The best bizarrely bewildering but by and by brilliantly beautiful books

JL Civi Author Of L Extreme: A Novel Based on the Songs of Benji Hughes
By JL Civi

Who am I?

Stories that break the rules or attempt ambitious stunts have always intrigued me. Characters who break the fourth wall, non-traditional structures, winking nods to pop culture, hidden messages, silly wordplay, or good old-fashioned WTF moments nobody saw coming. My second novel L Extreme turns my favorite album into a fantastical song by song, chapter by chapter origin story for the record starring a fictionalized version of the musician who created it. Asking “what happens if I pretend this album is the soundtrack to a book?” took me on a long, strange trip in the spirit of these other bizarrely brilliant books that broke the mold for the better. 


I wrote...

L Extreme: A Novel Based on the Songs of Benji Hughes

By JL Civi,

Book cover of L Extreme: A Novel Based on the Songs of Benji Hughes

What is my book about?

Benji Hughes is a songwriter with a bad case of writer’s block and a secret past he’s not allowed to talk about—but does anyways. A little woman lives in your brain. She wants to meet the man in your heart. 

These two tales come together salmon-style to create the best double debut album you’ve never heard of—but really should! A novel based on an album is a book with a killer soundtrack.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Hike

By Drew Magary,

Book cover of The Hike

Why this book?

Unlike anything I've ever read, yet still familiar and comfortable at the same time. Starts out normal, goes off the rails absurdist crazy for one heck of a fun ride, and somehow manages to stick the landing of a perfect ending with a lot of emotional weight to it. The Hike proves anything goes in fiction. It pulls off that delicate balance between goofy and sincere so well, which was an inspirational motivator as I found the story hidden in the songs that became L Extreme.


I'm Thinking of Ending Things

By Iain Reid,

Book cover of I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Why this book?

My wife will frequently finish a book, close the cover, exhale deeply--then open it again and start over, diving straight in to a second read. For the longest time, I didn't understand it and she could never quite articulate why she did this. It was good or she wasn't ready to leave the characters behind or that classic spousal response of "just because." When I finished I'm Thinking of Ending Things it finally clicked. I closed the cover, exhaled deeply, and thought "I'm pulling a Jessica" as I dove right back in.


The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

By Stuart Turton,

Book cover of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Why this book?

Quantum Leap is my favorite television show of all time. I loved the time travel premise in an otherwise not very sci-fi program, the anthology format allowing for completely different stories week to week, and the way it could teach different perspectives while (mostly) avoiding a heavy hand. Why do I bring this up while recommending The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle? Pretend Quantum Leap is back as a limited 6 episode miniseries where Sam Beckett has to solve a murder and that's pretty much this book. I don't know if that was the author's intent, but it doesn't matter. An awesome read made even better if you go into it with a leaper’s mindset.


Transformers/Back to the Future

By Cavan Scott, Juan Samu (illustrator),

Book cover of Transformers/Back to the Future

Why this book?

I had three reactions upon learning this very strange graphic novel crossover between two very famous (but very different) pop-culture classics existed: 1) This is ridiculous. 2) Are you telling me you built a time machine out of a Transformer? 3) I can’t wait to read it! The story collected here has no business working--but amazingly manages to pull it off using the best both franchises have to offer. I literally laughed out loud with giddy excitement when I saw the plot twist/cliffhanger at the end of part three. Amusing if you enjoy either property; must-read if you dig both.


The Coma

By Alex Garland,

Book cover of The Coma

Why this book?

A short, eerie, and mysterious fever dream of a novella with a secret you may not realize your first time through--hidden messages in the text! I won't spoil what they are or how to find them here, but I will say that ever since reading this book I may or may not try to crack similar codes in nearly every book I pick up. (I may or may not have also done something similar in my own writing; hat tip to Mr. Garland for the inspiration.)


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in hiking, torture, and murders?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about hiking, torture, and murders.

Hiking Explore 28 books about hiking
Torture Explore 24 books about torture
Murders Explore 339 books about murders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Psychology of Money, Finding Chika, and They All Fall Down if you like this list.