10+ Books That Exceeded My Reading Expectations #WhatsOnYourBookshelfChallenge #WOYBS

Occasionally, I read out of my comfort zone and a book surprises me in the best way. Today, I’m sharing books on my (virtual) bookshelf that exceeded my expectations. Often these are the best reading experiences!

What is a book you’ve read that exceeded your expectations?

10+ Books That Have Exceeded My Reading Expectations

Reading Books Makes You Better (white text over a background picture of bookshelves and a table strewn with books)

***My reviews contain Amazon affiliate links.

(In no particular order)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I rarely read science fiction. I remember loving Wrinkle in Time decades ago. FOMO (fear of missing out) caused me to pick up Project Hail Mary. FOMO doesn’t always work out the best for me, so my expectations were low. Early reviews encouraged me to use the audio format, and since my husband has an audio account I convinced him to acquire the book and suggested we might listen together. His skepticism matched mine, but he is a good sport. Surprisingly, we had the best time! We couldn’t wait to return to our book and put TV entertainment on hold (recording what we wanted to watch for later). I love finding a book I can buddy-read with my husband! We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed it, and we frequently recommend it to family and friends. Later, I found that The Martian (also by Weir) was available at the library, so I borrowed it. Of the two, I enjoyed Project Hail Mary more, and if you only read one book by Andy Weir, I recommend (the audio) of PHM. My husband and I definitely feel the audio format greatly enhanced the story! Here is a link to my review.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (cover) Image: an astronaut floats in space tethered to a gold and black object

West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

I’m not exactly sure why but I initially gave this book a pass. My dear friend, Gail, sent me a DM and asked if I had read West With Giraffes and indicated that I might enjoy it because it reminded her of News of the World (which she knew I loved). I trust my reading friends and jumped right in. I loved this compulsively readable road trip story, and I predict West With Giraffes will be high on my best-of-year list! To think I almost missed it! Thanks, Gail! Click here for my review of West With Giraffes.

West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge (cover) Image: black text over a grayed out map

Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge

A castaways trope is not what I’m usually seeking. However, a blogger raved about this book and FOMO hooked me. I enjoyed it far more than I expected and have recommended it numerous times. It would make a great beach read because the majority of the story takes place on a deserted and isolated beach where they must build a shelter and fish for their food. My review here.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge (cover)

Atomic Habits by James Clear

I don’t normally seek out self-help books, but my daughter and I attended a reunion last summer and she was engrossed in Atomic Habits during our flight and layovers. My curiosity was piqued! I’m happy I read it and loved the practical advice. Find my review of Atomic Habits here.

Atomic Habits by James Clear (cover) Image: gold and black text on a white background....very small black dots (atoms) surround the gold title

Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

Some of reviews of Atlas of the Heart noted that it was “really just a glossary of emotions.” Something in one of the reviews triggered me to think about the movie Inside Out which I loved. Because I work toward raising my percentage of nonfiction every year I decided Atlas of the Heart was worth checking out. It was available at the library which meant “no harm no foul” if I didn’t like it. I ended up loving it much more than I had expected and have been recommending it every since! See my enthusiastic review here.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown (cover) a graphic picture of multiple images combined in a heart shapped collage against a red background with gold text

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I’ve tried a couple of Maggie O’Farrell books in the past and I can’t say I’m a huge fan, although I think she’s a fabulous writer. I DNFed I Am, I Am, I Am because the reading experience was anxiety producing for me. I finished This Must Be the Place, and while it was OK and I can see why others might love it, it wasn’t one that I loved. So, when I started seeing fabulous reviews for Hamnet, I knew I would have to read it and see for myself. Hamnet far exceeded my expectations. While it’s sad and emotional (death of a child), it’s equal parts compelling and unputdownable. Now I can claim to have loved a Maggie O’Farrell book! My review of Hamnet here.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (cover) Image: head shot of a young boy wearing a felt hat and a large feather lies horizontally across his eyes

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Defede

Honestly, I simply missed this when it was first published. This is not surprising because I missed a myriad of great reads while consumed by my teaching career! As the 20th anniversary of 9-11 rolled around, this book came to my attention. At first, I hesitated because I had just read The Only Plane in the Sky and couldn’t face another emotional 9-11 reading experience. Soon I noticed that reviewers were also referencing the Broadway musical streaming on Apple TV+ that was based on the book. Hummm…..maybe I am interested! What a delightful surprise to read this inspiring book that is focused on the goodness of people as the flip side of the coin that is the evil of 9-11 and follow it up with a Broadway musical. Find my review of The Day the World Came to Town here. Of course, you MUST watch the musical, Come From Away.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Defede (cover) Image: a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) stand with their back to the camera watching a jetliner land

THUG by Angie Thomas

One of my reading goals is to read more diversely and promote “own voices” authors. Often this goal forces me out of my comfort zone. Because I knew it would be a difficult read (based on the title), I procrastinated a long time before I picked up The Hate U Give. It far exceeded my expectations and is a memorable and thought-provoking read. My review of THUG is here.

The Hate U Give cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Character-driven literary fiction is a mixed bag for me, and I tread carefully into each and every selection. I have probably DNFed more character-driven stories than any other type (looking at you Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout). However, when my IRL book club buddy read Gilead (and the entire series) and raved about it, I knew I must try. Even though it is a quiet book, I loved Gilead so much that I persuaded my husband to read it! I went on to read the other three books in the loosely connected series and concluded that I’d love to reread Gilead now that I have the full picture from other characters’ points of view. I can envision reading anything that Marilynne Robinson writes. My review of Gilead here.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (cover) Image:

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This might be the most recommended book that I simply ignored. I’m not sure why except that I don’t follow his career. One can only read so many fabulous reviews without succumbing to the hype! I’m thrilled that I finally read this book! It was thought-provoking and I learned from it. (I’ve heard the audio is great) Find my review of Born a Crime here. As it’s a bit gritty, there’s also a YA version for young readers.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (cover) Image: a casual Trevor Noah

Open by Andre Agassi

Well, I’ve never read a sports memoir until now! I guess I was tempted by this because my son played competitive tennis during the Andre Agassi era. Although there’s a great deal of tennis content, the memoir is also thought-provoking. I love Agassi’s heart for helping others. My review (which also includes my favorite quotes) can be found here.

Open by Andre Agassi (cover) Image: a head shot of Andre Agassi

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

When I read the synopsis of this story, I remember thinking “What could I possibly have in common with a Muslim family?” Wow! Was I wrong! My review highlights all the ways I connected with this family drama. It’s now on my lifetime favorites list.

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (cover)


What is one book that exceeded your reading expectations and surprised you in the best way?

 I’m linking up with Deb @ Deb’s World, Sue @ Women Living Well After 50, Donna @ Retirement Reflections, and Jo @ And Anyways… for the May installment of #WhatsOnYourBookShelfChallenge.

Whats On Your Bookshelf Challenge

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.” ~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.” ~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.” ~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

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All books I review are bought or borrowed from the library unless explicitly stated that they are free (arcs).

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  1. One book that comes to mind is The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. It was chosen by my book group and I remember groaning when I had a look at it. But I loved it! I adored Hamnet from your list but then I am one of those people who loves everything Maggie O’Farrell has written. 😊 I have West With Giraffes on my Kindle. Maybe over summer I’ll get to it…

  2. So many books here. I will have to go back over this post. I haven’t read any of them so there’s probably something in there for me. Coincidentally we are going to see Come from Away next week in Perth, have heard lots of good things about it. So far this year Shrines of Gaiety remains my favourite.

  3. I added two of your recommendations to my TBR (News of the World and Giraffes)

    I see that you’re aware of the glitchy links so I won’t bother telling you the link to your Giraffes review didn’t work for me but I was able to find it by doing a search of your site. 🙂

    • I’m happy to hear that you found two interesting books for your tbr! Happy reading! Thanks for reporting on the link…I’ll fix that today!

  4. What a great idea for a post. The only one of these that I’ve read is Project Hail Mary which I enjoyed but didn’t love as much as The Martian. I have had Hamnet on my shelf for ages so I really do to get round to reading it.

    • My audio of PHM enhanced the reading experience for me! I remember wondering if I’d like it as much in print. I hope you enjoy Hamnet. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Hi, Carol – I absolutely love when a book exceeds my expectations. ‘Hamnet’ was also like that for me. I agree with you %100 – it’s equal parts compelling and unputdownable!

  6. I have a few of these on my TBR based on you reviews Carol. I hope to get to a few of them (Giraffes, Gilead, Atlas of the Heart) this summer.

  7. Hi Carol, these are some great recommendations from you and I love how you’ve explained why they hit harder than other books and left an impression on you. I loved Hamnet but have had trouble with some of Maggie’s other books (just like you). You’ve reminded mo of the Andy Weir book I downloaded but haven’t managed to get into yet, so I must give that another go. Thanks for joining us for WOYBS, being on holiday in the UK has seriously dented my reading time but I’ve added a few of your books onto my list 🙂

    • Thanks Debbie! If you can, listen to the audio of PHM! Your husband might like the math content! Enjoy your family holiday! I know you will! 🙌

  8. Love your list! I’ve read about half of them. I’ve had trouble getting people to read Project Hail Mary also. The audio is so good! Giraffes is so good! Hamnet is so atmospheric. I also liked The Mariage Portrait by O Farrell. I would add 2 more titles. Loved Lessons in Chemistry because there is so much to discuss about how it might have been for our mothers to get ahead in the 50’s. Also loved Remarkably Bright Creatures, especially on audio. You might not think you would enjoy hearing the voice of an octopus, but Marcellus is truly remarkable.

    • PHM on audio is not to be missed! I always recommend it for people taking road trips! Thanks for your recs! It’s always delightful to be surprised by books!

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