Reading for the snatched minutes before the baby wakes up, the toddler wants to play hiding again or my sister falls asleep.
March 19, 2007 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations of comfort reading.

I want to find some more books my sister would like - she's not having an easy time at the moment. She describes her taste as "cheese". She particularly likes Georgette Heyer, Barbara Michaels (and to some extent Babs's alter ego Elizabeth Peters), Mary Stewart and the Golden Age detective story writers like Christie, Allingham, Sayers and - especially - Ngaio Marsh. Happy endings are a necessity. She doesn't like sci-fi or fantasy, modern chicklit, family sagas or cosy mysteries. Perhaps her favourites are best described as rather old-fashioned domesticity with a love interest and a slight mystery or thriller edge. She demands a certain level of good writing, so no real pulp. I'm her official book supplier and I'm running out of ideas - what have I missed?

(I've looked at LibraryThing's Suggester, gnooks, Whichbook and Amazon recommendations, but not found anything that hits the spot.)
posted by paduasoy to Writing & Language (42 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Has she tried The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency or other books by Alexander McCall Smith?
posted by logic vs love at 3:51 PM on March 19, 2007

I second Alexander McCall Smith. I would describe them as playful and uplifting. A real treat!
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 4:07 PM on March 19, 2007

I'm a fan of PD James. Original Sin is her best, in my opinion; Adam Dalgliesh (the inspector) and Kate (his coworker/maybe possibly love interest) are extremely appealing characters, drawn with a warm touch.

If she likes Christie, has she read the Miss Marple stories? I find them a lot more appealing than her Poirot stuff.

I don't especially like McCall Smith, because he's not a great writer, and often tediously moralizing. But it may be just the ticket for your friend--though it certainly counts as a "cosy mystery."
posted by nasreddin at 4:11 PM on March 19, 2007

Does she read Jane Austen? It's the platonic ideal of what Georgette Heyer was aiming at. I read all of her works several years ago during an epic bout of homesickness, and now reread them every summer. A college professor of mine read them in his tent while he was serving in Vietnam. They are calm, quiet, and serene, but also hilarious and emotionally satisfying. Really, given your description of her tastes, I'd be pretty surprised if she doesn't read them already -- but if she doesn't, it could be one of the best things you ever do for her to introduce her to Ms. Austen. Emma and Pride and Prejudice are the best places to start.
I also find when I'm stressed I tend to revert to reading children's books -- LM Montgomery, in particular, might ring her chimes. I'll post more later if I can think of anything, as her tastes sound very similar to mine.
posted by katemonster at 4:16 PM on March 19, 2007

I second The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Those books are the definition of comfort reading. As far as mysteries go, they're not pageturners, but they're just very pleasant to read.

Doppelganger over at 50 Books always seems to sum him up perfectly, and this is what she wrote in her last post about his books:

I needed a book that is funny without being acidic or jarring. I needed a book that is warm and gentle and life-affirming. I needed a book that could wrap me up in a big fuzzy hug and hold me and pat my hair and whisper, "There, there. There, there." And once again, McCall Smith comes to the rescue.
posted by amarynth at 4:18 PM on March 19, 2007

How about PG Wodehouse?
posted by Rubber Soul at 4:22 PM on March 19, 2007

Does she read Jane Austen?

2/3 of the way through Pride and Prejudice and will second that recommendation. It's wonderfully wry, finely observed and fascinating "old-fashioned domesticity with a love interest," and well above "a certain level of good writing." It's wise and funny stuff that's very easy on the eyes; sounds like just the thing you're looking for. A co-worker saw me reading it and laughed, saying one of the best semesters of his life was spent reading Austen's six novels.
posted by mediareport at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2007

* Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels

* Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie mysteries (maybe not the whole series- the last time I check it was turning into one of those interminable alphabet mysteries- but the first few are definitely fun.)

* Definitely the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books

I'd ask your local librarian too. This kind of stuff is right up their alley.
posted by MsMolly at 5:03 PM on March 19, 2007

The Maisie Dobbs series by Winspear may be up her alley. Also the Thursday Next series by Fforde maybe? They are sci-fi lit mysteries basically, but charming and witty and English and featuring a dodo and a love interest. And I always am cheered by Simenon, though they are cynical.
posted by dame at 5:17 PM on March 19, 2007

Maybe she would like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. Light on the romance, heavy on the mystery, though.
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:31 PM on March 19, 2007

2nd the Maisie Dobbs.

If you go to amazon, and fill a cart with the things she likes, they'll make suggestions, some of them based on what other readers really liked, and some based on what amazon wants to sell, but it would still be a useful exercise.
posted by theora55 at 5:42 PM on March 19, 2007

I have to second LM Montgomery. Not too thrilling, but when I think "comfort reading" I think Anne Shirley.

If she likes mysteries, this is a little off what you're looking for, but Sherlock Holmes is just perfect if you've got half an hour and want a little, satisfying chunk of reading. I used to print them out for my half-hour on the bus every day. I was intimidated by the intense nerdiness for a long time but they're such fun once you get started.
posted by crinklebat at 5:45 PM on March 19, 2007

Just since you mentioned Elizabeth Peters, ask if she's read one of her earlier books called The Mummy Case. It was the first EP book that I read and though I'm a dedicated fan of the entire series, I have yet to read one that has charmed me as much as that particular book. Plus, that is the only book where Ramses is very young and he's absolutely adorable (in a very peek-through-your-fingers-in-horror, glad-he's-someone-else's-child kind of way) - if your sister has children, it might be something she particularly enjoys about this one book.
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:46 PM on March 19, 2007

Not a mystery and perhaps a bit too domestic, but I might try I Capture the Castle. I have a hard time conveying what makes it so wonderful, but it really is a great book, and it's set in a period and milieu that I think is kind of Marsh-ian. Actually, I can tell you what makes it great: it's the narrator's voice. It's just very hard to explain why it's such a charming voice.
posted by craichead at 6:47 PM on March 19, 2007

Rosamund Pilcher? English, domesticity, comforting, and a few really good whopping novels among her output. I really enjoyed Coming Home (never wanted it to end), The Shell Seekers, and September. Happy endings do come in her books.

Maeve Binchy?

Maybe try an Elizabeth George mystery? Fine writing, very well plotted, deep characterisation. Not necessarily happy endings, though, so scrap that.

I'm fixated on UK settings for my comfort reading.
posted by Savannah at 7:00 PM on March 19, 2007

I know that she states that she doesn't like fantasy, but perhaps check out Terry Pratchett's Discworld? It's "fantasy" but it's absolutely hilarious (albeit slightly British) and the early books (and some of the later ones) takes a crack at the whole fantasy genre.

Many of the stories are set in very 'ordinary' situations, but those situations then get taken to their logical extremes.

Some are explicitly 'young adult' but they're all very accessible. Lots of continuity as the series progresses with recurring characters and cameos. Despite the 'ya' tag, they do tackle a lot of different issues - scroll down a bit in that Wiki entry - and does it in a thoroughly entertaining, and in many cases rather deep, fashion.

Endings are generally happy (and the only completely sad ending that comes to mind right now [major character apparently dies] is resolved in a later volume [said character is stranded on a desert isle and thoroughly enjoying it - except for the lack of potatoes then he's discovered by horny lesbians then...]).
posted by porpoise at 7:23 PM on March 19, 2007

Oh, if I was to try to convince someone to try the series, I'd probably recommend starting with Mort.
posted by porpoise at 7:24 PM on March 19, 2007

I'll be watching this thread closely, since her 'Golden Age' mystery favorites are mine too...I would highly recommend Josephine Tey (1940's), who I think is right there with them.

A word of warning about PD James...while I think her level of writing is excellent, sometimes the stories are very graphic.
posted by sLevi at 7:30 PM on March 19, 2007

I love Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, The Rescue, etc. Not always happy endings, but always easy to read and wonderfully descriptive.
posted by orangemiles at 7:33 PM on March 19, 2007

Oooh, no, stay away from Patricia Cornwell. Far too gruesome for someone who likes "golden age" mysteries (I know because I be one).
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2007

As I read your title, the first thing that popped to mind was Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
posted by peep at 7:48 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: And if you want to wade through 177 comments, this blog post from Julia S. contains reading material suggestions from commenters.
posted by peep at 7:51 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: Definitely the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. A teensy bit of time travel involved but a wonderful , sweeping period piece. Everyone I know who has read them has loved the series. A great bit of escapist fiction with a very sexy leading man.
posted by TorontoSandy at 7:58 PM on March 19, 2007

I really enjoyed My Life in France by Julia Child and her nephew. She is so charming, uplifting, cozy and fun. Also in a foodish, memoirish vein, Heat is hilarious.

Nthing the Jane Austen; I wish she'd written more, but at least they're all quite re-readable.
posted by mimi at 8:01 PM on March 19, 2007

Seconding Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.

And yes, please, go ask a librarian! They love these sorts of questions.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:16 PM on March 19, 2007

Jitterbug Perfume is good for someone who has hours to waste on severely unclassic prose. It presages Ann Rice; but it's so show-offy and Look at Me Eat Opium and Write that I am glad I was playing on the beach while it was written and published and sniffed. At.
posted by longsleeves at 8:32 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: Eva Ibbotson's romances are well written, a bit funny, and old-fashioned. (A Countess below stairs, for instance.)

Seconding Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery. (For the latter, try The Blue castle for an adult romance. Her short story collections are also nice.) The older Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Lovelace as well, such as Betsy's Wedding.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:25 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: I love LM Montgomery as well for comfort. Little Women et al. are also my go-to books for pure comfort. My favorite, though, is Dick Francis- he writes mystery novels set mostly in England, but they aren't very severe- usually normal person getting caught up in events sort of things, often with a love interest element. He's been writing them since the 60s, and I generally prefer the older ones. They're all fairly consistent though. Kind of cheesy/grandmother reading, but they're enjoyable and usually have happy endings- definitely comfort reading material.
posted by MadamM at 10:02 PM on March 19, 2007

n-thing PG Wodehouse. Bonus is that he wrote a million books, so if she likes him, your work is done for ages. Here is one to start - a collection of three pleasing Jeeves-and-Wooster novels in a nice printing for $11. (be aware that they also sell these novels individually, so don't accidentally duplicate with later gifts)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:25 PM on March 19, 2007

Oh, the edition I linked does have type on the small side. If she has eye trouble, maybe pick a different book of Wodehouse's.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:29 PM on March 19, 2007

Mulliner Nights is another Wodehouse - short stories told by Mr Mulliner of his various hapless relatives. Very silly and fun.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:36 PM on March 19, 2007

Totally on the Austen/Montgomery/Allingham/Tey/Sayers wavelength here, too, altho it's been decades since I was reading them.

Others I place in the same category (complex coziness written beautifully without bodice-ripping or mirthless humor):

Barchester Chronicles (ATrollope)

Jane Fairfax
(Joan Aiken—A very satisfying retake on Emma; haven’t read Aiken’s others, but read this one twice.)

Pursuit of Love Nancy Mitford

My wife loves
Mrs Gaskell

And you can’t miss with Barbara Pym, or
Brideshead Revisited

Also a recommendation to check out the classics in the YA section; too many to list, but any good reading list will get you started.

More as I recall them:)
posted by dpcoffin at 10:40 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, perhaps a few less than happy endings in my list, but the comfort level remains undisturbed in my experience...

And what about Possession?

(Interesting Austen-related NYT article here today...)
posted by dpcoffin at 12:30 AM on March 20, 2007

If your sister is open to listening rather than reading, the Paul Temple mysteries are good fun. This description from SpokenNetwork sums them up well.

"Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury star in another suspenseful case for BBC radio’s smoothest sleuth and his glamorous wife.

From 1938 to 1969 crime novelist and detective Paul Temple, together with his Fleet Street journalist wife Steve, solved case after case in one of BBC radio’s most popular serials. They inhabited a sophisticated world of chilled cocktails and fast cars, where the women were chic and the men wore cravats – a world where Sir Graham Forbes, of Scotland Yard, usually needed Paul’s help with his latest tricky case. "
posted by patricio at 3:19 AM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: Absolutely no mystery in these, but E.M. Delafield's "Diary of a Provinicial Lady" and other books in the "Provincial Lady" series might fit the bill. Because of its journal format, it is easy to pick up and read little bits at a time.

It mainly concerns the Provincial Lady's attempts to balance the obligations of her home life in the country with her husband and two children, with her budding career as a writer (this is developed more fully in later books, esp. "The Provinicial Lady in America", in which she documents her book tour in the States). If your sister likes that general time period (the 30s) as a setting, these books are gentle and funny, and a very easy read.
posted by MsElaineous at 5:57 AM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: Angela Thirkell wrote a long series of novels set in Trollope's Barsetshire, but in (her) present day of pre-WWII through the war and into the 50s England. The last of the series are a bit pallid but the rest I love! Very funny. Most goodsized libraries will have older editions, and they've been reprinted in recent years.
posted by anitar at 7:14 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cordelia Underwood, by Van Reid
posted by Emera Gratia at 9:07 AM on March 20, 2007

The works of Agatha Christie may suit. And there's no mystery like an old-fashioned mystery, especially when Sherlock Holmes is on the case.
posted by Lynsey at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2007

Thirding Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels and seconding I Capture the Castle.
posted by rosebengal at 10:42 AM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: What an amazing response! I didn't rush back to look at the replies because I thought my sister's tastes were so specific people wouldn't be able to come up with much - I under-estimated you all! I'm at work at the moment but will go through these in detail this evening and probably post back then. Thank you to all of you.
posted by paduasoy at 2:47 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: Again, thanks to everyone. I'm going to concentrate on the authors I've not read for now, and will try my sister with Angela Thirkell, Diana Gabaldon, Dick Francis and the book by Van Reid. Oh, and Eva Ibbotson - I've read her children's books, but didn't even know she'd written adult novels, and they sound like prime comfort reading.

Thanks also to peep for the link to the blog discussion - I've picked up the references to Laurie Colwin from there, an author I've never heard of, and will see how that goes down.

I'm also going to take up MsElaineous's suggestion of Delafield - I have enjoyed her myself, but hadn't thought of trying her on my sister.

And I'm envious of those of you with approachable, well-read librarians - my local library service is mostly staffed by library assistants rather than librarians, and has a low user satisfaction rate.

If the thread's still open when I get some feedback from my sister I'll post back, and may mark some other answers as best. As I think there are some people reading this discussion for suggestions for their own reading, I'll just add that I've been reminded that my sister also likes Mary Wesley and Elizabeth Goudge too - I'm not sure that they're well known out of the UK.
posted by paduasoy at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Just wanted to add that there are a couple of people I wanted to email to thank them, but couldn't because they don't have email in their profiles (nor do I, so I can't really complain - I must do something about that). I wanted to say thanks to Margalo Epps for the suggestion of Betsy-Tacy - not for my sister, but for myself. I spend a lot of time reading (and writing about) children's literature, but haven't come across this series. Also wanted to email AthenaPolias for a chat about Peters - thanks anyway, I don't think she has read the one you mention, so I'll look out for it.
posted by paduasoy at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2007

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