Book recommendations: likable characters, good writing, humor
June 2, 2021 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend all your well-written, likeable characters. Humor appreciated. Plot optional.

Now that the library's opening up more, I'm ready to Read All the Books. Well, all the likeable, well-written books.

I want books that will leave me feeling good, and happy to have spent time with the characters.

I prefer little or no disturbing content (although for some reason the horrible plot events in The Goblin Emperor didn't put me off, so maybe it depends on the book). I am all about spending time with the characters; I don't care whether anything happens.

Women writers preferred.

POC writers and non-US writers appreciated.

YA is fine; genre is fine.

Books I've read and liked recently:

Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, Helen Hoang
Flatshare, Helen O'Leary
Beach Read, Emily Henry
The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory (her other one is on my list)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes

(Andrew Sean Greer's Less is on my list.)

I have read most Rainbow Rowell.

Holli Mintzer's stories (especially Tomorrow is Waiting) are my favorite things right now.

I am basically looking for the book equivalent of Ted Lasso.

So - set me up with all your most delightful protagonists and decent wordsmiths!

My library card and I thank you!
posted by kristi to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sure I'll pop back in with more, but after your Ted Lasso comment I want to recommend Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu. I found reading the book versions better than the online comic, but ymmv. Freshman former figure skater now hockey player and baker moves north for college and discovers a hilarious found family.
posted by librarianamy at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Red, White & Royal Blue is a fun, light queer rom-com. The author, Casey McQuiston, released her second book, One Last Stop, yesterday!
posted by SeedStitch at 8:34 AM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Penric and Desdemona series of novellas by Lois McMasters Bujold.

I adore T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon), A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. Also her book Nine Goblins.

Ellen Kushner Privilege of the Sword.

Just a heads up, these all have some level of disturbing things but on the level of Goblin Emperor, not Game of Thrones. They all center some appealing characters and tell the story from their point of view.
posted by mark k at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried the Murderbot series by Martha Wells? An artificial construct with social anxiety investigates a mystery, protects its friends, and finds its place in human society, while trying to find time to watch its entertainment serials. There is quite a bit of violence and potentially-upsetting themes, on a similar level as The Goblin Emperor.

On preview, seconding the Penric and Desdemona series! So good.
posted by zeptoweasel at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones (YA fantasy)

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman (YA fantasy)

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver (contemporary/literary)

Boyfriend Material - Alexis Hall (contemporary queer romance, there's angst but it's funny)

To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis (time travel SF romp)

Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin (queer humor/melodrama - early books are gentle and ridiculous, note that later volumes deal with HIV/AIDS in the 80s)
posted by toastedcheese at 8:46 AM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Jasmine's 6th!! book is coming out in July (she is a friend). I will second Barbara Kingsolver (yay for preview). There's a lot of choice with her, check out the plot summaries. Maybe skip Unsheltered.
posted by wellred at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse and its sequel are delightful.

Cat Valente typically writes books with good people in them. Space Opera is a hoot.

Really anything by Becky Chambers is going to turn on your heart light.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just finished How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, and it is exactly in this vein! And then I see seanmpuckett's recommendations, and I agree with all of them.

Especially: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
posted by meese at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Terry Pratchett's 5 book series about Tiffany Aching is amazing.

Actually all of the Discworld series meets your criteria.
posted by ananci at 9:27 AM on June 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Seriously anything by Terry Pratchett. Start with The Wee Free Men and work on out toward the rim.
posted by flabdablet at 9:27 AM on June 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

posted by flabdablet at 9:27 AM on June 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of the stories you mention (e.g., Ted Lasso & Goblin Emperor) follow the formula [goodhearted outsider is suddenly in a position of power in a world governed by rules that are unfair / incomprehensible, and effects change in that system from the ground up, basically by being persistently nice to people and respecting their humanity (broadly conceived because they're not all human)], which is a story I love too. Nthing Murderbot & Cat Valente, & here are a few more:

Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

Diana Wynne Jones, The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin

Also DW Jones: A few Chrestomanci books follow this (esp. Charmed Life, Witch Week, & Pinhoe Egg), though these also have depict some legitimately awful family dynamics

China Miéville, Un Lun Dun

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books
posted by miles per flower at 9:30 AM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another Naomi Novik: His Majesty's Dragon (basically a very gentle and decent naval officer reluctantly finds himself raising a very gentle and decent dragon and they spend the book being extremely gentle and decent to each other while at war with Napoleonic France)

You might also like The Princess Bride if you've never read it (it's fairly different in tone from the movie; cynical yet warm, if that makes sense)
posted by trig at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am reading The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard solely because I was told it was tonally like The Goblin Emperor. I am about a fifth of the way into it (it is quite long, which is a plus because I would like to spend a lot of time with it) and it is definitely scratching the same itch.
posted by darchildre at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Popped into second Spinning Silver.

Also, how do you feel about Japanese light novels? The Ascendence of a Bookworm series is about a Japanese book-loving woman who is reincarnated into the body of a sickly 5-year old girl in a medieval world. All she wants to do is read books, but they aren't a thing people of her station have access to, so it's basically all worldbuilding and looking at all of the pieces that have to come together to make books from scratch. The first few chapters she's maybe a little bit ~too~ into missing books, but it takes off from there and has some really charming characters.
posted by past unusual at 10:28 AM on June 2, 2021

I'll be watching these recs, because I could use more of this kind of reading too. I just popped in to say maybe try a sample of Less before committing -- I did not find the protag especially likable, as his unacknowledged privilege grated on my nerves.
posted by libraryhead at 10:29 AM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might like Alison Lurie or Anne Tyler.
posted by JonJacky at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: I just finished All Adults Here by Emma Straub. I was struck by how much I liked and empathized with the characters. It was a great book about figuring out how to live your life and make the most with what you've got.
posted by hydra77 at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: I always like to recommend Fly By Night by Francis Hardinge (there's a sequel if you really enjoy it and want more) main character is a bit cantankerous but in the most charming way, also her best friend is a goose which is the best thing ever!

I second (or third or fourth) the recs for Martha Well's Murderbot series, anything by Dianna Wynne Jones, and Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:19 AM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Such A Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. It’s funny and fresh and I loved the protagonist. There are some cringey bits (purposely illustrating the way the protagonist is treated by unselfaware white people), but I felt good when I finished it.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi—a wonderful retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Brooklyn, with an Afro-Latina protagonist.

If you liked Beach Read you will probably like Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners.

If you’re okay with light murder mysteries, I recommend Elly Griffiths’ Harbinder Kaur series: The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders. It doesn’t matter what order you read them in, and the second one has a particularly great group of characters who become friends and amateur detectives (well, Harbinder is an actual detective).

Robin Sloane’s Sourdough is simply delightful. It’s got a great woman narrator, some magical’s one of the few books I’ve re-read in the last ten years, because it left me feeling so good after I finished it.

The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby (it was published as Home to Woefield if you are in the US). Funny, loveable characters who band together to make things better on a weird little hardscrabble farm. Very much about chosen family. I’ve re-read this one too and I actually use it as a assigned novel in one of my classes. The students really enjoy it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:03 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Talia Brown's Act your age Chloe Brown.

Abby Waxman

Counting down with you by Tashie Bhuyian

The chicken sisters by Antonio Dell

Maybe Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. Light mysteries, but some bad events.

American Royals Katherine Mcgee
posted by Ftsqg at 12:13 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Emily Henry has a new book out this very week! It's called PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION. It's excellent. I'd also check out Taylor Jenkins Reid if you like Emily Henry.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:40 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Lots of good suggestions in this thread!

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
posted by Maeve at 1:13 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: I spent last weekend reading several books by Jenny Colgan. They're basically stories about nice people who end up living in [insert rural area in the UK such as the Scottish Highlands or Cornwall] and encounter other nice people (some of whom are also eccentric but basically well-meaning) and find a way to make a living, and then fall in love. They have lovely descriptions of food and scenery and country fairs, and the romances are nice enough but not particularly steamy. Quite soothing to read when you're stressed out.

I would recommend The Bookshop on the Corner as a good place to start.
posted by suelac at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So this depends how you define disturbing content, because these are crime novels at heart, but the Beatrice Hyde-Clare books by Lynn Messina are delightful, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
posted by snakeling at 1:42 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like similar writing to you I think and I've loved everything I've read by Zen Cho. She writes characters I really root for and want to spend time with, and she's very funny. She has a new book out, Black Water Sister, that I'm looking forward to reading when I make a dent in my "currently reading" pile (or I might just get it now, let's be real).
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams isn’t always super feel good but it’s definitely satisfying getting to know Queenie and she’s a super funny character (also checks off POC, non-US, woman).
posted by obfuscation at 2:47 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Jennifer Crusie is great - slightly older romance but it holds up. Try Bet Me or Welcome to Temptation.
posted by songs about trains at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is often recommend here for recent SciFi by women authors. It's the most interesting book that I've read in a while (I'd say it's a Classic). It's a political-intrigue story (like The Goblin Emperor) with some violence and plenty of subtle dry-wit.
posted by ovvl at 4:03 PM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

(note re: above A Memory Called Empire: "some violence" isn't the focus of the story, but there are some intense scenes of assassination-attempts, riots, and hostage-taking later in book. Apologies if I've underplayed that aspect).
posted by ovvl at 4:40 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: If you don’t mind some relatively explicit sex scenes, any of Alisha Rai’s Modern Love series are a good pick. Think Jasmine Guillory but a little smuttier. They’re my two favorite romance writers and do a great job with relatable protagonists.
posted by Fuego at 7:43 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Just wanted to point out that a standalone sequel to The Goblin Emperor is coming out June 22nd called The Witness for the Dead. I just read an advance copy, and I think you will like it - it follows a Witness for the Dead through his work assignment and coping with problems that occur, and the main character is so nice to spend time with.

Also wanted to mention Deacon King Kong by James McBride. Recent literary fiction that's funny, entertaining, with stunning use of language and the author clearly loves the people in the book and treats them gently.

Also maybe Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and the To All the Boys I've Loved Before trilogy by Jenny Han.
posted by lizard music at 8:42 PM on June 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lucy Parker writes romances set in London about truly decent people with decent friends and family. The characters are funny and positive people, the cast of characters is diverse. I should say that a lot of the characters deal with serious shit (bereavement, mental illness etc) but there is a general sense that things will turn out for the best. I've read all her books to date and I'm yet to find one I don't like and they always leave me feeling happy. I'm a big fan.

Seconding Emily Henry's new book, I enjoyed it so much!

And thirding Terry Pratchett. His work holds up really well.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:48 AM on June 3, 2021

Best answer: James Herriot's Yorkshire veterinary practice books are a gentle delight, as is Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series.
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 AM on June 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend the whole Jeeves and Wooster series of books by P.G. Wodehouse. The worst that happens in many of these is the pinching of a policeman's helmet, or the disappearance of cow creamers. Laugh out loud funny and always leave me in a better mood.
posted by thaths at 9:41 AM on June 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Brigadier Gerard stories of Arthur Conan Doyle are the ironic adventures of a self-regarding Napoleonic cavalry officer. How the Brigadier Slew the Fox [shock horror] is a good place to start. Conan Doyle was careful about the historical accuracy of his backgrounds.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2021

Best answer: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It does have some difficult bits but (most of) the characters are very engaging and likeable.
Edited to strongly second the James Herriot books. They got me through some difficult weeks last year.
posted by Nieshka at 1:12 PM on June 3, 2021

Best answer: We have similar taste!
I think maybe for the Flatshare you meant the author was Beth O'Leary. Try her other one, The Switch. I liked both.

I've read a lot of Kristan Higgins. Her newer stuff has more drama and serious content. If you just want happy and light, look for the ones with dogs on the cover :-)

It seems like everyone read Beach Read last year, but I liked The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren more.

Also agree with the suggestion of Jenny Colgan. I've read 2 of hers and enjoyed them.

I love Pride and Prejudice and listened to The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (an imagining/continuation of Mary's story) and actually really enjoyed it.

It's been a couple years since I read it, but I liked Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and I don't remember anything disturbing. (I've also read The Summer Before the War by the same author but would not recommend based on your preference to avoid disturbing content.)

If you like straight up romance, try Grace Burrowes. They don't require deep thinking, but they have better than average story/characters.
posted by kochenta at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: If you liked Helen Hoang I think you will also like Talia Hibbert and Sara Desai! Hibbert's characters have to work through some real issues, which is part of what makes her books great, but I would not classify anything as disturbing.
posted by ferret branca at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2021

Best answer: Hi kristi!

I think you'd likely enjoy many of Naomi Kritzer's short stories, which are available in collections.

Courtney Milan's contemporary romance novels, starting with Trade Me, may suit you well, and I second the recommendation for her historical The Duke Who Didn't. Also in romance, Zen Cho's historical romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is great.

Several stories in the Consolation Songs anthology will suit you - some are a bit melancholy but most are the sort of thing you are looking for, such as "This Is New Gehesran Calling" by Rebecca Fraimow and "Storm Story" by Llinos Cathryn Thomas.

Via this "Books in Which No Bad Things Happen" post by Jo Walton I learned of Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair which is "about a far future where people have evolved to be nicer, and there’s a fair, and a woodcarver who can make toys come to life, and there is sex and love and nothing bad happens and everything is all right." I liked it and think you're likely to enjoy it too.

Regeneration by Pat Barker, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, the Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein, and the Elemental Logic quartet by Laurie J. Marks come to mind when you mention "leave me feeling good, and happy to have spent time with the characters" -- they center adults who are trying to heal, get along with people who aren't like them, and help each other. However, they all do have some violence, people recovering from violence, or similar plot events, so if you really want a complete absence of that sort of thing, watch out.
posted by brainwane at 9:01 AM on June 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend the whole Jeeves and Wooster series of books by P.G. Wodehouse. The worst that happens in many of these is the pinching of a policeman's helmet, or the disappearance of cow creamers. Laugh out loud funny and always leave me in a better mood.

I strongly agree with all of this. Once you've read all the Jeeves & Wooster, I'd suggest moving on to his Blandings Castle novels, which have all the same virtues.

I've read over 50 of the 100-odd books Wodehouse has in print, starting with Jeeves when I was a kid, and he's the single author who's done most to cheer me up over the hideous year we've all just endured. I'm deep into his lesser-known stufff now, and I still haven't found a single book of his that's let me down.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:15 AM on June 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In Other Lands by Sara Rees Brennan also absolutely fits the bill. (However, definitely don't read her Lynburn Legacy series if you're looking for good feelings.)
posted by trig at 11:03 AM on June 6, 2021

Best answer: Women writers preferred.

POC writers and non-US writers appreciated.

I'm afraid this meets only one criteria and that one tenuously at best, but Douglas Adams was a British author who wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, and to this day I suggest it's probably still some of the funniest literature ever printed.

I don't specifically recall anything problematic in any of the books, but that isn't to say it isn't there, and it's been a few decades since I read them. More contemporary readers will have better insight.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:58 PM on June 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just finished The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Ostman, which reminded me a lot of The Postscript Murders, which I mentioned earlier. I found it very enjoyable, with lots of good humour and likeable characters.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:46 PM on June 6, 2021

Best answer: Based on what you've liked I recommend Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu.
posted by Plafield at 3:17 PM on June 8, 2021

Best answer: I'd like to recommend the book I'm currently 2/3rds into, Gideon the Ninth by Kiwi author Tamsyn Muir, even though objectively horrible things have happened so far into it. But I think if you enjoyed The Goblin Emperor you will be fine. It's a YA SF/fantasy book with great writing and very well drawn characters and I've really enjoyed getting to know them so far. Lots of humour as well. Have a look at the publisher's cover reveal page for a very short synopsis and some proposed tags that give an indication of the themes of the book.
posted by Harald74 at 5:41 AM on June 14, 2021

Response by poster: MeFites. MeFites! YOU ARE THE BEST!

I have probably read about 15% of the recommended books, which just goes to show how perfect your recommendations are, because I loved all of them - love Discworld (have not finished any of the Tiffany Aching books yet! Time to fix that), love the one Zen Cho book I've read, love To Say Nothing of the Dog, love Tales of the City, love Diana Wynne Jones but have only read a few so far, love Naomi Novik's Uprooted and am now very much looking forward to Spinning Silver (AND His Majesty's Dragon - what a charming description you gave, trig!).

wellred - Jasmine has six books? GOSH. And yes, it looks like my library has them, so - I can't wait to read through all of those.

Probably the best thing about this thread is how it's pointing me to return to authors I've tried and either not quite clicked with or forgotten about. I didn't know Zen Cho and Jasmine Guillory had more books out, but now I do! I really liked the Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett books I've read, and now I'm reminded to go find the rest of their stuff! I've tried Jeeves and Wooster and it just didn't click for me - but maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time. (I love the BBC series; I should definitely give the books another try.) I tried a Jenny Colgan once and it just didn't work for me - but I just found an excerpt of Bookshop and it does seem like exactly what I'm looking for, so it's time to try her again too.

Special thanks to you, mark k, for a specific Lois McMaster Bujold recommendation - the one book of hers I tried had some pretty ugly events, but I otherwise enjoyed her characters and her writing, so I'll definitely give the Penric and Desdemona books a try.

But I am equally thrilled with all the suggestions of books and authors I'd never heard of before.

Also, I have just realized that my brain has been conflating Naomi Novick, Naomi Kritzer, and Holli Mintzer, so I am very glad to realize that they're three completely different, equally excellent authors, all with fabulous stories in print. brainwane, thank you SO MUCH for letting me know that Naomi Kritzer's works are in print in collections! My library has some of her stuff, too - and based on how wonderful Cat Pictures Please is, I may just want to own that collection.

These are all utterly, entirely wonderful recommendations, and I thank you all - each of you - profusely.

I've been needing the nourishment of good stories, and you all have given me a feast.
posted by kristi at 10:06 PM on June 16, 2021 [8 favorites]

I want to retract my endorsment of Gideon the Ninth as a suitable book for your requirements, as quite a bit of bad shit goes down in the last third, and especially in the sequel Harrow the Ninth. Still good books, though.
posted by Harald74 at 4:59 AM on July 1, 2021

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