1. A Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan
I won't say a single nice thing about it on Goodreads because I am still RAGE about the ending and I will never read beyond book 1 as a result, but the truth is that this book was exceptional at being essentially an alternative-history/travelogue combo that really focuses on dragons as wild animals to be studied, with a really awesome female lead, and was heading for a potential five stars before the death happened.
2. Inkheart trilogy - Cornelia Funke
This is another one that took me by surprise -- and which I would never have read if it hadn't been turned into a Brendan Faser movie, which I loved -- because its predominant theme was less "the forces of good defeat evil" and more "books, especially old books, are awesome." The main adult character is a bookbinder, for goodness sakes!
3. The Summer King - O.R. Melling
Not only is it a beautiful cover, it did like Inkheart and appealed to the non-fantasy-lover in me by a) being grounded in the real world, and b) having the main character be someone who actively does not believe in fairies until confronted by them. Also fairies are probably the coolest potential "magic" thing after unicorns, so that helped.
4. Shine Shine Shine - Lydia Netzer
The odds of my appreciating this literary novel full of quirky characters were ZERO before I decided I loved Walter O'Brien on "Scorpion."
5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
"It's long, it's got a Pulitzer, it's written by a dude, it's about dudes, and it's also about creating comic books. Five strikes and no hits!" But convince me to visualize Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood while reading it -- or imagining Ryan's reaction to reading it -- and suddenly Part I glides by and by Part II, I'm hooked.
6. 600 Hours of Edward - Craig Lancaster
"Adult fiction, about a guy, written by a guy. Badness cubed!" But let me imagine the title character being played by Matthew Gray Gubler with a lot of Spencer Reid's mannerisms, and suddenly I'm all in.
(Disclaimer: yes, my mental casting was a factor in enjoying these, but I think of it as allowing the book to get its foot in the door to my imagination. Once I started reading, the characters and writing really sold themselves on their own merit.)
7. Bad Houses - Sara Ryan
I've never read a graphic novel before or since. I just get itchy at the thought of there being really good plot potential that is limited to a few scrawny bits of dialogue and the occasional narrator clarification. But this is the only novel I've ever seen about an estate sale business, and it was worth it.
8. Take Me There - Carolee Dean
"Bad boy with a heart of gold/good girl who could do so much better" is roughly my least favorite relationship dynamic. But then Revolution came along and smacked me over the head with love for Miles/Rachel, a.k.a. a dynamic that was exactly that, so I rooted around until I found something similar in book form and it turned out incredible.
9. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Neither sci-fi nor classics are something I'm usually champing at the bit to read. But I was pleasantly surprised by how eminently readable this was. It was the first book I was assigned in college, and I actually have very nice memories of reading it outside on campus in late August/early September and thinking, "wow, maybe not everything about college is as terrifyingly hard as my stupid high school teachers said it would be." I liked it so much that I didn't even sell it back to the bookstore for the two whole loads of laundry it would have bought.