Looking for a page-turner that doesn't depress me
January 24, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend me a book with interesting, well-drawn characters and a page-turning plot that is not horribly depressing? Maybe (but not necessarily) something of the chick-lit variety?

I seem to be on a kick lately of reading books that are gripping, plot-wise, and populated by really interesting characters, but those interesting characters do horrible things to each other, or have horrible things happen to them almost constantly, and it's starting to bum me out. I would love to read a book with interesting characters and a great plot that keeps me hooked, but where it's not all so bleak.

For reference, the great-but-bleak books have beeen:

The Song of Fire and Ice books by George RR Martin
Hunger Games
Gone Girl
Summerland (that was my attempt at light, slightly trashy chick lit ...)
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (and half of Winter of the World before I just couldn't take the grimness anymore)
I'm in the middle of The Passage right now, and seriously, this is it.

It's fine if bad things happen to people in the books, even really awful things, but if they do, I'd like them to overcome them.

Any genre is fine, though I'd previously burnt myself out on mystery novels, so I'd rather not go there. I prefer stuff that's not too floridly "literary," but I also really can't stand obviously bad writing or clunky exposition (so no Fifty Shades of Grey).

Other authors I like and who I think often fall into this category: Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, (sometimes) Michael Chabon, Marge Piercy, (sometimes) Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner, Curtis Sittenfeld.
posted by lunasol to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
Marian Keyes is the gold standard if you're looking for well done chick lit. I think Watermelon is the weakest, being her first, but they are all worth reading if that's what you're in the mood for. She does cover some serious topics but it is always done with humor.
posted by something something at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I really enjoyed the Shopaholic Series. Sure it's silly, but I related, I so, so did. In fact I like all of Sophie Kinsella's books.

If you haven't read it, Bridget Jones's Diary.

Or the Classics, Jane Austin, Jane Eyre.

And for rollicking fun, anything by P.G. Wodehouse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:13 AM on January 24, 2013

I second Marian Keyes. I would however avoid Anybody Out There to start with as I for one found it to be a shattering book -- maybe start with The Other Side of the Story? That's my favorite.

Other books that scratch this itch for me:

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden novels. I started with Mouse and Dragon which is not the usual place to start, but it's terrific.

Georgette Heyer's Regency novels. A Civil Contract is hands-down the best, but is even better if read after some of her other novels, so you know what she's not doing; I like The Grand Sophy, Frederica, and Cotillion.

I really love Kage Baker's Company series (and her fantasy series was good as well.... .)
posted by pie ninja at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might want to check out Jennifer Egan.
posted by jaguar at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2013

A couple of new novels that are funny page-turners (though not chick-lit):
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Where'd You Go, Bernadette

On preview: I second Jennifer Egan.
posted by gladly at 11:29 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Georgette Heyer's Regency novels. Beware of snorting aloud during reading.

And The Hobbit is a wonderful read if you haven't downed it already.
posted by bearwife at 11:33 AM on January 24, 2013

I just looked through my list of books I read in the past year, and it turns out I read a lot of bummerific titles. But here are some possibilities:

Meg Wolitzer, The Uncoupling

S. J. Watson, Before I Go To Sleep

Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2013

The Gregory Maguire retelling of fairy tales is great - Wicked, Mirror Mirror - all fantastic.
posted by amycup at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You want Elinor Lipman. I went through a phase this past summer when I just could not take one more depressing or intense book and I read about six of her novels in a row. They are light, but smart and witty--Jane Austenesque comedies of manners. I particularly like The Inn at Lake Divine and The Dearly Departed, but really, there isn't one of her novels I wouldn't recommend.

Laurie Colwin is also delightful. You could start with Goodbye Without Leaving.

And seconding Marian Keyes, though I'd avoid Is Anybody Out There for the reasons given above.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I haven't read them, but I've heard very good things about Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Girl Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on January 24, 2013

Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon spy novels are wonderful page-turners.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you read "Dream Park" by Niven and Barnes? I read it straight through in a single episode, finishing it about 3 AM. And the next day I read it again.

How to describe it? Disney meets Industrial Light and Magic meets Gary Gygax.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:04 PM on January 24, 2013

Wholeheartedly seconding, Where'd You Go, Bernadette. It's hilarious and definitely a page-turner. I loved this book!

I will recommend some memoirs that may interest you. All kept me interested until the very end. The authors are females and relatable. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies may appeal. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton is entertaining, too.
posted by Fairchild at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thirding Marian Keyes for chick-lit! Rachel's Holiday is my favorite, but maybe a story about a recovering addict isn't quite what you're looking for. Jennifer Crusie is also good, with more of a comedic style. Welcome to Temptation is a fun one.

Maeve Binchy's books are always heartwarming in a fairly non-cheesy way. My favorites of hers are Evening Class and Circle of Friends. I've also recently enjoyed The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty.

It seems like you like some YA/Science Fiction/Fantasy... How about Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or Wildside by Steven Gould?
posted by Kriesa at 12:10 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I will recommend some memoirs that may interest you.

Yes, should have said that, but memoirs are great.

Loving these suggestions so far.
posted by lunasol at 12:13 PM on January 24, 2013

Barbara Trapido is perfect for you. Her themes of family and relationships are chick-littish but her novels are both well written and and addictive - I've yet to make one last more than a couple of doors.
posted by Wantok at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2013

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a great, funny romance writer with wonderfully well-drawn characters. Try Natural Born Charmer.
posted by stampsgal at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Definitely a great book, but it's along the lines of what lunasol mentioned in her question as something to avoid: "those interesting characters do horrible things to each other, or have horrible things happen to them almost constantly."
posted by trillian at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, seconding Laurie Colwin.

I quite enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss. Lola and the Girl Next Door was not quite as much my cup of tea for some reason.

Also endorsing Georgette Heyer - try The Grand Sophy or Frederica.

You might try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I hate the title but liked the book).

Rosy Thornton might also appeal, The Tapestry of Love for example (again, a good book with a not so great title).

In terms of memoirs - Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and We Took To The Woods.

For fantasy - The Wood Wife.
posted by gudrun at 12:36 PM on January 24, 2013

I want to throw in a plug for two of my favorite science fiction authors as well... I love Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series (and Shards of Honor could pass for chick-lit in some ways... ignore the terrible cover art on the Amazon link). Her fantasy novels are wonderful, too.

Connie Willis is my other favorite. To Say Nothing of the Dog or Bellwether are the two that probably best fit your criteria, although Bellwether has a very 90's vibe.
posted by Kriesa at 12:37 PM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

And I forgot to add a few recs to my comment: The Nanny Diaries, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Commencement, and Maine. Oh, and Homer's Odyssey (no, not that one).
posted by trillian at 12:38 PM on January 24, 2013

If you haven't already read it, American Gods by Neil Gaiman is probably the most entertaining novel I've read in a long while that wasn't depressing. Also Good Omens by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:42 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recently finished - and loved - The Good House by Ann Leary. Me & You by JoJo Moyes is supposed to be great but I haven't read it (yet).
posted by lyssabee at 12:51 PM on January 24, 2013

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a great suggestion if you're okay with straight-up romance; that would be a little more genre (which I don't think is a pejorative, for what that's worth) than somebody like Jennifer Weiner, who's not always writing much about love at all. (For some people, "romance novel" and "chick lit" are the same thing, but that's why I hate the phrase "chick lit.") Anyway, fun books, and I don't find the writing clunky at all.

You might also really like Pam Ribon's Going In Circles. (Full disclosure: I know Pam a little.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:53 PM on January 24, 2013

Also, Meg Cabot -- who writes adult fiction as well as YA. For your criteria, I'd recommend the Heather Wells series (adult, they are mysteries but very atypical?), the Mediator and 1-800-Missing series (YA series, very fluffy and fun) and her trilogy of adult novels written in email form (Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, Every Boy's Got One).

I also n'th Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Ain't She Sweet being my favorite), Connie Willis (although some of her novels are most definitely not light, if you are looking for light reading you'll want to avoid Passages and to a lesser extent Doomesday Book and the two recent WWII books), Laurie Colwin, and Dianna Wynne Jones.
posted by pie ninja at 1:15 PM on January 24, 2013

Jennifer Crusie, particularly Welcome to Temptation and Faking It.
Georgette Heyer - her Regencies, not the mysteries or the historicals
Kage Baker
Lois Bujold
Dodie Smith - I Capture The Castle
Mary Stewart - particularly Nine Coaches Waiting, Madam, Will You Talk?, and The Moonspinners
Susanna Kearsley, especially The Shadowy Horses
Martha Wells, especially The Element of Fire and Death of a Necromancer
Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels - I prefer the Jacqueline Kirby and Vickie Bliss books over the Egypt stuff, but that's just my opinion, also her standalone thrillers
posted by PussKillian at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy Tamora Pierce's work-- great YA fantasy with female heroines. There's a bit of romance in the mix too but it's not the main focus. I liked the Alanna series (first book, Alanna: The First Adventure) and the Immortals series (first book, Wild Magic). The plots move along nicely and (spoiler alert!) good triumphs over evil in a satisfying way.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm shocked no one has yet recommended Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I couldn't put it down, it is unexpectedly funny, some bad things happen, there is redemption and peace in the end.
posted by minervous at 4:38 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House is light but not stupid. It's about a librarian who falls in love with the tallest man in town. McCracken was an actual librarian and it shows in the details here and there.

Aimee Bender and Kate Atkinson might work too. Bender's stuff is of the magical realism bent mostly, and both have a lighthearted tone, but again, aren't empty or stupid. I don't know that I'd call them page-turners exactly, though...
posted by ifjuly at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

OMG Possession by A.S. Byatt. I couldn't put it down: star-crossed Victorian poets, literary mystery, present-day love story. I've read it multiple times.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2013

Seconding Lois Bujold's books as light, vivid character, cheerful fiction.

Not sure if others would call them page turners, but they are for me.
posted by mattu at 7:11 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Possession! A.S. Byatt's Virgin in the Garden, which is the first of a trilogy, is also very good. It has a similar quality to early Margaret Atwood, I think.

I also like Kate Atkinson's early novels, like Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Emotionally Weird. Her more recent novels are sort of mysteries with murders as part of their plots, though not typical "mystery novels," so probably not what you're looking for right now.

On the chick lit side Jennifer Weiner writes compulsively readable novels with interesting characters. I have never been disappointed by her.
posted by apricot at 7:12 PM on January 24, 2013

Vanity Fair among the classics (where do you think Scarlett O'Hara came from?)

Of autobiography, M.M. Kaye's are fascinating, especially of her time growing up in India
posted by BWA at 5:22 AM on January 25, 2013

I'm not sure what sort of genre's you're into but I really enjoyed the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

Also, Dune by Frank Herbert is great. I'm on the sixth book and the series isn't for everyone, but I definitely recommend reading at least the first.

posted by tenpointwo at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2013

Oooh! How about some of Babara Kingslover's work? The Bean Trees or Pigs In Heaven. Also the actual book version of The Princess Bride is even better than the movie. Its a great read. Lastly, what about some of Larry McMurtry's stuff. I love the way his characters deal with all the crazy stuff that happens in their lives. There is nothing so dark that happens in life that Mr. McMurtry can't turn into comedy. I recommend Terms Of Endearment and the sequel, The Evening Star. However *spoiler alert* there is some death in those two stories.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:47 PM on January 25, 2013

Great question - I'm often looking for books with the same criteria.

I've really enjoyed books by Lisa Jewell. They include:

Ralph's Party (1999)
Thirtynothing (2000)
One Hit Wonder (2001)
A Friend of the Family (2004)
Vince and Joy (2005)
31 Dream Street (2007)
Roommates Wanted (2008)- alternative title for 31 Dream Street
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
After The Party (2010)
The Making Of Us (2011)

I'd probably start with Ralph's Party.

Also, Eva Ibbotson and Katie Fforde.

Seconding Jennifer Crusie and Maeve Binchy; I'd stick with the earlier Crusie, as some of the later ones are a little violent for my taste.

And enthusiastically seconding the recommendation of Good Omens. It's one of my favorite books ever - definitely a page-turner, very funny, and with a non-bleak ending, despite the whole apocalypse thing.
posted by kristi at 11:39 AM on January 26, 2013

I've spent the better part of this year humping through Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Triology. Definitely non-bleak, Utopian science fiction. The events depict a few centuries of the near-future-colonization of the solar system (focusing on Mars, obviously) primarily by scientists. Some of it drags, but on the whole I've found it really engaging and stimulating.

But I have to confess that my general anxiety about not being an astronaut, physicist, engineer or mathematician is at an all-time high. So take that into consideration.
posted by ImmaculatePizza at 3:27 PM on January 26, 2013

If you haven't already read it try 'The Accidental Tourist' by Anne Tyler. An absolute delight - she should have been awarded the Pulitzer for it.
posted by mandarin fish at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2013

2nding Larry McMurtry, "Lonesome Dove" not only should have won a Pulitzer but did. Great read. "The Last Picture Show" is also a terrific book, he draws some really great characters .

Jincy Willett's "Winner of the National Book Award" is another good one, she writes some ferocious dialog in that one.
posted by PaulBGoode at 11:26 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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