Comfort reads are, I think, different from favorite reads. Sometimes they overlap with each other, but often my favorite reads aren’t comforting at all – they’re painful and tear my heart into tiny little pieces. There’s a certain amount of emotional preparation I have to do before diving into some of my favorite reads.
Comfort reads, on the other hand, are those books I return to again and again simply because they make me happy. Rather than breaking my heart into tiny little pieces, they heal it. Protagonists in danger can be relied upon to make it safely out, along with all of their beloved companions. People who fall in love stay in love. The characters are fundamentally good. They make missteps, but they make it right in the end, too.
I’ve been on a big comfort read kick lately, perhaps because a lot of what’s going on in my own life is pretty chaotic and uncertain right now. Below are a few that I’ve been dipping into again and again the past few months.
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (and its sequels)
This is the first in an historical mystery series featuring amateur sleuth and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody. Crocodile was first published in 1975 and it spawned several sequels, the final of which is being published in 2016. It was in editing stages when Peters died in 2013 (I’m still sad about this. Go read about Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz and be in awSorceree). I love that this series is about archaeology and excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, and I love that it’s also about Victorian era customs and mores, as both of these time periods have always fascinated me. I love Amelia even more: she’s outspoken, a loyal friend, an ardent feminist, whip-smart, funny, believes completely in herself and her family, and loves passionately. She has some foibles (some of which she acknowledges, some of which she doesn’t), which add to the humor of the series. Her voice is among the strongest I’ve ever read in adult fiction. And of course, these are mysteries at heart, though the combination of excavation and sleuthing is still rather unique I think. Amelia and her husband Emerson age throughout the series (they’re in their 60s in the last book), but they still go on adventures, and the next generation gets to have a few of their own too. These books are just lovely, and I highly recommend you get a hold of the audiobooks narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, who voices Amelia and Emerson to perfection.
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
Romances are my go-to comfort reads. They guarantee a happily ever after and the ones I pick usually have a good dose of humor. Julia Quinn’s books were my entry into romance and her books remain the ones that can best soothe my heart when it’s troubled. When He Was Wicked is actually one of her more angst-ridden books, but I think it’s the best (and you won’t find that many who agree with me, sadly). The hero and heroine grow to love each other over time, and it feels like a true, lasting love because of something that happens early in the novel that they both then have to come to terms with. The conflict is entirely internal, which often seems less exciting at the outset but is usually more fulfilling in the end. There’s a particular scene near the end of the book that I go back and read over and over again because it’s so emotionally satisfying.
Harry Potter books 1-3 by J. K. Rowling
The first line of the first Harry Potter book is as perfect a first line as you can get: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Sorcerer’s Stone is a practically perfect children’s book that never ceases to make me feel happy. Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban are equally wonderful in their own ways, with Azkaban probably my favorite among the first three (time travel!). But it’s only the first three books that really count as comfort reads for me, as things get quite dark starting with book 4. Goblet is where you begin to realize that maybe things aren’t going to work out for the best after all. My favorite Harry Potter isn’t one of the first three, actually, but these are the ones I’ve probably listened to most anyway. Jim Dale is wonderful and these first three books are safe and funny and heartwarming.