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15 feel-good books guaranteed to lift your spirits

(Princeton Architectural Press; Viking; Berkley)

Early in the pandemic, some readers gravitated toward prescient sci-fi; others sought solace in self-help or transportive novels. Now, seven months in — at points unknown on the pandemic trajectory — some of us just want a happy ending.

Fortunately, books deliver. Here’s an assortment of 2020’s best feel-good reads.

Redhead by the Side of the Road,” by Anne Tyler

This little book packs a lot of subtle power. Micah Mortimer, a 40-something eccentric, thrives on routine and rigidity — to the frustration of those around him, including his girlfriend. When he’s thrown off kilter by a barrage of surprises, he’s forced to question his structured lifestyle. It’s a sweet, simple tonic for our chaotic times.

Anxious People,” by Fredrik Backman

Backman’s new novel is a satisfying remedy for pandemic anxiety. An inept bank robber accidentally interrupts an apartment open house, taking the would-be buyers hostage — which leads to hours of confusion, revelations and connection. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and will help restore your faith in humanity.

Beach Read,” by Emily Henry

The title is apt. Henry’s earnest novel is about a jaded romance author and stagnant literary writer who rotate into each other’s orbits for the summer, much to their mutual dismay. As they embark on a challenge designed to help them both banish writer’s block, the creative — and romantic — sparks fly.

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The Midnight Library,” by Matt Haig

A library that contains an infinite number of books: talk about the dream. But, plot twist, each is about a life that could have been, had one made different choices. Such is the premise of Haig’s whimsical novel, which introduces a young woman so miserable that she intentionally overdoses. When she wakes up, she’s in the Midnight Library, which guides her on a journey to figure out what makes life worth living.

Dear Emmie Blue,” by Lia Louis

Emmie Blue is just a teenager when she releases a red balloon into the sky — and, you guessed it, falls in love with the boy who finds it. Fourteen years later, they’re best friends, he’s engaged to someone else, and she’s pining. It’s a swoon-worthy British rom-com with big heart and a heroine worth rooting for.

We Are Santa,” by Ron Cooper

Santa Claus is coming to the bookshelf. Cooper, a photographer, has profiled 50 professional Santas, including an Orthodox Jew, a Scottish-kilted bagpiper, a veteran with a prosthetic hand and a woman. It’s a lovely way to catch some holiday cheer — with photos as absorbing as the text.

Party of Two,” by Jasmine Guillory

Romance is a bipartisan cause — and in her fifth novel, Guillory delivers the hottest politics of the season. Olivia is a Black lawyer who starts dating a hotshot White senator, which gets complicated when their relationship goes public. Settle in for a Hallmark-esque dose of frothy fun.

Keep Moving,” by Maggie Smith

Smith, who wrote the viral poem “Good Bones,” has survived loss and new beginnings — and we can, too, she believes. In “Keep Moving,” she reflects on finding optimism in the dark days following a collapsed marriage and other struggles. “Write breathe on your to-do list,” she advises. “Write blink. Write sit and eat. Then cross everything off. How satisfying! Give yourself credit for living.” It’s all about kindness, hope and why we need to keep moving, no matter what life hurls at us.

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You Had Me at Hola,” by Alexis Daria

What a trope: Actress falls in love with her leading man. And Jasmine, a soap star, is determined to avoid doing exactly that. Which is a problem, when you consider the electric chemistry she experiences with her co-star — and not just thanks to the help of an on-set intimacy coordinator. The novel is as fun as your favorite telenovela.

The Authenticity Project,” by Clare Pooley

Julian Jessop, a lonely septuagenarian, thinks we could all stand to be honest. So he writes his ugly truths into a green notebook and leaves it at a cafe, where five people find it and add their own frank entries. The truth-telling strangers become friends and confidants, and it all feels like a warm hug.

All Adults Here,” by Emma Straub

What’s so funny about a family in chaos, you ask? Well, this is Straub — queen of the entertaining, feel-good novel — so plenty. In “All Adults Here,” family matriarch Astrid witnesses her longtime nemesis get struck and killed by a bus, which sends her on a journey to make amends with her adult children, who are stumbling through their own issues. It’s big-hearted and warm, with relatable characters.

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Heart Talk: The Journal,” by Cleo Wade

In 2018, Wade — an artist-poet-activist who’s been called the “millennial Oprah” — released “Heart Talk,” a collection of poignant poems and affirmations. Her new, complementary journal offers a year’s worth of prompts designed to inspire self-discovery, personal growth and creativity. Wade is like an encouraging friend checking in to foster positivity during the pandemic.

It’s Not All Downhill from Here,” by Terry McMillan

McMillan — whose previous books include “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” — is adept at creating characters who feel like friends. Her new novel centers on 60-something Loretha, who has to reinvent her identity and plans after unexpectedly becoming a widow. It’s a celebration of living your best life, no matter your age, and the power of female friendships.

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The House in the Cerulean Sea,” by TJ Klune

Linus is a solitary caseworker in charge of making sure that a group of misfit kids with magical powers are safe at their island’s orphanage. As he meets — and falls for — their caretaker, Arthur, he realizes the beauty of choosing your family and welcoming joy and wonder. It’s a witty, wholesome fantasy that’s likely to cause heart-swelling.

Channel Kindness,” by Born This Way Foundation Reporters with Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, created the Born This Way Foundation to help make the world a kinder place — a timely pursuit. This new anthology spotlights 51 stories by young changemakers: teens who created movements to teach their peers to practice self-love and to de-stigmatize mental health issues, for example. “Channel Kindness” is a wonderful antidote to the division and despair that have tainted much of the year.

Angela Haupt is a freelance writer and full-time health editor in D.C.

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