Last book you loved?
May 21, 2021 6:48 AM   Subscribe

What's the last fiction book you absolutely loved?

I thought books would be a refuge during the pandemic, but I struggled to concentrate anything I put in front of my eyes. I'm hoping to rekindle my reading habit, so: what's the last fiction book you adored, that you couldn't put down, that you would recommend without question?
posted by bluecore to Media & Arts (80 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
 
Deacon King Kong. Hands down.
posted by thivaia at 6:51 AM on May 21 [8 favorites]


A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking! (Link goes to the fanfare thread.)
posted by mark k at 6:52 AM on May 21 [16 favorites]


The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.
posted by mannequito at 6:52 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


The Dispossessed by U K LeGuin (don't let the bizarre cover art put you off)
posted by Balthamos at 6:56 AM on May 21 [7 favorites]


I found the whole No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series the perfect pandemic pick-me-up.

If cozy mystery is not your genre, I also really liked Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata :)
posted by snusmumrik at 6:57 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Finna by Nino Cipri. (Bonus: it's a novella, so it's a relatively quick read.)
posted by wintersweet at 6:57 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
posted by Redstart at 6:58 AM on May 21 [35 favorites]


I can never recommend anything without reservations, but the last novel that I really enjoyed was Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier. First of a fantasy trilogy. Very bleak at the start.
posted by paduasoy at 7:02 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. If I pick this up and open it at random at any point I just get sucked right back in again.
posted by Chairboy at 7:02 AM on May 21 [13 favorites]


The Power by Naomi Alderman!
posted by charcoals at 7:03 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis Chen
posted by neushoorn at 7:06 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Great writing and an interesting plot absorbed me.

My go to read for comfort books is anything by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld series. They're not the last books I read, but they are the ones that have given me the most comfort and been a safe refuge for me over and over in the past decades.
posted by wwax at 7:09 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


When I am in your mood I:

-reread a favorite book
-go find a book I loved as a kid and read it
-trawl the list of Newbery Award winners & nominees (good quality books, easy reading, short)

Those will generally jump start my reading mindset and I get back into it.

Books I've really enjoyed this year:
Convenience Store Woman, Nemesis Games (the 5th Expanse book, my favorite so far), When You Reach Me (reread), The Beach (reread)
posted by phunniemee at 7:09 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


What you want to read is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
posted by zeptoweasel at 7:26 AM on May 21 [19 favorites]


The last book I really loved was maybe not ideal for the pandemic - Clayhanger, the first book in the Clayhanger trilogy by Arnold Bennett. It's hugely underrated and prefigures some of the modernist writing that shortly followed it. If you like "serious" modern English-language fiction, it's terrific.

The last "the pandemic is overwhelming me" fiction that I really loved was The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith. That book, It Ends In Revelations and The Town In Bloom all took me away from the pandemic when I was feeling my worst. Her other novels (with the exception of 101 Dalmations!) don't quite do it for me as much.

I also read every single Barbara Pym novel, starting with Excellent Women.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on May 21 [5 favorites]




The Nightingale and Where The Crawdads Sing.
posted by serendipityrules at 7:31 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Hollow Kingdom - a potty mouthed crow and a dimwitted bloodhound have to learn how to survive after the Zombie apocalypse hits. Sounds ridiculous, right?

No! This is a beautiful book about our relationship to nature, what it means to be wild, how nature endures. It's funny, tragic, and hopeful all in one book.
posted by brookeb at 7:32 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I skew towards fantasy for "would recommend without reservation".

I'm currently halfway through, and absolutely loving, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Clever and well-plotted, and so much funnier than a book about survival against horrific odds has any right to be.

The last book I loved before that was The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk. Regency romance with magic, a subgenre I'm a sucker for.

And before that (don't worry, I'm stopping at three), Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher -- but don't start there, start with Swordheart.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:39 AM on May 21 [7 favorites]




Anything and everything by Tana French. She writes slow burn, psychological mystery/thrillers set in Ireland. The Witch Elm is probably my favourite.

Also Normal People by Sally Rooney. I think I read it in one sitting.
posted by trigger at 7:47 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
posted by greenland at 7:49 AM on May 21 [12 favorites]


If sitting down and concentrating on just words is part of the hang-up, I can't recommend Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh enough. You may know her from Hyperbole and a Half. It's a breeze to read, with equal parts slapdash humor and cutting insight on the human condition, all illustrated with her trademark goofy style. Technically non-fiction, but it doesn't read like it.
posted by matrixclown at 7:49 AM on May 21 [5 favorites]


The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 7:52 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


The Knitting In The City series by Penny Reid. Located in Chicago, these books are hilarious and touching romances among non neurotypical people. They run the gamut of security people, spies, doctors, hackers, comedians, etc. with a side series (Winston Brothers) about rural Tennessee family including park rangers, an actress, mechanics, musicians, bakers and a bad biker gang.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:56 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]




Little Fish by Casey Plett
Detransition Baby by Torey Peters
posted by kokaku at 7:59 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, or The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:00 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


The Cradle series, honestly. Though the 9th book that came out recently was a little disappointing. But the series is awesome, if you're buying what it's selling.

Also, if reading has been a struggle, I might suggest trying audiobooks. I've found audiobooks and long walks are really soothing in these dark times.
posted by wooh at 8:00 AM on May 21


Omg, Aoko Matsuda's collection of short stories "Where the Wild Ladies Are" was such a treat. Bite sized, personable, interesting. There's a section at the end that explains the Japanese mythology she's adapting in each short story, and it was fun to compare the "original" myth to her modern adaption.
posted by snerson at 8:02 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]




Galore by Michael Crummey
Sweetland by Michael Crummey
Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Also, try an audio book.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:07 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


The Glass Hotel by Emily st. John Mandel! Read this in basically one sitting on the weekend and re-read it within the week.
posted by DTMFA at 8:11 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Not quite an answer to your question, but when I'm looking for new fiction to read, my go-to spots are The Millions's "Most Anticipated" roundups (here's the one for the 1st half of 2021) and NPR's book concierge. Happy reading!
posted by pinkacademic at 8:12 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


2nd-ing Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this one has some of the same flavor but it's bite-sized in comparison.
posted by Lookinguppy at 8:16 AM on May 21


I would highly, unreservedly recommend They Called Us Enemy, George Takei's memoir of his childhood years in a US concentration camp for Japanese-Americans. It's a graphic novel, beautifully told both visually and narratively, with the plus that a graphic novel might be a nice transition back to reading after the pandemic-timing reading struggles you described. :)

(I would also second the recommendation for N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season and following books -- I'm 2/3rds of the way through this trilogy [The Broken Earth], which I started during the pandemic, and I'm still blown away, but if you're not into sci-fi/dystopian fiction, it might not be your genre cup of tea. But if so, it's amaaazing.)
posted by leticia at 8:24 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet. They aren’t perfect but they both had me reading compulsively.
posted by vunder at 8:24 AM on May 21


Oops, They Called Us Enemy is actually not fiction. Still, highly recommended!!
posted by leticia at 8:25 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The Last Policeman and the two subsequent novels of the trilogy by Ben H Winters. Starts out as an investigation of a suicide, possible murder but the overarching story is a near-future apocalyptic event and how people were reacting to the news. Okay that sounds grim but there's very little guns 'n' prepper stuff. It was bittersweet and very moving.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:25 AM on May 21 [8 favorites]


Pym by Mat Johnson - hilarious. I'll second The Last Policeman too.
posted by mistersix at 8:32 AM on May 21


The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. The prose is just workmanlike, but the plot was totally engrossing and I was sad when I finished.
posted by holborne at 8:33 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


If you like westerns: Whiskey When We're Dry

If you fancy lesbian Necromancers : Gideon the Ninth

If you want a delightful twist on fairytales : Princes Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower

and if you want a book that grabs you on the first page with a voice that you can't get out of your head : Milkman
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:44 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]




"The Little Animals" by Sarah Tolmie. Weaving, geese, microscopes, invisible voices. So very, very, good.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 8:50 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I have the same problem, normally a voracious reader that somehow just... lost it? during this pandemic. And when I do find something I enjoy, I devour it all in one go, so still not back to regular I guess. I loved these:
- Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
- I read all of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (novellas, bite-size joy, should probably do them in order to understand the backstory)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:55 AM on May 21 [11 favorites]


Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Ackner. Absolutely brilliant novel about marriage and how different people can interpret the same events completely differently.
posted by number9dream at 9:00 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Seconding the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells - I've gotten 3 other people hooked on it in the last few weeks!!
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:08 AM on May 21 [7 favorites]


The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Cat Valente. “Never put your faith in a Prince. When you require a miracle, trust in a Witch.” I can't accurately describe the way she writes, it is somehow both straightforward and illuminating at the same time. She has a knack for plainly stating the fantastical in a way that's stirring.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:14 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Lots of good suggestions here; if you're looking for nonfiction I've been absolutely wowed by Horizon by Barry Lopez. It's somewhere in between memoir, essays, and ecological writing, but the way he empathetically grappled with issues larger than him and beyond any one person's control really landed with me.
posted by lhputtgrass at 9:16 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is incredible. its a great story, I guess sort of a historical thriller but the prose just CRACKLES. Nguyen is an amazing writer who plays with language like its his toy and his pet and his love. one of those reads where your mouth just hangs open at the gorgeousness of what you are reading.
posted by supermedusa at 9:25 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


The Summer Book by Tove Jansen.
posted by saladin at 9:29 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


Beyond The Black Stump by Nevil Shute, from 1956. A re-reading, but only my second time, after decades. Has sub-themes concerning Ireland, Oregon and alcohol that I'd forgotten about. This is the one with the pilot who plays chicken with a locomotive, at night.
posted by Rash at 9:40 AM on May 21


I feel you. I've been reading during the pandemic, but I haven't been absorbing in the same way. Like my ability to appreciate prose fiction has been majorly compromised. But I'm keeping on in the hope that this too shall pass.

Like ManyLeggedCreature, my tastes run toward spec fic, heavily slanted toward fantasy over science fiction.

Books that really took the top of my head off that I'd heartily recommend:

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
Map of Dreams by M. Rickert
The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss
Blankets by Craig Thompson
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me by Kate Bernheimer

I hope there's something in there that'll get you out of the reading funk. Solidarity!
posted by xenization at 10:02 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. I can't remember the last time I finished a book and flipped back to start at the beginning again.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:06 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


I loved Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tocarkzuk, it's sort of a eco-feminist mystery novel, hard to explain, much recommended.

Also ditto to The Summer Book by Tove Janssen.
posted by kensington314 at 10:12 AM on May 21 [8 favorites]


I didn't see where you posted genres that you like - but for a gripping novel that has a tiny parallel to being "stuck inside" during the pandemic, I would say The Martian
posted by TimHare at 10:15 AM on May 21 [5 favorites]


Dark Matter by Michelle Paver.
posted by darchildre at 10:22 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Oh, you know, another thing is Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Ministry for the Future." It is not the deepest work from a character development standpoint--not by a long shot--but it is eminently readable, has very short chapters that create a sense of accomplishment if you're trying to get your reading mojo back, and it succeeds very much on its own terms, which is to say, as a user's manual for the future of the climate crisis.
posted by kensington314 at 10:25 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I absolutely loved The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
posted by Stoof at 10:35 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I have had similar trouble reading at certain points during the pandemic. Books that have broken me out of my slumps because they were so engrossing:
  • The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Greenwood, by Michael Christie
  • Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
  • Piranesi, by Susannah Clarke (don’t read anything about this one before you start—it’s best that way; also, it’s really weird at the beginning, but it’s worth it to just keep going and trust that all will be revealed soon)

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:03 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.
For a lighter read, All Systems Red by Martha Wells.
posted by SPrintF at 11:10 AM on May 21


William Gibson is one of my favorite authors, and he doesn't just write science fiction. My all-time favorite of his books is Pattern Recognition, the first book of his so-called "Blue Ant" or "Bigend" trilogy (though like his other trilogies, each book stands well on its own). I like to say these three books are about what it's like to live in the science fictional universe our world has become, rather than being science fiction themselves.
posted by lhauser at 11:31 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


My favorite book last summer was Lakewood.

Other recent ones: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Earthlings (not for everyone by any means and if you haven't read Murata's Convenience Store Woman maybe do that one first), My Sister the Serial Killer.
posted by BibiRose at 11:41 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


My five-star recommendations from 2021 thus far:

Gilead and Home (the first two books in the Gilead series) by Marilynne Robinson (historical fiction set in 1950s Iowa)
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donohue (historical fiction set in 1918 pandemic)
Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli (contemporary YA romance)
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (romance; audiobook)
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (historical fiction with a side of magical realism)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (historical fiction; audiobook read by Tom Hanks!)
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (literary fiction in translation)
posted by timestep at 11:56 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I almost stopped reading completely for about a year (would slog through a book a month or so), but nthing Piranesi by Susanna Clarke -- saw a recommendation here for it and it is excellent.

I also loved Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.

If either one of these tickle your fancy, you might want to check out The Morning News Tournament of Books -- both of the above were part of their tournament this year, and I rarely get a clunker from the ToB brackets.
posted by jabes at 12:13 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I was hesitant, as I'd read other stuff by Saunders (and didn't love it), but WOW was Lincoln in the Bardo something special. I ended up rereading parts of it as soon as I finished it the first time.
posted by Tchad at 12:27 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


The Steel Seraglio by Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey.

Propulsive, thoughtful, funny, thrilling, gorgeous, sad...you'll want to savor each sentence as much as hurtle through the narrative to find out what happens. I love it unconditionally.

Nthing Gideon the Ninth (and its sequel, which starts out slowly but comes together so, so well) and A Deadly Education, among many more
posted by Gadarene at 1:00 PM on May 21


Plain Bad Heroines by emily m danforth. Queer, gothic but modern, funny and jumps between turn of the 20th century and today. Read it as a paper book if you can. I first read the ebook but then got a paper copy as there are illustrations etc.

Also horror/gothic (but really well-written) The Last House on Needless Street was an incredible read. Captivating narrator(s) and really imaginative.

Mystery/crime - Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was a fun, engaging read with characters that grew on me. I knew nothing about it before I read it, which was good I think.

Also in crime, The Appeal, by Janice Hallet. A real page-turner despite being told via texts and emails. I thought it was kind of a gimic when I read about it, but it was a great book.

Classic crime can be quite satisfying and lots of short stories, particularly from Agatha Christie, are fun and satisfying.

What about audiobooks? I generally prefer easier listens, so have been going through all the library Agatha Christie audiobooks, and Dorothy L Sayers. Now into modern books but set during the same period so The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear and have just started the Josephine Tey books by Nicola Upson. Not quite 'cosy' crime but likeable characters and a fair bit of adventure. The Josephine Tay books seem a bit more tongue in cheek and are quite fun to listen to while cleaning/going for a walk etc.

Thanks for asking the question - saving a lot of recs for my to read list!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 1:04 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Hamnet. In retrospect, it was a terrible book to read as a mom during a pandemic, but I was surprised by how fascinating and great it was.
posted by Maarika at 1:05 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Beautiful writing, captivating characters. I found myself reading more and more slowly as it neared the end, as I did not want it to be over.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:20 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


I came here to recommend The House in the Cerulean Sea but I see jennypower beat me to it. Consider this an enthusiastic and emphatic +1. I

t was engaging, and funny, and sweet, and even though it dealt with some serious matters it never got distressingly dire, and overall the book just felt like a big warm hug.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:19 PM on May 21


The City of Stairs and its sequels.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:21 PM on May 21


Educated by Tara Westover. I could not put it down. It's been a while and that book still stays with me.
Edit: Apologies, I reread and saw you specified fiction! I can't delete the comment.
posted by Pademelon at 9:10 AM on May 22


A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum. Combination mystery and coming of age novel.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:14 PM on May 22


The Heart's Invisible Furies. A little Irish history, a little magic realism, a lot of stellar writing.
posted by pdb at 4:03 PM on May 22


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Also - Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 8:27 PM on May 24


Just last night I was completely blown way by To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers. Read it start to finish in one go. Her Wayfarers books are good but this was REALLY good.
posted by greenland at 10:02 PM on May 24


Seconding Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
posted by switcheroo at 1:59 PM on May 26


Oh do you know what else was really good? Arcadia by Iain Pears.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:26 PM on May 26


Already suggested and favorited above but Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is an amazing and magical novel.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:50 AM on May 29


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