Cozy, nerdy fall book recommendations
October 10, 2016 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a few comforting, fantasy-ish books I can immerse myself in while washing dishes or drinking my tea. Bonus points for audiobooks!

Reading Harry Potter on repeat would have this effect, but I'm interested in reading some other stories, too. I've been listening my way through as many Terry Pratchett books as I can get my hands on through Audible and the library. I really enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's Carry On. I like Gail Carriger's books (Parasol Protectorate, Finishing School, Custard Protocol). I didn't particularly enjoy Lev Grossman's Magicians books.

I like: compelling worldbuilding, interesting characters (particularly women), casual integration of queer sexuality, coming of age stories, fantasy.

PLEASE AVOID: I do not want to read about rape, vividly described torture, gratuitous violence, gruesomely dead children.
posted by linettasky to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 106 users marked this as a favorite
The Alex Verus series might work. Benedict Jacka
posted by Ftsqg at 2:09 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Sorceror To The Crown integrates some serious themes, but it's also a really effervescent Regency fantasy.

Lud In The Mist has eerie and strange aspects but is funny and has a happy ending.

I really love Peter Beagle's Folk of the Air and find it extremely funny. Also The Last Unicorn.

Angela Carter's Wise Children is a joyful book. Her Nights At The Circus is sadder. Both of them have women protagonists who have some difficult experiences with men, but those are not the focus of the stories and don't turn the books grimdark.

Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, does not effectively center women, does not integrate queer sexuality and has a peculiar worldbuilding strategy, but it will crack you up, oh my god. And the illustrations! You may also enjoy his The White Deer.

Pat O'Shea's Hounds of the Morrigan is one of the best fantasy novels out there, and while there are some excursions into more serious topics and one or two spooky moments, it is a gentle, restful book.

I find that Ursula Le Guin's Changing Planes, though one of her slighter works, is exceptionally soothing. The humor is basically parent humor, but I like that when I'm feeling low.

Melissa Scott's Astreint series has a gay couple as the leads. Scott herself is queer and that mitigates a little bit of the "adventure fantasy with gay male heroes written by women for a female audience can be kind of....unrealistic in a bad way" factor. Don't start with book one - I enjoyed it very much but it's extremely different in tone and emphasis from the later ones and was written in the early nineties so could only imply and not state.

If you don't mind schlock and purple prose, I like Tanith Lee's Delirium's Mistress. There's a million things wrong with it, but it will certainly let your mind idle amongst various demon cities, crystal caves, pastures full of winged beasts, etc., and honestly I like the self-actualization plot far more than I would have thought.

Sadly, most of these don't do much to integrate queer sexuality, although Hope Mirlees was herself queer and Lud In The Mist is certainly a queer book. I can think of a bunch of more serious queer fantasy but not too much that's really light.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on October 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

His Dark Materials Trilogy seems like a good fit.

Also, I'm enjoying Arcadia by Iain Pears, right now. It's sort of a cross between realistic, sci-fi, and fantasy: A scientistfrom a far future utopia/dystopia travels back in time to pre-WWII Germany. The book is set primarily in post-WWII England where she lives and where she has re-created the time-machine-like-thing that was her life's work in the future. She uses it to bring-to-life the fantasy-world of a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis-like writer whom she has befriended. He doesn't know she's created it, but someone else accidentally wanders in, and it goes from there. All the while of course she is being pursued by law-enforcement-like people from the future, and the cold war is playing out among the characters.

Also, the Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:11 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Graveyard Book is a pleasant and gently spooky story by Neil Gaiman about a little boy who grows up in a graveyard talking to ghosts. I particularly enjoyed the Audible audiobook!
posted by chatongriffes at 2:11 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you read any Tamora Pierce? I particularly love the Daine quartet (starts with Wild Magic) and the Aly duology (starts with Trickster's Choice). I think they both tick all of your requirements except integration of queer sexuality. If you like those, the Alanna quartet (starts with Alanna: The First Adventure) are also great, but I'd skip the Protector of the Small quartet (the Kel books) given your list of things to avoid. I think they're all on audio - my mom listened to them all a few years ago and really loved the single-narrator books but didn't like the full-cast audio versions, so it might be worth listening to a sample before you buy.
posted by bananacabana at 2:16 PM on October 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, I haven't read these but they are on my list and the linked review makes them sound extremely suitable: Diane Duane's So You Want To Be A Wizard series.

And oh-oh-oh you have not mentioned Dianna Wynne Jones!!!! You should abso-tively get some Dianna Wynne Jones. I will only link you to the Wikipedia page for Archer's Goon, as it is one with a queer character (not stated; it's a YA novel published in the late seventies) but you can readily look at her bibliography. Deep Secrets, Howl's Moving Castle, Dark Lord of Derkholm and A Tale of Time City are my favorite soothing ones.
posted by Frowner at 2:17 PM on October 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Run and read Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
posted by gnutron at 2:20 PM on October 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ursula Le Guin's (already mentioned) Wizard of Earthsea is very enjoyable and I think ticks the cozy fall books box.
posted by jonrob at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I really enjoyed China Mieville's Un Lun Dun.
posted by Frowner at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

And (and now I'll stop) I totally recommend the first Fairyland book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I wasn't as into the rest of the series. Be warned, there is a sad part, but it has a happy ending and everything works out.
posted by Frowner at 2:25 PM on October 10, 2016

I loooved The Accidental Alchemist, and keep meaning to get started on the second book, The Masquerading Magician. Bonus points for competent female lead and gourmet-cooking gargoyle sidekick.

And my #1 recommendation to anyone for any audiobook request: To Say Nothing of the Dog.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:55 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle.
posted by terretu at 3:07 PM on October 10, 2016

Elizabeth Bear's Eternal Sky Trilogy. Book 1: Range of Ghosts is where you want to start.
Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather's throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.
posted by Fizz at 3:33 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Peter Grant books (also called Rivers of London) -- the narrator on Audible is as much a character as the (very amusing) characters and action. Modern-day London, lots of magical weirdness, humor not unlike Red Dwarf. The first one is called Midnight Riot.
posted by acm at 3:51 PM on October 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Starglass and Starbreak, by our own Phoebe North, check every box on your list. Absolutely lovely.
posted by BibiRose at 3:52 PM on October 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

The So You Want to be a Wizard series is wonderful. I lent my set to a friend who declared them better than Harry Potter and saved them for his little girl (she was one at the time). She gobbled them up in elementary school and he randomly sent me a note about it awhile ago - she's a teen and super into science now! Might read these with my husband next (since we've finished HP several times now...).

You might also like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, or the Mary Russell books by Laurie King.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:54 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle is also worth listening/reading, especially if you enjoy the Harry Potter series. Definitely worth seeking out, easily one of the best series I've ever read and the third and final book should be released some time this next year. The first book is titled: The Name of the Wind.
posted by Fizz at 4:13 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I HIGHLY recommend the audiobook of Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Also Embassytown by China Mieville (it works wonderfully on audio because the book deals with language). ALSO the audiobook for Uprooted is fantastically narrated.

ALSO all of Daniel Jose Older's books on audio are great, and I just picked up Too Like The Lightning on audio, and I'm thinking it is going to be a real treat.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:39 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ooh! I also love books that fit these specs. I cosign on Patrick Ruthfuss and also highly recommend Wise Child or Juniper by Monica Furlong.
posted by jeszac at 4:58 PM on October 10, 2016

I think the Assassin's Curse duology and The Night Circus tick most of your YA-ish boxes, and if you want something in the vein of the Parasol books, try The Invisible Library.
posted by tautological at 5:37 PM on October 10, 2016

Installing Linux on a Dead Badger has a very good audiobook version.
posted by Sophont at 5:43 PM on October 10, 2016

I stumbled upon "A Corner of White," the first book in the "Colors of Madeleine" series by Jaclyn Moriarty on the Overdrive app recently, and am looking forward to either reading or listening to the next book in the series. I don't know how the latter books compare, but the first book I think ticks your boxes.
posted by Urban Winter at 6:08 PM on October 10, 2016

A note of caution about Rivers of London/Midnight Riot--I thought the audiobook was very enjoyable BUT there were some really gruesomely detailed murders.

I liked Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader. It's not a traditional fantasy but it imagines an alternate world where the Queen of England suddenly becomes a voracious reader after an accidental visit to a bookmobile--her reading habits get to the point where they start to affect palace business. It's gentle and funny and I loved it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:15 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you might enjoy The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (audiobook is nice too). The Rook and Stiletto, perhaps.
posted by jeather at 6:36 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't know how the latter books compare, but the first book I think ticks your boxes.

Jaclyn Moriarty is one of my favorite authors and I definitely recommend this trilogy. I've read most of the books mentioned here and will -nth recs for Uprooted, Diana Wynne Jones, Sorcerer to the Crown, the Sorcery and Cecelia books, and Un Lun Dun. I'll add in Rachel Hartman's Seraphina and Shadow Scale and Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail.
posted by leesh at 6:43 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think Seanan McGuire's October Daye books might work for you - while there is violence and death in her books, I don't think it's normally graphic. I absolutely love her books, and they have casual integration of queer sexuality, great worldbuilding, and a female lead character.

Plus, the ebook version of the first book is on sale for $1.99 right now! You may also be interested in her Incryptid series as well.
posted by needlegrrl at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2016

How about Ready Player One on Audible? Heck it's narrated by Wil Wheaton, how much nerdier can you get? I loved the audio book, and listened in my car too and from work. It has a 4.7 with over 61 thousand ratings. They're supposed to release the movie in 2018.

The only "but" I can think of is it may not be your cup of tea (???). FWIW.
posted by forthright at 7:14 PM on October 10, 2016

Seconding anything by Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia C Wrede, or Caroline Stevermer.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:21 PM on October 10, 2016

I like what you like for fall reading!

Try Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy. Beautifully written, young women coming of age and finding power, seamless and charming fantasy world.
posted by Specklet at 7:44 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seanan McGuire's Velveteen stories aren't available on audio, but they're free at LiveJournal (start from the bottom) and check all the other boxes if you'll accept superheroes as fantasy-ish. Other than that, I'll second that Seraphina / Shadow Scale cover all the right points as well.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:29 PM on October 10, 2016

Oh, wow, the Velveteen stories are available on audio! My mistake!
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:37 PM on October 10, 2016

Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. Start with Sabriel, the first book. Bonus: I just looked up if there is an audiobook version, and not only is there one, it is narrated by Tim Curry!
posted by fings at 10:08 PM on October 10, 2016

* A note about Too Like the Lightning: from the beginning we know that the narrator, Mycroft Canner, is a notorious convict who committed unspeakable crimes. Halfway through the book we get a description of what Mycroft did, and it's rather gruesome serial murder. Hannibal-style.

I'd recommend the Glamourist Histories series (Shades of Milk and Honey is the first book) by Mary Robinette Kowal which is another "Jane Austen with magic" series, although in the last book the main couple travels to the male protagonist's father's slave plantation in the Caribbean and the themes are more heavy than in the earlier books. It ends moderately well for most, anyway.
posted by sukeban at 10:13 PM on October 10, 2016

The Name Of The Wind is great, very Harry Potter-esque in terms of creating a world.

Also, I think it's very cozy.
posted by christiehawk at 1:10 AM on October 11, 2016

If you like Harry Potter, I recommend Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, which starts off with The Book of Three. It's not quite as expansive as Harry Potter, but it is full of magic and humor and people growing up and terrific full-speed-ahead plot. It was a favorite of mine as a child, and I read it recently and thought it held up spectacularly. I'm afraid the cast is mostly male, but the one main female character is independent and brave, and all the characters are extremely well written.

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series is less plot-driven. It's more about mood and atmosphere. But that atmosphere is very wintry and cosy, and might be just what you want to immerse yourself in as the days grow shorter. (Disclaimer: I re-read the first book in the series a few years ago and it's very well written, but I haven't reread the whole series for decades. I feel like I always need to give that warning when I'm recommending something I haven't read since I was a kid, just in case it hasn't aged well.)

Finally, I'm going to give a completely left-field recommendation that is not fantasy at all, but I recommend it every time somebody asks for a cozy, upbeat book with strong female characters: Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim. It's about four women who take a holiday from rainy London to sunny Italy, and it's just a warm, lovely book, perfect for a rainy day. And it's set in the 1920s, a distant enough time that it almost counts as a fantastic other world. Anyway, it's in the public domain, which means you can download the text or an audiobook for free, and give it a quick try to see if it interests you.
posted by yankeefog at 3:29 AM on October 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nthing His Dark Materials which is fabulous on audio.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:34 AM on October 11, 2016

Co-signing the recommendations for Diana Wynne Jones, especially the Chrestomanci books.

I also suggest V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic series and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (both fantasy) as well as Ella Minnow Pea (not fantasy but I think you'll like it, strong women) and Y.S. Lee's The Agency series (mysteries, great female characters).

I loved the Peter Grant/Rivers of London books, especially the fantastic world-building, but they are not comforting. Intense violence in all of them.
posted by spectacularicity at 12:38 PM on October 11, 2016

Oh, and one more - The Paper Magician series. I don't love the romance aspects that come into the second and third books, but the characters are great and the world-building is superb.
posted by spectacularicity at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2016

nthing the hounds of the morrigan. I read this book when I was about 10 and I have never ever forgotten it. still have my dog-eared copy now :)
posted by mrmulliner at 4:27 AM on October 14, 2016

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