Let’s set the scene: you walk into a used bookstore that is covered in piles of books on every surface. You spend a leisurely hour browsing through, carefully shifting stacks and flipping through pages to see which books will be coming home with you. You select a few books you’ve heard good things about, and then after some deliberating, you also add a book you’ve never heard of. The cover and description are intriguing, so you decide to take a chance on it.
That night, you curl up with your previously unknown purchase, and soon the world falls away. You’re absorbed into the story and don’t surface until the final pages, as the sun comes up. Your instincts were right. This was a jewel of a book hidden amongst the spines, and you were able to unearth it.
Isn’t that the dream? As fun as it is to keep up with the buzzy books, there’s something wonderful about feeling like you’ve discovered a great story that most people aren’t aware of. Hopefully, you can champion it and give it some of the praise it deserves. That’s what we do here in the Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of series! We talk about the under the radar books we love.
Our arbitrary cut off is books with 250 ratings (not reviews) or less on Goodreads. You can find out your own little known gems by sorting your Goodreads Read page by number of ratings. But enough scene-setting: let’s get into the books!
Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen
This deserves a lot more attention not just because it’s a great read, but also because I want to watch a movie adaptation of this. It’s a middle grade sci-fi story set in an Afrofuturist Ethiopian empire that’s perfect for fans of Star Wars. The main character, Yared, is obsessed with the not technically legal augmented reality game The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk, and he’s determined to get the top cash prize. But soon, playing the game causes him to crash into his own secret destiny. Did I mention that he has a bionic lioness? –Danika Ellis
The Beautiful Things Shoppe by Phillip William Stover
I love the concept of a fine arts dealer and a pop culture memorabilia collector falling in love, and the enemies-to-lovers trope is perfect for it. Prescott’s perfectionistic nature clashes with Danny’s more laid back attitude at first. But once they realize that finding beauty in life is something they both value, their relationship changes from reluctant antique shop co-owners to something more. —CJ Connor
Ain’t Never Not Been Black by Javon Johnson
Some of the most beautiful, thoughtful, fresh writing you’ve never heard of can be found in poetry. This is a powerful and innovative poetry collection about Black pain, Black joy, and Black masculinity. Javon Johnson is a masterful writer, and every one of his poems presents something fresh and new. I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. —Susie Dumond
Killing Jericho by Will Harker
I love a good detective story, and this one hits all the beats that I’ve come to expect from classic favourites, while still being original and interesting. Former Detective Constable Scott Jericho has just got out of prison, and goes back to his family, who run the Jericho Travelling Fair. However, like every detective who’s tried to walk away, Scott is pulled back into investigating when a series of strange murders begins. Scott’s reconciliation with his family, and the tentative new romance with his old boyfriend, are beautifully written, and the murder mystery plot is full of intrigue, with a final twist that punched me in the gut. —Alice Nuttall
The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath
I don’t want to start off negative, but I’m disappointed in all of you for not reading this book already, because it blew me away. It’s set in 1904 Norway and follows three point of view characters, all of whom are queer and two who are disabled. Aster is asexual, and Gunnar and Erland are in a relationship. The three of them create a found family when they don’t fit into their society’s idea of what they should be. Also, there’s a horse race to try to save the family farm! Content warning for homophobia, injury, and ableism, including internalized ableism. —Danika Ellis
Ski Weekend by Rektok Ross
This book released in the Fall of 2021, and it quickly became a recommended favorite of mine. I am a fan of the YA mystery genre, and this one is a fantastic thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s perfect to snuggle into this season. The book follows six teenagers, and a dog of course, that pile up in a car to head on what’s supposed to be a weekend of ski fun. Not to mention, they are all dealing with their own issues and drama amongst them, but trying their best to get through it and make it to the trip. Then their SUV suddenly crashes into a snowbank, leaving them stranded and dealing with freezing temperatures. Seemingly no one knows, and no one is coming to their rescue. Then, the adventure of survival begins. I highly recommend this tense and surprising read, especially if you love a good thriller that is truly a page turner. —Aurora Lydia Dominguez
Stealing Home by J. Torres & David Namisato
This lovely WWII middle grade graphic novel takes place in Canada during the Japanese internment. While I was aware of Japanese American internment camps, I had no idea Canada had them as well until reading this book. The novel is told from the perspective of a young Japanese Canadian boy who loves baseball. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his happy family slowly begins falling apart as worry eats away at his parents. Eventually, the Canadian government forces his family to live in an internment camp. The tone is just right for middle graders, and the simple black, white, and grey illustrations pair perfectly with the story. Though I am not a fan of baseball, it’s the perfect backdrop for the story of this young Japanese Canadian boy’s experience in internment camps and the hope he holds onto of playing baseball. —Margaret Kingsbury
Running Away with the Bride by Sophia Singh Sasson
I’ve been making more of an effort to read category romances (the ones with the same color spines from Harlequin) and this one sucked me in immediately! When a billionaire (yes, it’s a billionaire romance — Harlequin Desire is chock full of those) interrupts Divya’s wedding thinking it’s his ex-girlfriend’s, she takes the chance to escape the arranged marriage that she wasn’t forced into but doesn’t particularly want. As the two jet away from her family and towards her dreams, they get to know each other and more about themselves. It’s sweet, sexy, and heartwarming…even if I had to cover my eyes while reading the grand gesture, because there’s always a grand gesture in these things. I devoured it in a matter of hours, and am definitely putting this author on my must-buy list. —Jessica Pryde
The Same Earth by Kei Miller
Last year, I read Caleb Azumah Nelson’s impressive debut Open Water. I would love to claim that I am just deeply cool and knew all about Nelson’s lovely and enchanting book before I started it, but that would be completely untrue. However, I am so glad I picked up a copy of Nelson’s slim but powerful debut. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Open Water and highly recommend it to anyone who will listen, it also led me to Kei Miller and his books Augustown and The Same Earth, the latter of which is a favorite of a character in Nelson’s book. The Same Earth revolves around Imelda Richardson, her return to Watersgate, Jamaica, and some missing underwear that sparks the formation of a Neighborhood Watch group there. So consider this a recommendation to read all three books because they’re all excellent. There, you’re welcome. —Summer Loomis
Some Like it Haunted by Karen Cantwell
Regardless of the genre it is in, I love a book where a main character can see ghosts and just chalks it up as their lot in life. It helps when the ghost in question is a charming grump like Marmaduke (yes that’s really his name) and the sunshine counterpart is the medium, Sophie. This is actually the second in the series, and it’s really interesting how it hasn’t reached the height of popularity that the first one did. I like it because it shows what happens after a HEA where you have to work against things like exes and vengeful ghosts to keep the spark alive. Sadly, there haven’t been any more since this one, but it is still a delightful read. —PN Hinton
The First Time Parent’s Guide to Potty Training by Dr. Jazmine McCoy
I felt extremely overwhelmed at the prospect of potty training my toddler last fall, but when I read Dr. McCoy’s book, I felt so much relief. Dr. McCoy is a clinical psychologist and a mom of two, and she writes in such a relatable and easy to follow way. Her steps helped me stay calm through potty training, and my little guy learned how to use the potty! I also liked her positive parenting advice and strategies so much, I started following her on Instagram and listening to her podcast, The Mom Psychologist. I’ve learned so much from her, and it’s really helped me feel more confident about how to respond in positive and empathetic ways when my son has tough behavior moments. —Megan Mabee
Forging A Nightmare by Patricia A. Jackson
I had zero expectations for this book and I was blown away! I’m used to retellings of Greek and other mythologies, but I was pleasantly surprised to read a fantasy inspired by parts of the Bible. FBI Agent Michael Childs is leading a murder case and finds a commonality amongst the victims — they all have 12 fingers and 12 toes. Childs discovers that those are the markings of the Nephilim. Soon he realizes he’s caught in the middle of what seems to be a never-ending war between heavenly angels and hell. —Erika Hardison
Looking for even more of the best underrated books? Check out the previous editions of The Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of!