Book recommendations for when you can’t even

Okay! I started Records of a Spaceborn Few and boom!, first thing that happens is a terrible, terrible accident that kills 46,000 people.

You know what I am not in the mood for right now? That.

In case some, most, or possibly even all of you feel the same way, let’s take a look at some Books Where Terrible Things Do Not Happen.

I will also point out this post by Jo Walton at Books in Which No Bad Things Happen

That’s what I’m talking about! Thanks, Jo!

Let me see what Jo Walton suggests … Ah! Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. Excellent choice. A few others, and then she finishes the post this way:

And now, my one actual real solid in-genre example of a book where nothing bad happens!

Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair is about a far future where people have evolved to be nicer, and there’s a fair, and a woodcarver who can make toys come to life, and there is sex and love and nothing bad happens and everything is all right. It’s gentle and delightful and I genuinely really like this odd sweet little book, and unless I’m forgetting something I don’t think anything bad happens at all.

Yes, thank you, that sounds perfect.

A commenter at that post recommends the one that probably leaps to mind for many of us here: MCA Hogarth’s Dreamhealer’s series. This is obviously a great choice, but since I just read it a few months ago, well, now what?

We have all shared “comfort reads” here from time to time, such as this post or this one or this one here or this one.

Whole genres do exist where problems are minimal and happy endings assured, particularly romances (obviously), but also cozy mysteries, which as I have argued elsewhere are fundamentally mysteries that are also romances. We have also seen posts here about cozy SF, a category which some of you helped flesh out.

For me, stories that fall into this category AND are new to me this year:

  1. MCA Hogarth’s Dreamhealers series
  2. From All False Doctrine by Alice Degan
  3. Elizabeth Peters’ mysteries
  4. What else?

If you have read a nice, calm novel this year, one in which nothing particularly bad happens, with low stakes and minimal tension, by all means drop it in the comments!

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14 thoughts on “Book recommendations for when you can’t even”

  1. Dorothy Heydt’s An Interior Life which I think you’ve mentioned in the past.

    The Ivan novel by Bujold.

    When I had pneumonia a couple years ago, a friend sent a Wodehouse, which was just what I needed, but I don’t remember which.

    Some of those screwhball mysteries by Phoebe Atwood Taylor/Alice Tilton.

    Most books by Sharon Shinn.

    Greenwillow by B.J. Chute, The Flowering Thorn Margery Sharp, The Rosemary Tree, Pilgrims’ Inn and probably others by Elizabeth Goudge.

    L. Shelby’s books. I was just rereading Pavane which is sort of 12 Dancing Princesses if you squint. At least there’s magic and a princess obsessed with dance, and it’s catching. And the narrator, an impoverished nobleman hiding his poverty in the court and scraping by survival by his wits and taking in lower class girls to train them in useful to high class people skills.. Not sex. Very emphatically. He’s a delight.

    OH, and I think I did read it this year, Dave freer’s Joy Cometh with Mourning. mentioned here before.

  2. I like The Dreamhealers (Vasiht’h is my favorite) but I am absolutely mystified as to how it has this reputation as a cozy story when there is an on-screen death of a child in the first book! I have been reading Hogarth’s Girl on Fire which is very much in the same vein but (so far, part of the way through) does not have the medical aspect, though it does have an abusive parent it has a lot of the cozier aspects and I would tentatively recommend if you liked Dreamhealers with the qualification that I’ve not finished it yet.

    I’ve been reading Beauty and the Beast retellings lately, which tend of course to have the normal misfortunes of life in the background but are mostly cozy while on screen. There is a comfort in the predictability of a retelling, although the last two I’ve tried have tried to mix in darker elements and it hasn’t worked great.

    Oh, maybe an obscure one- Beth Hilgartner’s A Necklace of Fallen Stars, which has an arranged marriage to escape but is a lovely middle grade story with some lovely nested stories as the heroine is a storyteller!

  3. I thought of at least two more that would qualify. Charlotte English has a series of books: Wonder Tales. Though “series” may be the wrong word; they aren’t related to each other save for the tone. I’ve only read the first two (Faerie Fruit; Gloaming) so far, but nothing bad really happens. There are inexplicable events, and the resolution of those drives the story.

  4. I lean heavily on romance, because the structure is so predictable, and I know roughly what’s going to happen.
    A Duke By Default is my favorite from Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, and The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai is good. They’re both contemporary romances.

  5. I started on Combat Codes, which was one of the finalists in the book blog-off Tuyo featured in, but DNFed it because the tone was too grim. Under more normal circumstances, I might have kept going, but instead I curled up with Master Able Six and the Gunwharf Rats. Starting book two of that now. (And what on earth is going on with the formatting in book two?!?)

  6. I liked The Wizard’s Butler. I like Nathan Lowell generally – a low stress writer. Not a great writer, but the literary equivalent of comfort food. And that’s not a criticism. I’m eating a lot of comfort food these days.

  7. Sandstone, that’s an interesting observation. That death is foreshadowed so heavily, maybe that’s one reason? The protagonists find it devastating, but I, as the reader, did not; maybe that’s a common feeling? Not sure. Thanks for your other suggestions. MG sounds inviting right now.

    Allan, I agree, Nathan Lowell is indeed a not-great but low-stress and pleasant-to-read writer. I haven’t tried anything of his except the Quarter Share series. Maybe I will try this fantasy series now.

    Sarah Z, Robert, thanks for the suggestions! I haven’t read any of those.

    Elaine, I couldn’t quite get into Pavine when I tried it the first time, but maybe it’s about time to try it again. Thanks for your other suggestions too — I have something by Elizabeth Goudge on my TBR pile, I’m pretty sure.

  8. One more I remembered last night. I haven’t finished it, but it is reading ‘comfort’ as far as I’ve gotten: Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell. Kid has to get a job, gets it on a (space) trading ship. Gets in with the cook when the trial involves making coffee and he makes really really good coffee instead of the slop they’re used to. We get the detail of how he did it … partly thought of it for the cooking angle, although it doesn’t continue to get that much detail. (thankfully)

  9. I’ve been reading Lowell’s Trader series as well, and I agree with you, Elaine, and Allan that they’re fun, low-stress books. Though, man, did Lowell ever need a copy editor! And honestly, a content editor as well, or at least some serious beta readers. It’s a tribute to his power as a storyteller that I’m still zipping through his books despite the obvious issues–I’m on Owner’s Share now.

    One warning for Quarter Share, though–as the story opens, the protagonist’s mother has just died offscreen, so anyone who isn’t up to dealing with that situation right now should probably wait to read the book.

  10. I agree with all of you. I liked Lowell’s Trader series quite a bit, even though I fundamentally do not believe in the protagonist, who is WAY too good to be true. Maybe I’ll re-read this series now.

  11. The Door in the Hedge and A Knot in the Grain, by Robin McKinley, are anthologies of the least stressful stories I’ve ever read, especially the title pieces. Since they’re also short, they’re just the thing to read at bedtime.
    Another not-novel that I read in times of stress is Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien.
    I know, I know, not novels, but they really are worth reading.

  12. Hilary McCay writes a (maybe, sort of?) middle school series that begins with “Saffy’s Angel”. Each title reflects one of the family members. It’s very British in tone. POV wanders through the various family members within each book, including the adult members, although it tends to mostly reside with the title character. The books are witty and well written and they always make me smile.

  13. Robert, Allan — I’m about a third of the way through The Wizard’s Butler, I like it a lot, it’s just what I wanted, AND imo Nathan Lowell improved noticeably as a writer between Quarter Share and The Wizard’s Butler. None of the things that bugged me about the writing of the former is an issue in the latter.

    EC, you’re right, I have both those collections and many of the stories are excellent and calming.

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