If you’re ready to start thinking that up is down and down is up, this list of shocking books is for you. Strange, unusual, and unexpected are just a few words to get started in describing these eight incredibly crafted books. Plus, if you’re hitting a reading slump lately, sometimes it helps to pick up a surefire amazing adventure with surprises and shocks around every corner. These chaotic novels should do the trick.
8 Shocking Books Where You Should Expect the Unexpected
Both Kea Wilson’s writing style and the story itself are full of surprises and out-of-the-box ideas. One of the terrifying elements is the fact that this book is both a horror novel and historical fiction based on a real and disturbing 1970s Italian movie production. Desperate for any gig, a struggling actor jumps at the chance to fly to the Amazon for a new film shoot, but upon arrival quickly realizes that might have been a mistake. The previous lead actor quit over the script, which no one seems to have, everything is over budget, and the crew is crumbling around them. But that’s not the most terrifying thing about the production. Their remote jungle outpost is not what it seems. Wealthy Americans looking to get wealthier, drug traffickers, and M19 are all fighting for the world they want. And as the stakes ramp up, our leading man isn’t sure he’ll make it out of this film alive.
Whimsical and dark, with a magical city where people worship cats? Already, that sounds like an epic recipe for an incredibly unexpected and fantastic story. Owen King crafts a wonderfully wild fantasy that is out of this world. I adore anything vaguely reminiscent of the Victorian era, and here it’s been turned into a horrifying and mystical background. Dora has been secretly hoping to find out what happened to her brother after he died, and she is convinced that The Museum of Psykical Research has something to do with it. And now that the city is in flux amid a revolution, her lover is in a position of power to help her get a job at the museum. But when Dora goes for a curatorship, she finds that the museum has been burned to the ground. So, she is offered another position at The National Museum of the Worker in hopes she can still find answers. Both Dora and this other museum turn out to more unusual than expected, though, as Dora’s search for answers unspools a terrifying conspiracy for an already delicate society.
From New York Times bestselling author Owen King comes a Dickensian fantasy of illusion and charm where cats are revered as religious figures, thieves are noble, scholars are revolutionaries, and conjurers are the most wonderful criminals you can imagine.
It begins in an unnamed city nicknamed “the Fairest”, it is distinguished by many things from the river fair to the mountains that split the municipality in half; its theaters and many museums; the Morgue Ship; and, like all cities, but maybe especially so, by its essential unmappability.
Dora, a former domestic servant at the university has a secret desire—to find where her brother went after he died, believing that the answer lies within The Museum of Psykical Research, where he worked when Dora was a child. With the city amidst a revolutionary upheaval, where citizens like Robert Barnes, her lover and a student radical, are now in positions of authority, Dora contrives to gain the curatorship of the half-forgotten museum only to find it all but burnt to the ground, with the neighboring museums oddly untouched. Robert offers her one of these, The National Museum of the Worker. However, neither this museum, nor the street it is hidden away on, nor Dora herself, are what they at first appear to be. Set against the backdrop of a nation on the verge of collapse, Dora’s search for the truth behind the mystery she’s long concealed will unravel a monstrous conspiracy and bring her to the edge of worlds.
Praise for Owen King:
“King writes with witty verve.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[Owen King] has a captivating energy, a precision and a fondness for people that are rare…King loves people as well as words.” —The New York Times
There are two parallel Earths, worlds where all the people and all the cities are identical. Everything is the same, except that those living in the one of the worlds know that two versions of the same thing cannot exist forever. People, and the planet itself, are disappearing, and unless they do something about it, they will cease to exist. And thus, the perfect sleeper cell was born. Lirael is an agent who has spent most of her life training to kill the other Lirael and take over her life, then wait for the real war to begin. But as Lirael begins to take her place, she struggles with her own identity and the reality that she might not be a good person. Lyrical, eerie, and full of melancholy, this character-driven dystopian story is unsettling in the best possible way!
Describing EARTHLINGS is not an easy task, nor is it an easy read. But if you are searching for something dark and truly unexpected, then consider this twisted and horrifying magical read. The story begins when Natsuki is a child who believes she is an alien or maybe a witch, something not entirely human. But at least she has her cousin to dream up magical worlds with. That is, until reality and abuse tear them apart, and Natsuki must do whatever she can to survive. Now, as an adult, she is doing the best she can to conform and avoid the demands of family and society. Natsuki and her asexual husband insist on knowing why she isn’t pregnant yet as they move back to her childhood home. She hopes that her cousin remembers her and the promise they made together. There is not much else that can be said about EARTHLINGS without spoiling the shocking horrors in this story, but if you can embrace the terrifying and the absurd, then this is sure to be a novel that stays with you.
ZONE ONE is a cerebral take on zombies, as you dive into the postapocalyptic life of Mark Spitz, a civilian volunteer who is helping to clear out some of the catatonic zombies squatting in lower Manhattan, in an effort to reclaim New York City. Mark’s world is surreal. The idea of cleaning up and removing zombies has become mundane, but everyone still remembers where they were and what they were doing when the world as they knew it ended. The story is told through Mark’s current position and a series of flashbacks as things suddenly go very, very wrong. Colson Whitehead’s unique perspective and incredible literary prowess create an unexpected twist on the beloved zombie genre.
In Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed novel, a pandemic has ravaged the planet, dividing humanity into two groups: the infected and the non-infected. Over the course of three days, Mark Spitz, a member of a unit charged with clearing lower Manhattan of the infected, comes to terms with the fallen world and the new dangers that have emerged.
SIGN HERE explores the concept of souls and Hell in such unexpected and subtle ways that made it a delight to devour. If you think your job is hell, Peyote Trip’s actually is in Hell. But he’s got a pretty decent job in deals on the fifth floor. The coffee machine and the pens never work, but it’s better than some of the other departments, and Peyote’s got a plan for a big promotion. All he needs is one more soul from the Henderson family to change his life. With the Hendersons spending their summer at the family lake house and his new coworker Calamity available to help out, now is his chance. But every choice has a consequence, and nothing is as it appears on Earth or in Hell.
A science fiction novel that definitely leans heavily into the fantasy world, THE STRANGE is as unexpected as the title would have you believe. Set in the 1930s and on Mars, this alternate-history space western is a gritty page-turner. Fourteen-year-old Annabelle lives in New Galveston, a mining colony on Mars, with her father. Suddenly, communication and shipments from Earth come to a halt and everyone fearfully begins to call the event the Silence. Tensions arise as a result, but Annabelle is more concerned with being cut off from her mother, who returned to the planet to care for her own mother. It’s then that Silas Mundt’s gang attacks the town, including Annabelle's father’s diner, and steals her most precious belonging. Despite the harsh terrain, gangs, and other unknown dangers that await her, Annabelle sets out on a quest for revenge in hopes of putting her world and her family back together.
1931, New Galveston, Mars: Fourteen-year-old Anabelle Crisp sets off through the wastelands of the Strange to find Silas Mundt’s gang who have stolen her mother’s voice, destroyed her father, and left her solely with a need for vengeance.
Since Anabelle’s mother left for Earth to care for her own ailing mother, her days in New Galveston have been spent at school and her nights at her laconic father’s diner with Watson, the family Kitchen Engine and dishwasher as her only companion. When the Silence came, and communication and shipments from Earth to its colonies on Mars stopped, life seemed stuck in foreboding stasis until the night Silas Mundt and his gang attacked.
At once evoking the dreams of an America explored in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the harder realities of frontier life in Charles Portis True Grit, Ballingrud’s novel is haunting in its evocation of Anabelle’s quest for revenge amidst a spent and angry world accompanied by a domestic Engine, a drunken space pilot, and the toughest woman on Mars.
Nathan Ballingrud’s stories have been adapted into the film Wounds and the Hulu series Monsterland, The Strange is his first novel.
Having moved to the southeast a few years ago, I can honestly say that my blood has thinned and I now find anything below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to be cold. So, if an alien race plopped down to Earth and told me I had thirty days to move to Antarctica or be wiped out, I don’t know if I would make that trek. All joking aside, that is exactly what happens at the beginning of COLD PEOPLE by Tom Robb Smith. The journey itself is perilous but more than that, will people be able to come together to build a new society in sub-zero temperatures while everything they’ve ever known is destroyed? What lengths will they go to in order to ensure humanity’s survival? Tom Robb Smith imagines the answers to those questions in truly inventive and strange ways in his new book. COLD PEOPLE will send shivers down your spine with its cool atmosphere and chilling twists.
From the brilliant, bestselling author of Child 44 comes a suspenseful and fast-paced novel about an Antarctic colony of global apocalypse survivors seeking to reinvent civilization under the most extreme conditions imaginable.
The world has fallen. Without warning, a mysterious and omnipotent force has claimed the planet for their own. There are no negotiations, no demands, no reasons given for their actions. All they have is a message: humanity has thirty days to reach the one place on Earth where they will be allowed to exist…Antarctica.
Cold People follows the perilous journeys of a handful of those who endure the frantic exodus to the most extreme environment on the planet. But their goal is not merely to survive the present. Because as they cling to life on the ice, the remnants of their past swept away, they must also confront the urgent challenge: can they change and evolve rapidly enough to ensure humanity’s future? Can they build a new society in the sub-zero cold?
Original and imaginative, as profoundly intimate as it is grand in scope, Cold People is a masterful and unforgettable epic.
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