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The Power of the Comfort Read

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In this year’s Top Chef, a Bravo Reality cooking show, one of the challenges was to create the last supper for a number of culinary dignities. To a (wo)man, each chef requested a simple, classic dish. Wiley Dufrense, one of the leaders in molecular gastronomy (mixing chemistry and cooking), is a lover of eggs. He requested eggs benedict. Jacques Pepin whose book La Technique is part of fundamental teaching for French cuisine, requested roast squab and peas. Lidia Bastianich wanted roast chicken and potatoes. You get the idea. At least one recapper of the episode noted how boring the “last supper” requests were.

Comfort food is not exciting. It’s rarely innovative, but it touches something at the core of a person and resonates so strongly that the person returns to that dish, that food time and again. And, as seen in the Top Chef episode, comfort food done right takes skill and an understanding of what comprises those seemingly simple dishes.

Everyone that I have spoken with who has read Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas’ March 31, 2009, release, has essentially said the same thing. This book is a comfort read. When I wrote to Ms. Kleypas to tell her that we were going to run a promotion for the book, I explained how greatly I enjoyed the story and how it was a comfort read for me. I then felt compelled to re-email her, before she even responded, to tell her that I meant no insult by saying that it was a “comfort” read.   At the time, I wasn’t able to articulate myself very well (probably as a result of staying up too late reading the book).

But calling a book or a meal a comfort is really a high compliment. True, it means that it is something that isn’t innovative or cutting edge but conversely it means that it is a story that you’ll want to revisit in times when you need comfort. In some sense, calling a book a comfort read is one of the highest compliments that you can pay a book. It means that in a reader’s low points, at a time she needs a pick me up, when she can’t think of anything else to read, she turns to this book, by this author.

The comfort reads are the quiet heroes in a reader’s library. They take standard elements and fashion them in a way that are once relatable and moving. They don’t rely on high concepts, paranormal creatures, or even a serial killer to maintain a romance reader’s interest. Instead, a romance book comfort read relies on the characters and their struggle to obtain a happy ending to carry the entire story.

In Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas introduces the reader to Ella Varner, a girl with a recognizable romance background, throws in one secret baby, and stirs it up with a hot alpha man and convinces at least this reader that this is the best Kleypas book ever.

Ella Varner grew up with a very bad mother, one who is more interested still today, in making connections with the opposite sex than her own daughters. Ella has managed, through some therapy, to escape the trap of her childhood, get a job and what seems like a decent boyfriend. Her sister, however, has not. Drifting from man to man, Ella’s sister, has ended up pregnant and unable to care for her infant. She dumps the infant on Ella’s door and heads for rehab. Ella has to figure out who the daddy is and care for the infant until such time as her sister gets out of rehab. One of the prospects is Jack Travis, a millionaire playboy. (see, it is totally stock elements of romance store 101).

Jack denies that he is the father.

“The Travis name inspires a lot of women to notice a likeness between me and their fatherless children. But it’s not possible for two reasons. First, I never have sex without holstering the gun.”

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, I wanted to smile at the phrase. “You’re referring to a condom? That method of protection has an average failure rate of fifteen percent.”

“Thank you, professor. But I’m still not the father.”

  

But Jack is intrigued by Ella and arranges to have her stay in one of the Travis apartments while she is in Houston looking for the baby’s daddy. And he arranges that he is there for Ella whenever she needs someone. And he just happens to fall hard for her.

Ella, though, has a perfectly nice boyfriend. Dane is not interested in being a father and in a very nice way tells Ella that she can come back to their joint cohabitation but not with the baby. Initially that’s what Ella wants too but as she spends more time with Luke, she becomes more attached to him and it becomes less about the search for Luke’s father than figuring out a way to give Luke back to his mom without tearing out her own heart.

Jack himself doesn’t have much character growth in the story other than becoming less of a millionaire playboy and more of the millionaire husband and father material. But he plays a sort of straight man to Ella’s neuroticism. (although Jack has his own faults. In one of my favorite scenes, Jack admits that his alphaness might be mistaken for craziness.)

Jack caught my wrist, pulling my caressing hand away from his face, and he skewered me with a wrathful stare. “Damn it.” He hauled me into his arms and held me close, breathing hard. “I’ve got about ten things I want to say to you right now. But at least nine of them would make me sound like a psycho.”

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, I nearly smiled. “What’s the tenth thing?” I asked his shirtfront.

He paused, considering it. “Never mind,” he grumbled. “That one would make me sound like a psycho, too.”

I know, cerebrally, that there are flaws in this story. Ella transfers her affections from Dane to Jack in fairly quick order and doesn’t really learn the ability to stand alone. Jack’s character is a tad too recognizable without much nuance. The ending relies on a bit of an unnecessary contrivance to force a resolution of the characters’ feelings for each other. However, none of those flaws make any difference to me.

In my second, hamfisted email to Lisa Kleypas, I tried earnestly to explain that a comfort read is really a compliment. I ended the email with the comment that it was a book I know I would read time and again. It reminds me of the ubiquitous slogan of Snoopy: Happiness is a warm puppy.

Tell me what your favorite comfort read is. I would love to know what you love to read when you need a pick me up; what you turn to when you are having a reading roadblock; whether there was a book that ever got you through a difficult time period. Comfort readers unite!

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

76 Comments

  1. Corrine
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 04:32:51

    Ooh, I have a ton of them. I started reading romance because I was trying to get through a very rough time in my life. My very first romance, and one I turn back to again and again for comfort, is Public Secrets by Nora Roberts. Michael, the hero, is probably one of my favorite heroes of all time. Another one I love to re-read is Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. Whenever I’m in a bad mood, this one instantly picks me up.

  2. Michelle Willingham
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 04:41:34

    LaVyrle Spencer’s historicals like Morning Glory, Vows, and The Endearment are among some of my favorite comfort reads. For contemporaries, hands-down the Nora Roberts Born in Fire and Born in Ice. The characters feel like people you know, and I’ve read the books so many times, I need new copies. :)

  3. Jill Myles
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 04:50:57

    Julie Garwood’s historicals. Total comfort reads. I know they’re anachronistic and the heroine is a Mary Sue wonder, but I just don’t care.

  4. April
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 05:04:29

    I agree with Julie Garwood, when I don’t want serious storylines, and just plain silliness, I go with Garwood.

    Also, any Crusie. The dialogue just makes me giggle. I will also re-read any of the Bridgerton series. JQ’s dialogue always makes me giggle as well.

    I like a good SEP too.

  5. cecilia
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 06:02:42

    I like just about anything by Linda Lael Miller for comfort reads, even though generally I’m not into westerns. Also Jayne Ann Krentz, particularly her 1990s contemporaries.

  6. joanne
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 06:27:45

    Those ‘stock elements’ are exactly what make a comfort read for me. If my mind and/or heart is too full of real life crap — or I’m tired — it’s just a matter of letting one of my favorites fall open to a passage that I know will pull me in and keep me there.

    It’s not even necessary to read the entire book every time, sort of like calling a best friend and starting the conversation in the middle….it just works. I’d love to know if others read the entire book or just certain parts.

    My go-to books are varied and fill different needs at different times. When Strangers Marry & her Then Came You are two of my most-read comfort reads from Lisa Kleypas. Shelly Laurenston’s Pack Challange for when I desperately need to separate myself from the human race and laugh out loud. Kiss An Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips when I want to run away to the circus. Too many books & authors to name which is why my keeper shelves groan.

    Peanut butter and jelly on white bread is comforting. Just standing at a counter making it brings comfort of the most elemental & essential kind.

  7. Jennifer Estep
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 06:36:07

    Beauty by Robin McKinley. I love that book. It’s such a lovely, magical fairy tale about the power of love. The perfect read for any time, really.

    I don’t keep a lot of books (simply because I don’t have room) and I don’t re-read that much either, but Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil are two books that have gone up on my keeper shelf and will be re-read as comfort reads. The voice, the stories, the characters, the simple elegance of the writing — I loved both of them.

    Kleypas makes me want to write my own contemporary. To me, that’s the mark of a great book — it gets me excited about reading more and even writing in that genre.

    And what’s even better is I gave SD and BED to my mom, and she loved them as well. We had a lot of fun talking about them, and we’re both looking forward to Smooth-Talking Stranger. :-)

  8. Kimber Chin
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 06:38:09

    I’m a ‘beast’ girl. Something comforting about a primitive man cutting through all the touchy feely crap. I reread Ravished by Amanda Quick, Lord Of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, those types of books.

  9. Kati
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 07:01:38

    For me it’s the first and second in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series: Virgin River and Shelter Mountain. Sure, her men are like freaking gods they’re SOOO perfect, reveling in all things female, always knowing exactly what to say, supporting in all things, striving always to make their woman the happiest woman on the planet. And yet. I can’t get enough of them. Those books are like a warm and fuzzy blanket that I pull on whenever I need a pick me up.

    I also love Lisa’s first contemporary, Sugar Daddy. I love me some Gage Travis and his whole “evolved, Texan millionaire” vibe. He makes me happy every time. Except, to be honest, I start reading when Gage gets the flu, not the stuff when Liberty is younger.

  10. BookBoor
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 07:21:13

    Gosh, my thoughts of late echo the same sentiment regarding the need for a good comfort read. There have been a number of new releases the last few weeks, but I have found myself reluctant to read some of them. Lately, I have been craving “the sure thing” you get from a comfort read. A comfort read is like instant happiness for me. Two of mine are SEP’s “Match Me If You Can” and Georgette Heyer’s “Frederica”.

  11. galen
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 07:34:36

    I know exactly what you mean. Personally my comfort reads run the gamut of YA, fantasy, sci-fi and romance, depending on the comfort I need. My personal everlasting comfort reads in the realm of romance are some of my firsts, Julia Quinn’s “The Viscount Who Loved Me”, Nora Roberts’ “Dream” trilogy, Judith McNaught’s “Paradise”.

  12. Keri M
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 07:41:07

    When I need a good comfort read, I tend to go with some really old stand bys, such as Kathleen Woodwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove or Ashes in the Wind, Lisa Gregory’s Bitterleaf or any of Garwood’s early historicals, especially the Lion’s Lady. I read Jude Devereaux’s The Black Lyon so many times, I have had to replace my copy twice.

    For some comfort contemporaries, I re-read early Tami Hoag or Sandra Brown, back when they both wrote really great straight romances. Jayne Anne Krentz, her early works are always good re-reads. :-) SEP is always an auto buy for me, but her early works were to me some of the best. It is hard to narrow it down to just a few, because there are so many old great reads out there. The sad thing is, is that most of these writers I don’t buy anymore, because they don’t write like this anymore.

  13. Lusty Reader
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 07:50:08

    What a thought provoking question, as I ran down my keeper shelf in my mind’s eye, the ones I would pick up if it were a rainy Sat afternoon and I was in a foul mood tended to be the LESS epic/saga types. I think my comfort reads would need to be ones that are long enough to fully imerse myself in a new world, shutting out my problems for a long enough time to forget about them, but not too long so I could get to the HEA faster.

    I would have to pick Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue, as it can really make me laugh. If I’m looking to be comforted, I definitely need a good chuckle! The more angsty/separation books on my top 5 list like McNaught’s Paradise wouldn’t comfort me as much personally.

  14. Jill Shalvis
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 08:06:48

    I love comfort reads, and for me that’s anything by Nora.

  15. Lori S.
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 08:22:08

    On a rainy day, or whenever I’m feeling down, I rely on anything by Jennifer Crusie. Or one of the early Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. Or something from the In Death series.

    It’s like visiting an old friend who makes you smile, gives you a warm hug, and won’t say anything about how big your ass has gotten. *gn*

  16. Carin
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 08:24:41

    On my shelf at home – I like Kenyon’s early Dark Hunter books, especially Night Play. I’ve re-read Dark Magic by Feehan many times, too. The Royals books by MaryJanice Davidson when I want to laugh.

    Multiple times checked out from the library – early Amanda Quick and early Sandra Brown. All this talk about Jude Devereaux and Julie Garwood makes me want to go back and reread them, too. It’s been so long I don’t have any specific memories, just really good warm fuzzies.

  17. Lissa
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 08:34:47

    Comfort reads are like old friends and visiting them again just makes you feel all warm and tingly – like you have been hugged and loved all afternoon.

    I rarely re-read, but when I do I tend to choose Julie Garwood’s Honor’s Splendor and Saving Grace or Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven or A Kingdom of Dreams. My hands-down go to favorite author for comfort reads is Elizabeth Lowell – give me one of her stories anyday and I am a happy woman.

  18. Bonnie
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 08:39:58

    A stormy day, a fluffy comforter and Nora Roberts works for me.

    I wanna go home. *sigh*

  19. Lynn N
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 09:00:18

    Once a year or so, I reread Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve also worn out copies of The Wolf and the Dove, Linda Howard’s early harlequins, Nora’s JD Robb <I like to revisit how Eve and Roarke met and fell. Also Laura Kinsale.

  20. Michelle
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 09:01:04

    My comfort reads are Carla Kelly’s traditional regencies. The most comforting one for me may be Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand but any of them will do. I’ve re-read all of them several times. She always writes about good, almost ordinary, people put in extreme conditions and how they keep fighting and keep going until they ultimately persevere. I can’t recommend them highly enough. There are so many layers, depth of characterization, and just good stories.

  21. Mireya
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 09:53:05

    I go on Lynn Kurland and Julia Quinn “binges”. In contemps, I always go back to a novella titled “A Fine Work of Art” by Shelby Reed (this is an Ellora’s Cave early title publishe ’03 if memory serves).

  22. vanessa jaye
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 10:21:24

    Jayne Anne Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jane Castle. She’s my one true comfort read, pretty much anything she’s written hits the stop for me (although I really prefer her more romancey stuff, to the stuff that only has a romance subplot), and while I can’t read her books back to back, and can re-read them countless times. Some of Linda Howard’s Ol’ Skool romances work as comfort reads, too. Depending on the title.

  23. Sela Carsen
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 10:38:29

    Has anyone else noticed how are comfort reads often seem to be things we probably read back when we first started reading romance?

    I pull out Christine Feehan’s Dark Desire, then move on to Anne McCaffrey’s sci-fi romance, Restoree. After that, it’s time to blow through some favorite series. I re-read the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Lynn Viehl’s Darkyns, and Linnea Sinclair.

  24. Hilcia
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 10:50:18

    Nora Roberts is my comfort read author. Some of her books were so tattered because I re-read them so often that I had to buy the hard covers to see if they last longer. Born in Fire, Born in Ice and Born in Shame are the ones I’ve re-read the most (I think)… I do know that when I’m anxious, or restless or I’m having a bad time, I pick up one of Nora’s books and always come away feeling better.
    Calling a book a “comfort read” is a MAJOR compliment in my book — to me it means it will forever be in my bookshelf and it will get tons of love. :-)

  25. azteclady
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 10:52:42

    halp halp! I’m being moderated (which is so not me, by the way)

    Either that, or wordpress just ate my comment

  26. Lori
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 10:59:03

    Crazy for You by Jennifer Cruisie, hands-down, every time. Love the romance, love the humor, love everything in the book including the bad guy. I reread it a couple of times a year and it’s pure comfort.

    Although not a romance, To Kill a Mockingbird is another that I have to reread. I cry at the same place, I’m awed each time. No book touches me as deeply as that one.

    And I echo the Jayne Anne Krentz sentiment. I don’t read her as Amanda Quick but I do read the Jayne Castle and she’s a steady writer. Just enough of everything I like.

  27. theo
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:03:36

    Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning. Though I really don’t think you get the full effect of the story unless you read the series in order, it’s still a huge comfort read for me and I still cry at the end, even after reading it at least 25 times. It sits on my nightstand along with Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie and Rose in Winter by Woodiwiss. My three favs and the ones I want to curl up in bed with, no matter what the day is like.

  28. April
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:09:26

    it's still a huge comfort read for me and I still cry at the end, even after reading it at least 25 times.

    Sometimes a good cry, that has nothing to do with one’s own life, is just what the doctor ordered.

    I like to watch Steel Magnolias for just that purpose. I will cry every single time I watch that movie. Not only do I cry, but I’m always thoroughly charmed by that southern gang of beauty shop ladies.

    You’ve Got Mail is another comfort movie for me. I don’t know why, something about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that just relaxes me and makes me feel all cozy every time.

    I also like to go back to old childhood favorites for nostalgia—Anne of Green Gables, anything Austen, etc.

  29. MB
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:12:10

    I second/third/whatever LaVyrle Spencer, Georgette Heyer, Robin McKinley, SEP, Jennifer Crusie, Julia Quinn, Linda Howard, Diana Gabaldon, Loretta Chase and Lisa Kleypas.

    Another comfort read for me is Lori Foster’s “Say No to Joe”. I find it very satisfying, especially in the way Joe falls for Luna and then the kids and they way they all learn to love and protect each other. The rest of the series is pretty good as well, but this one just does it for me somehow!

    I also like Mercedes Lackey’s 100 Kingdoms series as comfort re-reads. Particularily the first two.

  30. Jessa Slade
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:12:37

    I’m going with Jennifer Cruise too. Like you said, no extreme violence or angst; okay, there’re psycho ex-boyfriends, but the humor takes the edge off. There’s usually a funny dog that I know won’t die in a bear attack or something awful. I can settle down for an afternoon-into-evening-into-late-night of reading, enjoying each page. Unlike Dean Koontz, whose stories I also love, but who I read in a state of constant tension, racing to get to The End just so I can relax.

    I also read Dune and The Lord of the Rings trilogy for comfort. While the stories are complicated and more fraught, something about the stately language is very calming to me.

  31. Susanna Kearsley
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:19:21

    Although not a romance, To Kill a Mockingbird is another that I have to reread. I cry at the same place…

    Me, too. (“Miss Jean Louise, stand up.”)

    My own bookshelves are full of treasured comfort reads, but The First Year by Lucilla Andrews, My Lord Monleigh by Jan Cox Speas, and Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart (well, anything by Mary Stewart) kind of top the list.

  32. Keri M
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:27:58

    Oh man I loved A Rose in Winter!! I haven’t read that in ages, guess what is going on top of my TBR pile. KW was just the absolute BEST at writing romances at that point in time. So many good oldies out there!

  33. Moth
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:39:20

    Bet Me and Faking It by Jennifer Crusie
    The Talisman Ring, The Grand Sophy and The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
    Nine Coaches Waiting and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

  34. ReacherFan
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:40:51

    Comfort reads, like comfort foods are in the eye of the beholder. For my brother it might be re-reading a Conan the Barbarian novel, one of the Hardy Boys from his youth or a Roman period or Brother Cadfael mystery. For me it might be Getting Rid of Bradley, one of the Stephanie Plum books 2 to 7 by Janet Evanovich, The Sherbrook Bride, an early Amanda Quick – or one of Robert Crais’ early Elvis Cole mysteries – or even Plum Island by DeMille. All of these are well worn, dog-eared – and much loved by me. Some demand more of my attention, all make me smile at some point, and all feel like family. It’s the difference between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan. At least it is for me. It’s why I own the Magnum, PI DVD’s and all the Poirot’s from A&E with David Suchet. It’s why the first VCR tape I bought was Raiders. It’s why I don’t have Andrew Vachss in my beside reading pile or No Country for Old Men in the DVD player. Really good comfort food is some of the very best stuff out there. To me it’s a great compliment.

  35. DS
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:51:02

    Georgette Heyer never lets me down. Roberta Gellis– especially her medieval mysteries, except I also like most of her long historicals and her sf novels. Dorothy Dunnett if I want to go away for a long time (or C. J. Cherryh’s foreigner series). Also like to reread P. C. Hodgell and nearly anything by P. G. Wodehouse (initials, initials, intitals).

    I don’t really think I have a pure romance comfort read come to think of it. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of one and the closest I can come is Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense, particularly Nine Coaches Waiting or The Ivy Tree.

  36. Mary B.
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 11:54:40

    Georgette Heyer. Whenever I’m out of sorts, I take down one of hers and soon I’m engrossed. Black Sheep, Faro’s Daughter, Frederica, Cotillion, Friday’s Child…Nope. Can’t pick a favorite. I love them all.

    Mary Stewart and M.M. Kaye are also good for comfort, but nobody beats the Heyer.

  37. Michelle
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:02:57

    My comfort reads are J.D. Robb’s Naked in Death,and Dorothy Sayer’s Strong Poison/Gaudy Night.

  38. Estara
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:11:44

    @Michelle Willingham: Oh yes, just bought a hardcover collection of all three Born In… novels, but I also love the first two in the trilogy best.

    And then all the McGregor stories, and all her other family interconnected Harlequin romances ^^. I love those the best, though I’ve followed her to Eve and Roarke and bigger novels, too (am not so much into the suspense romance novels, though).

    And then some Heyer, Lord of Scoundrels, Robin D. Owens Celtia series. The early Jayne Anne Krentz harlequins, where the girl most often is in business. Some of her earlier Amanda Quicks.

    I second Beauty by Robin McKinley (and if we’re not strictly looking for romance, the Tortall quartets by Tamora Pierce and the Mystic and Rider Series by Sharon Shinn).

  39. jillyfae
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:21:14

    Austen’s Persuasion, Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, especially the Protector of the Small quartet, Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor, and the recent addition of Brigg’s Cry Wolf, are all comforting and satisfying re-reads for me. Though, I really have to agree with Mary B. above me that nobody beats the Heyer. She is always spectacular. I need to buy more of them, rather than improving my shelf by repeatedly borrowing my mother’s copies. (Though, when I was a kid, my favorite books were Willo Davis Robert’s The Girl with the Silver Eyes, and the Little House books, all of which I still dig out and read every once in awhile, so they must be my original comfort reads.)

    eta: And I forgot to third (or fourth?) McKinley’s Beauty. Just lovely. Sunshine‘s probably my second favorite of hers.

  40. Lisa Kleypas
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:34:35

    Dear Jane,

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your review! THANK YOU . . . and your emails were charming and not at all hamfisted, and I am still completely delighted by your reaction to the book. I can’t think of a better compliment than having written something that might be called a comfort read. There have been times in my life when a comfort read has really gotten me through something tough, so I would be thrilled if STS gave someone the warm fuzzies!

    Love and hugs to all–

    Lisa

  41. Natasha A.
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:36:14

    Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard.
    Just off the top of my head, I know that there are others….lol

  42. SonomaLass
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:37:26

    Pride and Prejudice is a major comfort read for me. Voyager, the third Outlander book, is another one, although there I tend to re-read the Jamie and Claire reunion scenes, not the whole book.

    I also have comfort reads in fantasy/sci-fi. Anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, but especially Lions of Al-Rassan and the Fionavar trilogy, can suck me in and take my mind off of anything bothering me. Same with Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land or the lesser known I Will Fear No Evil.

    I love re-reading epics, so M. M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon are two more tattered books on my shelf. And I absolutely agree with the comforting effect of epic language and the re-reading value of The Lord of the Rings.

    For a quick comfort read, rather than an epic immersion, I like Robin McKinley, Julia Quinn and Nora Roberts. I have several of Nora’s re-issued Silhouettes saved up for a re-read when needed. I also have several anthologies of short stories (titles escape me right now, and I’m not home to check them), most of them historical romance, that I have been known to grab for a quick pick-me-up.

    Ah, comfort foods! Nothing like being partnered with someone of another culture to realize just how different those can be. I mean, haggis? Seriously???

  43. Lisa Kleypas
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:37:36

    Forgot to add . . . my favorite comfort author might be Linda Howard . . .

  44. Bev Stephans
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 12:40:53

    Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series is my top comfort read, but I have many: Nora Robert’s, Born In Shame (Murphy Muldoon is my all-time alpha hero), Linda Howard’s, McKenzie series (especially the first two), Linda Lael Miller’s, McKettrick series, Nora Robert’s, Eve & Roarke (most of them), Lavyrle Spencer’s, Morning Glory & Bittersweet & just about any Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe mystery (the chemistry between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is a hoot). Oops, I almost left out Margaret Maron’s, Judge Deborah Knott series (especially the ones with deputy sheriff Dwight Bryant).

  45. JaimeK
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:18:22

    Oh my…comfort reading – The Secret by Julie Garwood is a book I bought in paperback umpteen years ago. I loved it so much I saw it in hardback and bought that. I read this book in the winter and it lifts my spirits when the snow is just too darn deep. This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland is another wonderful comfort read. Islandia by Aaron Tappan Wright is also a winter read. Jeez, this makes me want to duck out of work early, grab the dogs, a warm blanket and sit in the window and read while the gray drab weather passes me by.

  46. vanessa jaye
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:36:48

    Please excuse my incoherence. My previous post should have read: While I can't read her books back to back, I can (& do) re-read them countless times.

    Sela, you may have a point about returning to the books that started you off in romance. Amanda Quick books were amongst the first Historicals I read once I moved on from Harl/Sil categories.

  47. MaryK
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:51:01

    Well, comfort read is definitely a compliment because Comfort Read = Keeper.

    I listen to a lot of audio books because of my work commute, and I recently realized that I have a comfort audio book – Howl’s Moving Castle. Yes, several of my comfort reads are YA books. :)

  48. Hydecat
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:53:56

    Wow, I was just pondering the question of re-reading and why I do it (and thinking about writing about it, though Jane has articulated lots of my thoughts here). I just finished reading Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and immediately re-read most of it because it was *that good*. But, it likely won’t be a comfort re-read for me — there’s too much that is unfinished and unresolved. My comfort books are Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion by Austen, Jewels of the Sun and The Winning Hand by Nora Roberts, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder, and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I used to re-read Beauty by McKinley all of the time, but less so recently. I guess my taste in comfort books has evolved in the past 10 years, although some things have stayed the same.

  49. MaryK
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 14:24:20

    @Bev Stephans: “just about any Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe mystery (the chemistry between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is a hoot)”

    I have a crush on Archie Goodwin. :)

    For me, the rhythm of the language and even the structure of the story can greatly contribute to a book’s comfort read status.

    @joanne: “I'd love to know if others read the entire book or just certain parts.”

    In most of my comfort reads, I skim through reading particular passages.

  50. Sela Carsen
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 14:44:05

    Absolutely, MaryK. My copy of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is broken open to a few passages that offer a quick dose of happiness.

  51. Carin
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 15:39:46

    Interesting comment made about comfort books being books we read early on – I think that’s often true for me.

    Also, someone asked about reading all or part of book when we re-read. Sometimes I do just pick up and skim to my favorite parts. Especially if I don’t enough time to read the whole thing.

  52. Mireya
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 16:05:35

    Um, my post came out full of errors … writing using my Nokia tablet is a pain :P Anyway, forgot to add these:

    Sherrilyn Kenyon’s “Night Play” and “Dance with the Devil”
    Lisa Kleypas’ “The Devil in Winter” and yes, the very first book of hers that I ever read which is titled “Suddenly You”.
    Christina Dodd’s “That Scandalous Evening”
    The whole of MaryJanice Davidson’s Wyndham Werewolves series (back when she wrote erotic romance. The newest ones are lame in comparison)
    Sherry L. King’s “Fetish”

    Okay, now I am happy =)

  53. library addict
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 16:46:28

    The In Death series is one of my favorite comfort reads.

    If I am in the mood for a comfort read I can also always count on about any book from my Jayne Ann Krentz collection. There are many Nora Roberts books I consider comfort reads. Or early categories by Justine Davis, Merline Lovelace, Jennifer Greene, Kathleen Korbel, and Lee Magner. Heart and Soul by Lynn Bartlett and Cloud Castles by Kaitlyn Gorton.

    If I am in the mood for a quick novella, Jennifer Greene's Riley's Baby is usually first in line. My copy of Birds, Bees, and Babies from 1990 is in very sad shape from so many rereads of that novella LOL.

  54. Janine
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 17:58:08

    True, it means that it is something that isn't innovative or cutting edge but conversely it means that it is a story that you'll want to revisit in times when you need comfort.

    For me these things are not mutually exclusive at all. One of my biggest comfort reads is Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star. When the book was published it was both innovative and cutting edge, in both its structure (the first half of the book goes back and forth between the hero’s growing up years and the story of how he and the heroine meet and get to know one another) and its subject matter (the hero was sexually abused as a child). The hero’s history makes it very dark in places, too, and yet for me, it is one of the most comforting books I’ve ever read, and one that I often turn to when I’m feeling blue.

    In fact, many of my favorite books are ones that other readers find dark and sometimes even gutwrenching, but I find them uplifting and comforting. I think that’s because for me the characters journey from difficult, even painful circumstances into happiness and love are healing and cathartic.

    For that reason, I reject the concept that a comfort read can’t be innovoative or cutting edge, or (as I’ve seen said elsewhere) even that it can’t be gutwrenching in places.

    In my old copy of The Shadow and the Star, there is a blurb from Nora Roberts in which she describes the book this way: “Pure magic. From beginning to end The Shadow and the Star enchants the reader… a compelling story filled with power and poetry– peopled with characters so real, they break your heart, and heal it again.” I think that’s very eloquent, and I feel that sometimes for my heart to heal in the deepest, most satisfying way in the process of reading, I first have to experience the characters’ heartbreak.

  55. Renee
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 22:32:24

    For a classic anytime read, it’s Pride and Prejudice. Charlaine Harris’ 1st Southern Vampires book, Dead before Dark is one I keep going back to. Sookie always puts a smile on my face. Sugar Daddy is another one that makes me feel good when I read it.

    Sometimes I won’t re-read the entire book, but just a few chapters for a little lift when I need it.

  56. MaryK
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 23:59:29

    @Janine: Ooh, you’re right. There are a lot of comfort passages in that book.

    OT: TSaTS reminds me of Sunshine – very dense and emotional and if you don’t pay close attention you’ll miss something. Somebody should do an “If You Like The Shadow and the Star” feature.

  57. Diane/Anonym2857
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 00:17:38

    Most of my favorite comfort reads are older category romances. I know some give categories a bum rap, but they are missing out on some seriously wonderful stories (at least until they pay a fortune for reprints years later LOL).

    Pretty much any of Nora’s fit the ‘comfort’ bill. Favorites vary, depending on my mood, but I do have great affection for the Mackades and MacGregors, and Night Shield will always hold a special place in my heart — tho in that case, my own circumstances at the time and Nora’s note when she signed it are as meaningful to me as the excellent story itself.

    Some others that are re-read on a regular basis would be Linda Howard’s Mackenzie series, Rachel Lee’s An Officer and a Gentleman, Jennifer Crusie’s Manhunting and Anyone But You. One that never fails to touch my heart, and break it a little, is Kathleen Korbel’s A Rose for Maggie.

    And I absolutely adore a Jennifer Greene book called Night of the Hunter. I really can’t pinpoint why that one means so much to me. I dunno — maybe it just appeases my inner old maid or something (shrug). It just hits all the right buttons for me. I re-read it several times a year. Such a tight, well-written story. Wonderful characters. Both so independent, so strong, so proud, so lonely. She’s so plain, and he’s so beautiful, and they simply belong together. I always close the book with a happy sigh and a smile.

    Thanks for asking, Jane… now I know what I’ll be reading tonite before bed.

    Diane :o)

  58. Jenyfer Matthews » Blog Archive » Smooth Talking Stranger
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 00:53:15

    […] name here and there on various blogs but never quite got around to looking her up, until recently. Dear Author and Smart Bitches have both recently run reviews of her latest release, Smooth Talking Stranger, so […]

  59. Wandering Chopsticks
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 01:46:48

    My comfort Lisa Kleypas books are “Love, Come to Me” and “Dreaming of You.”

    Nora Roberts’ MacGregors.

    “Open Season” by Linda Howard.

    “It Must be Love” by Rachel Gibson.

    “Romancing Mr. Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn.

    “As You Desire” by Connie Brockway.

  60. Janine
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 02:00:08

    @MaryK:

    I did do an “If You Like Laura Kinsale” piece a while back. Not quite the same as an “If You Like The Shadow and the Star,” but the closest thing to it that we have on this site.

    I can actually think of several other books that are comfort reads to me that also get dark or edgy in places.

  61. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 04:38:00

    ~Calling a book a “comfort read” is a MAJOR compliment in my book -‘ to me it means it will forever be in my bookshelf and it will get tons of love. :-)~

    Awwww. This is one of the loveliest compliments ever.

  62. Keri M
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 07:35:59

    I had forgotten about TSaTS, I read that book and read that book and it brought tears to my eyes every time. Another writer that I can turn to in order to get my comfort fix and make me laugh at the same time is Pamela Morsi’s Heaven Sent with all the early one’s coming in a close second. I just love all her early books about the strong women and what lengths they would go to to get their man.

    Another powerful, emotional book for me is Susan Anderson’s Exposure, I mean who wouldn’t love a big cuddly one-armed Sheriff named Elvis? I read SA today, but to me that was one of her early best books and will stand the test of time.

  63. Michelle
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 08:40:36

    Janine wrote:

    I can actually think of several other books that are comfort reads to me that also get dark or edgy in places.

    I earlier mentioned that Carla Kelly is my comfort read, and those novels can get dark and deal with tough subjects. I actually think that the fact that the characters must deal with the dark aspects of life, as we all do, and find ways to overcome and persevere, as I hope to do, increases the comfort effect. It uplifts me and gives me encouragement to go back to whatever struggle made me need comfort in the first place. And, I’m also very drawn to the theme of healing in my romantic fiction – and rereading my favorite “healing” stories is very cathartic. I have a whole bunch of keepers beyond my Carla Kelly collection, and they do tend to deliver this kind of reading experience – even the “comedies”.

  64. DeeCee
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 10:57:57

    Anytime I need something I know will be good, I reach for a Karen Marie Moning highlander book, most especially Kiss of the Highlander. Sigh….

    Other than her books, I really only re-read the Harry Potter series simply because I know it has a happy ending. :)

  65. Zippy
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 13:02:07

    My favorite ‘comfort book’ is a wonderful contemporary from Susan Donovan called ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’. It’s a few years old now, but totally stands the test of time. I reread it every 6 months or so and always find something new. I really identify with the heroine and her inability to open herself up to the possibility of love. The hero, an Irish Chicago police detective named Stacey Quinn, is just about the best alpha male I’ve read. The issues about family and belonging make it an even more special read.

  66. Janine
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 13:12:10

    @Michelle:

    I actually think that the fact that the characters must deal with the dark aspects of life, as we all do, and find ways to overcome and persevere, as I hope to do, increases the comfort effect. It uplifts me and gives me encouragement to go back to whatever struggle made me need comfort in the first place. And, I'm also very drawn to the theme of healing in my romantic fiction – and rereading my favorite “healing” stories is very cathartic.

    That’s exactly it for me too. I have a couple of Carla Kelly keepers as well — my favorites of hers are Miss Whittier Makes a List and One Good Turn. One Good Turn is a book that made me cry buckets and yet that was very comforting, in a cathartic way.

  67. Theresa
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 17:50:18

    Not romance, but for me my biggest comfort read has always been the Thief trilogy (hopefully soon a quadrilogy) by Megan Whalen Turner. I read her first book “The Thief” in sixth grade, so it has a strong memory attachment for me. Her following books, “The Queen of Attolia” and “The King of Attolia” are excellent. All her books are the type where you pick up on more and more with each re-read, and there are always more subtle nuances you may not have noticed the first time through. For that reason, they are endlessly entertaining and the story is so wonderful you can’t help but want to read it over and over. =)

  68. Pat L.
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 09:52:46

    Nobody’s Baby but Mine by SEP. It is so funny.

  69. MoJo
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 10:32:17

    I'm a ‘beast' girl. Something comforting about a primitive man cutting through all the touchy feely crap.

    What Kimber Chin said.

    Sela Carson said:

    Has anyone else noticed how are comfort reads often seem to be things we probably read back when we first started reading romance?

    Yes, in the last year+ that I’ve been reading romance blogs, I’ve noticed a commonality in the comments that makes me think that the age one first started reading romance has a lot to do with how accepting one is of certain storylines.

    I was 11, 12, 13 or thereabouts when I started devouring Carole Mortimer HPs and I still love the much-older-hero-much-younger-heroine pairing. Ditto asshole alpha and the forced seduction. If it involves swords and/or guns, that’s gravy.

    Mine:

    Shanna & Wolf and the Dove (Kathleen Woodiwiss)
    Kiss an Angel (SEP)
    Tregaron’s Daughter (Madeleine Brent)
    Mistress of Mellyn (Victoria Holt)
    Crystal Singer (Anne McCaffrey)

  70. Theresa
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 10:50:45

    Man, I read almost all of Anne McCaffrey’s stuff when I was a teen. Crystal Singer was so good!

  71. Kate
    Mar 27, 2009 @ 15:40:55

    Agreeing with Sela Carson, back on no. 23…some of my favorite comfort reads are the ones I read when I first delved into romance, and that for me means a lot of Jude Deveraux: The Duchess, A Knight in Shining Armor, Remembrance, the Velvet books…actually, some of her earlyish historicals are some of my favorite romances, ever.

    And I will never give up my copies of Nora Roberts’ Irish trilogy. I swear I read them once a year.

  72. Pra
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 19:31:39

    The first romance book that I ever read was by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – This heart of mine! I must have read that book something like 15 times cover-to-cover. I started reading romances about 5 years ago… I was a late-comer to this genre!

    It was such a sweetly romantic book, I totally fell head-over-heels in love with romance ;) and I’ve never looked back.

    P.S. I just can’t wait to read STS. It on it way to me!!! Two more days, just two!

  73. Anita C.
    Apr 03, 2009 @ 05:18:55

    Mary Burchell, anyone? She wrote prolifically for the original Harlequin line, something like 40-50 books, before all that stuff like Harleqiun Presents, and American Romance, and Temptation ever appeared on the scene. Although I didn’t see her much in new issues (only in the back of dirty secondhand stores who were embarrassed they sold romance. Could often find back issues of her novels for $0.10). She must be dead as a doornail by now, if she was writing for H. in the 50s and 60s. A very skilled writer, of course, but NO SEX. But if we’re going with the above mentioned theory of loving your first romance authors, she’d be one.

    But wait, I’ll have to blow your theory out of the water. Before that, on a very hot summer vacation on Staten Island, at age 9, I discovered Grace Livingston Hill and Martha Finley (the Elsie Dinsmore books) in a bookcase in my mother’s cool livingroom. Thereafter, you couldn’t get me outside to play for anything. But she should have been watching more carefully what I was reading. They were “Christian” novels, but for adults. It took me quite a while to figure out what a roadhouse was and why people were drinking “hooch.” (These series were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s). Beware, Mothers, these two authors probably have a combined total of 120 books to their name and in the last 10 years they’ve started reissuing them. If you see your daughter reading one, tear it out of her hand. I’m serious. On top of alll the restricted religious upbringing I endured as a child and teenager, I consider my exposure to this crap to be the icing on the cake, in terms of screwing up my head about men, sex, etc.

    RANT’s over: My comfort reads are:
    The Fulfillment” by LyVryle Spencer. Her first novel, and the number 1 most beautfully witten love story I’ve ever read.
    Homeport by Nora Roberts. A fabulous story with no need to suspend our disbelief about all the trouble they get into; two extremely attractive h/h we watch enjoying themselves, seeing them fall in love; a villin I would never have guessed, and one of the great marriage proposals of all time.
    Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts. Great trilogy, but there’s just something about that 3rd book, about Laura, her vulnerability, her sacrefices for her kids; and Michael’s combination of roughness and tenderness that just breaks my heart each time I read it and think – “this time he’s really going away. Stop him.”

    Finally, two Desires, both by Dixie Browning, that are pretty old, but are, as Burt Reynolds would say, Semi-touching. There’s The Baby Notion (#1011) and Beginner’s Luck (#517)

    Oh, can’t forget Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale and Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase.

    By the way, if you want to call MacDonald’s Book Store in Redmond, Wash., I’ll bet they have those two old Desires in stock.

  74. patricia
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 19:41:50

    Comfort book—what a lovely phrase. My number one is Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas. There is an absolutely charming child in the book who adds an extra dimension that you don’t usually get.

    It is sweet at times. Steamy at points….but the impression stays, and stays with me. Comfort, yes!

    patricia

  75. Jane
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 19:44:26

    @patricia: I don’t remember “Where Dreams Begin”. I need to look it up. I do love a good Kleypas. Her next one (Bea’s book) is out next month.

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