My reading tastes have changed a lot over the years. There was a time when I never would have thought to pick up a space opera (and it still isn’t my go-to genre/subgenre). I started with Stephen King’s The Green Mile and sort of just never went back. It’s not hard to see how I ended up there- I live in New England, and most of us (or at least my family and friends) love a good ghost story.
So I thought maybe I’d put together a list of books I’ve enjoyed over the years that don’t strictly fit the SFF genres, and maybe when you need a break, or are just looking for something new, you can (hopefully) find some inspiration.
Might as well get this genre out of the way. I don’t like romance all the time, and I don’t think it’s necessary to have a romance crammed into every book just because. However– there are still times when I just need a guarantee that a happily ever after is coming. A well done romance- for me- can turn out to be the best read.Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost – Is a decent intro to romance give it’s urban fantasy feel. I haven’t read all of them, I think I gave up after book three. But I remember thoroughly enjoying the first book. I think this series suffered from there not really being much more to tell about Cat and Bones after book one.
The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning – Moning’s Highlander series are all time travel romances. There’s no science attempting to explain them, things just sort of happen. If you can get over that, these are some of my favorite romance novels out there! (Especially this one.) Bonus: If you read and enjoyed Moning’s urban fantasy Fever series, some of those characters got their starts in these books (and I was not sorry to see them return). Side note: No need to read them in order, and her first book, which I can’t even remember the name of, can safely be skipped.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Outlander is a pretty obvious shoe-in given the popularity of the TV Show, although I hesitate to recommend it because of it’s length, and it’s slow start. It can also be pretty dark at times. I have yet to finish this series too, although I’d like to someday.
Nonfiction & Memoir:
I don’t read enough nonfiction, and I’m usually hesitant to read any memoir. They feel disastrously self-important to me. However- I decided to open my mind last year, and found a few reads I thoroughly enjoyed.Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson – Is one of my favorite memoirs ever. Marcus Samuelsson is a Food Network chef in case you haven’t heard of him, and he’s had a really interesting life and it’s a great story about how he got his start. I recommend the audio if you can listen- he reads it himself.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel – This one was pretty popular not too long ago. My mother recommended it to me and I’m glad she did. The sheer fact that Christopher Knight managed to survive about 30 Maine winters with no house and no guaranteed source of heat, is incredibly impressive. I’ve seen a Maine winter. They are no joke. Knight’s a pretty fascinating guy.
Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern – Listen. Justin’s dad is really effing funny. I think I read this one with my eyes, but I listened to the sequel. If Justin reads the audio on this, get it, and thank me later, especially if you’re in need of a laugh.
This is probably the genre I struggle with the most on this list and I’m not sure why. I guess because it offers the least escape for me? Like if there’s nothing new to discover about the world why am I reading it? I’m probably cheating with a couple of these, because there are definite fantasy elements, but I’d label them as contemporary before anything else.Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – Probably literally the only piece of actual contemporary literature I’ve ever read. This is a book aiming to break you and mostly succeeds. I’ll probably never read it again, and I definitely won’t watch the movie. But that shouldn’t stop you from reading it at least once.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – Not only did I mostly enjoy this, but I think I read it all in one day. I couldn’t put it down. It plays with the idea of self fulfilling prophecy, which I’ve always loved. It is a pretty dark story at times, but gave me a lot to think about.
Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich – This book has the most fantasy elements of any other I’ve put on here- but I’m not sorry. I get the feeling Evanovich is just phoning it in at this point, with all her co-authors, but I really wish she’d just buckle down and finish the Lizzy and Diesel series already. I’d keep reading them. I’m not even going to attempt to explain the plot because it’s ludicrous, just know it’s lots of fun.
I am always baffled when Fantasy readers seem so averse to historical fiction (or maybe we’re not and that’s just my impression). I guess my reasoning is that to me they aren’t that much different? Yes, more research goes into historical fiction, and maybe some books are dry, but that varies from book to book. I’ve read some that feel like timelines and paragraphs are included for the sake of the history, but for a good historical fiction novel, the history is just the backdrop for the story.The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – Avid readers of historical fiction don’t love this novel because of the more fantastical elements Gregory included (witchcraft), but I’ve read some of her other work and I think this particular book is better for it (I think all her books would be better for it actually) but that’s why it makes a nice segue for fantasy readers.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – I’d be crazy not to warn you that this book is …sometimes… slow. It’s a book about how a church gets built. But dear God – the drama. On and on and on. It’s like a medieval soap opera. And I loved it for that.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – Yeah, shameless Uhtred plug, I know. I couldn’t help myself. These books are fast and they are so much fun. If you even remotely enjoyed the TV series, you owe it to yourself to read the book. If you haven’t watched the show, just know this has everything you could ever want. Kings and Queens, warriors and heroes, cunning priests and scheming Vikings, epic battles and plots galore.
I’ve only recently started reading Graphic Novels, and prior to that I would have told you I was not the type of person who was going to ever read a Graphic Novel. Not because there was anything wrong with them, but just because they don’t feel like reading (and in some ways, they still don’t feel like that). But I’ve found they make for a great diversion, especially if you’re struggling to find something to pick up.Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan – I’m recommending this over Saga because I think it’s easier to follow (also I like it better). Sure it’s written blatantly like every man’s fantasy come true- but I thought Agent 355 was a nice counterpoint to that.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Easy, fun read. You really can’t go wrong with Nimona. She’s not a kid, she’s a shark.
Welcome to Lovecraft (Locke & Key #1) by Joe Hill – I love these books. Seriously. They are creative and the story telling and characters are perfection.
Okay- this category is kind of a gimme, because I think Science Fiction Thriller is a big enough cross-over genre to be it’s own subgenre- so I’ll try to avoid throwing in the obvious shout outs to writers like Blake Crouch and Michael Crichton. That’d defeat the purpose… wouldn’t it?The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz – Full disclosure: I haven’t actually read this book. I won the second in a giveaway without knowing I had entered a giveaway for a sequel. I would recommend starting with The Silent Corner instead (though honestly, I had figured out what I needed to). I’m only recommending this one because I did enjoy the second. These are great because there is some science/technology involved, but it’s more of a thriller than anything else.
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – I reviewed this not too long ago, and was so happy I ventured outside my normal comfort zone for it. It’s a twisting, turning, roller coaster thrill ride, and you’ll never see the ending coming.
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz – I feel like this book got overlooked somewhere between the Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train excitement. (And I love Gone Girl, but I think the world is pretty well aware of it by now, so I didn’t feel the need to give it it’s own place here). I think The Passenger was far better than The Girl on the Train. It kept me guessing where TGotT did not.
I could give you three horror books to read- but you probably already know who wrote them (his initials are SK, and he has a son I’m pretty fond of too), and as far as the horror genre goes, I could probably stand to take my own advice and venture outside my comfort zone. Got any suggestions?