Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Defied My Expectations

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Today the topic is “Books That Defied My Expectations,” and there are several books that come to mind. Some of them started off slow and then became really amazing reads, and other I went in convinced I wouldn’t like certain characters and ended up loving them. Let’s check them out!

1. The Phoenix King

This book started off really slow for me, and if I hadn’t been buddy reading it, I might have DNFed. I’m so glad I didn’t though because I ended up really liking it!

Title: The Phoenix King

Author: Aparna Verma

Series: The Ravence Trilogy #1

Page Length: 601

Publication Date: Aug. 31, 2023

Publisher: Orbit

SynopsisIn a kingdom where flames hold magic and the desert hides secrets, an ancient prophecy comes for an assassin, a princess, and a king. But none are ready to face destiny—and the choices they make could burn the world.
“If we carry the burdens of our fathers, we’ll never know what it means to be free.”
For Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she’ll never be accepted as queen.
For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown—there’s still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he’ll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.
For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon’s most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family—the very people he once swore to eliminate—will earn him that, he’ll do it no matter what they ask of him.
But the Phoenix watches over all and the fire has a will of its own. It will come for all three, will come for Sayon itself….and they must either find a way to withstand the blaze or burn to ash.

LINKS:   Goodreads   |    Amazon | Review

2. House of Earth and Blood

Like The Phoenix King, House of Earth and Blood started off slow for me, but it ended up being a favorite of mine. I’ve now read it a few times, and I like it more and more each time I read it.

Title: House of Earth and Blood

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Series: Crescent City

Synopsis: Bound by blood.
Tempted by desire.
Unleashed by destiny.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

LINKS:   Goodreads  |   Amazon  | Favorite Lines

3. Mazarine

I went into this story convinced there was no way I’d like Darius. He was so unlikable in one of the previous books in the series! But I was totally wrong, and I ended up loving him and his ARC.

Title: Mazarine

Author: Cece Louise

Series: The Forest Tales #3

Publication Date: June 22, 2021

Synopsis: She’s cursed. He’s dead. How far will they go to change their fates?

Princess Marilee is cursed. A mermaid by day and a human by night, she made a fateful decision that has left her trapped between two worlds.

Disgraced Prince Darius is dead. At least, that’s what he wants everyone to think when he’s thrown overboard from a prison ship.

When Marilee and Darius meet, they reluctantly make a deal—Darius will help Marilee return to her family in exchange for enough money so he can disappear forever.

A doomed girl and a condemned man. Can they find redemption, or will they be lost to an unforgiving sea?

LINKS:     Goodreads    |      Amazon   | Review

4. Crown & Serpent

This novella follows two of the most evil villains in the Fate of Eyrinthia series, and I was certain I’d loathe them as much when I finished as I did when I started. Wrong again! lol I can’t say I like them, but I definitely understand them more, and I love this origin story!

Title: Crown & Serpent

Author: Heather Frost

Series: Fate of Eyrinthia

Page Length: 244

Publication Date: August 25, 2023

SynopsisAll she wanted . . .  

Seventeen-year-old Iris Winn loves her quiet life with her father, studying the poisons that fascinate them both. But after his sudden death, Iris is now the ward of her estranged aunt and uncle. In order to claim her inheritance, she must live in the capital city of Lenzen for one year. While there, she must attend parties, balls, and participate in every other vapid thing the elite of Ryden value. Iris doesn’t care about learning their rules or joining their ranks–her only goal is to endure the next year. Then she meets Prince Henri Kaelin.  

Everything they demanded . . .  

Every young woman in Lenzen wants Henri–except for Iris. Unfortunately, the prince only has eyes for her. The king has decreed that Henri must choose a bride before his birthday, and Iris is determined it won’t be her. Dodging a prince’s focused attention while placating her relatives and the rest of Ryden’s high society is exhausting–and more dangerous than Iris could have ever imagined. She is about to learn that not all games are innocent, and some smiles are more lethal than poison. Luckily, Iris is a quick study, and this is a game she is determined to win.  

She would take it all.

***Crown & Serpent is a Fate of Eyrinthia prequel novella that’s actually the length of a novel. This villain origin story was released after Royal Rebel, but it can be read at any point in the series.***

LINKS:   Goodreads   |    Amazon | Review

5. A Court of Silver Flames

This is another where I went in convinced I wouldn’t like it because I so disliked the protagonist. And when the book ended, I still didn’t love Nesta, but I understood her more and respected her a heck of a lot more than when I started the book.

Title: A Court of Silver Flames

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Page Length: 757

Publication Date: Feb. 16, 2021

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Synopsis: Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

LINKS:     Goodreads    |      Amazon    |   Review

6. Star Bringer

I read Crave by Stacy Wolff and didn’t love it, so I wasn’t sure about Star Bringer when I first got it. But I LOVED it! It’s one of my top sci-fi romances of the year,

Title: Star Bringer

Author: Tracy Wolff & Nina Croft

Page Length: 608

Publication Date: July 11, 2023

Publisher: Entangled

Synopsis: The sun is dying…and it’s happening way too damn fast.

With the clock ticking, the Nine Planets’ only hope of survival rests on a fancy space station and the alien artifact it’s carrying. Which is why it really sucks when some jackass doesn’t want the universe saved and blows that station up-while you’re still on it.

So if your only choices are flaming death or stealing a flying hunk of space junk-you pick that busted-ass spaceship. Even if it leaves seven strangers with deadly secrets trapped together: a princess, a prisoner, a con artist, a warrior, a priestess, a mercenary, and an asshole in charge of us all.

Now every faction in the galaxy is hunting this ship-from the Sisterhood to the Corporation, and the rebellion’s joining in on the fun, too. We just need to stop drinking, fighting, and screwing long enough to evade them all and save the freaking universe…somehow.

Because apparently the only thing standing between a dying sun and ultimate salvation is seven unlikely misfits…ahem, heroes.

LINKS:   Goodreads   |    Amazon | Review

7. The Bone Shard Daughter

I had no idea going into this series that I was going to fall in love with it, but that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t know anything about the book other than a brief blurb, but I quickly became obsessed with the series. I think it will go down as one of my favorite series ever.

Title: The Bone Shard Daughter

Author: Andrea Stewart

Series: The Drowning Empire #1

Page Length: 496

Publication Date: Sept. 8, 2020

Publisher: Orbit Books

Synopsis: The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

LINKS:   Goodreads   |    Amazon

8. Unfortunately Yours

I didn’t love Natalie in Secretly Yours, but like some of the other books mentioned, I ended up really liking her by the end of this book!

Book cover for Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

Title: Unfortunately Yours

Author: Tessa Bailey

Series: A Vine Mess #2

Page Length: 384

Publication Date: June 6, 2023

Publisher: Avon

Synopsis: A down-on-her-luck Napa heiress suggests a mutually beneficial marriage of convenience to a man she can’t stand… only to discover there’s a fine line between love and hate.

After losing her job and her fiancé in one fell swoop, Natalie Vos returned home to lick her wounds. A few months later, she’s sufficiently drowned her sorrows in cabernet and she’s ready to get back on her feet. She just needs her trust fund to finance her new business venture. Unfortunately, the terms require she marry before she can have the money. And well, dumped, remember? But Natalie is desperate enough to propose to a man who makes her want to kill him–and kiss him, in equal measure.

August Cates may own a vineyard, but he doesn’t know jack about making wine. He’s determined to do his late best friend proud, no matter what it takes. Except his tasting room is empty, his wine is disgusting (seriously, he once saw someone gag), and his buddy’s legacy is circling the drain. No bank will give him the loan he needs to turn the business around… and then the gorgeous, feisty heiress knocks on his door. Natalie has haunted his dreams since the moment they met, but their sizzling chemistry immediately morphed into simmering insults.

Now, a quickie marriage could help them both. A sham wedding, a few weeks living under the same roof, and then they can go their separate ways–assuming they make it out alive. How hard could it be? There’s just one thing they didn’t account for: their unfortunate, unbearable, undeniable attraction.

LINKS:   Goodreads   |    Amazon | Review

And that’s all I have for today. Did any of these books defy your expectations? What others did? Comment below!

17 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Defied My Expectations

  1. I love when a book exceeds expectations. It took me a minute to get into House of Earth and Blood, too. By the end of the book I loved it. I reread it once, and like you I loved it even more the second time.

  2. I have been meaning to try Maas, but never have. Seeing a couple of her books on your list today is pushing me towards requesting them from my library. I’m glad all of these books were better than expected.

  3. A lot of your reasons on this list are why it’s so hard for me to DNF. How long do I give it before I stop? What if I’m giving up before the magnificence of the story is revealed? I’m glad you stuck with these books and ended up loving them.

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