Books for Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

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.

Romance:

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.

Contemporary Fiction:

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.

Historical Fiction:

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.

Graphic Novels:

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.

Thrillers:

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.

Horror:

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?

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42 thoughts on “Books for Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

  1. Wooooow! So many great incredible recommendations. I’ll be checking a few of them out.
    I agree about the witchcraft in The White Queen. It really makes a difference. I also liked the tv show 🙂
    Ahhh Welcome to Lovecraft. So damn good. I really need to reread it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tip! I didn’t think any of them were particular bad, but also not particularly special I guess? It’s good to know the final entry is good so I’ll have to check them out.

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  2. Love this post, Sarah! I actually love a lot of other genres besides the obvious SFF. Before I started blogging, literary fiction was my go to, especially if it had elements of magic realism (like Alice Hoffman). Bel Canto is still one of my all time favorite books😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a lot of us are actually pretty well rounded! I just know I have a tendency to get stuck in a rut and have to remind myself to venture outside my own tastes so I thought this might be helpful to someone.

      And I need to read more Hoffman! I forgot that I had read one of hers (White Horses I think?) and enjoyed it, although I wouldn’t go around recommending it to just anyone because the content is kind of icky. And I’m not sure there was any magical realism in that one.

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  3. I don’t have any horror suggestions for you (sorry) but if you like interesting memoirs that don’t feel too self-important, you might want to try Trevor’ Noah’s Born A Crime. I found his story about what it was like growing up in South Africa to be fascinating. I also enjoyed Felicia Day’s You’re Always Weird on the Internet.

    I need to get into more historical fiction. Yes, I tend to prefer historical fantasy, but that’s more because I tend to be familiar with the authors already.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fabulous article! I started out reading literary fiction and the classics – in fact I was brought up on them. But once I met my husband and began reading SFF, it was a lightswitch going off in my head – and it is now my go-to genre, but these days. So most other genres are now outside my current comfort zone, especially horror…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh really?! Lol. Maybe I should have included it then. I feel like I talk about Stephen King too much on this blog and also he’s the only horror writer I’d end up recommending because anything else I ever read really ended up being some variation on urban fantasy.

      The Green Mile is a good place to start with him I think, if you haven’t read it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh no – I wouldn’t dream of suggesting what you should or shouldn’t include on a personal article like this – I think it’s fab, anyway. I was just sharing my own reading experience:).

        As for the Stephen King experience – thank you for the recommendation – I have read a couple of his books, Bag of Bones and Sarah Laughs which I thought were amazing, particularly the last one… But then attempted Cujo and couldn’t get through it – I’m such a wuss where horror is concerned!

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  5. This is such an amazing article!
    I was really hesistant to ever start Fantasy books, or sci-fi, because I thought to myself “hey, this isn’t real, so how can you relate?”
    Now they are two of my favourite genres!
    I will be looking out for these books!
    – Emma 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post! I’m not on to venture outside of horror/fantasy/thriller very often, so I’m always looking for good recommendations for other genres. I’ll have to add some of these to my list as well! Thanks for sharing this.
    (Also if you are looking for non- Stehpen King horror recommendations I have PLENTY, just tell me what sort of horror you’re okay with and I can absolutely come up with a list lol)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mean- I’m pretty much okay with anything- I like a faster paced horror rather than the slow burn. The only thing I don’t always like is stuff with child abuse/harm/rape etc. I’m open to anything else and would love to have some suggestions!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll start working on that list xD I have tons of horror. I definitely suggest The Ruins by Scott Smith, its one of my all time favorites. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix is another great one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Horrorstor! Have you read The Troop by Nick Cutter? It’s not a jungle setting, but its a pretty gruesome book(I’m actually needing to re-read it myself)

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    • Definitely! I love The Last Kingdom series and Bernard Cornwell’s research is impeccable so I also felt like I learned a lot. I will say Cornwell books tend to be very male centric in that the females don’t always get the spotlight, but he does have a couple very well done female characters.

      If you’re okay with that, it’s a great book to pick up!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I mean he has a couple that are wonderful- Hild the warrior nun and Princess Aethelflaed. Brida is a good morally grey counterpoint to Uhtred, but for the most part many of them are flat/one note. And those that are fully fleshed out are not often present. But if you can look past that it’s a great story.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely love your selection for each genre. Everyone should definitely try to dip their toe in something different here and then to discover things they might have never thought they’d love. Your picks for graphic novels are awesome and I would definitely recommend them too. I haven’t read Nimona though but I have a copy and need to check it out soon hahah I particularly like to dive into the occasional mystery (a bit less psychological thrillers nowadays because I feel like they often have similar patterns…) and historical fiction to along my full-time SFF + Graphic novel daily consumption hahah Thank you for sharing these! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this Lashaan! I’ve been following along on your blog too and I think we have pretty similar tastes, so any of them might be a good fit for you. Definitely check out Nimona! It’s on the lighter side of Fantasy still but so much fun!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I totally get what you mean about reading taste changing- there was a time when I never would’ve thought to pick up a space opera either. This is a really great post to do! I love last kingdom 😀 And I definitely want to pick up pillars of earth and immortalists 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Books Outside My Comfort Zone | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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