by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Friends, it is a tense time. This week is an especially tense one. If there is anything that helps me during tense times (in addition to yoga, dark chocolate, and a nice glass of red wine...), it's reading an immersive story.
This past year (and especially in the time since the pandemic began), I've discovered that I really enjoy some romance books. It's been a welcome discovery, although I'm still learning what does and does not work for me within this genre! These are some favorites I've read.
Alexis Hall's Boyfriend Material - I share this one on our upcoming cozy reads episode. I loved this one so much! Luc, who is always on the wrong side of the press spotlight, finds himself in need of an upstanding and respectable boyfriend, which leads him to an arrangement to have a fake relationship with Oliver, an uptight barrister who is the opposite of Luc in almost every way. Relationship chaos ensues, and it's charming and sweet. I loved everything about this one.
Beth O'Leary's The Switch - I listened to this one on audio (thanks to Libro.FM and their ALC program), and I absolutely loved the relationship between Leena, a twenty-something Londoner, and her grandmother Eileen who lives in a tiny Yorkshire village. Leena and Eileen switch homes and lives for two months, and sweet craziness ensues as they both learn about themselves and each other and find a bit of romance. There is also grief and healing at the core of the novel, and it is beautifully done. I was captivated by this tender story.
Casey McQuiston's Red, White and Royal Blue - This was probably the first romance that really opened up the door to romance books for me. In this one, the son of the American president and the Prince of England have to do some PR to smooth over their terrible relations, only to discover feelings for each other that are certainly NOT hate. I loved everything about this book. (As an aside, I'm learning that romance readers like to know about steaminess, so note that this one is steamy!)
Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi - This YA romance focuses on Dimple and Rishi who meet at the beginning of a summer camp for tech students. Unbeknownst to Dimple, their families have set the two up to have an arranged marriage when they are older. Rishi, who is in on the plan, has no idea that Dimple is clueless and introduces himself as her future husband, which comes as a big and unpleasant surprise. Menon touches on many important issues while also crafting sweet, well-rounded characters. (I also loved 10 Things I Hate about Pinky, and I look forward to reading There's Something about Sweetie.)
Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything - I read this book in a day and loved it so much. I was captivated by the story and charmed by the characters, and I really appreciated the twists and turns the story took. The premise is that teenager Maddy has an illness that makes it unsafe for her to leave her carefully protected house, and then another teenager, Olly, moves in next door, opening up her world. I also loved Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star and will be reading anything else she writes.
I'm still very new to this genre, but these are a couple of cozy mysteries that came highly recommended and that I thoroughly enjoyed. I haven't tried the Flavia de Luce series that Jen talks about on our upcoming Cozy Reads episode, but I'll be checking that one out soon, too!
Sujata Massey's The Widows of Malabar Hill - Jen recommended this book to me in one of our recs to each other episodes, and it was a great fit! It was a fascinating story, and I loved Purveen Mistry, the female lawyer at the center of the story. I also loved learning about Bombay in the early 1900s and about the interior lives of the women in the story.
Louise Penny's Still Life - This novel came heavily recommended, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Penny crafts such great characters, and the idyllic setting of Three Pines is so lovely (even with the frequent murders!). I was charmed by Inspector Gamache and will definitely be reading more in this series soon.
YA Fantasy and Dystopian Series
I've saved my personal favorites for last. This genre is definitely my number one choice when it comes to escaping into a book. Here are a few of my favorites, but I have so many others as well!
Tomi Adeyemi's Legacy of Orisha series - This series demonstrates what it is like to live in a world where magic exists but has disappeared. Zélié finds herself becoming a revolutionary who can bring back magic and take down the corrupt monarchy. I read both Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance, and I enjoyed them both! They're fast-paced and take on important issues at their core.
Dhonielle Clayton's The Belles series - This atmospheric series set in Orléans highlights the negative aspects of a society obsessed with beauty and improving physical appearance. I've read bothThe Belles and The Everlasting Rose, and I absolutely loved them. (And there are these adorable teacup animals in them -- I'm always here for that!)
Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices series - This phenomenal series includes Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess (and is also sold as a boxed set). I guess this series falls into a first love category for me. I read this when I was still newly discovering YA lit and YA fantasy, and Tessa, Will, and Jem will always hold a special place in my heart and will continue to be my favorite Shadowhunters.
Brigid Kemmerer's The Cursebreakers series - I love the characters in this series. They're well-crafted, and the way that they learn to rely on each other and help one another is powerful. I've only read A Curse So Dark and Lonely so far, but I have heard that the second one, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, is also brilliant! I love the way that Kemmerer incorporates important topics such as chronic illness while building off of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.
Marie Lu's Legend series - This one includes Legend, Prodigy, Champion (or this boxed set of all three)... and now (almost ten years later!) Rebel, and let me tell you—I am here for every bit of it. I loved this series so much when I first read it (Lu includes a plague, a corrupt government, revolutionaries, and many twists and turns... what is not to love?), and I was thrilled to read Rebel this summer. It's fast moving with great alternating perspectives, and Lu carries the momentum all the way through the series.
And that's a round 12 for you... BUT as I was working on the pub day shout-outs for this week, Marissa Meyer has a new book, Instant Karma, coming out... which reminded me of how much I love her series... so let's make this a baker's dozen and toss in one more recommendation!
Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles series - This was another one of the first series I read when I started reading YA lit, and I was totally enthralled with it! This one includes Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter, and each book in the series plays off of a fairy tale. I love Cinder as a cyborg, and I'm always here for a twisted fairy tale. So good!
Okay, that's really the last one. What book or series do you recommend for readers looking for an escape? Tell us in the comments below or share your picks on social media!
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