Three Favorite Comfort Reads
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Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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March 1, 2016

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, Lois McMaster Bujold

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

Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase

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.

Gone-Away Lake

Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Jane Routley

    I remember loving all the Elizabeth Enright books I read.

  2. I_Sell_Books

    Ah, the pleasure of the re-read. My top three SFF are:

    Andre Norton: Year of the Unicorn – the story of a young woman who, not quite a servant in the castle where she resides, determines to take the place of the bride in an arranged marriage, for she knows this is her one chance to make her own future. A brilliant book, one of very few where our heroine makes her own damned choices, and is subtlely aided in doing so.

    Susan R. Matthews: An Exchange of Hostages – A gifted surgeon is forced into the military, where he becomes a torturer who is in turn tortured by his surprise!enjoyment of the same. The first in her Jurisdiction novels, which are being reprinted by…Baen. But reprinted!! Don’t let the covers turn you off of this series – they are psychologically dense, and you’ll never forget Andre Kosciusko.

    CJ Cherryh: The Morgaine Saga – An outcast tribesman becomes the indentured servant of a woman out of time. Don’t quite know what else to say about this series, except that I love it. See also: The Pride of Chanur.

    All the above titles have very subtle romances in them, which is totally my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Classics, too – Jane Eyre and Persuasion (I am greatly amused that these are my two favorites, because Charlotte Bronte thought Jane Austen was a terrible writer), but there’s just something about people having to wait and struggle for what they want that just does it for me.

  3. Petréa Mitchell

    I’ve only got two, but they are:

    1) The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem. It speaks to me about what I love about programming.

    2) The Hunter’s Haunt by Dave Duncan. It’s just so many things packed into one book: myth, adventure, satire, high fantasy, metafiction, detective fiction.

  4. I_Sell_Books

    OMG Petria – Yes, Stanislaw Lem! I loved his Pirx the Pilot books – such sly humor. I wish more people in the US would read works other than Solaris and maybe Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.

  5. I_Sell_Books

    Also, er, Petrea, apologies for being so excited that I spelled your name wrong. Especially as I have a four letter word that people mispronounce all the time. *hangs head in shame*

  6. I_Sell_Books

    Word…I meant ‘name’…clearly I need to step away from the internet for awhile…

  7. --E

    For me:

    1. Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny. It is such a lesson in writing tight, packing what would nowadays be packaged as an epic trilogy worth of story into about 80K words.

    Also a lesson in having a first-person narrator with a flexible voice that isn’t try-hard as so many first-person narrators are these days.

    Also also, this book breaks every writing “rule” multiple times, (starting with a whiteroom opening as the narrator wakes up!). This book also shows how a master can get away with breaking all those “rules,” because he knows that you can do anything as long as you’re furthering the plot and engaging the reader while you do it.

    2. Deryni Rising (well, the whole first Deryni series), by Katherine Kurtz. The head-hopping POV is beautifully smooth, and a welcome reminder that not every book has to be locked into the hard POV of one character (or one character per chapter).

    It’s a fine example of “high” fantasy rather than “epic”. (The difference? Court intrigues and rivalries among complicated people, rather than saving the entire world from destruction by a Big Bad.)

    3. Hmmm, there are lots of options for a 3rd book here. LOTR, HHGTTG, Dune… I’m gonna go with the Bordertown books, the series of anthologies that take place in a town on the border of our world and the realm of faerie, where teenagers from both sides of the border run to because they’re oddballs back home.

    This is every kid’s teenage crisis and rebellion rolled into adventure and sometimes tragedy. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I imprinted on them hard because I read them when I was an angsty teenager.

  8. Selki

    Paladin of Souls is a comfort re-read for me, too. My local library has Gone-Away Lake so I’ll take a look at it, too. I’ve also ordered a couple of the books listed in comments, thanks all!

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