Some days, it seems like we could all use a little bit of joy in our lives, no? Maybe some of us are looking for a kinder, gentler world to escape to? Well, then! May I suggest ten of my favorite books that are exactly what I think you’re looking for?
1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafer
Honestly, the only reason you haven’t seen a full (rave) review of this book on my site before is that it was so widely recommended there, for a while, that the point seemed moot. There’s a reason for that: Guernsey is a charming epistolary novel, set in post-WWII London and on the British isle of Guernsey. It’s filled with quirky characters, strong women, and a delightful will-they/won’t-they love story. If you haven’t read it yet (or lately!), you must!
2. These Is My Words by Nancy Turner
The sweeping tale of a pioneer-era woman, Sarah Prine, and it’s everything we could want it to be. Sarah’s voice is folksy, straightforward, and both funny and charming in its plainspoken way. She is gutsy and brave, and meets both the challenges and the people in her life-head-on. But at heart, Words is a romance, and a strong one–Sarah and Jack’s story is epic, and I loved it.
3. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Oh, this book. If you love To Kill a Mockingbird like I do, Cold Sassy will likely satisfy that same itch. A historical Southern fiction in full glory, it’s chock-full of colorful characters, deep family bonds, and hometown spunk. I’ve read it over and over and it’s probably time for another go.
4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Written in the 1940s, Castle is the story of Cassandra, as told by her entries in her journal. Cassandra is, in short, adorable. There’s just no way not to fall in love with this girl. She’s straightforward, fresh-faced, and so real. Living in a run-down castle with her family (who are struggling for survival), Cassandra spends her days hoping and striving for better things. She has big dreams and intends to chase them. I’m absolutely enamored of her. There’s a fantastic love story here too, which doesn’t hurt!
5. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen
If a book can give you a bit of a grandpa-crush on an aging British gentleman, Major Pettigrew is that book. A man of principle, kindness, civility, and integrity, the Major is such a tender little man that I just kept rooting for him, particularly as he starts forming an attachment for the Pakistani shopkeeper down the road. This book is a little bit of balm for the heart.
6. Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson
This is a memoir, and a story of the strength of the human spirit and our ability to find joy in any circumstance. In 2008, Stephanie and her husband were in a plane crash that left Stephanie with burns over 80 percent of her body. She spent months in a coma, and still more time in hospital beds, rehabilitation, and recovery. Physically and emotionally scarred, alone with her thoughts for much of each day, Stephanie found herself with little to rely on, except her faith. Heaven is Here is is filled with hope and strength and infused with the beauty and joy Stephanie finds all around her, even in the face of powerful adversity. It’s fascinating and completely beautiful.
7. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
One of my favorite classics, and partly because of Forster’s light dose of the absurd throughout. While Room is, ultimately, a love story set in gloriously beautiful Florence, Italy and its surroundings, Forster’s lighthearted amusement at the way his compatriots structure their tourism, behave badly when their plans are thwarted, and react with varying degrees of xenophobia and general silliness is, well, funny. Rather than ascerbic, however, Forster’s tone is gentler, and while he clearly intends to shine a (soft) light on these flaws, he also writes some complex and beloved characters, lush scenery, and a fantastic overall story.
8. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Think along the lines of A River Runs through It…only many degrees better. A story about a boy named Reuben, his fugitive brother Davy, who’s on the running from the law, suspected of murder. Reuben and his family chase desperately after Davy through the frozen Dakotas to try and help him. Trying to describe what the book is really about, though, has little to do with the plot. It’s about family, belief, spirituality, loyalty…and overall, the feeling one comes away with after reading it is still, quiet power. There were moments in Enger’s writing that made me stop and think about what I believed, what I loved, and what I thought was true about life. More impressively, Enger manages simultaneously to be an impressively entertaining author: his story about Reuben and his family is wholly engaging, entertaining, quirkily funny, and entirely charming. I don’t know how to ask anything more from writing.
9. Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone
A book about a girl with wings that is not a fantasy, but is, in the way its story unfolds, magical. Sky involves a strong immigrant family, a mystery, and an ending that leaves readers with an overarching sense of wonderment and awe. I loved this book and felt completely delighted when I had finished it. I hope you do, too!
10. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
WELL. You can’t go wrong with Anne, can you?? I’ve been watching this with my six-year-old daughter, lately, and she keeps sighing and telling me everyone is so kind and the show is so nice. My kid gets it. Let’s all go read Anne!
Happy reading, everyone!