Uplifting fiction

This caught my eye, even though I would prefer “uplifting fantasy.” I’m probably not going to be all that interested in “uplifting fiction.” Still:

17 Uplifting Books Out This Spring

Sometimes the best thing a book can do is make you feel good. This spring has many such titles coming out, from a romantic comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld called Romantic Comedy to books about bookstores, comebacks, and more. 

A RomCom called Romantic Comedy! That is funny. It reminds me of Scalzi’s Star Trek parody called Redshirts.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I should mention, I listened to Redshirts in audio format, which made the repetitive sentence structure and dialogue tags as annoying as fingernails on a blackboard until I managed to quit focusing on those aspects of the prose. Here’s my post about dialogue tags, which I wrote partly because this book made me notice the role of sentence structure in making dialogue tags obtrusive.

But back to the topic: Uplifting fiction! Sure, what do we have here?

Book cover for Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy

Sally Milz loves her job as a comedy writer on the late-night show The Night Owls, where she skewers all things love and romance in her sketches. When her average-looking (and admittedly geeky) coworker Danny begins dating a beautiful, famous actress, Sally writes a skit about how frequently such a phenomenon occurs for men — but not in the reverse. Pop star Noah Brewster’s guest appearance on the show throws off all of Sally’s preconceived notions about relationships, and might change her mind about swearing off love, especially when it’s found in unconventional places.

This sounds fine, but you add too much comedy to your romance and it starts to strike me as overly silly. What do we have besides RomCom?

Well, there’s this:

Book cover for When Jasmine Blooms by Tif Marcelo

When Jasmine Blooms

This retelling of Little Women is filled with heartbreak and hope. Celine’s beloved daughter, Libby, passed away two years ago, and the grief still hasn’t subsided. When she unexpectedly wakes one morning living in an alternate reality without the husband and children she knows, she must learn to process the trauma she’s faced and find a way to the life she really wants to live.

Wait, this is uplifting? How is this uplifting? To live your best life, the life you really want to live, all you need to do is ditch your family? Is anyone else recoiling at this idea?

Here’s the full description from Amazon:

It’s been two years since Celine lost her daughter Libby. Desperate to escape her grief, Celine throws herself into her work, determined to be the strong, capable woman the world believes her to be. But there’s no fooling her family. A shocking intervention brings an impossible choice: confront her grief or risk losing the family she still has. Reeling, Celine wonders what her life would have been like if she’d chosen her first love instead of her husband and avoided this pain altogether. Celine wakes the following day and is shocked to realize that what-if has become reality. She’s with her high school sweetheart, her daughters aren’t quite her daughters, and her home is being rented by the daughter she thought she’d lost forever. As she reconnects with Libby in this parallel world, Celine is forced to face the problems in her real life: her unwillingness to move forward, the tension that’s always rocked her family, and the hard truth that not everything can be fixed by a mother’s love.

Okay, this isn’t quite as awful, given the “daughter she’d thought she’d lost” is now back in the picture. But overall, this book continues to look like the opposite of uplifting.

I’m now suspicious of this entire list. Whoever chose the books for it, not sure we have the same definition of “uplifting.” I’m going back to the list now to look cautiously at the rest of the entries and see if anything actually looks appealing. Let me see … all right:

Book cover for Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire

Once Upon a Tome

Oliver Darkshire is kept busy by his job at the Henry Sotheran Ltd. bookstore, selling and preserving first editions of rare books. The bookstore has seen centuries of history, and the books and people who enter leave indelible marks on the building and its workers. Readers say this colorful, captivating book is a tribute to reading as well as to unique bookstores. 

I think this is narrative nonfiction. It looks much more appealing than an alternate world where your family isn’t there except for your deceased daughter.

Oh, this is another RomCom, but it does sound like fun:

Book cover for The Love Wager by Lynn Painter

The Love Wager

Hallie and Jack don’t feel connected romantically on their disastrous first and only date, but they bond enough to decide to help each other find true love. While sharing their misadventures in the dating world, they grow to lean on each other through any situation, and even make a bet on who can find true love first. But an upcoming wedding leaves them no choice but to attend as dates, and they have to pretend to be a real couple without ruining the valuable friendship they’ve developed.

This is a great setup, a friends-to-lovers romance. Here’s an excerpt from a review at Amazon:

I liked that Hallie has her stuff together and that it was clear from the beginning that Jack was attracted to her. I’ve been on a roll of books with heroines that either had self esteem issues or were being discounted in some way, so it was refreshing to see these two interact without some subtext that the heroine should be thanking her lucky stars that the hot hero was paying attention to her. … Hallie and Jack’s story felt very real as it progressed from attraction, to friendship, to more, while never losing the friendship. My favorite thing in rom-coms is when the intimacy is established even without sex; when it’s there because of closeness, familiarity, and because the hero/heroine genuinely like being around each other and have fun interactions. The way everything played out made sense. Yes, they could’ve communicated sooner as they started realizing their feelings, but it made sense why they didn’t. It wasn’t a forced lack of communication to move the story along, as happens so many times in rom-coms; it was a genuine desire to be careful because they were becoming best friends and didn’t want to ruin that. I also liked that the potential conflict was always there, and was addressed, but wasn’t unnecessarily drawn out.

I like a lot about this description. The female lead has her stuff together, check. (I hope the male lead does too.) Attraction to friendship to romance-while-keeping-the-friendship, check. No forced lack of communication, check. Conflict not unnecessarily drawn out, check. This is the sort of review that makes me want to give the book a try. I think I’ll pick up a sample. Just ignore how little I’m reading right now and how long it may be until I actually read anything. Maybe I’ll be in the mood to try a romance or two soon.

All right, I have to say, a good many of the remaining books on this list do not look uplifting. In the throes of traumatic grief, seriously?

FINE. What I would actually have preferred: Uplifting Fantasy Novels. Let’s try to find THAT kind of post. All right, here, from Tor.com

17 Optimistic Fantasies to Brighten Your Reading Life

A) The Goblin Emperor. Good choice, promising beginning.

B) The Face in the Frost. Never read it, sounds good:

A wizard named Prospero (not that one) teams up with his old friend, the adventurer Roger Bacon (OK, maybe that one), to confront an evil power attacking their kingdom. They know going into the fight that they’re outmatched, but what else can they do? Bellairs’ story, like all of his work, juggles truly effective horror with quirky humor. The book gives weight to both elements, owning up to the terror that would come with a fight against evil, but also never wallowing in that terror to the point of overwhelming the humanity of the book.

C) The Copper Promise. SAA, never read it, sounds good:

Williams’ novel combines some of the tropes of grimdark, e.g. mercenaries, torture, and tragic backstories, with some of the higher ideals of sword and sorcery. Best of all, it treats what could have been a slog through brutal battles as a lighthearted adventure. This bright tone, combined with a biting sense of humor, make the book fun as well as epic. The fallen knight is more complicated than we think, the swordswoman-for-hire is as handy with snark as she is with a sword, and… what’s this? The main character’s arc is one of rediscovering his humanity after a horrible trauma, rather than a slow degradation into despair? Is it possible?

Lots of good ones on this list, many that I’ve read, some that I’ve had on my TBR shelves for ages, others that I’ve never picked up but might now. Click through if you wish, and see if you agree with these choices! I think I mostly do. Also, now I think maybe I ought to read Little, Big, which I have had in paper on a shelf for years.

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4 thoughts on “Uplifting fiction”

  1. I’ve read Romantic Comedy: it was…fine. I enjoyed her portrayal of SNL, but then the book took a hard left turn into land of the pandemic, which really, I would rather not read about. I’m reading the Emily Henry book now, Happy Place, which has great dialogue, but I’m still thinking about a wonderful coming of age story I recently finished, which was better than all these uplifting romances. The Copper Promise sounds good, but I am probably going to go back to Tuyo and read that series all over again (again).

  2. Alison, I think re-reading the TUYO series is an excellent idea! I especially think so because I am DEFINITELY not interested in revisiting anything about the pandemic.

  3. Face in the Frost?!? Wow, that takes me back. I read that when I was a kid. But yes, it’s a nice little book with very pleasant characters. The nicest bunch of eccentric old wizards you might ever hope to meet. Come to think of it, really the polar opposite of something like Lev Grossman’s Magicians.

  4. I’ve read The Face in the Frost. I’m not sure I’d call it uplifting – too much flavor of horror. But good does triumph. The characters are the sort who have a bed with a bassoon in the bedpost so you can play it while you lie in bed and meditate. (that’s a semi-quote from the first few pages.) If you prowl the kids sections in library you may have run across his gothic/horror for kids books, the Johnny Dixon series and ..er, the other one.

    Little Big, I read. I finished. I may have read it twice. I now remember very little about it. It’s at least worth a look, though. Once I figured out it wasn’t at all what I expected, I got on better with it.

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