they know what’s best for humanitytake action to either welcome the invaders or defend their world from the highly intelligent species. The novel explores questions ranging from personal loyalties to the essence of humanity, all wrapped up in theoretical military strategies and brilliant speculative science. Highly recommended even if you think sci-fi isn’t your favorite genre! 

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The Three-Body Problem
Cixin Liu and Ken Liu (translator)

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Follow Me to Ground
by Sue Rainsford

Holly’s Pick #3:  FOLLOW ME TO GROUND is a haunting work of surreal fiction. Ada and her father, touched by the power to heal illness, live on the edge of a village where they help sick locals—or “Cures”—by cracking open their damaged bodies or temporarily burying them in the reviving, dangerous Ground nearby. But when Ada becomes a little too intrigued with the human existence and falls into an affair with a man named Samson, her life begins to take a dark turn. Ada is left torn between remaining a savior to the Cures, as her father intended for her, and escaping the life she knows for this infatuation. 

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Follow Me to Ground
Sue Rainsford

Palm Beach Post, BuzzFeed, and LitHub’s Most Anticipated of 2020

A haunted, surreal debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal—one that upends our understanding of power, predation, and agency.

Ada and her father, touched by the power to heal illness, live on the edge of a village where they help sick locals—or “Cures”—by cracking open their damaged bodies or temporarily burying them in the reviving, dangerous Ground nearby. Ada, a being both more and less than human, is mostly uninterested in the Cures, until she meets a man named Samson. When they strike up an affair, to the displeasure of her father and Samson’s widowed, pregnant sister, Ada is torn between her old way of life and new possibilities with her lover—and eventually comes to a decision that will forever change Samson, the town, and the Ground itself.

Follow Me to Ground is fascinating and frightening, urgent and propulsive. In Ada, award-winning author Sue Rainsford has created an utterly bewitching heroine, one who challenges conventional ideas of womanhood and the secrets of the body. Slim but authoritative, Follow Me to Ground lingers long after its final page, pulling the reader into a dream between fairy tale and nightmare, desire and delusion, folktale and warning.

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