Every year I tell myself I won’t let the dark and cold months get to me, and every year I am proven again and again that I can’t really fend off the slight depression I feel during Winter (if you feel this way, you might have SAD, too, please speak to your doctor about it!). It’s just a fact of life at this point and I’ve come up with a few strategies to help me stay as mentally healthy as possible until Spring comes around, when I magically feel better again. Happy books are one way that I try to fool my brain into thinking it doesn’t have chemical imbalances.
I’d like to point out this is ONE strategy among many. There is only so much that “going for walks” and “reading feelgood books” can do and they definitely can’t cancel out depression. Last year it was not enough and I took medication for a while – which works so well from my personal experience. What I mean is that reading happy books when I am only lightly depressed may help me feel a bit better and gather enough mental strength to do other little things that help. You should definitely talk to a doctor about it if you feel depressed every Winter, though! Taking meds and doing therapy saved my life and got me to a place healthy enough that I have learned how to manage my SAD.
I have a few posts with recommendations for fun and light reads in case you’re interested:
So here are some of my favorite happy reads!
First I have a few recommendation of books about books, which is one of my favorite things to read about when I want to feel cozy.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This is a heartwarming historical fiction about a book club set up during the second world war in order to offer the members a pretext to meet without raising suspicion when the Germans invade the island. I don’t normally gravitate towards histfic unless I’m looking for something to make me cry and pull my heartstrings, but this one was just so lovely!
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
If you prefer moving stories tending more towards literary fiction, I found this novel to be surprisingly uplifting and with such a heartwarming message. It’s about a Lebanese woman who translates books in her free time and tries to hold her life together amidst war, singlehood in a culture where as a woman she’s expected to marry, and feeling isolated from everyone.
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family’s ‘unnecessary appendage’. Every year, she translates a new favourite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read – by anyone. This breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman follows Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colourful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her ageing body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a magnificent rendering of one woman’s life in the Middle East.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
To finish off my recommendations of feelgood books about books, this new release is the story of two people becoming unlikely friends and bonding over a mysterious reading list. It’s really sweet, even if a bit cheesy and predictable – sometimes that’s all you need to feel comforted honestly. TW for grief.
An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.
Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in the London Borough of Ealing after losing his beloved wife. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.
Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list…hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.
Next I have a few mystery recommendations, because reading about murder can also be comforting (it’s true, I don’t make the rules).
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
This was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a LONG time. By far my favorite book in the “fun murder” category, it’s about a young woman who accidentally kills her date and her four aunties decide to help her get away with it. Part romcom, part mystery, part heist, this had me laughing out loud.
What happens when you mix 1 (accidental) murder with 2 thousand wedding guests, and then toss in a possible curse on 3 generations of an immigrant Chinese-Indonesian family?
You get 4 meddling Asian aunties coming to the rescue!
When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for the family wedding business—”Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream flowers.
But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
This is the only books in this selection of “murder books” that isn’t all suspension of belief and laughter – but it’s such a great series set in 1920s India about the first (or one of the first) female lawyers in the country. This is lovely, interesting and so well-written I was immediately immersed in the story, which is exactly what I needed to escape reality a little.
Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women’s rights.
Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeit what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.
The Farid widows live in purdah: strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate and realizes her instincts about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It’s her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translation by Marlaine Delargy
I had so much fun reading this! It’s about an old lady who’s a serial killer – I promise it’s really funny.
Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.
Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.
Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?
Next I have a few adorable fantasy books, from middle grade to adult. Winter is a time when a lot of readers (me included) tend to read more fantasy, so why not pick up something light and cute?
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
I picked this up last year and it just made me so happy to read it. It’s a heartwarming found family story about a man who goes to an orphanage to report on it and in the process he learns to fall in love with life again, and perhaps also with… a certain odd caretaker who will protect the children no matter what it takes.
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
A classic recommendation if you’re looking for a read that will bring you joy from page one, but I only read this rather recently, so I haven’t added to any of my lists before. This made me laugh so many times, it’s so full of magic, friendship, courage. I loved it.
Diana Wynne Jones’s entrancing, classic fantasy novel is filled with surprises at every turn.
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl’s castle?
If adorable fantasy is not much your thing, or if you’re looking for rather some fantasy to immerse yourself into for a while, I have a couple books to recommend!
Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
Children’s books are always a sure way to read something sweet and comforting with a happy ending. This is one that I just picked up and it’s SO adorable! The story revolves around books (which are the utmost comfort reads in my opinion) and has adventure, friendship, mystery… it’s just incredible!
A magical adventure to delight the imagination. A curl-up-on-the-sofa debut from a uniquely talented author.
Eleven year-old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her mother disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories.
One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop through the magic of `book wandering’ – crossing over from the page into real life.
With the help of Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. Tilly is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago, so she bravely steps into the unknown, unsure of what adventure lies ahead and what dangers she may face.
Next I have a few more fantasy recs that are a bit heavier, a bit more intense but very immersive and heartwarming.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
If you like something dark, hilarious and completely bonkers, then you might really like this series! Necromancers in space, murder mysteries and a feisty swordswoman who resents a LOT having to work for her nemesis. I laughed so much with this series I had to stop reading it on my commute because it was becoming embarrassing.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.
Illusion by Paula Volsky
Oooh this is a rare book nowadays and it was not so easy to find here in Germany – but it’s so worth it! This is a fantasy inspired by the Russian and French Revolutions, it’s very immersive, lively and such a delicious read. It’s one of my favorites of all time!
One of fantasy’s brightest new stars makes her Bantam debut with a colorful, sweeping high fantasy epic set against the fires of revolution. In the land of Vonahr, the Exalted have ruled by virtue of their legendary magical abilities for centuries, heedless of the misery of the lower classes. Now revolution is in the air…
For two hundred years the Exalted classes have used their dazzling magical abilities to rule Vonahr. Now, their powers grown slack from disuse and their attention turned to decadent pleasures, they ignore the misery of the lower classes until the red tide of revolution sweeps across the land. Thrust into the center of the conflict is the beautiful Eliste vo Derrivalle, spirited daughter of a provincial landowner, who must now scramble for bread in the teeming streets of the capital. With the key to her magical abilities an elusive secret, she must suddenly find a way to survive in a world gone mad … with liberty.
Illusion is a work of fantasy on the grandest scale – a seamless web of passion, danger, heroism, and romance that will hold you spellbound from the first page to the last.
Lovely War by Julie Berry
This is a bit more of an emotional read, and it does take place during World War II, so do expect some heavy themes; but it’s also wonderfully sweet, uplifting and just such a delicious read, telling the story of these two couples, told through the voices of the Greek gods. Such a heartwarming book!
It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep–and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
Last, some miscellaneous I guess? A bit of romance, a contemporary and an essay collection, which I guess have in common that there’s pink on the cover.
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
I love this series so much – it’s perfect if you’re looking for escapist romances, relatable and well-written characters and great chemistry. I adore Alyssa Cole’s romances and how real the relationships feel, but still the feel like escaping reality a bit as you spend a few hours in fictional Thesolo.
From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .
Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Oh my god this book is so, so good and I wish it was a lot more hyped. It is about widows getting together to read smut, defying the expectations of what a Punjabi widow should be like. It’s both hilarious and emotional, and such a brilliant, heartwarming read!
A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.
Every woman has a secret life . . .
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
Meaty by Samantha Irby
I mostly enjoyed this collection of essays, which has similar vibes from Furiously Happy, which I loved, and Trick Mirror, which I also really liked. I did find this rather gross and vulgar, though, so if it’s not your thing, you might find this a bit off-putting (for me it was, at times). The good thing is, if you enjoy this, Samantha Irby has a few more essay collections! I will try Wow, No Thank You next, because I think the themes will be more to my liking.
Samantha Irby explodes onto the printed page with her debut collection of brand-new essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, being black, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.