One never needs an excuse for craving a feel-good book, but the past 15 months provided plenty. If you’ve had enough darkness and heavy themes, and are longing for a happy ending, here’s an assortment of the year’s best uplifting reads.
“In Love & Pajamas,” by Catana Chetwynd
This collection of comics, by the author of “Snug” and “Little Moments of Love,” is warm and fuzzy. Some of the comics are old fan favorites, others are new, and all focus on relationships — particularly what it’s like when nothing you do is “weird” anymore. It’s a wholesome treat.
“It Had to Be You,” by Georgia Clark
Liv and Eliot are a married couple running a wedding business — until Eliot dies while visiting his young girlfriend, Savannah. Surprise, Liv! It’s also a shock for Savannah, to whom Eliot leaves half the company. But she sees it as an offering from the universe, and as the two women work together, that optimism helps Liv begin to heal.
“This Close to Okay,” by Leesa Cross-Smith
A recently divorced therapist encounters a man on a bridge, ready to jump. She persuades him to stick around for another day — and spend it with her. Over the course of a weekend, the two swap stories and nurture mutual compassion. It’s ultimately a hopeful reminder that it’s okay not to be okay, and that kindness goes a long way.
“The Life,” by Carrie Fountain
Fountain’s poems are social-media favorites, beloved for their warmth and intimacy. In this new collection, she examines motherhood, marriage and the pursuit of a life that’s good enough. Her work is lyrical and relevant.
“The Music of Bees,” by Eileen Garvin
Alice, a widowed beekeeper, befriends Jake, a paraplegic teenager, and Harry, who has social anxiety. At her Oregon farm, the three loners band together to save threatened honeybees — and end up forming an unlikely friendship. It’s a sweet story and a nice reminder that “flaws” can actually be strengths.
“Act Your Age, Eve Brown,” by Talia Hibbert
The third novel in Hibbert’s Brown Sisters trilogy is as delightful as her previous books. Eve — a purple-haired woman who specializes in chaos — finagles her way into a job at a B&B, working for the very uptight Jacob. Expect snappy dialogue and simmering tension that will inevitably turn romantic.
“Meet Cute Diary,” by Emery Lee
This fun YA novel introduces a sassy transgender teen who writes about happily-ever-afters on his blog. When it’s exposed as fiction, he tries to save his reputation by entering a fake relationship, which then veers into real-relationship territory. It’s a moving celebration of trans love.
“The Ride of Her Life,” by Elizabeth Letts
This folk-hero biography is about Annie Wilkins, who rode her horse across the country in the 1950s. At the time, she was 63 and had been given two years to live. Her journey is full of adventures: run-ins with generous strangers; overnights in town jails; even a marriage proposal. Wilkins embraced it all with optimism and spunk.
“In a Book Club Far Away,” by Tif Marcelo
Three Army wives, who bonded at a book club, are now estranged, but when one needs help, the other two answer the call. Their reunion is complex but opens the door to forgiveness. The women’s shared love of books makes the novel a great choice for a summer book club.
“The Hummingbirds’ Gift,” by Sy Montgomery
Ah, to be able to fly far, far away. The hummingbird — an inspiring creature — can do that and more. It’s the lightest bird in the sky, able to fly backward and beat its wings more than 60 times a second. This slim book, centered on two abandoned hummingbirds who are nurtured back to health, is ideal for garden reading.
“The Guncle,” by Steven Rowley
When Gay Uncle Patrick — GUP — becomes the guardian of his niece and nephew, no one knows how to behave. But his silliness turns out to be just what the grieving kids need, and they represent a second chance for the has-been sitcom star. Rowley’s depth and humor will warm even the most jaded hearts.
“Dogwinks,” by SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt
Pandemic puppy parents, and anyone who prefers canines to humans, will appreciate this collection of 20 joyful stories. One of them, about a shelter dog named Ruby, is the basis for Netflix’s upcoming “Rescued by Ruby.” The stories will make you want to give your pup an extra biscuit and a hug.
“The Kitchen Front,” by Jennifer Ryan
World War II-era England wasn’t a happy place, but one can always find joy in cake and tea. In Ryan’s third novel, the BBC launches a cooking contest to find a woman to co-host “The Kitchen Front,” a program run by a man. Four women, who have different reasons for competing, take solace in one another as they create recipes out of rationed ingredients. It’s like re-watching old episodes of “The Great British Baking Show.”
“Peacebunny Island,” by Caleb Smith
When he was 8, Smith began rescuing rabbits and turning them into therapy pets. Now he’s a teenager who runs Peacebunny Island, a 22-acre sanctuary where he raises comfort bunnies. In this memoir, he shares his journey and his belief that while he helps save rabbits, they have a way of saving humans.
“Notes from the Bathroom Line,” by Amy Solomon
If you need a laugh, more than 150 of the funniest women in comedy can help with this collection of essays, poetry and silly cartoons. Among the contributors: Lake Bell, Cecily Strong, Jen Kirkman and Rachel Bloom. It’s fantastic entertainment worth savoring.
“Second First Impressions,” by Sally Thorne
A preacher’s daughter and a tattooist meet at a retirement community, and he mistakes her for a little old lady. (She’s a 20-something who works there.) Their inevitable romance is sweet and warm, a wholesome tonic for cynics and anyone who is, or feels, 25 going on 80.
Angela Haupt is a freelance writer.
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