What is the last book that you read that really, really surprised you?

Maybe it ended differently than you expected. Maybe it went down a path you didn’t even notice was there. Perhaps it startled you with its intensity or its strangeness. Or maybe it humbled you.

When we experience these kinds of stories, whether told in music, dance, words, or brushstrokes, the air seems to hum with energy, charged with thoughts and feelings that we can’t quite name. Even critical analysis can only go so far toward capturing what it is that makes a story speak to us in this way. Freudian or Jungian, Marxist or feminist, formalist or reader-response, whatever it is that rises up from those pages, talking about that ethereal beauty is like trying to capture mist in a jar.

I have favorite writers whose works do this to me all of the time: Melissa Marr, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alice Hoffman easily come to mind. Good writing, like a good kiss, can sweep you off your feet and make you weak in the knees. It can hurt you and heal you at the same time. Wow, what a feeling.

But think about a book that you picked up not expecting to feel this way. Perhaps it wasn’t quite your normal reading taste but you decided to give it a whirl, or it had been given or recommended to you by someone else, but you were skeptical. Or maybe, for reasons you didn’t understand, you picked it up at the bookstore, certain you had to read it, but not sure why. And then, suddenly, the story transported you and left you shaken.

I remember when I read Wicked Magic by Cheyenne McCray. I was going through all of this crazy crap in my life and I just wanted a feel-good book, packed with action and steamy romance. And McCray’s book definitely delivered. I’d read some other books in the Witches series. But Rhiannon’s story was different. And following Rhiannon’s struggle to understand her path and her past while grappling with her shadows (metaphorical and literal) was helpful in learning to turn my own shadows into a source of personal power. It wasn’t a metaphor I expected to find in those pages, and it resonated strongly with my own life. And it helped me realize that your shadows can hurt, but they can also empower you. When you embrace them, it helps you to heal. Yeah, it seems simple now, but at the time, the revelation was huge for me. Guess it just proves that when you open a book, you never know what you’re getting into.

Can you think of any recent books you’ve read that did this for you?

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