I think everyone out there has books that they classify as comfort reads; that is books you return over and over again to read.
I find myself returning to a lot of different books, but these are the three that I return to the most.
Paladin of Souls
Paladin of Souls is the second of Lois McMaster Bujold’s three Chalion novels (there is also a novella in this series, too). It is, hands down, my favorite. It is the story of Ista, the dowager royesse of Chalion and takes place after the events of the first book. It’s not necessary to read The Curse of Chalion to understand the happenings of Paladin, but it probably helps–especially since Paladin spoils certain key happenings of Curse. For the purposes of this post, just let it be said that the curse of the first book is lifted and Ista has to figure out what to do with her life afterwards.
Ista, as the protagonist, is a middle-aged woman who has had twenty years of her life taken from her. She is surrounded by well-meaning caretakers and in the wake of her mother’s death decides to go on a pilgrimage. Not so much for the religious aspects of it as the getting the hell out of the house and away from those who would pack her away in cotton wool for her own good aspects of it. It’s a beautifully written story that centers all different kinds of women and ways of womanhood–and also, which openly awards a man as a prize to our heroine. I find this to be utterly delicious on multiple levels. But I read this for the generosity of Ista, her depths of care for those around her, and her heroine’s journey.
Lord of Scoundrels
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels was first published in 1995 and both embraces and subverts the domineering asshole male lead–which is a trope I don’t normally enjoy in my romance novels. Well, I used to, then I didn’t anymore. Anyhow. Lord Dain is a hulking brute of a man with pretty serious mommy issues who basically takes it out on everyone around him. He’s dissolute and awful and he dislikes himself as much as the reader does.
Enter Jessica Trent. She’s smart and self-assured and every time Dain tries to intimidate or humiliate him, she tops him. She doesn’t really want to get involved with him, but if she wants to extricate her dim-bulb brother Bertie from Dain’s circle, she’s going to have to. Jessica’s more than a match for Dain and this is the appeal of the domineering asshole hero: watching him fall. Sure, it’s all Very Traditional with the woman being seen as the Civilizing Influence, but this book manages to indulge in the trope while deconstructing it and the narrative is clear that Dain’s behavior is not acceptable and is actually quite inappropriate.
And now for something completely different: Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake, which I’ve read approximately ten million times over the last 30 years. This book is one reason I love to take the train so much: it begins with a train trip to upstate New York. And then Portia and her cousin Julian (and, later Portia’s little brother Foster) have wholly ordinary and yet still extraordinary adventures.
Portia and Julian discover the remnants of a turn of the century resort community and the two elderly siblings who still live there, Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton. It’s hard to describe this book because it’s so close to my heart. There’s no big drama happening here, there are just a couple of ordinary children–it’s made clear that they are quite ordinary–having a summer vacation that turns out to be way more interesting than anyone could have predicted.
I always wanted my summer vacations to be this interesting but they never were. Alas.