T5W: Underrated Books + Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre(s)

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This is T5W Rewind Month, which means I get to choose a topic between all the past ones. I chose Underrated BooksHidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre.

What underrated means for me: I don’t hear enough people talk about it and/or it had less than 1600 ratings on goodreads when I wrote this post.

I also chose to cheat because there’s no way I could only choose five, and what you get is three underrated books from five genres I love.

Weird Contemporary Fiction

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz: This contemporary novel with magical realism aspects follows bisexual Puerto Rican painter Mercedes Moreno. It’s about growing up and the hidden magic of everyday life. It’s the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read and was also my favorite YA release of 2017, but unfortunately it received very little hype and it’s the definition of a hidden gem.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda LoHalf quiet slice-of-life and half mystery, this books follows a love triangle between three lesbians, with a Chinese-American main character. It’s a story about the lines between friendship, unrequited love and obsession. I couldn’t put it down because of the flawed, morally gray characters.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson: Considering how well-loved the other books by this author are, I’m surprised by how little hype The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza got. It’s a contemporary book about choices with a speculative twist, and it  follows a bisexual Cuban magical girl. It’s very weird and more people should read it.


Passing Strange by Ellen Klages: this is a quiet novella set in San Francisco in 1940. It follows a group of queer women, some of which are magical, and it has a very cute f/f romance. It’s a quick read with a wonderful atmosphere.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng: This book follows two Victorian missionaries in fairyland, and of course everything goes wrong. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I definitely recommend it if you like seriously messed up faeries, mind games and dark stories.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee: another book set in San Francisco, but in 1906 – and this time there’s no magic, but there’s an earthquake. This book follows Chinese-American Mercy Wong and how the earthquake changed her life. A very underrated YA novel about friendship and the only realistic historical book I’ve ever loved.

Science Fiction

Want by Cindy Pon: If you like the idea of dystopian books but are tired of “America, but slightly uglier” settings, Want is a dystopian book set in Taiwan with really interesting aesthetics (near-future sci-fi technology side-by-side with ancient buildings), themes (this is a story about class privilege) and a great ensemble cast. Also, heist plot!

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: My favorite novella of the year so far. The Tea Master and the Detective isn’t from Tor.com, so I feel like many people don’t even know it exists – which is a shame, since it’s Vietnamese-inspired space opera and a Sherlock Holmes retelling in space in which Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: A bizarre sci-fantary novel set in South Africa that feels as if it’s on drugs. There’s implied crab/porpoise drug-induced sex during the first chapter and an invasion of dik-diks. Sometimes it was just too much, but I loved the characters, and it’s also very queer. Try this; you won’t forget it.

High Fantasy

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett: An underrated fantasy novel set in a kingdom inspired by the Himalayas in which the goal isn’t saving the world, defeating an enemy or winning a game: it’s climbing the highest mountain. If you like slow, atmospheric fantasy stories with many magical creatures, mythology and evil plot twists, try this book.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera: It shouldn’t surprise me that f/f stories get ignored often, but this book is about warrior lesbian princesses who fight demons and are fated lovers, and I don’t understand why no one is reading this. One of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in the last years.
[While this is inspired by Japanese and Mongolian cultures, I wouldn’t recommend it for that, I’ve heard that aspect isn’t done well at all]

Tensorate series by JY Yang: My favorite novella series at the moment. It’s a sci-fantasy story set in an East and Southeast Asian-inspired world. It deals with themes such as grief, family and the balance between magic and science. I love the worldbuilding because it’s beautiful (the best descriptions and magic system) and trans-inclusive.

Urban Fantasy

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray: another underhyped novella, the beginning of the Port Lewis Witches series; it’s a witch-y m/m romance with a trans main character and an interesting atmosphere. I loved all the characters, and it’s a very quick, light read if you do not mind blood magic.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger: an urban fantasy book that received very little hype, it’s a story about demon-fighting bartenders (with magical drinks!) in Chicago featuring a Chinese-American heroine, and it’s as fun and light as it sounds. Couldn’t put it down.

Paris Adrift by EJ Swift: Time travel in Paris! It has the best atmosphere, of course, and it also gets really political; I had never seen speculative fiction address the rise of neo-fascism before. I didn’t love the beginning, but the problems I had with it weren’t in the second half (which was wonderful) and I loved the depiction of the main character’s panic disorder.

Which of your favorite books deserve more hype? Recommend me some hidden gems.

18 thoughts on “T5W: Underrated Books + Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre(s)

  1. This is such a cool list. I’m adding The Gallery of Unfinished Girls and Want to my TBR… your summaries really made me want to read them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, you went above and beyond for this! My favorite underrated books are If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, and The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just really like writing lists!
      I haven’t heard much about If We Were Villains, but all I’ve heard was positive, so that book intrigues me. It’s totally out of my comfort zone, I don’t know if it’s something I’d enjoy, but I kind of want to try.


  3. Yay, Even the Darkest Stars getting some love! This is an amazing list of books. I really want to read most of these, but since I don’t see them very often I forget about them and I’m terrible. So thanks for reminding me they exists and that I need to read them, The Tiger’s Daughter sounds so good, I don’t understand how it’s not more popular!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved Even the Darkest Stars last year and recently realized I almost never talk about it (that’s why I decided to write this post, many of these books are ones I shout about more frequently).
      And The Tiger’s Daughter is a very slow book, so in a way I understand why it didn’t get many good reviews when the ARCs were out, but I got into it knowing that and the second person + slow pacing didn’t bother me.


  4. So many amazing books on this list! Want is on my tbr and I’m hoping to read it next month. I also want to read a book by Malinda Lo because I have heard nothing but good things about her writing and her books. I didn’t know that The Tiger’s Daughter had a lesbian main character, but I have heard great things about it and now I’m even more excited to read it!

    Great post!! 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Want is the best YA sci-fi I’ve ever read. And I love Malinda Lo’s writing – while A Line in the Dark is my favorite by her, I’ve also read Ash and really liked it. The Tiger’s Daughter is a slow-paced epic fantasy novel about fated love between two lesbians, and it’s beautiful. I hope you like them too!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oooh I love this list, Acqua! I have a weird relationship with The Tiger’s Daughter. Because on one hand, the writing is sublime and the relationship between the two characters is portrayed so, so beautifully. On the other hand, I’m not entirely comfortable with the way she portrays Asian culture (I have a friend who was just incensed with it). My feelings are still jumbled up about it, but I’ll definitely still read the sequel.

    And I have a feeling that Elena Mendoza isn’t getting as much attention because it’s about a queer girl as opposed to queer guys. *Sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the only reason I can think of with Elena Mendoza. I keep seeing We Are the Ants everywhere but hardly anyone ever mentions this one, and it’s a new release.
      And I get that feeling about The Tiger’s Daughter – that’s how I feel about Locke Lamora (characters and plot: great; choosing Italian-sounding names and setting your story in fake Venice because you’re writing about fantasy mafia: less great) and I don’t really know what to do when that happens. Like, I got invested but I can’t unsee the worldbuilding, and it’s even more confusing when I think about some other aspects of that world, which I loved.
      (adding a line about the TTD worldbuilding because that’s what I’d do if I recommended someone Locke Lamora)


  6. i know of all the books u listed but the three urban fantasy ones and yet…. i haven’t read any of them??? they ARE on my tbr tho!!
    i saw darkling on ng but didn’t end up requesting bc the title just made me think of the darkling from grisha lmao…. i might pick it up now!

    Liked by 1 person

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