March 31, 2020

melissa's comfort reads

Hello sweet quarantine friends! I don't even know what to say at this point. I'll just start by sharing bits of random in our world, I guess. I have been a stay at home mom since my daughter was born - I used to be an attorney, and then I got out of that biz, and moved into blogging (no money) and then photography (some money but not very much the way I was doing it, which was very half assed). Then I became my daughter's Mom-Uber, shuttling her around the surrounding Seattle area to her various performing arts auditions and theater productions. Somewhere in there I began doing my book surprise boxes (also very little money lol), and now I have no idea why I even began this litany. OH - it's because that was a longwinded way of saying that I've been at home a lot for many many many years and my husband also works from home, so really, this isolation thing hasn't been that terrible for us because we're the ultimate home bodies anyway. For those of you who are used to being out and about all the time, I feel for you. I don't understand you, but I feel for you. Whenever I'm out and about, I really just want to be at home ha ha ha.

Anyway that was a ramble on how sorry I am about Everything, and it's all Really Scary, and this virus might be the event that pushes me into official Agoraphobia territory.

My real purpose today is to share some books that I have turned to, time and again, both in periods of stress and no stress. I've read each of these books so often that when I told Julia about this post, she named pretty much every book on the list.

Maybe some of you are not re-readers of books? I am. It's kind of ridiculous - I would have read SO many other books in my life at this point if I would just stop reading the same handful of books over and over.

A little caveat about this selection of books. Whatever type of book I read, I don't do sad, I don't do bad, or scary. I don't read a lot of true-to-life fiction. I loved fairy tales when I was young and I still do, just skewed for an older audience. And I read cookbooks like they are novels, particularly anything by Nigel Slater. So let me show you my selection of all time comfort reads....

Starting with the photo up above - 'Magic Flutes' by Eva Ibbotson. Eva's books are my new favorites and I'll be doing a standalone post on her books soon, so I'll keep it brief about her in general. I haven't been so charmed by a book as I was by 'Magic Flutes' in a long long time. I loved it so much, I then had to search out everything else she wrote, and I used 'Magic Flutes' in my 2018 Autumn book surprise box, along with a couple other titles from Eva. I've read most of her adult books now, and 'Magic Flutes' remains my favorite. I adore this sweet romance story of a princess who poses as a stagehand in a Viennese opera company. My zeal for Eva's works is so enormous, I'm now buying multiples of her works in various cover art editions. Lots more to say about Eva coming soon in another post!

I have mentioned Laurie Colwin on the blog more times than I can count, but I'm too lazy to link to those times. Her food memoir 'More Home Cooking' was the book choice in my Vintage Summer book surprise box. I only chose that one because I liked the jam jar on the cover of that book particularly for that box. But I adore 'Home Cooking' just as much! Laurie's books of short essays and stories about food and her daily living are such an integral part of my own life that I just go ahead and keep both of those books permanently in my bathroom lol lol. I love her writing style, I love her recipes, and I love that she's so chatty and witty and friendly in her books. A lot of you who read my blog probably already know about Laurie Colwin, but if you don't.....GET ON IT. Also. I included pictures of both the UK edition, as well as the US edition because I couldn't decide which one I liked better.

I'm currently re-reading Susan Branch's darling 'Martha's Vineyard Isle of Dreams' while I eat breakfast every day. It's the type of book that lends itself nicely to reading little bits at a time, because the whole book is basically diary entry format, with pictures and Susan's artwork scattered all over every page, recipes sprinkled throughout. Her writing is just as delightful as her art, and I DEVOURED this book when I got it last year, and it's just as much fun to read again - the real life story of how Susan came to live on Martha's Vineyard, and the series of events that led her to create the art she's now renowned for is just so fun. Once you read this, you MUST carry on with 'A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. Divine. I'll be re-reading both of these books forever.

JUST gave this a re-read. For the tenth time. So much to say about 'The Scorpio Races' and Maggie Stiefvater in general. First of all, if Maggie writes it, I will read it. I ADORED her 'Raven Boys' series. Adored. I adored her 'Shiver' series. And I SUPER ADORE 'The Scorpio Races'. I'm not a 'horse' person. But man alive am I obsessed with this story of a grueling and deadly horse race on a mythical island that is supposed to be near Ireland, involving magical water horses that emerge from the sea and are the fastest horses in the world that will also kill you if you turn your back on them for even a moment. The writing is gorgeous and the setting is so expertly described you just feel completely transported. I've read this book once or twice a year since I got it a few years back. LOVE it.

I've read this so many times I can't even give a number. I read it so many times I ultimately tired of it, and it's not quite as often in my Re-Read Rotation, but that's only because I read it over and over and over for the better part of 5 years. I'm not joking you guys. I'm a SERIOUS re-reader. If you're a fan of the magical realism genre, you most likely have already read this and I'm preaching to the choir. If by some twist of absurdist fate the story of the Waverley sisters and their subtle magical skills has passed you by, it will totally charm you. I included the UK cover for 'Garden Spells' because I thought it was very sweet. I'm basically just a huge Sarah Addison Allen fan in general, and I've read every book she's written.

OH MY FRIENDS. This book is a legend in my family. My husband and daughter tease me about it all the time because I carry it all around the house like Linus and his blanket. I think I actually have this one memorized. My copy is literally falling apart. I'm sure many of you are already big fans of Rosamunde Pilcher. I've read all of her books, but 'September' is the one that really holds my heart. I've been reading this book over and over since I was 25 years old, I think. This quiet domestic story of a Scottish family and their lives is so beautiful and in my opinion, the literary equivalent of wrapping up in a patchwork quilt with a cup of hot chocolate. Again, I've included the UK cover. Sensing a theme? I often prefer UK covers to their US counterparts. But - I now can no longer find this particular cover just in the few days since I snipped it, so I'm linking to the US version.

This one I really DO have memorized.

True story about 'The Blue Castle':

One time I read it. Then immediately re-read it. AND THEN STARTED IT UP A THIRD TIME. I am not joking. You read that right - I once re-read this book THREE TIMES IN A ROW, with no breaks, back to back to back.

I know that so far in this post, I have lost my marbles over every book I've listed but this is The One. I don't even know how to talk about this book. So charming. So funny. Such a sense of beauty and place, set in the Canadian wilderness. Darling love story. How can anything from the author of 'Anne of Green Gables' be anything other than wonderful?? It can't, is the short answer to that. Some people don't realize that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote a ton of novels for adults, in addition to the 'Anne' and 'Emily' series of books. I can't express my love for this book adequately. I just can't. It's simply my favorite book of ALL TIME, tied for first with the next book down below:

And then we have this bobbin. I thought that by now, nearly a decade later, my love for 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern might have waned a bit. But, um, no. It hasn't waned, and I read this book once or twice a year, without fail, and EACH time, some line or phrase jumps out at me that I haven't really noticed before. I think most or many of you have at least heard of this book, even if you haven't read it. Erin writes the most beautifully captivating descriptions I've personally encountered in any writer, ever in my life, except for Willa Cather. I was pretty disappointed with the non-plot of her latest book, 'The Starless Sea', however, that one too - gorgeously written descriptions. But in my opinion, 'The Night Circus' is a totally and completely PERFECT book. This story of a duel to the death between two illusionists who are also soulmates, set within the realm of a magical traveling circus -- there's nothing like it. If something ever comes along that manages to push this book further down from the #1 spot on my Favorite Book list, it will have to be something very special indeed, and I'm not sure such a book will ever ever exist. There's also this cover edition, which is lovely.

There you go friends! Oh I have one more thing to throw at you - I'm a huge fan of a YA fiction series called The Ruby Red trilogy. SO fun and witty about a time traveling teen girl. I've read these several times. I really wish the cover art was a little more impressive, but the books are super charming - I'm a huge Kerstin Gier fan. She's a very funny writer. If you're looking something for your teen that you can then steal, look no further!

TELL ME TELL ME - which books do you read over and over? Do you re-read books at all?? My husband and daughter both do NOT.


  1. I loooove rereading!! I've reread the Laura Ingals books, the Anne of green gables books, and the Harry potter books over and over. A YA novel called A summer to die. Jane Eyre, The Austin family books by Madeline L'engle, Little women series, Leaves of Grass, Testament of Youth. The Anne books feel like autumn to me, so I often read them in the autumn. i sometimes rerad books I don't even feel are worthy. Just reread confessions of a shopaholic this week because I knew it would be distracting and light. I sometimes mourn rereading, because its so sad to have a limited number of years on this earth to read all the wonderful books, but then you grab an old favorite and it is soo good! Like your favorite pair of jeans...

    1. THE AUSTINS YES YES YES. SO MUCH YES. A Ring of Endless Light?! My fav. Oh how I had such a crush on Adam!!!!

  2. I'm a re-reader especially when I just need to distract my brain. Little House (which book to pull down depends on my mood) and To Kill A Mockingbird and Persuasion and Jane Eyre are my main go-tos for rereads. My husband will never read a book again (or see a movie again for that matter, what??) These days I'm keeping it light for sure. Currently reading a novel called The Keeper by Graham Norton (of the Graham Norton show!) and many of these I will put on my list. In these strange pandemic times, it's a challenge as I'm not an e-reader person. So I am buying used paperbacks as often as possible. (and ordering from Powells as often as possible!) Luckily we have a Little Free Library that is well loved in our neighborhood so at least I can share some once read so as not to overwhelm my floor space with TOO many piles of books.

    1. LITTLE HOUSE FOREVER, particularly Those Happy Golden Years. Love it. I love anything with some romance. I wish we had a Little Free Library nearby. I could singlehandedly keep it fully stocked! I need to order something from Powells.

  3. I am quite jealous of the UK cover of Garden Spells. So, so jealous.

    Gracie made me read the Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare. She is obsessed with all of her Shadowhunters series. She wants me to read more of them, but I'm still trying to work my way through my own books. I'm reading City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert now,and I have a couple of Shirley Jacksons waiting on the shelf. I re-read the third Diviners book, in order to prepare for the fourth one. I've mostly re-read kids and teen books as I share them with the girls. I should re-read The Night Circus. It's actually on Gracie's shelf now, but she keeps putting it off.

    I actually loved The Starless Sea. I read it back to back with The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which was the perfect way to read them, I think.

    Last year, I worked my way through all of Cat Winters's books. Strangely, the first two I read (In the Shadow of Blackbirds and The Uninvited) took place during the Spanish flu pandemic. I also read a Mary Downing Hahn kiddie ghost story, One for Sorrow, which also took place during that time. Things I read about in those books have lingered in my mind during this weird time.

    Gracie finally broke down and cried about how much she misses choir. She hates to show emotion and has been a bit rude to me the past couple of days. Poor thing. I hope Julia is doing well.

    1. Oh I don't own it - I have the American edition, which I'm tired of seeing. I would LOVE to have this one! Ok so I loved the first Diviners book and I LOVE Libba Bray but I found it legit scary, and I didn't continue on because it was just too scary for me! A friend loaned me The Ten Thousand Doors of January and I haven't had time for it yet because I'm re-reading my same old stuff lol but now I have lots of time to hold onto this book I guess! I love that you're reading ghost stories!!! Have you ever read any M.R. James ghost story collections? They are very old school so Andrew thinks they probably are all on line for free if you don't mind e-books. Julia's hanging in. We've been basically quarantined for since early March so it's starting to wear on us.

  4. I wrote this whole long comment, and realized I wasn't being organized. I'll try again! I'm a huge re-reader of favorite books-I love this topic! I love the comfort of sinking into a well loved book, and these favorites have gotten me through some rough times. I'm going to try and put my re-reads in some kind of order of number of times read.

    The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton-I've probably read this book at least 50 times. I'm 59, so I have been reading it for a LONG time!

    Little House books-I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young, and this series is probably one I have re-read the most.

    Merlin books by Mary Stewart-probably my second most re-read series, my mom bought me The Crystal Cave (which was super unusual, there were 5 kids in my family and not much money) when I was sick in bed, and I was hooked. I own all her books, and this is a much loved series.

    The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher-I was a nanny for a couple years, and found this waterlogged book at my employer's lake house, cue my complete love of Pilcher, I've read all her books numerous times. Like you Melissa, I LOVE September, and Coming Home is another favorite. But...I often think in rough times, what would Penelope (the main character) do? That is how much I loved her character.

    Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell-how I loved this book when I was young, and it still holds up.

    Rosamund du Jardin-she wrote about 17 books about teenagers, they were set in the 50's and 60's-so even a bit before my time. They were in the library though, and Practically Seventeen is another book I've read more times than I can count. If you want an escape to a simpler time, I cannot recommend these enough. I was lucky enough to be able to get them printed on demand, and I still love them!

    All of James Herriot's books-I thought I wanted to be a vet when I was young, and these books set in the Yorkshire Dales were perfect for me. When we went to the UK about 10 years ago, we made the trip to Thirsk to his vet clinic which is now a museum, it was an amazing experience for me!

    I could probably go on and on, but I'll stop. The power of the re-read, the comfort of it-I have a huge TBR pile, but I know I'll take time to visit some of these favorites. Thanks Melissa for the great post!

    1. oh my word thank you for all of this!!!! I have two Mary Stewart mysteries in my to be read pile, I've never read her can you BELIEVE?? I will be searching out the Rosamund du Jardin books ASAP. I love anything about teen times. Have you read the Betsy Tacy books that were set in the high school years? SO great! I totally agree about the Little House books. I often pull any one of those off the shelf and just flip it open and begin reading from anywhere.

      Shameful admission - I've never read The Outsiders! When I was growing up, I think I was afraid of the cover ha ha ha - I thought it was too "gritty". Ha ha ha.

  5. I love to re-read books as well, but only in fiction. I'm not sure why that is....

    Laurie Colwin's books are some of my go tos when I need comfort. My copy of "Happy All the Time" has been read so many times since I bought it (in 1978, omg am I really that old?), that I have to keep it in a manila envelope so I don't lose any pages. I know I could buy a new copy but it wouldn't be the same. I cried and cried when she passed away; such a loss. (BTW, you are the only person I've ever known who has read her books!)

    If you like quirky books, and I mean that in the most wonderful way possible, I would highly recommend Susan Trott. Since you're on your way to becoming agoraphobic, you could start with "The Housewife and the Assassin". I promise not bad or scary...just wonderful.

    Other go tos are anything by Miss Read and Angela Thirkell.

    Like you, I am an avowed and unrepentant homebody, so this hunkering down suits me just fine! I hope you and yours keep well!

    1. I haven't read 'Happy All the Time' YET, but I did read 'Family Happiness' and really liked it. I'm eventually going to read everything she's written. I GASPED when I realized she had died so young, I was like OH NO - like a light had gone from the world. OHHHHHH thank you for the Susan Trott suggestion! I'm ordering a few books to the ordering pile and I'll add that one in. Sad not to be able to utilize my beloved library right now, but always happy to support local bookstores! And guess what I have sitting at the top of my to be read pile - 'Fresh From the Country' by Miss Read. VERY excited!!

    2. I LOVE Laurie Colwin, and have read and own all her books. In fact, I was reading some books by Ruby Lang a couple weeks ago, and as I was reading I thought "this is very Colwinesque!". Of course love, her cooking books, but she was an awesome fiction writer. I had been making my way through her novels when I an author's blurb, and realized she had died several years before. I was devastated, and like Cynthia, cried and cried. Such a loss.

  6. I meant when I "read the author's blurb"-and I just realized the word blurb isn't right. When I read the info about the author on the back flap of dust jacket.