Open Thread: Best Brain Candy Books For the Summer?

brain candy books2016 Update: There are still tons of great suggestions in the comments, but do check out our more recent discussion on summer reading for working women

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

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. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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)

  14. 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!!)

  15. 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.

  16. new york associate :

    My all time favorite comfort reads are books by Robin McKinley. Since she doesn’t produce as fast as I read :), I’ve also enjoyed books by Kristin Cashore (the Graceling series), Megan Whalen Turner, Elizabeth Bunce (terrific retelling of Rumpelstiltsken), Pamela Dean (mostly Tam-Lin), Shannon Hale, and Rae Carson.

    In the mystery category, I recommend Laura Lippman, Kate Atkinson, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Elizabeth George, PD James, and Peter Robinson.

    • Former MidLevel :

      Robin McKinley – seriously. The Blue Sword might be my favorite book ever.

      • 500% seriously! That is the book that I go back and read over and over every couple of years. love it so….

      • Alanna of Trebond :

        I think I might like Hero and the Crown better, but I wonder if it is because I read it first? I also like Gale Carson Levine, Phillip Pullman and Diana Wynne Jones.

        • new york associate :

          Yes to all of those! My favorite McKinley is probably Spindle’s End, but I love them all.


      Whooh. Ohhhk. Deep breaths, 1L. Yes, some one else has heard of your favorite author…but has she read your favorite book?

      New York Associate, I put it to you: Have you read The Thief?


      • new york associate :

        I have read all of them, including the Thief! Isn’t it an amazing book? She’s wonderful.

        • Yes, she’s absolutely wonderful! Actually, I was in the library today, and decided to get out all four books of the series to reread, because hey why not! and give them to my husband so he can experience them too!

  17. Love Julie James, who just so happens to be a former big law trial attorney. Her books are fabulous and often topical for me (and many of the ladies on this site I’m sure). My favorite is “just the sexiest man alive” about an employment discrimination trial attorney forced to help an actor train for a role – perfect beach reading.

  18. I just read “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose — nonfiction by a Brown student who decides that if he really wants to experience a completely different culture, he should go to Liberty U. as an exchange student. Really engaging and thoughtful book, and a very quick read.

  19. CPA to be :

    Oooo… also, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe… it’s not that fluffy if you take it on a metaphorical religious level, but I read that book so many times as a kid that reading it again is like putting on a comfortable pair of pajamas.

  20. Thank you for this post! I’ve been dying for some book recommendations, so I will be combing through these comments with a fine tooth comb. I recently read Divergent (the first in a trilogy) and its a good one. I do not recommend Guilty Wives – not a fun or pleasant read at all!!!

  21. I am in love with a great book titled, “The Romanov Stone” by Robert C. Yeager. An intriguing historical romance centered around the Romanov’s.

  22. In-House Europe :

    Oh this is great. I actually have a spreadsheet and every time there is a book discussion on here I add to my list….looks like I will have some work to do tonight! :)

    I am a huge reader – I now have 450 books in my Kindle archive. But I think that the books I have read are pretty much already covered here.

    Currently reading “The last letter from your lover” which is pretty good.

  23. Given that the theme is guilty pleasures, here are some of my favs:

    Jennifer Crusie – love her supporting cast of characters in each book

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips – the Chicago Stars series

    Julie James – for those lawyers who like reading about lawyers

  24. I love book threads too… Not all of these are really easy reads, but my favorite recent authors/books at the moment, and I think some of them have not been mentioned yet:

    Philippa Gregory (already mentioned several times!)

    Emma Donaghue (I have only read ‘Room’ but it was great)

    Kate Morton (fun historical fiction, usually some kind of mystery involved)

    Diane Setterfield (I’ve only read ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ but I enjoyed it)

    Diana Gabaldon (I love the Outlander series — definitely a guilty pleasure)

    And some that I would not consider ‘easy reads’ but I really enjoyed them:

    Ken Follett (usually very long books, but I find them very interesting)

    Barbara Kingsolver (especially the Poisonwood Bible)

    Anya Seton (I read ‘Katherine’ which is historical fiction taking place in 14th century England)

    Herman Wouk (his books ‘Winds of War’ and ‘War and Remembrance’ were really interesting fictional accounts of World War II)

    My favorite genre is historical fiction, so most of these fall into that category!

  25. I just finished The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo. A fun, quick read – part bio of Chanel, part musing on what lessons we modern women can learn from Chanel’s life. Great if you love fashion (and you know you do hanging out on Corporette!).

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