With all of the dark, cold days we’ve had, many of them snowed in, I am always in search of a good, solid distraction: a book that I know will satisfy my addled brain. I have a habit of saving, some might say hoarding, my “sure things” for the inevitable winter of my discontent. It happens every year: I start getting restless with my reading choices. I pick up several books in a row only to discard them, dissatisfied: It’s too dense, it’s too light, it’s too intellectual, it’s not intellectual enough. And so on. In most cases, it’s not even the book’s fault. It’s my own winter restlessness. The weariness in my bones is mirrored in my mind with every new day that dawns grey and cold. Growing up in South Florida, I imagined winter was romantic and envisioned myself like a Bronte sister, stomping around the moors in my wool cape. The truth is: I am bothered by the cold—especially by February. I need to feel the sun on my skin and grass under my feet to feel truly at ease.
Alas, I have chosen to live in New England and plane tickets are damn expensive. So I return to my books, as I always have, in search of the perfect escape.
Here are my choices for 3 escapist reads that won’t disappoint you.
- Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries: Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There be Good News and Started Early, Took my Dog. Kate Atkinson’s easy, engaging voice in these wonderfully twisting mysteries will draw you in from their first chapter, in which a shocking, gruesome and enduringly sad murder sets the story in motion. Jackson Brodie, ex-police officer and erstwhile private detective, is at the heart of this series and makes for one of the most pleasingly gruff and lovable characters I’ve encountered in modern fiction. You will look forward to seeing him again with each new novel and will delight in his perspective, from his ordinary, mundane observations on everyday life and people to his astute investigative abilities.
Atkinson’s warm voice and sympathetic first person narrative brings a wide variety of characters to stunning real life. She spins several different, seemingly unrelated storylines before smartly and admirably tying them all together by the end of each story. Although the genre’s traditional grisly murder is always at the heart of these mysteries, Atkinson’s novels feel fresh and completely unique. Her gift as a writer lies in her ability to easily convey the full spectrum of human experience without breaking a literary sweat, if you will.
Will appeal to fans of literary fiction and traditional mysteries; fans of the BBC Sherlock series and anyone who loves stories that take place in Great Britain (as I do).
- Graceling and Bitterblue by Kristin CashoreImmerse yourself in Cashore’s richly imagined fantasy world, in which a select few of the population are born with a “grace.” A grace can be something completely ordinary like baking bread or swimming, or it can be a supremely intense, feared and dangerous grace such as the one our heroine Katsa possesses: the ability to kill with ease and precision. Katsa is reminiscent of that most popular YA heroine Katniss, and not just in the similarities between their names. Katsa’s voice is strong and vulnerable and she struggles to make the right choices in her complicated life. A medieval setting and classic fantasy plot points will satisfy even the most precise fantasy aficionados, while a love triangle adds a touch of heat to this pleasurable reading experience.
If you enjoy these two stories, be sure to check out Fire, a companion novel that takes place in the same realm as Graceling, but with a different set of characters. Despite its marketing as a “teen” novel, Fire is a mature love story and fantasy adventure that surprised me with its depth and intensity. I gobbled all three of these novels up and look forward to more.
Will appeal to fans of fantasy fiction such as Game of Thrones (minus the grisly murders and the sex) and Lord of the Rings. Fans of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and other YA dystopian / fantasy stories will enjoy this series.
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess WaltersI’ve always felt the utmost respect and awe for art that manages to be both truly funny and truly sad. It is the toughest combination to pull off, I think, and Jess Walters manages it with grace and gorgeous writing in Beautiful Ruins. It’s hard to pin down exactly what this book is about, as it jumps around in time and place. The story begins in 1962 when an innkeeper in a tiny, coastal, Italian town looks out over the ocean and sees a boat approaching with a tall, glamorous looking woman on board. He soon discovers that she is an extremely ill American actress who has come to the island to meet a well known producer who will take her for treatment in Switzerland. Fast forward to the present day and a whole new cast of characters including an elderly Italian man who may or may not be the innkeeper from Italy, a famous producer, his young assistant, and a large, amusing cast of characters who all come to play a role in this wide ranging story.
This book is the closest thing to a literary vacation that you can take. It will live in your memory like a unique destination you visited once and would love to get back to.
Will appeal to fans of literary fiction, escapist fiction and popular fiction.