Open Thread: Best Brain Candy Books For the Summer?

brain candy books
I’m having a rough Monday for a reason I suspect is familiar to many of you: I was up until 2:30 last night finishing The Hunger Games. (Yes, I FINALLY read it after years of readers recommending it. Now I can’t wait for the movie to come out on DVD!) We’ve talked about brain candy before, but with summer beginning (and, theoretically, vacation time), I thought I’d start an open thread today: What are your favorite brain candy books — you know, the ones that are such easy and quick reads that you can’t help but count them as guilty pleasures?

Some of my favorites:
– Julia Quinn (especially The Bridgerton Series)
– Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse mysteries
– Sophie Kinsella (especially The Undomestic Goddess)
– Pretty much anything by Malcolm Gladwell

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Longer reads (but still favorites) include White Noise by Don DeLillo, Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood, and The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.

P.S. In a much (much) more serious vein, I just wanted to direct anyone who’s suffering from domestic abuse (or knows anyone who’s suffering) to the weekend open thread, where a lot of commenters gave some great advice to a reader who is suffering.  There are some great tips in here, including an anonymous domestic abuse hotline.  To the original poster and everyone else who wrote in to say they were victims, my heart goes out to you.  And to everyone who wrote in with helpful advice, big hugs — you make this a great community.

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  1. I’m reading “People Who Eat Darkness” by Richard Lloyd Parry. It’s a true crime story of a young British woman murdered in Japan in 2000. It’s really fast, engrossing, and I even feel like I’m learning a little bit about Japanese culture and the whole hostess thing over there.

    I don’t really go for vampire stuff or sci-fi post apocalyptic; give me a good murder mystery or true crime book and I’m happy.

  2. Shopping help :

    Last night at dinner I saw a woman in a navy blue maxi dress with thin white stripes, two inches apart maybe. She wore it as a tube top but had two straps tied in front that looked like they could have also been tied around the neck. Any ideas where I can find this dress? TIA!

    • J.crew has one possibility – the Amie double-stripe maxidress (on sale in black/ivory).

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I think I have that dress! It is from WALMART believe it or not. Mine is tea length b/c I’m pretty tall but I could see it as a maxi dress on someone shorter. I can be worn a million ways.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        I also bought it “last season” to the extent that Walmart has seasons.

  3. I’ve been reading Sarah Vowell’s books (first Assassination Vacation, now Wordy Shipmates) based on a recommendation from a [reader of this website]! So thanks, whoever mentioned them, they are great.

  4. I veg by reading mysteries. Some favorites for people who are looking:
    -Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn books (Navajo Nation detectives)
    -Nevada Barr’s Anna Pidgeon books (National Park ranger solves mysteries)
    -Carl Hiaasen’s books (humorous thrillers set in South Florida; Skinny Dip is a good one to start with)
    -Richard Price’s books (darker crime novels set in New York/New Jersey)
    -Three Bags Full, by Leonie Swann (sheep solve the murder of their shepherd–absolutely terrific)

  5. Any suggestions for books or series similar to Hunger Games? My DH flew through the Hunger Games trilogy, and he is NOT a fiction reader. My English-major self was super excited to see him reading something other than the Economist (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either). I’d love to offer him some suggestions!

    • It’s not thematically similar, but the last book I read that was as exciting as the Hunger Games was Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Like the Hunger Games, it’s plot-driven, the language doesn’t get in the way of the story, and it’s genuinely thrilling/scary but won’t give anyone nightmares.

    • um…my friends mom has published a couple books (small press, but available on amazon) that are a little more Handsmaid Tail than Hunger Games, but has that post-apocalyptic feel.

    • As said above, the Divergent series by Veronica Roth is very good and somewhat similar.

    • Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies/Pretties/Specials series. Post-apocalyptic series with a teenage lead who takes on the fubar political structure that enforces horrifying beauty and behavior standards. Also, really awesome action sequences. Great stuff.

      • Leslie Knope :

        Seconded! I was actually scrolling down to see if anyone had mentioned Westerfeld yet.

    • Thanks everyone! Time to check out Amazon…

    • The only fiction books I (an English major myself) could get my husband to read are Dan Brown’s books. Now he’s always on the look out for Brown’s next book.

    • anon in tejas :

      the uglies series is also pretty interesting

    • Ender’s Game – like Hunger Games but in space with a male protagonist. There’s a larger series, but I haven’t read them yet.

  6. Ooh! Ooh!

    As Meat Loves Salt – Maria McCann. Historical homoeroticism for the win! Love me an unreliable narrator.

    The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik. What impact would dragons have had on the Napoleonic war and 1800s geopolitical power dynamics? Just go with it. The writing is superb… Jane Austen meets Patrick O’Brien.

    • To be clear, I found both of these to be fast, easy reads, historically appropriate language and writing style not withstanding.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :

      I can second the Temeraire series! If you like fantastical historical fiction you will enjoy these books.

    • Is Temeraire YA-level or strictly adult? We are going on a road trip with a 12-year old and I am considering getting the audio along.

      • Well, it’s written in a prose style mimicking Jane Austen or Patrick O’Brien. So your 12-yo might find the writing something of a barrier (although it’s an easy read for an adult), although the story itself is interesting. No overt sex, and there are a number of air-and-sea battles.

      • Fantastic idea! Man, those would make great road trip books.

        As a kid, I *loooooooooooooooved* Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger series… I would have given anything for my very own firelizard. I would have adored Temeraire as a 12-year-old.

  7. I absolutely love, and fly through, the majority of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Amazing.

  8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I just reread it and it was even better the second time around – and the sequel is coming out in July! I can’t WAIT!

    Also – a bit meatier but just as amazing – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

  9. So anon for this :

    No one else has said it, so I will: The 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, despite being really poorly written and edited, is engrossing and enjoyable, perfect airplane or beach reading (if you have a Kindle) or, um, perfect to read alone too.

    • Anonymous :

      I finished all three books last week. I hope there’s a 4th!

    • Question: I just read the first one last week. I was expecting it to be interesting, hot, a little risque — and it was, a little, but mostly I was just annoyed with the tritely innocent main character. Please tell me, does it (she) get better in the next two books, or should I call it quits now?

      • So anon for this :

        She gets better, especially in the third one. I thought the first one was the worst of the three. But the books are pretty trite, overall.

        • Hmm, then I’ll have to pick up the next one and suffer through to the fun bits. I know we’re not reading for high literature here….

          • So anon for this :

            I don’t think it’s really something you have to suffer through. If you generally like smutty romance novels, you’ll like this too – it’s not any more poorly written or unbelievable than your average paperback romance, and the sex scenes are better.

        • You were right. The second one is much more satisfying mind candy, with a less timid Ana. A delightfully trashy indulgence. :)

    • Not feeling the 50 Shades… I couldn’t get through more than halfway due to the poor quality writing and annoying charictarization.

      I think I couldn’t get past the fact that it’s Twilight fanfiction with the names changed. There’s way better stuff out there to read, both fanfiction (published and otherwise) and original fiction.

  10. For mystery fans, I really like Laura Lippman’s books. I also read a book a couple years ago called Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter that was quite good.

    Currently on my Kindle, I have Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague; Sarah’s Key; Brideshead Revisited; and The Tiger’s Wife. I also really liked Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by the same author who wrote Wicked.

    I also absolutely love the Song of Ice and Fire series (which many people know by the title of the first book, A Game of Thrones). If you like the middle ages, fantasy, or adventure, you’ll probably like this series.

    • Going through my past orders on my Amazon account – I also really liked Bound by Antonya Nelson, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, and Extraordinary, Ordinary Folks by Condoleeza Rice.

    • Second the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire series, especially if you’ve watched Game of Thrones on HBO (although I’m a little annoyed that while the first series adhered pretty closely to the first book, the second series has gone a bit off track). I breezed through all 5, even though they can be quite hefty.

  11. I just adore The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. He releases one book a year, bringing the series to 13 delightful episodes this year. The books are set in Botswana and follow the escapades of the country’s only lady detectives … they get into all sorts of interesting predicaments! The character development is excellent, especially as the series progresses.

    • Equity's Darling :

      Yes! I have loved these books for years. I’m always so curious, and usually there are enough hints to keep me interested, but not enough to give me the answer:)

      There was one BBC tv season I think, but I have no idea what happened to that. Doesn’t really matter, the books are amazing.

    • Also love these!

    • English Rose :

      His Isabel Dalhousie series (starting with The Sunday Philosphy Club) is fab too, and he publishes one of these a year as well. They follow the editor of a philosophy magazine in Edinburgh who finds herself caught up in a new mystery in each book. I always try to take one on holiday.

      • Ooh – I may have to (finally) check these out. Along with like 50 other books mentioned on this thread….

    • Love these, also the Isabel dalhousie ones.

      Georgette Heyer.

      Philippa Gregory.

      Agatha Christie.

      And I just discovered Nancy Mitford.

  12. In a similar vein – My DH and I are planning a road trip (9-10 hours each way) for 4th of July and are looking for a good audiobook for the trip. We’ve enjoyed the Dan Brown books on road trips but have finished all of them. (And yes, I know they’re terrible, but anything that can hold my DH’s interest for 12 hours is great in my book!) Any suggestions for a fun, fast-paced, mystery/thriller type book?

    • Merabella :

      My DH loves audio books for his road trips. He has enjoyed the Relic Series by Preston and Childs. They did a horrible movie version of it in the 90s but the books are great. The whole series is read by Rene Auberjonois.

      • Just getting back to this, but thanks for the suggestion! I’ll look into those books :-)

    • This was mentioned above as well, but Stephen King’s book ’11-22-63′ was really good. It wasn’t a horror story like many of his other books. It’s about a man who goes back in time to try to prevent the JFK assassination. I thought it was hard to put down!

  13. Senior Attorney :

    A great friend of mine just released her first e-book! If you have an e-reader and you like chick lit, check out “Mr. Right and Other Mongrels” by Monique McDonell. She’s Australian so the slightly-unfamiliar cultural background makes it extra fun.

    I also love Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series.

    And I am currently about 1/3 of the way through “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and am love. ing. it. It got a lot of pre-publication press and so far is more than living up to it! Basically it’s about the disappearance of the female half of an unhappily married couple on the wedding anniversary, and it’s told in alternating chapters from his POV in present time, and her journals in the years leading up to the event. Big fun.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Oh, and “The Magicians” and “The Magician King” by Lev Grossman. Kind of a cross between Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, with an all-hipster cast.

    • LOVE the Dresden Files. I found the first two a bit… lacking, but as of book number three I was hooked.

    • I finished “Gone Girl” and I LOVED it! Ms. Flynn’s other novels are fantastic as well, including “Sharp Objects”. Highly recommend!

  14. Ooh, I also have to add Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” books. I’ve read them all (some a few times), but they were very often my summer brain candy in years past. I love a cozy mystery, and LJB did them really well.

    • Err, also I love cats. Which helps.

    • anon prof :

      I really liked those until I read one where the protagonist (the guy, not the cat) sort of stalks a woman and gets his jollies from freaking her out. It was creepy and made light of stalking. It’s not funny to scare a single woman walking alone, but the author treated it as humorous. I haven’t read one since.

  15. For supernatural YA fiction I really enjoy Cassandra Clare’s series Mortal Instruments (modern) and Infernal Devices (Victorian England – very steampunk-ish). Perfect for a summer read.

    • Graduate student help :

      Ahhh but Cassandra Clare has a history of plagarism!

      Mortal Instruments was also originally Harry Potter fanfiction (which I read once upon a time when the characters’ names were Harry, Hermione, and Draco!)

      • Heh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who still carries a grudge against her for the plagiarism.

  16. FormerPhotog :

    Lately on my long trips, I’ve been scarfing up ITunes U lectures on epidemiology from Yale. I’m thoroughly looking forward to finishing up smallpox and getting into cholera on my trip to Indy in a few weeks. I have a few other courses I’m looking forward to “taking”, too.

    I don’t read much fiction lately, preferring the pop-sci shelves – my friend just recommended “The Family that Couldn’t Sleep”, and I may put that on the iPad, and I’ll probably buckle down and read the Night Circus while I’m visiting family this summer…

    • I read “The Family that Couldn’t Sleep” a year or two ago and loved it. It sounds like you’re a med geek like me, so you’ll probably dig it.

  17. So, not terribly light, but I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s long, but I could not put it down (full disclosure: I couldn’t stop crying either). It’s amazing what the human body and spirit can endure. I also liked it because I hadn’t previously learned/read much about the war in the Pacific, so it was really informative.

    For fluffier (mildly supernatural) fun, I’d recommend the Night Circus (AMAZING) and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I also like Tana French’s books starting with In the Woods.

  18. Gail the Goldfish :

    My brain candy books that I will read over and over when I need to completely shut off the brain are pretty much all fantasy novels, and for the most part, young adult fantasy novels. One of my favorites that is not well known is Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. (It’s now published as one book, but was originally two-Crown Duel and Court Duel. Make sure you get the combo). I pretty much read it over and over, particularly if I’ve had a rough week. It’s like a pint of ice cream in book form.

    I think all my other favorites have been mentioned. Tamora Pierce, George RR Martin, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton (earlier Anita Blake books, not the new crap). Also Brandon Sanderson and Diane Duane’s Young Wizardy series. (And, of course, Harry Potter and the Hunger Games)

  19. I just skimmed thru, so if these are duplicates, forgive me, but:

    Ann Bishop – the Black Jewels series, but all of her book as well. It’s kind of similar to the Song of Fire and Ice series, but with a much more woman-centric vibe. She calls it “Dark Fantasy” but I lurv.

    Charles de Lint – has a bajillion books, but he writes what he calls ‘Urban Fantasy’ that takes place mostly in modern day Canada, but with fairies and other references to fairy tale stories, etc, and awesome central female characters, and just super fun and easy to read.

    Wicked and the rest of Gregory Maguire’s books. Also, a super fast read, but I love how he kind of turns the stories we know around and has a whole different way to look at them. And he writes women really well, for a guy ;o)

    Also, if you’ve never read it, EVERYONE should read the original The Princess Bride novel by William Goldman. So funny, but in a lot of ways very different from the movie.

    And I second the Philippa Gregory rec from above. Love her!

    (I love book threads, thanks Kat!!)

  20. English Rose :

    Not sure if these are brain candy exactly, but for long flights I love old detective stories by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The need to find out what happens keeps me interested when I’m tired / bored of the flight.