Ten Underrated Books Every Book Lover Should Read

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I’ve Read In The Past Year Or So (up to you if you want it to be those published in the past year or so or just ANY underrated book you’ve read recently).

I think nearly all of the books I read last year have ended up being extremely popular so I decided to tweak this week’s topic a bit to make it a better fit for me.  I chose to spotlight books that even though they probably have a fair number of reviews on Goodreads, they still live in the shadows of their more famous counterparts.  I’ve structured my list, therefore, as a kind of “If you like this book by this author, here’s another lesser known title you should take a look at because it’s just as fabulous.”

Ten Underrated Books Every Book Lover Should Read

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1. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(If you liked The Great Gatsby, read this.)

Everyone has heard of, and most have read Fitzgerald’s most famous work The Great Gatsby, but Tender is the Night is actually my favorite of his works.  I remember not fully appreciating Gatsby the first time I read it as a sophomore in high school, but then I happened to pick up this book. I loved it so much that I ended up going back to Gatsby and giving it another go, falling in love with it the second time around.


Goodsreads Synopsis:
  Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick’s harrowing demise. A profound study of the romantic concept of character, Tender Is the Night is lyrical, expansive, and hauntingly evocative.  (Read more…)

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2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

(If you liked Beloved, read this.)

As powerful of a read as Beloved is, it was reading this book in graduate school that took me from liking Toni Morrison’s writings to absolutely loving them.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.  (Read more…)

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3. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

(If you loved The Handmaid’s Tale, read this.)

This read is every bit as enthralling as its more famous counterpart, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Goodreads Synopsis:   In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid’s Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?   (Read more…)

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4. Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

(If you loved Kindred, read this.)

A truly fascinating read. Can’t believe it has less than 10,000 reviews on Goodreads…

Goodreads Synopsis:  Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals.   (Read more…)

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5. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

(If you liked A Visit from the Goon Squad, read this.)

I actually enjoyed Egan’s debut novel much more than I liked the more famous A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Goodreads Synopsis: In Jennifer Egan’s highly acclaimed first novel, set in 1978, the political drama and familial tensions of the 1960s form a backdrop for the world of Phoebe O’Connor, age eighteen. Phoebe is obsessed with the memory and death of her sister Faith, a beautiful idealistic hippie who died in Italy in 1970. In order to find out the truth about Faith’s life and death, Phoebe retraces her steps from San Francisco across Europe, a quest which yields both complex and disturbing revelations about family, love, and Faith’s lost generation. This spellbinding novel introduced Egan’s remarkable ability to tie suspense with deeply insightful characters and the nuances of emotion. (Read more…)

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6. Arcadia by Lauren Groff

(If you liked Fates and Furies, read this.)

I couldn’t put Fates and Furies down, and my reading experience was exactly the same with her earlier work, Arcadia.  Just beautiful writing.

Goodreads Synopsis:  In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic, and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after. The story is told from the point of view of Bit, a fascinating character and the first child born in Arcadia.  (Read more…)

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7. Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

(If you like The Shining or honestly any of his dozens of bestsellers, read this.)

I’m not big into Stephen King, mainly because I’m a chicken and don’t enjoy reading horror stories.  This book is pretty fascinating though — a love story Stephen King-style.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Lisey Debusher Landon lost her husband, Scott, two years ago, after a twenty-five-year marriage of the most profound and sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was an award-winning, bestselling novelist and a very complicated man. Early in their relationship, before they married, Lisey had to learn from him about books and blood and bools. Later, she understood that there was a place Scott went- a place that both terrified and healed him, that could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed in order to live. Now it’s Lisey’s turn to go to Boo’ya Moon. What begins as a widow’s effort to sort through the papers of her celebrated husband becomes a nearly fatal journey into the darkness he inhabited. Perhaps King’s most personal and powerful novel, Lisey’s Story is about the wellsprings of creativity, the temptations of madness, and the secret language of love.  (Read more…)

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8. The Inheritors by William Golding

(If you liked Lord of the Flies, read this.)

If not for graduate school, I probably never would have read this book, but OMG, what a shocking and unexpected ride it is.

Goodsreads Synopsis:  When the spring came the people – what was left of them – moved back by the old paths from the sea. But this year strange things were happening, terrifying things that had never happened before. Inexplicable sounds and smells; new, unimaginable creatures half glimpsed through the leaves. What the people didn’t, and perhaps never would, know, was that the day of their people was already over.

From the author of Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors is a startling recreation of the lost world of the Neanderthals, and a frightening vision of the beginning of a new age.  (Read more…)

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9. Home Front by Kristin Hannah

(If you loved The Nightingale, read this.)

I devoured The Nightingale in about a day and now I’m finding that all of Kristin Hannah’s books are equally compelling.  Go try any of them – well, all of them really!

Goodreads Synopsis:  Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life–children, careers, bills, chores–even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a soldier she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own–for everything that matters to his family.

At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope.  (Read more…)

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10. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

(If you loved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, read this.)

I think everyone should read everything Maya Angelou has ever written.  She just had a way with words that I don’t think anyone else comes close to.

Goodreads Synopsis:  The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.  (Read more…)

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Question:  What do you consider to be some of the most underrated books out there?  Have you read any of these?

20 replies
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    The Invisible Circus caught my eye for the 60’s setting (and Arcadia too maybe), that just sounds like it would be really interesting, and maybe a little sad too but also illuminating about that time.

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yeah, the ones I’ve read are really lovely. I have a friend who is binge reading them now and she says all of them are great, so I’ll definitely be reading more from her.

      Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Thanks! I’ve really enjoyed Kristin Hannah’s book. I’ve only read a few but a friend of mine is currently binge reading them and says they’re so good that she won’t stop until she has read them all!

      Reply
  2. Resh Susan
    Resh Susan says:

    The first three books are on my TBR. There are so many under rated books out there. Glad you made a list of some prominent ones. South Riding is an under rated book in my opinion. I loved it last year

    Reply
  3. Julia
    Julia says:

    Great list! I really need to make time to read Margaret Atwood already! I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lord of the Flies in high school, but The Inheritors sounds enticing – I might have to give it a try!

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Thanks! Haha, yes I had to get creative this week so I’ve mostly read pretty mainstream books since I started the blog. That balance that I’m seeking for this year will hopefully involve reading more underrated books along the way.

      Reply
  4. Marie
    Marie says:

    Wonderful list! I’ve read the first 3 books and loved them. Most of the others I’ve read other books by the authors, but not the books mentioned. I need to add some of these to my TBR list. Thank you!

    Reply

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