What are some recommendations that would be alternatives to the "cotton candy" variety of books we see all too often?
What are your favorites? These can be scholarly or they can be fictional or devotional, whatever.
Fiction -- I don't see why a specific "Christian" or religious genre of books is really all that necessary. I'd rather read something from an author that doesn't hit me with the obvious. I'd prefer to see Christian authors write books that will sell outside a "religious" bookstore. That is why Tolkein and Lews are so great. You have to think and "chew" for yourself. Some of you will groan, but I LOVE the Mitford series by Jan Karon. It is light reading, suitable for a plane, or an afternoon curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, etc. Some people think Father Tim, the lovable Episcopal priest who is the main character in the series, is too good to be true. I disagree. I think his human frailty is obvious. If I feel like I know the people in the book, it's a success. Fantasy/Science fiction fans, I liked Ted Dekker's "Circle Triogy ("Red," "Black," "White") and I found the portrayal of the Christ character compelling--most especially in the first book of the series. And of course, Lewis' Space Trilogy (three books). What? You haven't read them?
Devotional: Simple and profound, "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. "My Utmost for His Highest" by O. Chambers. I do prefer the updated version. O.C. is deep enough without struggling with the writing style. For difficult times, "Streams in the Desert" by Lettie Cowman (not for "up times" IMO. For the spiritual desert times, as the title says.) Anything by Henri Nouwen or Thomas Merton. No. I don't agree with every single thing they say. Not necessary.
I've got to get some real work done, so I'll stop. Maybe will add more later.