I want to read novels again
November 14, 2018 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I used to love reading, and pre-family, read over a hundred books a year. In the past three years I’ve read mostly non-fiction, much of it regarding pregnancy, babies etc. I want to read novels again and don’t know where to start.

Past likes: Stephen King, JD Robb and the more suspense-oriented Nora Roberts, older Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton, Connie Willis, Douglas Adams, Hugh Howey, Kevin Brockmeier.

Didn’t like: Terry Pratchett, straight-up romance, most fantasy, spaceship stories as a genre, historical fiction (with rare exceptions). “Chicklit” themed stuff.

Not interested in non-fiction. Nothing involving pregnancy loss or death of children. I tend toward mysteries, especially those with a twist or quirk, and toward that type of book that is midway between general fiction and literary fiction. I’m okay with slightly older books, especially because I’m less likely to languish on a library hold list forever that way.

I asked for recommendations in my mom group and they are all reading the Oh Crap potty training book right now, so...:-)
posted by ficbot to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
The Likeness by Tana French
posted by phunniemee at 7:32 PM on November 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

Have you read Dickens yet? Dickens's novels are so much better, smarter, funnier, and (maybe just as importantly) easier to read than I would have thought before I finally got into them. Try... maybe Our Mutual Friend?
posted by Polycarp at 7:34 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

I always find something on the New Book shelves at the library. A good browse does a heart good.

Peter Robinson scratches the itch of mystery that is a bit literary and a bit general fiction as does Michael Connelly.
posted by Ftsqg at 7:39 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie detective books?
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:44 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner is 900 pages of delicious pound cake, and his other books are good as well- Grendel is good, Freddy's Book is strange and good, Nickel Mountain is sad and good.
posted by vrakatar at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm reading "Never Let Me Go" right now and it's pretty good. I've avoided seeing the movie or reading summaries, no one tell me how it ends.
posted by daisystomper at 7:56 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

If your public library has ebooks, that's where to start. They're free and accessible via just about whatever device is convenient. I've been reading so many novels/books since I finally got into it.
posted by teremala at 7:59 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Have you tried Brother Cadfael? Sort of higher brow for genre fic, good history, also plenty to sink your teeth into. Started in 1977, a perennial favorite but demand should not be terribly high.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:03 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Perhaps Arturo Perez-Reverte?
posted by praemunire at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2018

Since you like Stephen King, I suggest anything by Joe Hill. Hill is King's son, and I find his writing to be more Stephen King-like than anything King ever wrote. Yes, that's possible.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:12 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Shirley Jackson? For my money, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are towering skyscrapers of American literature.

Stephen King loves them (I think he called Hill House the best ghost story ever written) and they’re quirky and twisty as fuck.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:17 PM on November 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

The default mystery author has to be Agatha Christie, but you may be well covered there - hard to say because you went for a fairly modern author list. Just in case you aren't, she does reasonably short and easy to get into books and likes her twists. (Nothing worse than a thousand page novel in the exploration stages, but by my reading she's a product of her time and short and compelling seems to be the requirement.) Conan Doyle also fits; Dorothy L Sayers may also (I admit I've never read her books, but I'm thinking of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels).

Teen fiction or not, The City of Sparks and its brethren aligns with Wool. I couldn't bring myself to watch the movies so I can't make a comparison.

On more of a tangent, because I've just read them: the murderbot diaries by Martha Wells. SF, lighthearted, more about character than woo weird physics, not a spaceship novel in the base sense, I hope, and the four novellas are short so if you try one and hate it you haven't lost much. Not a mystery, sorry.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:20 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Station Eleven: Post apocalyptic, but literary. The author's other books are good also.
The Sparrow: Very well written, very sad.
The Last Policeman: Mystery trilogy, with one of the best endings of any book I've ever read
The Overstory: A book about trees, and the people that love them.
posted by sacrifix at 8:33 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

I like Inspector Gamache for a detective series, they’re still coming but the first one is from 1990. Seconding Brother Cadfael, they’re good.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:49 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe The City and the City by China Miéville? It's a mystery/detective novel with a SF/F twist in the form of cities that occupy the same space.
posted by mcfighty at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Last Policeman trilogy. I'm pretty sure I read about it first on AskMetafilter, and it is terrific.
posted by merejane at 8:55 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was also coming to say Tana French, and I agree the Likeness is the best place to start.
posted by salvia at 9:02 PM on November 14, 2018

Please read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle ('Seven and a Half Deaths' in the US). It is quite brilliant.
posted by Youremyworld at 9:06 PM on November 14, 2018

Thirding the Last Policeman trilogy, and seconding the Jackson Brodie mysteries.

Other mysteries that I've enjoyed recently, but are not necessarily new books:

Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew J. Sullivan

The Hidden Keys, by Andre Alexis
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:12 PM on November 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes?
posted by stoneandstar at 9:14 PM on November 14, 2018

Mysteries? Give Josephine Tey a try. There are only a few, but quirky and fascinating. Try Daughter of Time or Brat Farrar first.

Or Robert Barnard, especially his earlier ones. Out of the Blackout or Death in a Cold Climate. will give you a taste.

Reginald Hill, who wrote a series of mysteries featuring Dalziell and Pascoe and another featuring Joe Sixsmith, a middle aged black detective in Luton.

All these books are set in England in the 20th century.

Oh my. If only I could read these books for the second time again! Have a wonderful time.
posted by kestralwing at 10:15 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

How about anything by Patricia Highsmith? All a bit dark , but well written, mysterious, literary, and not too popular, with fascinating character development.
posted by elgee at 2:28 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Jack Reacher series of books by Lee Child are a pretty safe bet, if you can stomach a lot of shoot-outs and a protaganist who's basically a superhero.

I second Josephine Tey's mysteries too -- strong voice, good prose.
posted by rollick at 2:58 AM on November 15, 2018

Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler are good extensions from Stephen King’s deeper questions, novel-wise. Geraldine Brooks has great characters and historical settings, though there was some situational romance in the one that covered the plague. Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible got me started on her writings.With Ann Patchett it was Bel Canto.

For warning off of themes of children, Sing Unburied Sing has sibling children at its center and the parents are just heading back from prison. My hunch is it’s an allegory, but as a parent, it’s hard to read along at many points.
posted by childofTethys at 3:28 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 and Stieg Larrson’s Girl series are good mysteries. Backman’s My Grandmother Wants toTell You She’s Sorry is mystery-esque and is a good chaser for a read with darker themes.
posted by childofTethys at 3:40 AM on November 15, 2018

You may Sujata Massey's Rei Shimamura series. It gets kind of blah when the character leaves Japan I think. She has the independence of some of the female characters you like.

The first book is The Salaryman's Wife.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:43 AM on November 15, 2018

JK Rowling's books for grownups? I love love love The Casual Vacancy, but if you're looking for mysteries her series written as Robert Galbraith might be worth checking out. I think the first is The Cuckoo's Calling.
posted by basalganglia at 3:46 AM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh, you might like the reading lists Stephen King included at the end of his book On Writing. There's 96 from the first edition in 2000, and another 82 from the 10th anniversary edition:

First list.
Second list.
King's recommendations on Twitter

Overlap between these lists and the titles or authors mentioned in this thread so far:

Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn (2006)
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)
Lee Child, the Jack Reacher novels, starting with Killing Floor (1997)
Michael Connelly, The Poet (1996)
Michael Connelly, The Narrows (2004)
Charles Dickens , Oliver Twist (1838)
Tana French, The Secret Place (2014)
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (1998)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter series (1997-)
posted by rollick at 3:59 AM on November 15, 2018

I'm in a book club with a bunch of other parents of kids age 5 and under. We've read Tayari Jones' An American Marriage, Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Swing Time (I preferred Swing Time), Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts, Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion (which we all hated, but it was a fun kind of hate), and Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:35 AM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would not recommend Never Let Me Go to someone who wants to avoid reading about children in peril.
posted by esker at 5:16 AM on November 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

I feel as if everyone who likes mysteries and good writing should give Ruth Rendell a try. Not so much for the Inspector Wexfords as the standalones, such as King Solomon's Carpet, No Night is Too Long, The House of Stairs, The Bridesmaid, The Keys to the Street. (My own favorite, A Fatal Inversion, is out based on your criteria, also probably A Dark-Adapted Eye, which the author considered her best.) Scott Turow said Rendell would certainly have won a Booker had she not been considered a genre writer and downgraded for that reason. Her books vary a lot but I think if you read one chapter you can get a sense of her tone which is a fairly important part of her writing.

Oh yes and if you haven't read Turow's Presumed Innocent, read that.
posted by BibiRose at 6:20 AM on November 15, 2018

I stumbled on World Noir this summer at my library, and it's a cool collection of modern mysteries from around the world.
posted by rawralphadawg at 6:20 AM on November 15, 2018

If you like history, Anne Perry does excellent Victorian mysteries. The first Pitt novels are good and short. But my favourite is her William Monk series, starting with Face of a Stranger.
For cosy mysteries I still read Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver novels. And if you like forensics with a touch of romance, check out Laura Griffin.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:03 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really like the Wahloo/Slowall mysteries - there are 10 of them, with Martin Beck as the protagonist. They deal with the problems of the welfare state in Sweden in the 60s and 70s (written contemporaneously) - I think the authors were communists, it's good social critique.

I am a diehard Dorothy Sayers fan, but you may have already read them. Seconding Reginald Hill, those are good books.

Have you read Dashiell Hammett? Everything he wrote is amazing. Every sentence. You might like to start with the complete Continental Op stories, they are short and punchy.

How about the Elena Ferrante books? I have read the first one and enjoyed it a lot more than I normally do contemporary fiction. I'm working my way towards the second one, there's a bunch of stuff on my bedside table (plus all the fanfic that has totally derailed my love of books this year...)
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:04 AM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm in the middle of a reread of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and it's confirming my opinion that it's one of the great novels of the past 20 years. It's a hard book to pin down, but it will make you care a lot about a kid who kind of accidentally steals a painting.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

I absolutely love Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, but there is a lot of child death and I would not recommend them to you based on your criteria. The J.K. Rowling books written as Robert Galbraith are similar in tone and good.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:55 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Dorothy Parker! I also really enjoyed sinking my teeth into Robert B Parker's various series. The Spenser one has a toooooooooooooooon of books (something like 50+?) and excels in the genre for 2 reasons, in my opinion:

1) the same recurring supporting characters carry through all the books - Hawk or Susan feature prominently in each book.
2) there is less gratuitous use of female characters as disposable plot devices than you find in a lot of that kind of mystery/action novel.

He also has a series featuring a female detective named Sunny Randall and another featuring Jesse Stone, both of which are very charming but have far fewer novels and not quite as good as Spenser.
posted by dotparker at 9:00 AM on November 15, 2018

I didn't mention them before because they're not really what you'd call intellectual mysteries, but on reflection it seems silly to leave out the mysteries I'm comfort-rereading right now, which are Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. He began writing them in the 1930s, so there are some dated attitudes (though Stout was relatively liberal for his time), but they feel more like speedbumps than any really extended awful sections. If you can handle Christie, you can handle Stout. And Be A Villain is one of my favorites.
posted by praemunire at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not a specific recommendation, but BookBub is dangerous. You tell it what kind of books you want, and every day you get an email with 1-5 suggestions from the Kindle $2.99 or less price range. Dangerous because that price point makes it really easy to build up a Kindle backlog you will never get through, or so I've heard.
posted by COD at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might like Kerry Greenwood - the Corinna Chapman modern-set series starting with Earthly Delights and the Phryne Fisher series, set in the 1920s (so technically historical fiction). The latter series takes a while to get going in my view - I would try the third one first, Murder on the Ballarat Train.

You could also try anthologies to get back into fiction - like Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics).
posted by paduasoy at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

For two excellent mystery series with a heavy side of character & relationship building, try Elizabeth George's Detective Lynley series and Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series.
posted by lyssabee at 12:07 PM on November 15, 2018

+1 for The Likeness, Station Eleven, and The Goldfinch - these are among my top 20 favorite novels of all time. I also greatly enjoyed Cadfael and read almost all of them before I got distracted by another series.

The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley is fantastic. Precocious schoolgirl and amateur chemist solving murders in the 1950s English countryside. Very sharp, very witty. Marvelous cast of characters.

Pick up Fingersmith by Sarah Waters if a suspenseful Victorian lesbian love story sounds appealing to you. Lush, wonderful writing and an amazing, impossible-to-predict story.

I've been jumping around in Ngaio Marsh's book series, all featuring detective Roderick Alleyn. Light and fun '30s police procedurals. The ones set in and around theaters are the best.
posted by wintersonata9 at 1:58 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mifi's own John Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' is a ripping fun read, some spaceships but issues of what is a person are more topical than rayguns.
posted by sammyo at 3:13 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of in the same position as you--have a two year old, have too many books about parenting, needed something to jump back in. I'm actually not a huge mystery fan but I've been tearing through the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. They are all mysteries; have a historic (post WWI) setting but not "historic fiction" as I think of it. Maisie Dobbs is a "psychologist and investigator" who served as a nurse during WWI. She's smart and a little quirky, not quite fitting into expectations of the time and earning independence after being raised in poverty. The focus is mostly on how she solves the mysteries. There is little romance--more of a focus on whether she should become partnered or not. A child dies in Book 4 ("Messenger of Truth"), so you could skip that one without missing out (though it's just from a typical illness of time, and not a huge centerpiece of the story--more to illustrate how the poor were suffering at the time).

Anyway, I've just been really enjoying them because they are super easy to pick up and put down whenever I need to, and there are so many! So I don't have to keep making decisions about new books to read.
posted by CiaoMela at 5:10 PM on November 15, 2018

Laurie R King's Mary Russell series--The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first one, begins with Mary meeting Sherlock Holmes. There are now 14 books plus short stories. Mary is smart, independent, and all around terrific. These are great as audio books, too.
A second for Alan Bradley's Flavia deLuce series--The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces Flavia, an 11-year-old in 1950s England. Flavia has an eventful life! Flavia lives with her father & two (awful) sisters in a dilapidated estate just outside the village of Bishop’s Lacey. In each book, she happens upon a body brought to its end by foul play. And she doesn't age quickly, so like a body every few months. She likes chemistry & scientific experiments & uses these, plus her general nosiness, to solve the crimes. 11 in the series and also great audio books. The production company that made Call the Midwife is supposedly making a Flavia series.
Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch--The novels center around the adventures of Peter Grant, a young officer in the Metropolitan Police. Following an unexpected encounter with a ghost, he is recruited into the small branch of the Met that deals with magic and the supernatural.
I like Louise Penny, too, but some of the later ones can be dark. Similar with the Jackson Brodie books, which often involve children in peril.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2018

Jim Dodge - Stone Junction. It's a fun story, and I don't quite have a lot to compare it to, but it's pretty damn wonderful. (Magical realism takes a journey through America?)

And if you're willing to give one and only one fantasy story a shot, probably NK Jemisin's Stone Junction. Dark. Different. Quite, quite good.
posted by talldean at 9:50 PM on November 18, 2018

Mystery with a quirk/twist: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, where the detectives are a flock of sheep (led by one Miss Maple) trying to find out who killed their beloved shepherd.
posted by pimli at 7:14 PM on December 14, 2018

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