Help me find fiction books that make me feel happy and alive!
April 18, 2014 1:38 PM   Subscribe

The last two books I've read, Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store and The Westing Game have both made me feel the same way - happy, alive, joyous. By the end of each book, I was really rooting for the characters and their happiness. At the same time, I was feeling really good. They were similar in some ways, but I can't really define the genre, so it's hard for me to look for similar books. Can people suggest books that meet some number of these qualifications?

What I liked about these books:

- the were fun reads
- they were fiction
- they were fast reads (The Westing Game is YA fiction, but I'm not wedded to reading more YA)
- they were mystery-like without exactly being traditional mystery novels
- they both have a manageable number of characters
- the characters in both books had and built really good relationships with each other
- they both had a type of "coda" ending that explained what happened to the characters later

At the end of each of them, I felt really happy - for the characters and their friends and the situations they found themselves in.

Is this collection of attributes a type of book? What is it? What books can you suggest that evoked similar feelings, even if they don't match my parameters?
posted by elmer benson to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 149 users marked this as a favorite
I can't guarantee this one, as I haven't read it myself, but my sister swears up and down that it is wonderful. Her description of it coincides with your list of likes. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Might be worth a look.
posted by janey47 at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I felt many of these feels while reading Long Division by Kiese Laymon. Contains: fun, fiction, YA, mysteriousness and magic, small cast, strong relationships. But it also has plenty of heavy and sad shit, and it's debatable whether the ending meets your coda criterion. I read it in three days, propelled.
posted by xueexueg at 1:50 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

+1 to Where'd You Go Bernadette--thought you'd appreciate hearing it from someone who read and enjoyed both it and Penumbra. In fact, I was reading this question thinking "damn, I read something else recently that I would place in this category, it's nagging at me, what is it"--yup, that was it.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:50 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Escape from Mr. Limoncello's Library is sort of a mix between The Westing Game and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though not as good as either, I still enjoyed it). I don't recall it having a coda, though.

I enjoyed Where'd You Go Bernadette, too. You might like Austin Grossman's books, or Ernie Cline, or the superhero books by Carrie Vaughn, which all have the same sort of feeling, to me, that Mr. Penumbra did (though to be honest I was a bit indifferent to that particular book).

You might also like The Rook, which was what I had hoped Mr. Penumbra would be.
posted by jeather at 1:59 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ready Player One is a little stressful but it's also an interesting romp where you care about the characters. YA-ish as well. I also liked On Kingdom Mountain which is a book with a very definitive sense of place (Vermont!). Everyone's not friends, but they are neighbors and this is sort of about how a small town deals with some stuff. Not uplifting exactly but with a coda and I felt better after reading it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out the previous AskMe questions mentioning Mr. Penumbra's. I think there was actually just one like a week ago!

Also: Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies.
posted by limeonaire at 2:54 PM on April 18, 2014

My go-to life-affirming book is Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. In 1714, a mountain bridge on the road to Lima collapses, and the five people who are on it die. A monk wonders: why these five? and sets out to learn as much about the five people as possible.

Mary Renault also takes me there: I love The Last Of The Wine, in which two young men of Socrates's circle in Athens try their best to live and love rightly while also serving in the worsening Peloponnesian War. As a teenager I also loved The King Must Die, about the young life of Theseus as he learns (not without mistakes) what it means to lead people and to be a king.

I am very fond of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea quartet, but the one I keep returning to for solace is The Farthest Shore, which can easily be read as a stand-alone. A wizard and a boy companion set sail for the far horizons to find out why magic is vanishing from the world.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:33 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You'll probably like all of Ellen Raskin's other books as well. They're slightly weirder than Westing, but all mysteries-ish.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:11 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've mentioned them before, but surprisingly the earlier (1970s and 1980s) novels by Jackie Collins may fit your interests - mind you they are quite raunchy and deal with characters who are Hollywood celebrities or ultra-wealthy. I was a young teen when I read most of them and they held up very well. Even now that I am in my 30s and mainly read more literary works I do come back to them when I want a fun and cheerful read. I would specifically recommend Hollywood Wives and Hollywood Husbands which have met your following criteria:

- they were fun reads (a fun un-put-downable book. Even though there were sad moments and some loveable characters had not so great endings, I generally feel happy after reading, and I laughed a lot thanks to the good writing)
- they were fiction (check)
- they were fast reads (Ms. Collins is witty, enjoyable and easy to read albeit page-wise not slim. If you are a very quick reader you can ready it in one sitting. if not, you will find any excuse to keep reading)
- they were mystery-like without exactly being traditional mystery novels (a very interesting whodunit multiple murder mystery is key to the plots, with a shocking outcomes. They are soap opera like but the author makes all seem quite plausible)
- they both have a manageable number of characters (there are a lot of characters but you get to know them slowly, and very well)
- the characters in both books had and built really good relationships with each other (some really strong relationships are developed between memorable characters)
- they both had a type of "coda" ending that explained what happened to the characters later (Ms. Collins does this with most all of her novels)

Other possible Jackie Collins novels that fit the bill and are fantastic would be Thrill... Possibly (though with less mystery) Lovers and Gamblers. She tends to weave a crime story or murder mystery into all of her novels. I think she gets dismissed because of the type of settings she uses (Hollywood) but man oh man what a great writer she was at her peak in the 70s and 80s!
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 4:14 PM on April 18, 2014

Of the two books you named, I've only read The Westing Game, but I just looked up a description of the other one.

Some YA books that I think are similar in many ways to the books you liked:

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Holes by Louis Sachar

And a couple of adult books:

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
posted by Redstart at 4:43 PM on April 18, 2014

I remember feeling that way when reading The Eygpt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
posted by holmesian at 5:07 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

They are not particularly demanding reads, but Alexander McCall Smith's books fulfill most of your criteria. I often say they are the equivalent of a nice cup of tea and a biscuit - they leave me feeling relaxed, refreshed and reinvigorated! He has written a number of series and standalone novels; my favourites are the 44 Scotland Street series and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. No "codas" but you can just pick up the next book to find out what happens to the characters!
posted by Naanwhal at 5:13 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed The Martian.

It's the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars after a mission goes wrong. He spends the book getting into scrapes and solving problems. It's a lot of fun.

Disclaimer: The author is a personal friend of mine.
posted by caphector at 5:33 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Weetzie Bat is EXCELLENT. But, I would suggest picking up Dangerous Angels instead. It is all 5 of the Weetzie Bat books in one volume. (my favorite of the bunch is Witch Baby).
posted by bibliogrrl at 5:39 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The City and The City" by China Mieville
"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

I LOVED Penumbra, and these two are associated with that one in my brain. Fun, quirky, fast-paced mysteries with a tinge of magical realism.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:05 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel this way whenever I read any of the Jasper Fforde books (like The Eyre Affair and the rest of the Thursday Next series). In fact, right now, I'm cheering myself up by reading The Last Dragonslayer, the first of his young adult series. I'd recommend the Thursday Next books (but in chronological order) or his Nursery Crimes (Big Over See, The Fourth Bear) books, but not his Shades of Gray (which is not the "naughty" one of the same title) because it's not nearly as funny and clever, and can be dystopian.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2014

Chasing Vermeer is also a YA mystery and I think it's a little like Westing Game.
posted by katieanne at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2014

It's not at all a mystery or fantastical, but I really enjoyed Susan Rieger's The Divorce Papers for the reasons you describe. The heroine and a lot of the supporting characters are just really likeable, and watching the plot and relationships develop was a lot of fun. It is a sort of puzzle in that the protagonist is trying to negotiate unfamiliar laws and interpersonal relationships to arrive at an outcome that works for everyone.

It's a bit less uplifting in some ways, but I had a similar feeling upon finishing Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. All sorts of complicated and satisfying back stories, and great character relationships. There are a fair number of characters, but I never found it hard to keep track. (In fact, I remember more details about the first two books, which I read over a year ago, than I do about most things I've read more recently.)
posted by mlle valentine at 9:17 PM on April 18, 2014

Try Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment

I'd second Jasper Fforde, the Martian and Ready Player One
posted by kbuxton at 9:28 PM on April 18, 2014

Definitely Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. Also try her lesser-known but still very funny Bellwether.

I am well on my way to earning myself a reputation for recommending Diana Wynne Jones for nearly every situation, but it's true. Many of her books are cheering-up reads for me. I would specifically recommend Charmed Life (a young adult one), A Sudden Wild Magic (adult, and it is a bit slow to start but once you get stuck in it comes good) and Deep Secret (adult, set at a spec fic convention so many very funny bits).

Maybe also Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:20 AM on April 19, 2014

Have you read the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:38 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Art of Racing in the Rain has some sad stuff in it, but a good coda ending. It has some good relationships (as well as some very bad ones). The premise is corny, but overall I really enjoyed it. And it's a good, quick read.

I absolutely loved Mr. Penumbra and I wish there were a dozen more books like it. (I've also written an AskMe trying to find similar books.)
posted by spacewaitress at 8:51 AM on April 19, 2014

The first thing I thought of is The Pushcart War. Meets all your criteria, is fucking hilarious, is even better reading in 2014, and is up there with The Westing Game as (IMO) the greatest book of its semi-genre-if-that-even-is-a-genre.
posted by dekathelon at 12:01 PM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a YA book that reminded me of The Westing Game. (And Harriet the Spy and A Wrinkle in Time. Needless to say, it's an awesome book.)
posted by kayram at 2:46 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon meets all your criteria ( except maybe for the "coda" ending - I think that was there too but it's been a while since I read it and I gave away my copy so I can't check ).

I remember it making me feel the same way that you say "Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store" and "The Westing Game" made you feel: happy, alive, joyous.

Incidentally, if you've read any other McCammon books, expect something completely different from this one. I read three or four others over the years, hoping for another "Boy's Life" but none of the others were anything like it.

Thanks for a nice question.
posted by metadave at 6:18 PM on April 19, 2014

"The Westing Game" is truly a special book. Only two other fictional books have given me the same feelings: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Phantom Tollbooth.
posted by jbickers at 6:51 AM on April 21, 2014

Seconding The Pushcart War & The Phantom Tollbooth. In other children's/YA, try Gordon Korman's The Twinkie Squad.

Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang's ending made me super happy and alive.

The first book in Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy (Regeneration) had a similar effect on me (the trilogy on the whole can be a downer, though).
posted by brainwane at 11:17 AM on April 22, 2014

I loved the heck out of Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, by Alan Bradley. It's a little YAish, features a precocious young girl who is a nerdy crime-solver. I am doing it absolutely no justice whatsoever, so please trust me that it is completely charming.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:54 PM on April 25, 2014

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