Books to Read When You Can’t Read

Posted 2nd April 2022 by Sia in Lists, Recommendations / 0 Comments

For a bunch of reasons, sometimes it’s nearly impossible to focus on a book – you’re stressed, you’re ill, or maybe you’re just straight-up having a bad brain day.

Here are some books I’ve found easy to read even when my brain is misbehaving; light and fun, but also well-written and with enough meat on the bone to keep you engaged.

(You can also check out my Books Guaranteed to Make You Smile list, since that also features books that should be easily approachable and still wonderful!)

Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall
Representation: Black sapphic MC, F/F

From the author of Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake comes a cozy mystery that revisits the Golden Age of detective fiction, starring a heroine who’s more podcaster than private eye and topped with a lethal dose of parody -- perfect for fans of Clue, Knives Out, and Only Murders in the Building!

When up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they're hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage - not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage -- and their lives?

I know, it’s not SFF – alas, most of Hall’s books aren’t. What they are is addictive, and very funny, and Murder Most Actual in particular was able to hold my attention while I was struggling with new medication. That’s five stars right there, in my book. It’s tropey and silly, but aware of both those things, and the tongue-in-cheek vibe makes the whole thing utterly delightful.

Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1) by Ilona Andrews
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn't sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she's kidnapped by Connor "Mad" Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan's after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she's getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

I’ve used some of the foreign covers for this book (Turkish, Polish, and German respectively) because the English-language one gives you completely the wrong idea about what Burn For Me is like; there’s definitely Paranormal Romance elements, but in classic Ilona Andrews style they buck or subvert a lot of common tropes, and – spoiler! – nobody gets together in book one.

It’s a fast-paced, action-packed urban fantasy that is full of family-feels and clever in its approach to magic and worldbuilding; not exactly light, but easy to read and a ton of fun.

Incursion (The Dakotaraptor Riders Book 1) by Stant Litore
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Sapphic MC, Deaf sapphic wife, F/F

Looking for a thrilling tale with lesbian dakotaraptor riders, were-brachiosaurs, Slavic witches, triceratops cowboys, carnivorous cacti, and invaders with machine guns mounted on deathreaper tyrannosaurs?

If you’ve been looking for a series like that, Stant Litore has your back. In Incursion, join Sasha Nightwatcher and her wife Yekaterina on a wild dash across the violet prairie to save their alien homeworld.

I read and reviewed this one recently, and despite touching on some heavier topics, Incursion was a beautifully easy, escapist read. I mean – sapphic raptor-riders kicking ass on a purple planet! What more could you want???

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
Genres: Fantasy

Orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah's future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life... if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage's offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

Just about any Neumeier book will do, but House of Shadows (and its sequel, Door Into Light) is one of my especial favourites. Neumeier’s prose is as soothing as sinking into a warm bath, while her worldbuilding is always perfectly balanced between beautifully detail and accessibility – she has a kind of fairytale-esque, gently-lecturing style that is unbelievably relaxing. Bonus points for introspective storytelling and magic that always feels genuinely magical.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Representation: Gay Desi-American MC with depression, queer MC with clinical anxiety + OCD, multiple queer and BIPOC secondary characters

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.
In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.

Another contemporary-fic book! But I couldn’t not include it; The Charm Offensive is compulsively readable, and somehow manages to feel light while diving deep. It’s massively sweet and just as funny, and is pretty perfect in all the ways – most especially when you’re struggling to concentrate, because this book grabs hold of you by the Feels and never let go!

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Genres: Fantasy

In the underground city of Caverna, the world's most skilled craftsmen create delicacies beyond compare: cheese that can show you the future and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The poeple are unlike any other: they have faces blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and the famous Facesmiths will teach a person to display joy, despair or fear - at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world tumbles Neverfell, a girl with no memory and a face so incredible to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell has a face that shows her emotions. A face incapable of lying. A face that is a dangerous threat and an irrestible treasure - a face that some would kill for...

All of Hardinge’s books are weird and wonderful, but Face Like Glass is one of her better-known works for a reason! It’s strange and delightful and super clever, with easy but wonderful prose that draws you irresistably along and into the story. Strongly, strongly recommended!

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy

At the turn of the twentieth century, a former spy is called into service to hunt down a vampire killer...

Once a spy for Queen Victoria, James Asher has fought for Britain on every continent, using his quick wits to protect the Empire at all costs. After years of grueling service, he marries and retires to a simple academic’s life at Oxford. But his peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a Spanish vampire named Don Simon. Don Simon can disappear into fog, move faster than the eye can see, and immobilize Asher—and his young bride—with a wave of his hand. Asher is at his mercy, and has no choice but to give his help.

Because someone is killing the vampires of London, and James Asher must find out who—before he becomes a victim himself.

There’s no getting around it: Those Who Hunt the Night is not a fun, light-hearted story. What it is, is one of my favourite-ever takes on vampires – properly alien and unhuman, properly frightening – written in utterly gorgeous, magnetically compelling prose. Hambly’s writing is just so beautiful, so lush, that I can’t help coming back to this series again and again – most years I reread the entire 8 books!

And if vampires aren’t your thing, Hambly has written a lot of other books, including ones about wizards, dragons, and there-isn’t-a-word-for-female-wizards (in that particular book), as well as plenty of historical fiction if that’s your jam. I sincerely urge you to check out her bibliography!

7 is a magic number, so I’ll stop there.

What are your go-to books when you’re struggling to read?

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