In praise of comfort reads

Feb 27, 2015 | 6 comments |

Like all writers, I’m a reader too. When I need to recharge, or am low in spirit, books are a great comfort. Over the years I’ve recognized there are books I always turn to. They’re the ones on my keeper shelf, which follow me from place to place, and whose characters are like old friends.

At this time of year, when it feels as if winter’s grey skies and rain will never end, and my loved ones have been sneezing and coughing for weeks, I’ve dipped into my comfort reads more than usual.

The following are my top five, feel-good stories from authors old and new.

  1. L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle (1926) – This gentle story about a drab spinster who escapes her domineering family to live her own life, and then finds love, always warms my heart. The bonus is the idyllic Muskoka setting in Ontario, Canada.

  2.  Benedict and Nancy Freedman, Mrs Mike (1947) – I found this book on a cousin’s bookshelf the summer I turned thirteen, and it’s been a firm favourite ever since. A Boston girl visits Alberta in 1907 for her health, and falls in love with a Canadian Mountie. Telling the story of a marriage after the happy-ever-after, it’s a touching reminder of how hardship can strengthen steadfast love.

  3.  Lavyrle Spencer, Small Town Girl (1997) – Like many readers, I was saddened when Spencer retired from writing. All her books are rich in emotion and Small Town Girl is no exception. A country music singer who won fame but missed out on love, finds everything she ever wanted back in her small Missouri hometown. Family and community, and love and commitment, are the cornerstones of this tender story – complete with a quiet hero who’s the kind of man a woman can count on. 

  4. Melissa Hill, The Charm Bracelet (2012) – I discovered this book at my local library and then bought my own copy. It’s a magical chronicle about the stories charm bracelets tell, with a mystery which leads the heroine on a quest around New York City at Christmas, and to find unexpected romance too. A delightful, modern-day fairy tale.

  5. Anya Seton, Katherine (1954) – This historical novel about the love affair between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, captivated me from my first reading because of the strong characterization, and rich portrayal of life in fourteenth century England. A memorable heroine, and swoon-worthy hero, make this book the perfect rainy (or snowy) day escape.

 What about you? Is there a book you recommend for dismal days?


  1. Sue Bavin

    I love other people’s book lists! Of yours, the only one I have read is Anya Seton’s Katherine. I read all Anya Seton’s books with great pleasure and I’d be hard pressed to pick out a favourite, though I do have a soft spot for My Theodosia because of that wonderful opening scene.

    A feel-good book I sometimes return to is Dayton and Daughter by Tessa Barclay, which is about a building development that is all set to proceed… until an old lady refuses to let her old home be bulldozed and locks herself inside.

    • Jen Gilroy

      My Anya Seton collection occupies a special place on my bookcase too, Sue. I must seek out the feel-good book by Tessa Barclay you mentioned. She’s a new author to me. Thank you for the recommendation, and for commenting on this post. xx

  2. Jean Bull

    Hi Jen, I agree, Katherine is the only book on your list that I’ve read, and it too was my favourite of Anya Seton’s. The Charm Bracelet looks interesting because it is magical which has influenced my turn-to books. They include The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis and Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. Everyone knows about the magic of Narnia, but Blackberry Wine is set in another magical place, Lasquenet, the location for Chocolat. Instead of the chocolate having the magical powers, it’s the wine! It’s a great book about a writer who is struggling to write his second book after the success of the first one, and is told by a bottle of Fleurie 1962!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Hi Jean, Very kind of you to comment – thank you. I appreciate you sharing your ‘turn-to’ books and why they’re important to you. I haven’t read either of the books you mentioned, although I loved ‘Chocolat.’ You realise, don’t you, that you’ve contributed to my ever increasing to be read pile?! xx

  3. Heidi Vanstone

    One of my favourite comfort reads is any of the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. I also enjoy reading any of the Lord of the Rings books, by J.R.R. Tolkien. With children of my own, it is a wonderful thing to reacquaint myself with these childhood classics.

    As we read together, I can extrapolate from the these books and ask them to look for similar ideas or situations in their own lives. It’s a good learning experience…for me, too!

    My favourite place to read on a cold, damp day is cozied up by our woodstove with a crocheted afghan around my shoulders. Nothing can beat the feeling of a treasured book and a warm fire crackling away.

    • Jen Gilroy

      The authors you’ve mentioned, Heidi, are ones English Rose is currently discovering. Yes, it’s wonderful when our children embrace books we’ve loved as children, and the experience of reading together is one to be cherished.

      Thanks, as always, for commenting. Sharing your favourite reading place with me, and other blog readers, is an extra bonus. Your description helped me visit that cosy place in my imagination. xx


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