Cara/Andrea here, For this month’s “What We Are Reading” feature, we decided to do a “companion” piece to last month’s “Comfort Activities”—the things we do to relieve stress when Life (as the coming holidays and all the things that can make them . . . complicated) gets a little out of control So here’s a list of some of our favorite “go-to” comfort reads—the literary equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of fresh-baked cookies!
Comfort reads. Just the words make me feel all warm and happy. These are the battered books on my keeper shelves that I reach for whenever I want to curl up knowing I am in for a good read. It doesn’t matter that I know the story by heart and could probably quote quite a bit of it aloud. These books never let me down.
Here are a few of my absolute favourites: This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. I could choose anything by Mary Stewart, really, but This Rough Magic just squeaks in as my favourite as a result of the combination of exotic location, strong heroine, gorgeous hero and a life-saving aquatic mammal. Makes me cry every time in a GOOD way.
There are many Regency historicals on my keeper shelf: books by my fellow wenches, Ann Elizabeth Cree, Anna Campbell and Louise Allen amongst others but one of my stand out comfort reads is The Beau and the Bluestocking, a traditional Regency by Alice Chetwynd Ley. As with Mary Stewart, I could have chosen almost any of Alice’s books because they were amongst the first Regencies I ever read and I’ve loved them ever since. I love the trope of the clever heroine who refuses to be impressed by the fashionable fop only to discover that he has hidden depths… The Beau and the Bluestocking seems to be out of print but I see that a number of Alice Chetwynd Ley's books have been reissued in e-book and a good thing too!
Amongst the contemporary romances that I turn to when I’m looking for a comfort read are Sarah Morgan’s books (again, almost ALL of them), Sophe Page’s To Marry A Prince, the perfect fairy story and Persuade Me, by Juliet Archer. Perhaps because Persuasion, by Jane Austen, is also a comfort read for me, I absolutely adored Juliet’s modern take on the story.
I have so little time for reading that “comfort” reads could easily mean anything I’m reading right now. I bought Sharon Shinn’s latest, Jeweled Fire, because I was going to be on a plane for 19 hours and I wanted an author I knew I could trust and a book I could sink into. But I wouldn’t call it easy or mindless reading for when the brain just wants simple.
One of my favorite authors is Jayne Anne Krentz in all her incarnations, and I have lots of her books on shelves and in my e-readers, so I suppose I could call her one of my fall-back authors, ones I trust to give me a rip-rousing story with great characters and a lovely romance. Just pick one from her website and enjoy.
There's a small group of books that I will read and re-read whenever I need something comfortable and familiar and close to me – when I'm down with flu, for instance, or feeling low energy or just need to step out of the world for a bit. I'll pick up one of these so-familiar books, the ones that have been with me for years like a well-worn blanket, the books that feed and fill something in me. Mary Stewart is top of that cozy-comfort batch of books, and The Moonspinners is truly my favorite of hers. Other than Mary Stewart, whose books have gotten me through many rough patches over the years, my short reading list also includes Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank, Mary Brown's whimsical Playing the Jack, and there are a few more on the list. I treasure them all for their different strengths–sometimes it's the exquisite writing, sometimes the story and the characters, sometimes I associate the read with something important in my life. They all combine the best of what I deeply need in a book–characters that I truly love, quality writing and storytelling that means something deeper to me than the many, many books I read and enjoy, but don't need to read again. The comfort reads are deeply special books to me and I'll keep on reading them.
Not everyone enjoys rereading a book, even ones they really liked, so I'm grateful that I'm a re-reader and can enjoy favorite books over and over. Particularly when I'm on deep deadline, I escape into my keeper shelf and often re-read whole series, such as Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan space opera series, Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane and romantic suspense books, or Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses or Elemental Blessings series. They're all great, imaginative storytellers and there are always satisfying endings and usually a fine romance.
And if I want humor, I might dive into my Jennifer Crusie books. Though they can be laugh out loud funny, what makes them special are the layers of subtext below the surface. A favorite of mine, Bet Me, is romantic comedy at its best, but it's also about body image and self-acceptance. And shoes. <G> The heroine Minerva, a cranky actuary whose mother is trying to bully her into becoming much thinner than her body type allows, meets Cal, who is just way too attractive for anyone's good. When she first sees him in a bar, she thinks, "Every woman in the room with a working ovary probably looked at him and thought, This one!"
And matters progress from there, with preparations for Min's sister's wedding, Chicken Marsala, an ugly cat named Elvis, and a man who is much nicer and more complicated than Min's first reaction. Did I mention that it's laugh out loud funny?
My comfort reads are usually people like Georgette Heyer and Eva Ibbotson. Others have mentioned Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz and I'm with them too; I can't tell you how often I've reread Scandal or Trust Me. There's Elizabeth Lowell's medieval Scottish border trilogy, Untamed, Forbidden and Enchanted and lately I've been digging through some of my old Johanna Lindsays.
At this time of year I like to reread a few favorite Christmas books. Trish Ashley's Twelve Days of Christmas is one I never miss rereading, and I recently bought two
Mary Balogh Christmas collections, a few stories of which I'd read before, but some of which were new to me.
But I also like to balance my re-reading with fresh new exciting reads and new-to-me authors, and at this time of year I start to collect new books, ready for the holidays and some lovely self-indulgent reading time.
I thought for a while about ‘comfort reads’ and ‘frivolous reads’ and the sort of books I can go back to and back to and they always make me smile. My ‘magic carpet’ books, as it were.
I have LOTS of these. I do indeed. I’m going to point to some old ones. Folk tales. Fairy stories. Contes De Fées. I find these fascinating on an intellectual level. They also touch my heart. I’m almost cheating because these are everyone’s magic carpet books.
When I’m enchanted by a writer like Peter S. Beagle or Tolkien, it’s in part because they’ve tapped into this tradition. Handing out recommendations, I’d suggest the Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. Free at Gutenberg here. The Blue, Yellow, Brown, Violet follow in its wake. All of these are available on Kindle and Nook to rescue you from some perfectly dreadful airline delay.
As a backup to the variously colored Fairy Books . . . I was going to suggest Moldavian Folk Tales by Grigore Botezatu which delighted my own children, but I see it has not been reprinted. It appears to cost $200 used. So I’ll put it very carefully back on the shelf and suggest The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton instead.
I’ve got a number classic comfort reads. First on the list is Pride and Prejudice, which always guarantees a blissful few hours of smiling over Austen’s sharp observations on human nature. The friendships, the foibles, and the lovely way that love conquers all is a delight, no matter how many times I’ve read it. Like a number of the other Wenches, I also turn to the works of Mary Stewart (The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic) and Elizabeth Peters (Children of the Storm.)
I also am a big fan of historical mysteries. The charming Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch is a particular favorite. His lovely prose has a quiet, cozy appeal, the characters and relationships are really well-wrought, and the plots are interesting and address bigger issues than the particular crime. I raced through his latest, Home Before Nightfall, in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and it was as big a treat as as a slice of pumpkin pie!
So, what about you? What are your favorite comfort reads? Please share!