Books to read in my hammock
June 11, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find decently-written, really gripping books to read this summer in my hammock.

School is ending on Thursday and I am planning to spend my days relaxing but I need some really interesting novels to help me with this. They must be:

Available on the Kindle
Well-written enough not to be distracting (i.e., no DaVinci Code, however gripping it might be)
Really interesting -- I'm looking for books where whenever I'm not reading them I wish I were (mysteries are great for this but not required)
Have some funniness in them; they don't have to be dedicated humor books but I need to chuckle at least occasionally

Examples of books that have worked for me in the past include:
Anything by Agatha Christie
Anything by Elizabeth Peters
The Harry Potter Series
The Hunger Games Series

Please don't recommend P.G. Wodehouse; I've read a ton of his stuff already. Thank you for your suggestions!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Writing & Language (43 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett
A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church

They're both hardboiled mysteries, although with some fun twists, not the least of which being that the former takes place in Thailand and the latter in North Korea. I was spellbound by both of them.

Also, the Burdett novel is part of a series, but I haven't read any of the other books, so I can't say if you should start from the beginning or not. I certainly didn't have any issues.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just read Game of Thrones in like three days when I was feeling poorly enough to do nothing but. It was lots of fun, and reasonably well written (as you say, nothing distracting),

It's a long book but I barreled through it and I'm going to hit Amazon for the next one tonight.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Previously: "I am a bit picky about my books - they absolutely must be well-written, and in this particularly, addictive." Got 51 responses.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2012

Have you ever read Pat Conroy? He is the most beautiful writer of our time, in my opinion. The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are absolutely phenomenal (though all of his books are worth a read).

Also try Tawni O'Dell, especially Fragile Beasts (Coal Run, Sister Mine, Back Roads are also fantastic reads).

Jodi Picoult does incredible research into her stories, and they are always a fascinating, spell-binding read, but her writing is not quite on par with the masterpieces that Conroy & O'Dell paint.
posted by eenagy at 12:01 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf is WAY better than it has any right to be. By turns mordant, grotesque, erotic, and witty, it's a page-turner that's both a subtle poke at frilly genre fiction and an exemplar of what the form can be in the hands of a real writer. Any book that starts a chapter with the sentence "Reader, I ate him." just HAS to be good.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:01 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just recently read In the Lake of the Woods.

I found it gripping. But I warn you, if you want a resolution, you won't get one in this book.
posted by zizzle at 12:02 PM on June 11, 2012

I suggest Ella Minnow Pea to anyone who wants an unputdownable and funny read. Loved it.
posted by kostia at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2012

Wait, nobody has recommended Hilary Mantel yet?

Wolf Hall

Bring Up the Bodies

Not big in the funny-haha department, but otherwise perfect for summer hammock reading.
posted by Chrischris at 12:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really liked Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Super fast paced, and while a little over-the-top, I thought the writing was good.
posted by mercredi at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I downloaded Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 a day or so ago and am gulping it down with gusto. However! If you don't like it when your scifi gets in your policywonkfic, you won't like this book (or much of KSR's work). But if you do....

If you're going to read John Burdett - and you should - start with Bangkok 8. The books aren't exactly a series so starting at not-book-one isn't a dealbreaker, but Bangkok 8 is so awesome.
posted by rtha at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2012

Mary Roberts Rinehart? I enjoyed The Circular Staircase, which, among many others, is available on Project Gutenberg.
posted by JanetLand at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2012

State of Wonder, by Anne Patchett. Great read.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:40 PM on June 11, 2012

4 giant books of Otherland, by Tad Williams. Very gripping and involved.
(And in looking up the link I have just discovered it will be a video game!)
posted by Glinn at 1:10 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mira Grant's Feed and the following two books in the trilogy are excellent.
posted by woodvine at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Keep the suggestions coming.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2012

I recently read The Rook, a first novel by Daniel O'Malley. It's a sci-fi/mystery with a dash of Cthulhu. It's also pretty funny and I liked it alot.

Have you tried Tana French? (In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place). Compelling mysteries, not always neatly resolved. Very good, but not particularly funny.

I would agree that Bangkok 8 is great. On the set-in-Thailand mystery theme, I would also recommend Timothy Hallinan...series starts with Nail Through the Heart. These have some humor, but can also get a bit dark. His e-published mysteries about the thief with a heart of gold are much lighter (there are 2 so far? First one is Crashed).
posted by maryrussell at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2012

Oh god I meant "a lot", I blame big fingers/little keys.
posted by maryrussell at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2012

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.
posted by girlpublisher at 1:55 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I will second Louise Penny, enthusiastically, but want to warn you that she, more than any writer that I know, has improved with age/experience. I read her first book, Still Life, and enjoyed it, as a decent representative of the small-town "cozy" mystery style. Liked it well enough to move on to her others, and around about her fourth or fifth book I saw that she'd developed from a good mystery writer to a good WRITER. Her characters are wonderful, she clearly loves them, and she has a great sense of story. Her last two books have blown me away, and I'm eagerly awaiting her new book in August.

(You don't necessarily have to read her books in order, but I'd recommend it. Sequentiality isn't such a big deal for the first few but the last three do rely on their predecessors for the story to make complete sense. Besides, just watching that authorial growth is amazing and I'd recommend that experience wholly.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would try The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Seems to fit your criteria.
posted by Laura_J at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood, both by Margaret Atwood. So. Good.
posted by whalebreath at 2:04 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series (Souless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, Timeless) are a wonderful steampunk fantasy read with a little bit of Austen thrown in (the comedy of manners starts losing to comedy of action pretty soon, but there are still some lovely ironic bits). I cannot recommend the series enough; very re-readable, funny, exciting, with vivid and interesting characters.

I have a particular weakness for Anne Bishop and the Black Jewels series; it's a bit dark & sexy, but the writing is good and I've really grown attached to the characters over time. It also has the best Mary Sue who is Not I've ever run into.

Mercedes Lackey has a couple of new series I've been really enjoying. One is the Elemental Masters Series (The Serpent's Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix And Ashes, The Wizard of London, Reserved for the Cat, Unnatural Issue) which is Victorian-times retellings of faerie tales... kind of. Sometimes you really have to squint to see the inspiring faerie tale. They are in the same world but with very little overlap, so you can start anywhere. My fav is the Serpent's Shadow, with Reserved for the Cat a close second.

The Second series is the 500 Kingdoms series (The Fairy Godmother, One Good Knight, Fortune's Fool, The Snow Queen, The Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Werewolf). Again, these exist int he same world but are only loosely related; The Fairy Godmother (my favorite) introduces you to the main cross-over characters. My second favorite is The Sleeping Beauty, followed closely by Fortune's Fool. Again, these hinge a lot on fairy tales in a fairy tale world, but are not limited by the fairy tales (and some outright combine them to hilarious effect).

Lackey has a huge historical book record, too; I don't know how many of them would show up on kindle. Some get a bit preachy, but they tend to be breezy, easy books in general, and I have my re-reads from years ago.

Jane Lindskold, Thirteen Orphans and Nine Gates books. Glorious urban fantasy based around Chinese mythology... kinda. Very engaging characters, much more realistic urban reactions (they worry about cops and security systems!), and very complicated plots.

Cold Comfort Farm is an excellent satire, but I'm not sure it's on kindle.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:14 PM on June 11, 2012

I forgot Lynn Flwelling! How could I do that? Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness remain my favorites, but her other books are in the same world. Tends to be very dark in general (war, despair, really nasty magic) but Luck in the Shadows in particular is much more light and all of the books are engaging.

I also love anything Robin McKinley and Patricia A. McKillip write, but I don't know how much you can get on a kindle. If you can get Fool's Run, it is a seriously mindblowing experience and one of my go-too reading books now for years. It improves on re-readings.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:19 PM on June 11, 2012

I've been working my way through the Aloysius Pendergast series, starting with Relic and Reliquary. They are tremendous fun and surprisingly erudite. And fascinatingly plausible. Pendergast is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, really and truly, without being derivative.

And speaking of which, I also recommend Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series. I'm not usually a fan of modern writers resurrecting famous characters, but these books definitely satisfy the requirement of taking you places you yourself wish you could go. They are also very smart and gripping.
posted by tully_monster at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well-written page-turner with some humour, you say?

The Crow Road, Iain Banks. Trust me.
posted by Decani at 2:55 PM on June 11, 2012

Mary Stewart, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and Elizabeth George all write gripping and well-written mysteries-- in particular, I just read Elizabeth George's This Body of Death in about three days, despite the fact that it's almost 700 pages long. Really, really hard to put down, but also surprisingly smart.
posted by dizziest at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Argh, is being on the Kindle essential? Because other than that, I'd say the Horatio Hornblower books are perfect.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:33 PM on June 11, 2012

I find Richard Stark's Parker novels very enjoyable and "gripping".
posted by smoke at 3:46 PM on June 11, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn!! I just read it this past weekend, and every time I had to put it down I was actively annoyed to be doing anything other than finding out what would happen next. It's mystery/thriller for sure, but there were times when I genuinely laughed out loud. If you decide to give it a go, please, please, don't read any reviews- you don't want it spoiled!
posted by pupperduck at 4:29 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:50 PM on June 11, 2012

Anything by ace mystery writer and well known eccentric Patricia Highsmith. I love the Tom Ripley stories best.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 4:56 PM on June 11, 2012

I recently finished reading The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen and was incredibly engrossed in it.
posted by Leezie at 7:30 PM on June 11, 2012

Oh, and I almost forgot: I discovered Tim Dorsey while in Florida. His protagonist is Serge A. Storms, a Cuban-American serial killer obsessed with all things Floridiana who dispatches crooks and extremely annoying people in extremely inventive ways (e.g. death by space shuttle, Tampa Bay Bridge, and those little heat packs in emergency rations). Again, not a big fan of psychopathic heroes, but Serge is absolutely hilarious, as are all the other supporting characters. I've been reading the series aloud to my husband and often have to stop while one or both of us bust a gut laughing. Start with Florida Roadkill and you'll understand why after the very first scene in the convenience store.
posted by tully_monster at 9:22 AM on June 12, 2012

William Goldman's Magic. I found it in a Taipei bookstore in 1978 while I was waiting for a bus. I idly glanced at the first page and (unable to afford to buy it) wound up reading the entire thing, missing any number of buses and constantly shifting locations to keep the proprietor from noticing what I was doing. I had to apologize to my girlfriend when I got back home, late for dinner, but I literally could not put the book down. (If you decide to give it a try, I beg you not to read anything about it; the Wikipedia article, for example, gives away everything the author so cunningly conceals.)
posted by languagehat at 9:28 AM on June 12, 2012

The Tim Dorsey rec reminds me: Carl Hiaasen!
posted by rtha at 9:45 AM on June 12, 2012

I find that YA fiction is often perfect for engrossing, relaxing reading. It seems you do too. In that vein, I enjoyed Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. If you enjoy the world that's set it, he also has another book, Wind-Up Girl, in the same basic setting. It is very much not a young adult book, though. There's also another YA title, The Drowned Cities, that's a companion to Ship Breaker, but I haven't read that myself.

Another great author for summer reading is Alfred Bester. He was primarily a writer for radio dramas and comics, and his writing has sort of a pulp, noir feeling to it, even though it's sci-fi. The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination are the ones I've read and they were both quite good, although only the second seems to be available on Kindle.
posted by duien at 11:47 AM on June 12, 2012

John D. MacDonald wrote more than 20 Travis McGee books in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. I found the oldest ones did not stand the test of time, but the rest are still quite gripping. You don't need to read them in order, but if you do you will get a feeling for the development of the writer and character.

Travis McGee is a self-employed "salvage consultant" in Florida. In nearly every book, he deals with twisted and violent people, gets caught, escapes, and then the the bad guy suffers a gruesome death.

Pick one up. I might hook you on the whole series.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2012

I second The Song of Ice and Fire series. May take you all summer to finish all 5 books, I spent the greater part of my summer last year doing just that.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. Two books of the intended trilogy out so far (the second book is called Insurgent. It was a super quick read for me, couldn't put them down. In line with The Hunger Games in that it is set in dystopian society, but much different.

I don't know if you are much for urban fantasy, but there are a few series that I have really enjoyed, hopefully I can tell the difference between the good and bad (although I am an admitted lover of some bad books as well) The Fever Series by Karen Moning is one that I really enjoyed.

Oh yeah, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I thought it was beautifully written and captivating.
posted by Quincy at 3:59 PM on June 12, 2012

You might enjoy The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (and its sequels), which is a mystery (starring a young science prodigy) that I remember being pretty captivating and quite funny at times. I've only read the first book, though, so I can't say if the others hold up.
posted by cider at 4:03 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer -- a beautiful, heart-breaking, impossible to put down story about a young Hungarian Jewish architect in Paris when the Nazis take over

Wild by Cheryl Strayed -- a hilarious, wise memoir of walking the Pacific Coast Trail (with no prior backpacking experience) as a way of coming to terms with her mother's death
posted by zahava at 5:12 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie -- the rest of the series holds up well, too. I love all of them.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:45 PM on June 12, 2012

The Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo [pre Steig Larssen and Henning Mankell Swedish detective series]. Anything by Sherman Alexie [makes me laugh and cry].
posted by the twistinside at 8:20 PM on June 12, 2012

Seeing as you like Harry Potter and Hunger Games, and in combination with the "gripping" requirement, I must insist that you check out the Chaos Walking trilogy starting with The Knife of Never Letting Go. I'm halfway through the third book and I'm completely blown away by this story. It's amazing.
posted by like_neon at 4:32 AM on June 13, 2012

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