In case you don’t believe that people can change, I submit for you Exhibit A: I am now a series reader. No one is more surprised than me by this turn of events—in fact, I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago in which I whined about all the reasons I prefer standalone literature. And honestly, not a lot has changed. I still have a bad memory, which makes it difficult to retain details from one book to another, and I still have constantly shifting moods that prevent me from binging 20 books in the same series all in a row. But somehow, I’ve found a way to make it work.

Series work best for me when each installment is only loosely related to the one before. I’ve also had good luck with series that are set in the same world, but each book focuses on a different character. I’ve found I like returning to familiar characters I’ve loved in the past and going on new exploits with them—and I don’t have to recall every last detail of our prior adventures to enjoy myself thoroughly.

Here are some of the series I’ve been reading and loving lately!

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (#2 in Lady Sherlock series)

This series has all the Victorian charm of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but with a refreshing feminist twist—Charlotte Holmes is the detective in question, a buxom blonde with a keen eye for observation and an enthusiasm for cake. I liked this book even better than the first, A Study in Scarlet Women, possibly because it’s a better book but more likely because I was a better reader this time around. There’s something comforting about sinking into a story with familiar characters—and I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about or analyzing Charlotte and her friends, which freed me up to focus on the details of the case. These mysteries are demanding—the prose is fairly dense and the plots are twisty and complex—but the effort is worth it for sure. Also, I can’t resist the burning hot yet unrequited love between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. It seems even someone as coldly rational as Charlotte Holmes has a heart, and I can’t wait to see how their relationship plays out in the future.

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (#3 in Forbidden Hearts series)

I’ve said before that contemporary romance isn’t really my jam—I much prefer my love stories to be set in a different time in history or in a fantasy world. However, I will make all the exceptions for Alisha Rai. This series is the ultimate comfort read. They’re the books you pick up when you need to see realistically messed up characters get their happy ending. Usually with contemporary romance I get taken out of the story by unrealistic situations or cringey dialogue, but Rai’s characters always ring true for me. This book is about Eve, the buttoned-up, socially anxious daughter of the Chandler fortune, and Gabe, a hulking, red-headed tattoo artist. They’ve had some awkward encounters in the past and there are unspoken feelings on both sides, but now they’re in a wedding party together. Eve and Gabe show up at a mansion upstate for a week’s worth of festivities, but oops—turns out due to scheduling conflicts, they’re going to have some time to themselves. What will happen, I wonder? ;)

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (#2 in Ruth Galloway series)

I checked this book out from the library on a whim and finished it the next day. I remembered enjoying the first Ruth Galloway mystery, The Crossing Places, but I had forgotten what a great character Ruth is and how funny these books are. There are so many one-liners, I kept snorting to myself as I read. Ruth is a smart, capable, and delightfully snarky archaeologist, and her unlikely bond with DCI Harry Nelson is not the typical professional relationship. As with the first book, Ruth’s position as an expert on bones leads her into heart-pounding danger, this time investigating the remains of a child found buried under a doorway in a former orphanage. Who knew archaeologists led such interesting lives? I especially like Ruth because she breaks all the female stereotypes usually seen in detective fiction—she’s almost 40, she’s happily single, she’s not a size-two gym rat, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean (#4 in The Rules of Scoundrels series)

This series was my reintroduction to the romance genre, and I have to admit I saved this one for quite a while because I wasn’t ready to leave these characters behind. It’s the final installment in a quartet set in a gaming hell in London, this time focusing on the fourth partner in the business who just happens to be (gasp) a woman! Chase has built a fortune by exploiting the secrets of London’s elite, but she has a scandalous past of her own that she now has to overcome for her daughter’s sake. She needs to marry a man with a title, but somehow the only man she can think about is the one who has also made a living off the down and dirty: Duncan West, a dark and dashing newspaperman. While the plot unfortunately hangs upon the fact that the characters withhold basic information from each other for way too long for way too flimsy of reasons, which is one of my biggest romance pet peeves, I could look past that because that’s how much I love this series.

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.