Recently I posted some books that have made me a better person. While reading to improve myself is something I highly value, when the world is just too much, I also turn to books to escape. Especially around the holidays, we all need books we can just get lost in, whether they involve fantasy worlds, sizzling romance, biting humor, or thrills and chills. To the book cave!

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Adam and I read this book aloud to each other in the evenings before bed, and I highly recommend this reading method. This is the third book in the Dresden Files series, which is Adam’s favorite. He’s read them too many times to count, which works out for me because when I inevitably get sleepy while he’s reading, he can recap everything for me when we pick it back up the next night. Harry’s adventures in this one begin when the ghost world starts going haywire, and eventually vampires and other dark creatures get in on the action too. A great series with a funny yet principled leading man--you just can’t go wrong with Harry Dresden.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Mobster-style crime families in an east Asian-inspired fantasy world where jade gives people superhuman powers is not something I knew I wanted, but now that I’ve read this bonkers awesome book, it seems obvious because OF COURSE how could that not be incredible?! I am notorious for avoiding long books, but the 500 pages flew by with zero lags in the action. Even the fight scenes are so beautifully written they seem choreographed--and I hate fight scenes! The only thing that would make this book better is if a TV or film adaptation already existed. This is the kind of big, sprawling, action-packed story that begs to be put onscreen. One of the best and most effortless reading experiences of my year, hands down.

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

I’ll admit, I wasn’t as taken with The Luckiest Lady in London as I have been with Courtney Milan’s books this year, but Sherry Thomas is such a smart writer it was absolutely no surprise to me how cerebral her take on the romance genre is. This fall I read and enjoyed the first in her Lady Sherlock historical mystery series, and she brings the same panache to this story about an outwardly powerful but emotionally damaged man and the woman who bulldozes all his defenses. I liked that what makes Louisa so appealing is how she cuts through the bullshit and sees Felix for who he really is, while everyone else is simpering and kissing his ass. The way they end up married even though neither of them is taking the relationship seriously is annoying and contrived, but the undeniable chemistry between the two was enough for Thomas to carry it off. Romance is my go-to when I need to escape the world for a while, and this one did not disappoint.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

I actually bought Dark Matter around Halloween when I was in the market for ghost stories, but alas, the mood passed before I got to it. Since the weather is still decidedly un-wintry, I picked it up the other day as a way to immerse myself in a snowy, cold world. Mission accomplished! Michelle Paver has spent time in the Arctic and knows how to paint a scene so that you’ll swear your toes are going numb as you read. It’s 1937 and Jack agrees to go on an expedition to the Arctic because at first he sees it as a chance for adventure, but it turns out to be much more of a test both physically and mentally than he or any of his compatriots are prepared for. Paver nails the claustrophobia of being alone in the dark for weeks at a time and what that does to the human psyche. And because the book is written in diary form, you can’t get out of Jack’s head—and his paranoia grows as each night gets longer. Dark Matter is the perfect book to read while wearing a thick pair of socks and sipping a hot drink.

Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

I just finished Ruin and Rising, the third book in the Grisha trilogy, and I can tell you that these books are a great way to get away from life for a little while. The first, Shadow and Bone, was published back in 2012, so some of the YA tropes here have since become cliched, but there’s something about settling in with a story about teenage adventurers that might as well be a ticket straight to Chill Town for me. I especially love a strong female character who isn’t unbelievably infallible. Alina literally has superpowers but makes tons of mistakes and gets pissy and is sometimes cowed by forceful men and basically I love that Bardugo doesn’t make her be a paragon of virtue all the time. Add in a sarcastic prince, a childhood friend who might be more, and a villain so morally repugnant I might actually hate a fictional character, and you’ve got yourself a good time. (And there’s a spinoff duology that I’ve heard raves about!).

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

If you don’t have a dark sense of humor, this book probably won’t be an escape read for you. Scaachi Koul’s humor is anything but lighthearted, and the subjects she tackles include rape culture, racism, and life as the child of immigrants. I listened to the audio version, as I almost always do with personal essays and memoirs, but in this case I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Koul’s delivery is as morose as her subject matter, stifling any potential laughs and turning my reading experience kind of emo. Although this particular brand of funny doesn’t work for me, Koul is smart and perceptive and has a lot of important things to say, so I'm glad I read it. If you like dry humor with an edge, or hell, if the title makes you smile instead of cringe, then this could be the book for you.


Find it at your library!

Of course the day I’m reading a book with a prominent set of breasts on the cover is the day my boss asks me, “What are you reading?” as I saunter into the break room with my book.

Fortunately, there’s no shame in my reading game. I flashed her the cover with a smile and said, “It’s a lot like Game of Thrones.”

And I stand by the comparison. The Queen’s Bastard IS a lot like Game of Thrones--the TV show, not the books. You know how when you try to read the Game of Thrones books, you drown in extraneous junk about obscure characters who don’t matter? Yeah, there’s none of that here. Each scene is presented much the way it would be on the screen: the characters appear, stuff happens, and then we’re ushered smoothly on to the next scene. It’s like you’re an omniscient fly, somehow stuck to every wall in the castle right next to whatever shit is going down.

And lots of shit goes down. Belinda Primrose is, after all, a spy and assassin, as well as the unacknowledged bastard daughter of the queen. She’ll go to any lengths to protect her queen and by extension her country--up to and including sexing up and murdering her targets. I’ve seen some reviewers complain about her ruthlessness, but I have to wonder how many of those reviewers have watched a James Bond movie without batting an eye at 007’s promiscuity and cold-bloodedness. Mayhaps what really gets such readers’ tighty-whities in a bunch is the fact that the lusty murderer is actually a murderess? *sips tea*

Lord forbid a woman enjoy both her conquests and her line of work, amiright?

Anywhoodle, I love books that make me constantly question characters’ motives. Who’s on which side, who’s betraying whom, who’s lying, who’s cheating, who’s working for whom, who’s looking out just for their own interests, I love it all. That is this book from page 1, and it’s awesome. And there’s a sequel--excuse me while I go shove it into my face.