12 favorite feel-good fiction books

This is laugh out loud funny, tender, and written in a fresh voice, which you might not expect given the premise. Lilian's husband died in a car accident in front of their house four years ago and she hasn’t been quite ready to move on. Lili is not stuck in her grief but she's in a rut and generally okay with it: life with her daughters is enough. But when she's given a special project at work to illustrate a book about vegetables, she's signed up for their six-week garden class, introducing Lili (and the readers!) to a delightful cast of fellow gardeners. An unlikely community forms, and no one is quite the same by the time the class ends.
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"Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single, Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations were of secondary importance." In this P&P-inspired retelling, set in contemporary Toronto, Darcy becomes Khalid, a devout Muslim man whose mother is trying to marry him off. Elizabeth becomes Ayesha, a teacher who'd much prefer to be a poet. When they first meet, it's utter disaster: she thinks he's rigid and judgmental; he thinks she's not a good Muslim because she's holding a drink (virgin) and cigarette (not hers). But circumstances bring them together again, of course. I loved the supporting cast featuring good friends, a cousin dreaming of a Bollywood-inspired wedding, an embarrassing mother, and a Shakespeare-quoting grandpa. If you're a P&P devotee, this is a delight. If you've never read the original, you can still enjoy this story about love, family, obligation, and romance.
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This novel had me pinned to the couch for two days (or it might have been just one). It reads like the breeziest chick lit, but has a surprising depth that makes me love it even more.
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A debut young adult rom-com about an African American ballerina who finds love on the road to an audition. "In a world where it's easy to lose faith in love, I Wanna Be Where You Are is a brilliant burst of light. A dazzling debut." ― Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coast―two unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat. Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance, and a few broken rules, Kristina Forest's I Wanna Be Where You Are is a YA debut perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon.
The publisher calls this Sliding Doors meets P.S. I Love You: the premise is far-fetched, but it's supposed to be. Early in their marriage, Kate’s husband dies in a tragic accident. Twelve years later, Kate promises to marry a man who’s good on paper—but the night of their engagement, Kate vividly dreams about the life she would have had if her first husband had lived. The dreams keep returning, night after night. Harmel uses her strange jumping-off point to explore how suffering shapes our lives in surprising and even hopeful ways. Don't worry: it's not at all depressing, and Harmel's a great storyteller. Warmhearted and richly told.
Center's novels read as easy as the fluffiest chick lit, but they run surprisingly deep, and are emotionally wise. Libby is attempting to rebuild her life, and that of her two kids, after her husband died in a car crash two years ago. But she's finally had enough of living with her crazy mother, and moves out to the Texas hill country to try out a new life on her crazy Aunt Jean's goat farm. This short and easy read has a familiar arc: girl in a mess, girl sees the light, girl finds happiness, yet its themes of family, forgiveness, and redemption make it worth your while. Recommended reading for Brené Brown fans.
Cornelia is a hopeless romantic, obsessed with the epic love stories portrayed in classic films, but floundering in her own life. Everything changes the day a Cary Grant look-alike walks through the door of the coffee shop she manages. Of course she falls for him, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his 11-year-old daughter. You can’t help but cheer for these characters as they navigate the tricky waters of friendship, heartbreak, and love. De los Santos is a poet by training, and it shows in her prose. If you love this, good news: there’s a sequel.
For fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han. After her family (or what’s left of it) impulsively moves from California to Connecticut, Amy has to get her car cross-country. There’s just one problem: because of a tragic accident, Amy doesn’t drive. Enter Roger, an old family friend who volunteers to come along for the ride, and who is dealing with his own heartbreak. Before long, the two friends decide to ditch her mom’s carefully-orchestrated route in favor of the scenic route, stopping to see familiar haunts, old loves, and plenty of small town America. Matson adds color to this sweet story with emails, receipts, and playlists galore. Sure to inspire wanderlust. If you like this, read Since You’ve Been Gone next.
I feel like I've been holding out on you on this one because I read and loved this book months ago. (I DID recommend it on this episode of What Should I Read Next with Leigh Kramer.) A girl-next-door type suddenly finds herself in an elite California prep school, and has to figure out how to navigate this new privileged world while still grieving her mother's death. When she gets an email from an unidentified boy who calls himself "Somebody Nobody" offering to be her spirit guide to her new school, she doesn't want to say yes—but she really needs his help. A sweet and fun teen romance, but also a pitch-perfect portrayal of the grieving process. I couldn't stop myself from cheering for Jessie as she put her life together again. Published April 5 2016.
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I read the publisher's description on this and almost died: "Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more." When Nina's job as a British librarian is cut due to budget deficits, she takes a leap of faith and opens a bookmobile in a tiny Scottish town. Though it's not a bargain basement price, I couldn't resist reading this again just before my trip to Scotland. The bookmobile and its treasures transforms one townsperson at a time and Nina's life is revitalized as well. Now that's the power of a good book!
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Engaging coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to find her place in the world. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions.
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Alice doesn't believe in luck, at least not the good kind. But when she buys her friend Teddy a lottery ticket for his 18th birthday, she picks the good ones: 31 (Teddy's birthday). 9 (the number of years they've been friends). And for the Powerball number: 13 (the date both her parents died, 13 months apart, making her an orphan). That unlucky number wins him 140 million dollars. Teddy promises her the money won't change anything, but of course it does. A novel of love, family, fate, and Chicago, and one that you could read in the course of one happy afternoon. Publication date: May 2.
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