As the year winds down, I join the majority of Chicagoans who are exhausted from a year of pandemic crisis, battered by spiraling news stories and heartbreaking pictures of people struggling day-to-day. We read to escape or find places that are meaningful to us. Right now seems like a good time to take the plunge into a story I can wrap around me like a warm blanket. Get into your warmest pajamas or comfy sweats, prop yourself up on the couch or read in bed with the pillows stacked behind you. Imagine there’s a soft pool of light, a warm drink (or something cool and delicious) at your elbow, then open one of these stories and dive in!
I love psychological fiction for the way it draws me in so completely that I read until realizing my arm has fallen asleep. Ruth Ware hits the spot; she's a master of the locked room thriller and creates great characters. In One by One, a corporate retreat goes sour, with a group trapped by a blizzard in a snowy mountain lodge. There’s no outside help, and they’re being murdered and turning on each other. Tension mounts as you wonder who will survive. If you like this one, you may want to try They All Fall Down.
My new favorite is the “quirky people” genre, where a group of misfits reach out to each other and form relationships that offer support and friendship. In The Authenticity Project, an unlikely circle of Londoners meet when an eccentric artist writes a brutally honest story in a notebook. He leaves it in a cafe and challenges others to do the same. As each character adds a story, it enriches their lives. Fans of this may want to pick up books by Fredrik Backman or for an American setting, try The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.
The Old Drift is a gorgeous literary saga. The characters' fates are all entwined in the colonization and exploitation of Zambia. The language flows and carries you along with a story that is engrossing and peppered with historical detail against a rich landscape. If you like family stories, you also may enjoy Cutting for Stone.
Sometimes I’m in the mood for a little magic, like the Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky. Two adolescents meet in a high school hellscape. Laurence is obsessed with science, Patricia with exploring her magical abilities. Their friendship sets in motion a chain of events that brings them back together years later in a world dissolving into climate crisis. The book has a contemporary steam-punk feel and is perfect for fans of The Magicians.
I’ve always been interested in the experience of immigration; seeing a country through another’s eyes gives you a fuller picture. This year's One Book, One Chicago, exploring the theme "Beyond Borders" and the book Exit West, is full of these stories. I dipped into Let's Tell This Story Properly, a collection of short stories about the Ugandan community in England. The characters struggle to understand their new country, watch their children assimilate and pine for places they’ve left. It's full of tales told with humor and pathos. Fans of this one may also enjoy The Refugees.
Do you have a favorite cozy read? Let me know in the comments.