Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Comfort Reads for Uncomfortable Times: a guest blog by Tasha Alexander

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm logging in from my local library to post this, since I (as well as several other east-coast Reds) am still without power. Fortunately, I don't have to write anything clever; our friend Tasha Alexander volunteered to take on blogging duties today. 

I know Tasha is one of the Reds communities favorite authors. Her Victorian-era Lady Emily novels brings together wicked mysteries and heart-stirring romance in stunning locations like Vienna, Constantinople and Venice. The latest in the series, Death in the Floating City, was a New York Times bestseller. 

Since Tasha and her dashingly handsome husband Andrew Grant live in Chicago and the UK, we're usually the ones consoling her for lousy weather. (If you've ever taken a cross-country flight in the US, you know about Chicago's tumultuous climate.) She knows about the stresses and strains we all come under - and has a wonderful suggestion for easing them.

The pounding given to the East Coast by Hurricane Sandy has put me to thinking about comfort and those things we do when we need it. Most of us are fortunate enough to be assured of basic material comforts--food, shelter, clothing. But that does not mean we don't face challenges, disappointments, and a variety of seemingly unending stresses, and we all need means to cope with them.

Last year when I was here, I talked about books I wished I could read again for the first time. This year, I'm considering those dog-eared volumes that, like the most loyal and steadfast friends, stand by us through every difficulty. I have many, many comfort reads. First come the old favorites. The really old favorites. On the Banks of Plum Creek and These Happy Golden Years from Laura Ingalls Wilder's wonderful Little House series got me through those horrible pre-teen years when I spent most of my time at school dances crying in the bathroom. It probably speaks badly of me, but I took great joy in reading about Nellie Oleson dancing around the creek bank with leeches stuck all over her legs.

As I got older, Gone With the Wind became a favorite. I would get to the end of my enormous hardcover edition (a tenth birthday present) and turn straight back to page one. Until, that is, Scarlett's story was eclipsed for me by Pride and Prejudice.

Sometimes, when I'm stressed, I need a giant heap of books that I can tear through, one after another, to fill loads and loads of time. Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series could not be better for this. Amelia's wit and intelligence can divert my attention from almost anything.

Then there are the times when what I really want is something more ethereal. That's when I go back to Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and escape into a bizarre world that is at once magical and disturbing. Not to mention written in some of the most beautiful sentences ever.

Interestingly enough, what I don't turn to for comfort is the book I consider to be my absolute favorite, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Maybe that's because I don't want it tainted by whatever is causing me stress. Maybe it's because I want to keep it separate. I'm not sure. But I am sure about the one book that, no matter what, never ever lets me down when I'm in need. I think we all have a book like this--the one you can never tire of reading, the best dependable friend. For me, that's Pride and Prejudice. What's yours?

Let us know your comfort read, and one luck commenter will receive a signed hardcover of the newest Lady Emily mystery, Death in the Floating City!

You can find out more about New York Times bestselling author Tasha Alexander and read excerpts of her books at her website. You can follow her on Twitter as @talexander, friend her on Facebook, and see some of the actual locations in her novels on Flickr.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts on comfort reads, Tasha . . . I find that if I need to read for comfort, I generally pull out one of Julia’s books . . . it’s like visiting an old, steadfast friend who never lets you down --- and it never matters that I know what’s going to happen. Another book, one of my newest finds, a book that promises to be one to return to again and again . . . “Blackberry Winter” by Sandra Jio . . . .

    In the aftermath of the SuperStorm, we are praying for all who are still struggling . . . much of our state has been devastated by Sandy . . . we may be down, but we are most definitely not out.

  2. I like to reread all the series written by Elizabeth Linington, under all of her names. Also all the books I have by Gwen Bristow! Dee

  3. Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. It takes me away, in every sense of the word.

    Right now I'm rereading all of Jane Austen's books. So far, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and now Emma. Timeless prose.

  4. I like to re-read Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. It takes me back to my nerdy high school days.

  5. Two authors who make an odd combination ... anything by Jane Austen or Dick Francis. The former is spiritually comforting; the latter puts me in the frame of mind to write (which is also comforting!).

  6. I escape into Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire series.

  7. Tasha, Hi! What a super idea this is. Many of us are in need of comfort in the aftermath of the storm.

    My comfort reads include "The Secret Garden," which I recently re-read, the Jan Karon Mitford series, Sarah Addison Allen's books, as well as Margaret Maron's and Louise Penny's.

    Hoping everyone is okay and that no one suffered too much damage. and here's hoping everyone has their power restored sooner than the estimates are saying. Hugs, everyone!

  8. I like to reread AND LADIES OF THE CLUB by Helen Hooven Santmyer.

  9. Welcome, Tasha. I enjoy your novels tremendously.

    "Pride and Prejudice" was the second book I thought of as I started reading your post. My number one comfort read is "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier. It was a huge influence on me when I was a teenager--such a gothic girl I was!

    Carol Goodman wrote a book called "The Lake of Dead Languages" that I reread every once in awhile too. It's a gothic (surprise, surprise) mystery set in a creepy private girls school--gotta love the creepy private girls schools! :-)

  10. Hmmm. This is a hard one. Love the Amelia Peabody books, love the Dick/Felix Francis books. I do love mysteries, but I particularly favor Lois McMaster Bujold's Vor series. She manages to inject giggle-outloud phrasing as well as fascinating plots. And, they always include mystery facets.

    After much thought, can't think of just one book that would be my favorite. Is it inability to narrow it down, or just too many I truly love????

  11. Hi Tasha! So glad to see you here. I'm with you on the Amelia Peabody's. I also love the Vicky Bliss books. Dick Francis (no matter how tough the circumstances, you know the hero will be okay in the end.) The same with Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books.

    So many things I would love to reread, like Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, but if stuck reading by candlelight as are many of our friends, I think it would be Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

  12. PS I've had Cloud Atlas on my to-read shelf since it was published. Ack. MUST READ.

  13. I love Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries, too! I also like her other books and own most of them. I have re-read some of them. I think I've read Trojan Gold maybe three times; not so much because it's my favorite, but the paperback has good-sized print so I can get through it faster!

    I read Tasha Alexander's books too, but haven't read all of the Lady Emily series. I don't re-read books too often (I have such a big book collection I'll never get them all read), but I do love Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and sometimes re-read them or listen to the books-on-tape. Yeah, I still have books-on-tape, since I don't have up-to-date technology. Plus a lot of them I got for $1.00 each at the library gift shop. Can't beat that!

    I like Jane Austen too and have her books and a bunch of Austen sequels. I didn't think I'd get into that era but I did after watching a few Austen movies. If you're interested in that genre, look it up on Amazon. Some of the authors I like are Jane Odiwe and Amanda Grange.

  14. Pride and Prejudice, hands down. Interesting thing, when my son was a pre-teen he developed terrible anxiety. What calmed him was...Pride and Prejudice. He liked to be read to until he was in his teens, and is still a reader.

    I also agree about Cloud Atlas--deserves a special place.

  15. qoFor comfort, I like to reread Barbara Pym's books. I have all of them,and my favorite is Excellent Women,which I have all but memorized! Right now I am rereading her No Fond Return of Love.

    Childhood favorites I own and love to reread: the Betsy/Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

  16. Welcome, dear Tasha! And mad congratulations!

    I cannot wait to read Cloud Atlas..

    My "comfort read" is anything by Edith Wharton or Tom Wolfe. Different, yes, but both wonderful social commentaries, right?

  17. These comments are giving me some great ideas! I love "Pride and Prejudice", but I often turn to "Persuasion" for true romance and an autumnal feel. A good cozy mystery is always great; right now I'm reading "Royal Flush" -mystery in a Scottish castle. Perfect!

  18. So many favorites! I love Elizabeth Peters, Dick Francis, Gwen Bristow (Celia Garth especially), Tasha Alexander, and my new favorite Rhys Bowen. I adore both Molly Murphy and Lady Georgie. And then there's Jane Eyre, Price and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility. Not enough time!

  19. Tasha--many congrats on making the NYT list with this book. I agree totally about finding comfort in books that are old friends.

    Bev, I'm gobsmacked (as they say back home) to be included in a list with Jane Eyre and Jane Austen!

    And Kathy, I'm so glad you're reading Royal Flush. That series is good escape for tough times.

    I'd agree one hundred percent about Pride and Prejudice, any Agatha Christie, also The Lord of the Rings--good triumphs over evil and small people achieve big things.

  20. I crave good mystery novels, but in n times of stress I turn to historic documents that read like fiction today, yet open the reality of my Salem heritage, a perfect antidote today, to Halloween.

    I have recently discovered historic accounting in the form of reporting on historic events with little interpretation other than the bringing together of the facts surrounding the historic event. I find these very absorbing.

    Today I am reading THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS: A DAY-BY-DAY CHRONICLE OF A COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE by Marilynne K. Roach. The first report: January 1, 1692, Friday, Salem Village: "Tides ran high at half past five in Massachusetts Bay, pushing the creeks backward toward Salem Village in the dark, for the midwinter days were briefer than the space of a single tide."

  21. Comfort read...that might be The Golden Bowl. Not necessarily a comfortable subject but love the leisurely pace of the storytelling.
    I've been trying to read Cloud Atlas for years - ever since I read and loved Black Swan Green, but it's slow going. I'm going to see the movie tonight and if I love it I may pick up again, otherwise I'm doomed to stay on page 36. It may become one of those books that stays on my shelf holding up the others.

  22. emI have to agree with Tasha on Jane Austen and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ive read all of their books multiple times. But I also have to add any thing by Louisa M. Alcott, but especially Little Women. And Jane Eyre, of course.
    This weekend I just read all of Rhys's Lady Georgie Series again in preparation for The Twelve Clues of Christmas. I think those are about as comforting as you can get.

  23. You guys are absolutely THE BEST!!!! First, because I now have a huge list of books I want to read, and second because so many of you have listed books I love with a mad passion.

    I am such a fan of the Besty-Tacy books. Love them! And Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire novels....

    Thank you so much for having me! Love you all madly!!! xoxoxoxoxo

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Back at you, dear Tasha! (And to your dear husband..)

  26. Late to the party again because I'm in the midst of copy edits and a wild string of events and freelance deadlines, all at the same time. *sigh*

    When I need comfort, due to sickness or sadness, I turn to Dorothy Sayers' GAUDY NIGHT, almost any Agatha Christie, most of Jane Austen, my beloved Dickens, Virginia Woolf (clearest, most sparkling sentences in all Christendom), Trollope, Josephine Tey, Barbara Pym, almost anything by C.J. Cherryh (mistress of both fantasy and science fiction and world-builder extraordinaire), Lord of the Rings, and on and on. Books are the best medicine and consolation.

  27. That last comment was from me--Linda Rodriguez. I was still signed in to the Stiletto Gang blog after posting a guest blog for tomorrow. *duh*