Joyful, funny, hopeful, feel-good book recommendations needed
June 30, 2020 1:38 AM   Subscribe

I need some gentle escapism. Bonus points if it's available on audible. I enjoy fantasy and science fiction as well as young adult, but am open to anything, really. Something like "The Goblin Emperor" , Becky Chambers wayfarer books, or the Murderbot books, maybe? I'm open to romance, historical fiction, whatever, as long as it's relatively gentle and hopeful. I'm struggling with severe anxiety and can't handle anything too real right now.
posted by Zumbador to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
Check out I Capture The Castle.
posted by johngoren at 1:59 AM on June 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I found His Majesty's Dragon extremely gentle (and engrossing).
posted by trig at 2:07 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

I just finished reading All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot and it was so, so nice. Engrossing without being overly complicated. And such lovely descriptions of Yorkshire Dales.
posted by Nieshka at 3:06 AM on June 30, 2020 [13 favorites]

My go-to recommendation for joyful escapism is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It's like taking a vacation with a group of lovely friends.

Lately, I've been on a mission to re-read everything Beverly Cleary ever wrote, and she is consistently funny, empathetic, and hopeful. Of her teen books, I would especially recommend The Luckiest Girl.

If you're open to reading books for an even younger age, I think her Ramona books are some of the greatest novels of the 20th century. If you haven't read them since childhood, I highly recommend revisiting them.
posted by yankeefog at 3:13 AM on June 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

I've literally just received an email to let me know that a new anthology, Consolation Songs: Optimistic speculative fiction for a time of pandemic, has just been released. Might be just the ticket!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:40 AM on June 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

Not sff but: A Gentleman in Moscow.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:48 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding Elizabeth von Armin, and the film.

Can't go wrong with the multipurpose triumverate of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, PG Wodehouse.

Jan Morris' travel writing is very engaging and sensual and light.

Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm and Joe Keenan are exhilarating and genuinely laugh out loud (and I have depression/anxiety so it takes a LOT) if you can handle the fake temporary angst of farce type set-ups)

Diane Ackerman's Natural History of the Senses (non-fiction) is incredibly lush, really puts you back in touch w. said senses, though the author is a bit smug.

Rosemary Sutcliff's old-school Roman Britain YA historical fiction is lovely, talks about war etc but she was a very gentle soul. Dawn Wind in particular is themed around hope.

More high-quality, gentle historical: Georgette Heyer, Norah Loftus, Mary Stewart.
posted by runincircles at 3:49 AM on June 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

The stories in the Solarpunk anthology Glass and Gardens hit a lot of these notes for me.
posted by Lorc at 3:50 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also you can't beat well-written fan fiction for escapism. If you're not already familiar with the site, go to Archive of our Own, select a comforting author, TV series etc, then in the side bar filter by Kudos for quality and then probably Teen or General under Ratings. (Also check the tags on each work for angst.)
posted by runincircles at 3:55 AM on June 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

I just read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Kline. It has a sweet, gentle romance and a half-dozen charming children of various magical species, and an overall optimistic worldview.
posted by Orlop at 3:58 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

I find Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric & Desdemona novellas have that same feeling of "everyone doing their best to be a good person" about them and give me a similar vibe.

I also love Ursula Vernon's books (most of the grown-up ones are written as T. Kingfisher); Nine Goblins is a favorite, and one of her more all-ages books, Summer in Orcas, also has that lovely, soothing feeling.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:33 AM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've just read two books in a row that fit this: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. Both are romances, the former is pure joy, the latter is a little slower and a touch sadder, but gentle and ultimately very happy. Along the same lines, I enjoyed Jasmine Guillory's The Wedding Date a while back and I'm considering picking up another in that series for my next read to keep up my happy little streak.
posted by hought20 at 6:21 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

2nd'ing The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. I started reading it over the weekend and gentle escapism describes it perfectly -- it's excellent!
posted by pilibeen at 6:57 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

My go to would be PG Wodehouse - the Jeeves stories.

Bertie Wooster is a hapless bachelor who is continually bailed out by his butler Jeeves. This is set in pre-War UK but it might as well be fantasy because the world is joyful, playful and ageless. A world where the worst thing that can happen to you is that you have a haughty aunt and your friends are in danger of getting married to the wrong person. And the best thing? The best thing is it ends cleverly and always happily. When I read these stories I feel like hugging them, and dang it they hug you back :)

If you want to get a taste, check out this short story - Jeeves Takes Charge.

posted by storybored at 7:50 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Gerald Durrell's Corfu Trilogy especially the first one, My Family & Other Animals. Magical, timeless, hilarious, gentle.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:55 AM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

This is honestly what I turn to fanfiction for -- I second runincircles' idea! You can specifically search for stories with the tags 'soft', 'happy', 'happy ending' or what-have-you. Order by Kudos, and you can get a quite good idea of the tone of the story by reading the summary and the tags. If you want sexier romance, increase the rating :)
posted by kalimac at 7:59 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am currently measuring the pandemic length by how many times I reread the first few Anne of Green Gables books, and so far I’m up to three. They’re my go-to for gentle comfort.
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:16 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Bill Bryson's books, especially on Audible with his gentle Midwesterner-who-lived-in-Britain-for-20-years accent, are go-to comfort listens for me. His books come in two flavors - travel memoir-ish, and more like Historical How Stuff Works, which he has mostly done in the second half of his career and are my favorites. I still re-listen to One Summer: America, 1927 because SO MUCH happened that summer that I keep noticing things I didn't register in previous listens. I also really like A Short History of Nearly Everything, and At Home. On the travel side, Audible has a collection of his early Britain/Europe books, a good deal for one credit.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:26 AM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would recommend Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. Lois McMaster Bujold (noted above) gives it this review:"Well, that exactly suited my reading mood rainy yesterday. Fantasy-romance-adventure-humor. A beleaguered widow finds herself the inheritor of a magic sword, after which nothing goes as either of them expects."

I love Bujold's work, as well - I would second the Penric & Desdemona recommendation.

I would add to skycrashesdown recommendation: in addition to her famous Anne series, L.M. Montgomery wrote dozens of other books. My personal favourites are the YA duology of The Story Girl and The Golden Road - and one of her two adult novels, The Blue Castle. If you're feeling anxious and blue, i would especially recommend the later: it's all about a woman who learns how to live her own life and embrace happiness in northern Ontario.
posted by jb at 8:28 AM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Interdependency trilogy (by Mefi’s own jscalzi) has a mix of the Goblin Emperor’s court intrigue with the space opera romp of Murderbot and Wayfarer. And like all of the above, it has a focus on likable characters, and satisfying defeats of bad people by good people. The first book is The Collapsing Empire.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:41 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is exactly how I've been handling my reading since approximately February 24, which was when I really figured out that everything was going to hell. Here are my recommendations:

Nancy Mitford:
Don't Tell Alfred (the lightest and funniest even if also the slightest)
The Blessing
Love In A Cold Climate
The Pursuit of Love has a sad ending but the other three do not

Barbara Pym - "they're a bit acid", said my mother, but some of them are purely fun
Excellent Women
An Unsuitable Attachment
Jane and Prudence
A Glass of Blessings

Dodie Smith - in addition to I Capture the Castle, she wrote some slightly different and IMO more wonderful adult novels and also 101 Dalmations. Her other adult novels have been my favorite reading of this awful time so far:
The Town In Bloom - purely wonderful
The New Moon With The Old
A Tale of Two Families (a tiny bit sad)
It Ends With Revelations

D.E. Stevenson - wrote a bunch of light novels but I only really got into...
Miss Buncle's Book

Noel Streatfield, who wrote the Shoes books, also wrote some slightly more substantial YA books:
A Vicarage Family
Away From The Vicarage
If you liked, eg, Ballet Shoes, I recommend Theater Shoes and Dancing Shoes/Wintle's Wonders. Wintle's Wonders is hilarious in parts and Theater Shoes is really interesting about wartime London.
She also wrote a bunch of grown-up novels but I am about as fragile as a tiny wobbly water balloon right now and they're just a tiny bit too satiric for me, even though they're not actually very satiric.

Margaret Drabble - she gets a bit grimmer and a lot less left IMO over her career, but
The Millstone and
Jerusalem the Golden
are both pictures of a better and more optimistic Britain
Her other novels from before about 1985 are also very engaging and not in general dark or sad even if a few sad things happen.

As to fantasy and science fiction, my chronic reads are
Anything by Kij Johnson, but especially The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catheryn M Valente
Lud In The Mist by Hope Mirlees
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Joan Aiken's Dido Twite books
Peter Beagle's The Folk of the Air, which deserves to be far, far better known than it is and provides a really interesting portrait of the early days of the Society for Creative Anachronism to boot.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on June 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

Big fan of the examples you gave!

Anything by A Lee Martinez.
posted by porpoise at 9:51 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Definitely Lois McMaster Bujold. I love all her stuff but think her Sharing Knife series is particularly gentle and underrated. I just did a several month reread of almost all her novels and the only thing stopping me from book depression now that I’m done is unread Gail Carriger (see below) and the new Murderbot novel.

Funny Connie Willis. Read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which literally had me laughing out loud) and then Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. I also love all her funny novellas, especially Uncharted Territory and All Seated on the Ground.

Gail Carriger does funny, smart, kind-hearted steampunk vampire and werewolf romance set in London. Lots of gentle acceptance (including lots of LGBT characters) and love with plenty of plot to keep it moving along.

The two Squirrel Girl novels are gentle and optimistic and really fun.

I think Robin McKinley’s Beauty is one of the most beautiful, gentle books I’ve ever read.
posted by bananacabana at 9:56 AM on June 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I recommend Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes for gentle/hopeful/cozy purposes.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Since you're open to romance, if you haven't already read Courtney Milan's work it might be just what you're looking for. Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure is a standalone and one of my favorites. From the description:
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.

Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone.

Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time.

If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses.

Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him because he deserves them. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences.
posted by Lexica at 10:20 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Seconding Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog (but be warned that not all of her work is so lighthearted, and I'd especially not read The Doomsday Book right now).

And if you've never read Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, I think you'd like it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:28 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Threadbare - If you might be interested in a litrpg web serial about a teddy bear golem and a little girl (with a fair amount of profanity and a few darker moments).

Thirding Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog.
posted by Blue Genie at 10:47 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sarah, Plain and Tall would be nice.
posted by jgirl at 11:12 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a YA fantasy classic, and is both warm and humorous.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is good fun - I also loved Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Northanger Abbey being the lighter of the two.

I checked to see if Audible had the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio plays, and they do! The Primary Phase and Secondary Phase are the original radio plays that aired in the late 70's, and even if you have read the books and know the plot they are an absolute treat. If you need something fun to listen to, I highly recommend them.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

I checked to see if Audible had the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio plays, and they do!

Oh! Yes, yes, if you have access to the Hitchhiker's Guide radio series, that's a must-listen. Each incarnation of HHGG (radio series, books, TV series, Infocom text adventure, and possibly the film too but I've not seen it so can't be sure) is unique unto itself, and deeply wonderful in its own right.

*whistles HHGG theme tune contentedly*
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ooh, HUGE yes to the original H2G2 radio plays!! Back when I lived alone, I used to have them on tape and would frequently play them at night to drift off to sleep to. The voice actors are wonderful, the story is as delightfully goofy as it always is, and there's something about it that's just utterly soothing. I still can't hear Journey of the Sorcerer (which was used as the theme music) without drifting into a very tranquil state.

And right now I'm about halfway through The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, and unless something truly unexpected happens in the remaining half I'd say that it fits the bill as well. So gentle and kind so far.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:18 PM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you can do the younger side of young adult I highly recommend any book by Natalie Babbitt but especially The Search For Delicious and Tuck Everlasting.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:02 PM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Joanna Bourne's The Spymaster's Lady takes place during the French Revolution with a British spy hero and a French spy heroine. It has adventure, derring-do, hopefulness and the kind of banter that would fit a 1930s Cary Grant film. If you like it she has several more in the series.

If you are looking for things that are really funny and are OK with historicals and romance, might I recommend Tessa Dare? Guaranteed happy endings, hopeful and frequently gonzo funny. I would in particular recommend beginning with Romancing the Duke (penniless girl inherits a castle in which a duke is already residing, hilarity ensues) or When a Scot Ties the Knot (for this one I just recommend reading the introductory chapter).

Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut series is huge on the hopeful front and read like a big giant hug for me. The characters do deal with a disaster that changes the Earth in scary ways, so I'd recommend reading the overview to see if it's too real for you or not.

Seconding Scalzi's Own The Interdependency trilogy. I literally just finished it yesterday and I'm now waitlisted to start the series again. It's action-packed, hopeful and scratches the same worldbuilding itch that Becky Chambers does for me, but has a stronger comic element.

Nthing To Say Nothing of the Dog, as well as the "don't read anything else by her unless you are utterly sure it is a comedy." Connie Willis comes in two flavors: hilarious and heartbreaking.
posted by rednikki at 5:07 PM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much! Quite a few I already know, but nothing wrong with rereading :)
posted by Zumbador at 6:20 AM on July 3, 2020

Kingslayer by Honor Raconteur reminds me of The Goblin Emperor. There is a lot of the same kind of problem solving.
posted by gt2 at 9:53 PM on September 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Came into ask today to make this post ha ha! So glad to see all these wonderful recs. I wanted to add a few:

Sharon Shinn's Elemental Blessings series
Seconding TKingfisher's Swordheart and adding Paladins Grace and Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking
Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer Sorcery and Cecelia
Rosemary Kirstein Steerswoman series
Julie Czerneda Beholder's Eye
YA Tamora Pierce Protector of the Small series
posted by Illusory contour at 12:40 PM on October 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I hear you, Zumbador. I've basically spent most of 2020 in self-imposed exile from the world because I just couldn't stomach it anymore. Not realistic? Well what has reality ever done for me?!

For escapism I finally decided to explore the fantasy/sci-fi genre of LitRPG, and I've found it to be a lot of fun. It's not great literature, but it's engaging and entertaining. I posted an FPP about LitRPG with examples on the blue earlier today. My favorite so far is The Wandering Inn, and though it's often not gentle, it is ultimately about the power of kindness which I find uplifting. And there are audiobooks for Volume 1 and Volume 2 (out of 7.)
posted by homunculus at 5:59 PM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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