Comfort Reads in Hard Times

- 14 comments - Reading

This morning when my agent phoned, she asked, “How are you? I mean, apart from the world being miserable, of course.” And of course that is how it’s felt lately. Orlando, Jo Cox, Brexit, Istanbul…

How do we cope in these times? Some days I end up crying and reading the news nonstop, unable to detach…and unable to work. After those times, I have to go offline completely to get my work done. Now I’m trying to take in the news in short, controlled chunks, doing whatever I can see to help…and then coming back to my work and my kids without letting myself be wrecked for them.

Last week I asked for recommendations of comfort films. But comfort books get us through hard times, too.

Here are some of the books that I’ve reread again and again through hard times, immersing myself in their worlds. This isn’t a list of my favorite books, it’s a list of my favorite comfort books, which isn’t exactly the same thing, although those two lists do overlap – my comfort books are among my favorites, but some of my favorite books aren’t on this list because they aren’t comfort reads:

In MG and YA:

  • Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes
  • Hilary McKay’s Casson Family books, starting with Saffy’s Angel
  • Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Mozart Season
  • Ursula Vernon, Castle Hangnail
  • Joan Bauer, Squashed
  • Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Spindle’s End
  • J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter books

  • In adult f/sf:

  • Lois McMaster Bujold’s 5 Gods series, starting with The Curse of Chalion (although they can be read as standalones, and my very favorite and most-often reread is Book 2, Paladin of Souls
  • Judith Tarr’s Lord of the Two Lands
  • Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
  • Gail Carriger, Soulless
  • Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds

  • In adult romance:

  • Nora Roberts’s In the Garden series (contemporary romance, female friendship and ghosts)
  • Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series (romance and chocolate in contemporary Paris)
  • Lucy Parker’s Act Like It (sweet, fun rom-com in London’s West End)
  • Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series (hot, emotionally intense paranormal romance)
  • Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series (fun paranormal romance with strong fantasy worldbuilding)

  • What about you guys? What are your favorite comfort reads to escape into when you need to?


    1. Anything by Gillian Bradshaw. I’m currently rereading “Cleopatra’s Heir” (just reviewed on Dear Author– clearly great minds think alike) and I’m relishing reading it again for the first time in four years. Her books are so descriptive and so clean– with great, down-to-earth characters, fantastic pacing and action too. I love her books SO MUCH.

      • Ooh, I love Gillian Bradshaw’s books (when I was a teen, I read Beacon at Alexandria again and again!), but I’ve still never read Cleopatra’s Heir. I’m going to look that up now, thank you!

    2. I wouldn’t call it cheerful but I always find immersing myself in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles to be calming. And rereading Pratchett always helps.

    3. Lymond, seriously? That series makes me tense. I want something calm and sweet when I’m already tense — Chalion, Sharing Knife, Bradshaw. Also Troubled Waters series by Shinn — those are soothing!

      • Well I did say it wasn’t very cheerful :)

      • I love all of those recs!

      • I am almost done with book 3 of The Sharing Knife and can not believe I’ve never read these before. The story is a shining light for me, a validation of everything I am dedicating my life to trying to contribute to the world, and it helps bolster my faith that maybe, someday, if we learn how to treat each other as human beings, we actually can nurture a world based on love. <3

    4. A lot of Robin McKinley hits the comfort sweet spot for me too. And Terry Pratchett too–not only the Discworld books, but the Bromeliad trilogy as well is one I return to. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (all of the Attolia books are great, but for some reason this one hits my narrative sweet spots perfectly.) The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, except for the last book. And the Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LeGuin.

      De-connecting from the news is a good idea sometimes. It’s hard not to want to soak up all the information, even if it’s awful information, but emotional balance is important too. (Here’s hoping for some better news.) *hugs*

      • Ooh, I can’t believe I forgot Robin McKinley – I really need to go back and add Beauty and Spindle’s End to that list! And I love all these recs.


    5. Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters … despite being murder mysteries, there’s such a sense of justice and love intermingled that run through them, they always give me hope. Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace. Much as I adore the Betsy-Tacy books, Emily is the one I find myself turning to for comfort. Likewise, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery tops even Anne for maximum comfort. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, especially The Black Cauldron. Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers. Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy quartet and also her Gone-Away books.

      Huh. Just realized there’s not a lot of fantasy on my comfort read list. I would have expected more, honestly.

    6. Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

      -The first Tiffany Aching book (The Wee Free Men) – they start to be less comforting as they move on.
      -Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
      -The Harry Potter series
      -The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper (sort of a modern Mich Ado About Nothing set at Shakespeare camp in Verona
      -The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (adult me also luuurves them, but I fell in love with them as a tween)

      -All six finished novels by Jane Austen (highly recommend Austen in trying times)
      -Big Magic by Liz Gilbert
      -the Twilight series (cannnnnndy)
      -Nine Rules and Ten Ways, both by Sarah Maclean, both with far longer titles (Regency romances)

      -anything at all by Billy Collins
      -The Best of It by Kay Ryan

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