Books to beat the holiday blues
December 2, 2019 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I am currently pretending that if I don’t make eye contact with Christmas, it can’t see me either. Please help me facilitate this by burying my head in a book.

What I am looking for:
- Fantasy, horror, or sci-fi - horror is my favorite, so bonus points there
- Engaging, likeable characters, some of whom are maybe not straight white cis-dudes
- Inventive worldbuilding
- I’m not looking for comedy specifically, but books that are fun and have something of a sense of humor would be great - I’m looking for engaging but not too heavy
- Adventure!
- Happy endings (not required for horror novels)
- I want something that’s going to grab me quickly, that I won’t want to put down, and that I’m going to feel happy when I’m finished

What I am not looking for:
- Gore is fine but would prefer to avoid sexual violence if possible
- Romantic subplots are fine but I am not looking for books where romance is the center of the plot
- Fantasy specific: I do not enjoy fantasy novels set in our world, or urban fantasy in particular (unless the urban setting in question is part of a secondary world)
- I am fine with being scared or worried while reading but I do not want to end the book being sad

Examples of things I have read that would fit the bill if I had not already read them:
- Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series
- Anything by Frances Hardinge
- The Twisted Ones by T Kingfisher
- Anything by Lois Bujold
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- The Goblin Emperor (I know someone’s going to think of this and I love it but have read it too recently)

Thank you!
posted by darchildre to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix!
posted by corey flood at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Rivers of London is a series of police procedurals set in an alternative universe where the main character, a constable named Peter Grant, is a magician's apprentice. They are often quite funny and sometimes verge into horror. Peter is biracial and that is a meaningful part of the plot at times.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

ANYTHING by Bill Bryson. He writes about travel experiences, the English language, memoirs, history, science, and other things. His latest is The Body, which explains everything you didn't know you needed to know about the human body. He is humorous and sly without being silly. He is very informative and concise (not like my writing). You start out planning on reading for a half hour and several hours later you realize you're still reading. He's my favorite author and I named my cat after him (and no, my cat's name is not Bill).
posted by ydaltak at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

While I am sure the Rivers of London series is excellent, I would like to gently stress that it is still set in, y'know, London. Please, no fantasy set on Earth, even if it's an Earth with magic or dragons, etc. Thank you!
posted by darchildre at 12:02 PM on December 2, 2019

Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells!
posted by Grither at 12:08 PM on December 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

stephen king's newest release, the institute.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:20 PM on December 2, 2019

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! It's the first in a still-being-written trilogy and the ending is not all smiles, but it's satisfying, though obviously with many questions as there are two more books to go. Ticks all your other boxes with enthusiasm. I read it in 24 hours. I would have read it in one (long) sitting if I hadn't started reading in the evening.
posted by esoterrica at 12:20 PM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

also the others in the "series" by becky chambers are pretty good, and set in the same world, but not 100% following the same characters.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:22 PM on December 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Have you read the second one, A Closed and Common Orbit? It's amazing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:25 PM on December 2, 2019

Second the Murderbot Diaries and suggest her Raksura series too, fantasy on a world with many wildly different sentient species.
posted by Botanizer at 12:28 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Expanse is my favorite science fiction. It's not only interesting and engaging from a sci-fi world building perspective, but the characters are also real and entertaining and you end up caring about them as people in a way that's pretty uncommon in sci fi. There are 8 books so far, with the final to be released next year, so it should keep you going right on through the holiday season.
posted by something something at 12:38 PM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

yea, seconding The Expanse, it's a great read
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:43 PM on December 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Try the Sector General series. It's a multi-species hospital set in space.
I found it recommended by someone, here on the green, several years ago. A big thank you to whomever that was! The series really does deserve to be more widely known.
I was totally enchanted by them. They definitely check all of your boxes.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Fifth Season (and entire Broken Earth series) by N K Jemisin. Fantasy, great (non-Earth) world-building, non-white main characters, utterly engrossing.
posted by hepta at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Seconding Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy (amazing, though depressing and horrifying in spots) and The Expanse. And nthing the Murderbot diaries!
I'd also like to suggest Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, which starts with Three Parts Dead. It is urban fantasy, but it's not Earth (though the cities are definitely interpretations of Earth cities, in the same way that Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork is London). I typically dislike urban fantasy -- if I'm reading fantasy, it's because I want to get away from our planet! -- but the Craft Sequence is my favorite thing I've read this year.
posted by Janta at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ann Leckie's Provenance is not laugh-out-loud funny, but is fun. Great world(s)-building, good protagonist, good adventuring. She's got a trilogy in the same universe that's excellent but grimmer.
posted by mersen at 2:42 PM on December 2, 2019

If you're open to YA, Tanya Huff's The Fire's Stone. Fun, lots of adventure, a romantic subplot but it's gay, engaging characters. Joan D. Vinge's Cat series (Psion, Catspaw, Dreamfall) has one of the most memorable main characters I've ever encountered, great worldbuilding, very engaging. If you're open to comics, Nimona, fantastic characters and loads of fun.
posted by brook horse at 5:04 PM on December 2, 2019

Engaging protagonist AND inventive worldbuilding galore in P.C. Hodgell's Kencyrath series. There are 9 books! Ignore the outdated vibe of the cover art, read the whole series. I've been holding off on the most recent novel as a reward for a thing I am very much avoiding doing.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:31 PM on December 2, 2019

Shadow Unit is... horror-adjacent? Paranormal thriller? I loved this web-series, and have been meaning to pick up the last two seasons as ebook editions.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:39 PM on December 2, 2019

If you are into horror, have you read Grady Hendrix? Horrorstor is about a haunted Ikea and is both scary and funny. My Best Friend's Exorcism is a 1980s teen flashback and also really good horror.

I also suggest other T. Kingfisher books--The Clockwork Boys series and The Seventh Bride especially.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:04 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

You mention Bujold - do you know she’s been releasing novellas steadily over the past few years? Mostly in the Penric series (Chalion universe - the most recent one was The Orphans of Raspay) but also recently The Flowers of Vashnoi (Vorkosigan universe) and Knife Children (Sharing Knife universe). I’ve also been doing a big Lois McMaster Bujold reread and loving it - I just read Diplomatic Relations and forgot how much fun it is.

Assuming you know about those/aren’t ready for rereads, I’d also suggest:

* Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic trilogy, starting with The Palace Job. Fun caper/heist in a non-Earth fantasy setting with POC and queer characters who talk explicitly about being POC and/or queer in that universe.

* The Thraxas series by Martin Scott. They’re hard to describe but fun and funny, set in a setting similar to Ancient Rome but with orcs and elves. They got me through a tough reading time.

* John Scalzi for funny sci fi. Redshirts is one of my favorites (especially awesome if you’re a Star Trek TNG fan), but the whole Old Man’s War series is also great.

Also, other stuff by T. Kingfisher. Minor Mage seems up your alley. Swordheart and Bryony and Roses were also great but more romance heavy.

Happy reading!
posted by bananacabana at 6:22 PM on December 2, 2019

We have very similar tastes!

I think these meet all of your listed criteria (and are genuinely entertaining!):

- Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett - a woman who is an accomplished thief unknowingly steals a powerful artifact and brings together a ragtag group to deal with the fallout in a fantasy setting that has undergone a sort of industrial revolution and transition to a harsh capitalist economy / merchant republic.

- Bennett also wrote The Divine Cities trilogy, starting with City of Stairs which is also fantasy but darker than Foundryside with some slight horror undertones - not sure how to quickly summarize this one without ruining some of the fun, but the jacket describes it as: "an atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city."

- The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams - character-focused space opera where the main character is a woman who searches the galaxy for children with unusual abilities on behalf of a mysterious sect.

The Abhorsen series, the Craft Sequence, Gideon the Ninth, and the Murderbot series (recommended above by others) also meet all of your criteria! Read them, they are great!

Here are some maybes:

- The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold - political fantasy in an Earth-ish but non-Earth world, there might be threatened sexual violence but I don't think there is any actual sexual violence.

- A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab - fantasy set in parallel worlds, with a main character who can travel - and smuggle things - between the worlds. (A maybe because one of the worlds is our world in the early 19th century.)

I'm currently reading the following (so I can't guarantee a happy ending!) but I think they might work for you, too:

- Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather - nuns traveling the galaxy in a living ship uncover hidden secrets about the church, the central government, and each other. It seems to have some of the same energy as the Becky Chambers books, although it's a bit darker.

- Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff - a horror novel set in the Jim Crow era that juxtaposes Lovecraftian horror and and the horrors of American racism.
posted by cimton at 6:47 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is near-future dystopian SF with likeable characters and a happy ending. The main character is a white dude but his gamer teammates are a diverse bunch and the general tone is friendly (apart from the bad guys, of course).
posted by Quietgal at 7:22 PM on December 2, 2019

The Southern Reach trilogy is a must.
posted by Threeve at 11:57 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books very much fit this bill. For in-world chronological order, read:

A Wizard of Earthsea
The Tombs of Atuan
The Farthest Shore (does end on a saddish note but this sadness is reexamined in the next book from someone else's perspective)
Tehanu (opens with an allusion to physical abuse of a child, but do know that Le Guin was, as a matter of principle, very much not into graphic or gratuitous descriptions)
[Tales of Earthsea is short stories about the world that pop all over the chronology, but one of the two longest, Dragonfly, fits between Tehanu and The Other Wind]
The Other Wind (bittersweet but in a way that is about growth and change for the better)
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:02 AM on December 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Besides the Murderbot Diaries and the Raksura series, Martha Wells has a lot of other great books that fit into your requirements. Wheel of the Infinite might be the one I'd point you to first. I find all of her books very worth the read.

Kage Baker wrote The Company series, which I love but which doesn't fit your parameters. However, she also wrote the delightful The Anvil of the World, which does. Such great worldbuilding, and so funny.
posted by PussKillian at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series got me through a period of sudden grief, and I read Goblin Emperor three times that same period. Her Wayward Children novellas have better LGBTQIA+ rep in the main characters (who change across books). For horror, she writes as Mira Grant. I enjoyed her zombie series starting with Feed.
posted by JawnBigboote at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2019

Anything by Patricia McKillip, I recommend The Alphabet of Thorn
posted by dhruva at 6:09 PM on December 4, 2019

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