Saturday, November 7, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Comfort Reads

At All About Romance the pollsters are back with this month's theme poll: Favorite Hanky, Comfort, and Holiday Reads. I knew I would participate in the poll, but I'm a total procrastinator when it comes to actually sitting down and ranking my favorite books, so I probably wouldn't have bothered to prepare my ballot until the last minute -- which is November 15th, by the way. Then I read Janga's post about her favorite comfort reads, and I was inspired to not only come up with my list early, but also to explore just why I find certain books more comforting than others.

For me a favorite book is not necessarily a comfort read, although all my comfort reads are favorite books. Comfort reads are the books I go to when I need to feel uplifted, when I need to laugh, and when I need to smile. All three are a requirement. They're the books that, just by picking them up, I'm infused with positive feeling. When I begin to read, I feel a sense of peace wash over me -- all is right with my world when I'm in the world of this book. They're the books that, when I close the book after the last page, I'm filled with optimism, hope, and an overall sense of goodness. I don't know that I can fully describe the feeling I get from a comfort read, I just know that it's not the same feeling I get from a really good book. It's different somehow.

So, without further ado, here are my (as of right now) Top 10 Favorite Comfort Reads, in no particular order. (Which really means that I just haven't gotten around to ranking them yet.)

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie comes in as a very close second behind Welcome to Temptation as my all-time favorite romance, but is the only one of the two to make this Top 10 list. Min Dobbs is one of my favorite romance heroines, in all her bitter, straight-forward, let's-cut-the-crap glory. The dialogue sparkles; the chemistry is outstanding. There's that scene in the park when Cal feeds Min a donut. Ho-ly smokes. Add in a fabulous cast of secondary characters and some mouth-watering food, and I'm a goner every time. I also suffer from Chicken Marsala cravings every damn time I read this book -- cravings which I always give in to.

Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves is similar to Bet Me in that it's also the story of a curvy plain-Jane who falls in love with one gorgeous hunk of a man. But from there the plots diverge. Tall Tales also features one of my favorite romance heroines in the form of Heather Montgomery. After I read a slew of romances featuring not-so-bright women, I often turn back to Tall Tales for a dose of Heather. She's smart, damn capable, and is killer when she's in crisis mode. In other words: she rocks. Of course I wouldn't love the book so much if I didn't also love hero Tony McCaffrey -- a man who at first glance is nothing more than a carefree playboy, but deep-down has a vulnerability and sweetness about him that melts your heart.

Anyone But You is the second of four Jennifer Crusie books to make this list, but surprisingly, while I love it, it's actually fairly far down on my overall Crusie ranking scale. For some reason though, it's an absolute favorite comfort read. Maybe it's the dialogue. Maybe it's the Hero in Pursuit aspect. Maybe it's the scenes between Nina and Alex when they're watching movies and are both too shy to make a move on the other. I don't really know. I just know that I laugh, I smile, and I just feel good every time I read this book.

The Trouble with Valentine's Day is one of two Rachel Gibson books to make this Top 10 list, but it's not my overall favorite Gibson book -- that honor belongs to Tangled Up In You. But Tangled isn't in my Top 10 comfort reads, and I think it's because of the heavy subject matter. Valentine's, on the other hand, is a Favorite Funny and has just a touch of that heavy emotional stuff. Both Kate and Rob have had to deal with some crap -- of their own making in both cases -- and their experiences have left them both gun-shy when it comes to trusting other people. But they find redemption in each other; learning to forgive themselves, learning to trust again, and ultimately find true love. Mostly though, this book just makes me laugh.

Getting Rid of Bradley and Manhunting are my two favorite category romances by Jennifer Crusie, and they're also both great comfort reads. In Bradley you have an Opposites Attract romance mixed with a touch of romantic suspense, and in Manhunting, Crusie delivers a funny friends-to-lovers story that makes me smile from start to finish. Both feature Crusie's trademark wit and charm, which I love falling back into during my re-reads.

Continuing with the category romance love is When He Was Bad by Jane Sullivan (aka Jane Graves). Bad is both a favorite comfort read and also a favorite holiday read, as it's set during the Christmas and New Year's season. This is another Opposites Attract story, featuring bad boy shock-jock Nick and good-girl pyschologist Sara. I can't quite explain why I love this book so much. I suspect one reason is the excitement of the secret affair these two carry on. But I also love that I'm able to totally buy into Nick being a reformed bad boy by the end, because he's mentally already started down that path before Sara even enters the picture. He would have made it there eventually; she just provides that extra incentive to do it faster. So this is one of those rare Good Girl/Bad Boy romances that I'm able to fully believe in at the end.

See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson. Perhaps my all-time favorite sports romance -- and man, do I love my sports romances -- Jane features a reporter determined to make her mark on the journalism scene while battling against sexism, and a bad boy hockey player who just makes you want to say "Mmmm." It's also a Best Enemies plot, which I'm a total sucker for, and I just love the feeling of authenticity that Gibson brings to her heroes. Luc is damn sexy, but he can also be crude and arrogant and obnoxious. But damn, he's sexy. And Jane is no wallflower, even though she dresses like one. She's a woman who knows herself, and is comfortable with who she is. Plus, she kicks ass at darts. Oh, and did I mention that Luc is damn sexy?

The Matchmaker's Mistake by Jane Sullivan (aka Jane Graves) was released as part of the now-defunct Harlequin Duets line. I've read the other story in the book, but it's Matchmaker's that I keep coming back to. Shy hero Mark is determined to win the woman of his dreams, but she won't give him the time of day. Enter gregarious bartender Liz, who takes pity on Mark and gives him a makeover sure to catch Dream Woman's attention. What she doesn't expect is to start falling for Mark. I just love stories like this. I tend to be a sucker for makeover type stories anyway, but I especially love those rare romances where the shy plain-John is getting the makeover instead of the other way around.

The last entry on my list is a comfort read just for the sheer nostalgia factor, if nothing else. I first read A Dangerous Game by Candace Schuler way back in junior high, and my adolescent self just absolutely loved it. Dangerous features a tough-as-nails ex-Marine who's a bit sick and tired of all the "I'm woman, hear me roar" attitude coming from modern career women. He meets his match in private investigator Natalie -- one of those pesky "hear me roar" feminists who's a bit sick and tired of all the alpha male chest-thumping she encounters in her line of work. This is definitely a comfort read for me, but I really don't know how much of my love is based on the actual story, and how much of it is being swamped with nostalgic memories over one of my first favorite romances. Either way, Dangerous will be staying on my keeper shelf for another 18 years at least.

So that wraps up my Top 10 Comfort Reads list. What books make your list? Feel free to share your favorites, along with what kinds of books make good comfort reads for you. I'll just sit back and enjoy my chicken marsala.


Kristie (J) said...

See Jane Score is one of mine too. And oddly enough - the In Death books are also great comfort books/slump breaker books. Despite many the grisly murder, I think it's the sense of family that makes these ones comfort reads. Another one I reach for when looking for a comfort read is One Summer by Karen Robards. *laughing* One Summer fits into so many different categories, best bad boy, top favourite, a keeper that isn't a top grade, older heroine/younger hero, hero who was unjustly imprisoned

Katie Mack said...

I actually find comfort in the In Death books too, but I'm only about half-way through the series now so whenever I'm looking for that kind of comfort, I just reach for the next one on the list. I agree that it's the sense of family between the characters that provides the comfort, and it's the primary reason I enjoy the books so very much.

I've never read One Summer by Karen Robards. I have another of hers on my TBR shelf -- Walking After Midnight -- I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'll have to look for One Summer too, because you can never have too many books on your TBR shelf. ;) Well, and I like all those different plotlines you mentioned. That might have something to do with it too.

Jill D. said...

Hi Katie Mack and welcome to the blogger community! Seems like we share similar favorite authors. I love Jennifer Crusie and Jane Graves. Both Bet Me and Tall Tales and Wedding Veils are among my favorites. I haven't read See Jane Score or Trouble with Valenine's Day. I will have to remedy that.

Have you tried Erin McCarthy? She is another great contemporary author. My favorite is Heiress for Hire and then her recent release Hard and Fast.

Katie Mack said...

Hi Jill! Thanks for the welcome. I've read Flat-Out Sexy and Hard and Fast by McCarthy, but not Heiress for Hire. Looks like I need to remedy that. :)

Lynn Spencer said...

Funny that you and KristieJ mention the In Death books. I'm reading/rereading the series now, and despite the bleakness you sometimes see in that world, these really are comfort reads. Eve and Roarke and co. are wonderful!

And congratulations on starting your blog!

Wendy said...

I think it's quite telling that your comfort reads focus on contemporary romance. Also, quite a few categories on your list as well :)

My comfort reads? In the romance genre, I'd probably say Harlequin Historical westerns. Specifically Cheryl St. John.

I'll be honest though, when it comes to comfort reading, it's cozy mysteries all the way. I suspect because I started reading them as a teen, and they kick up that feeling of nostalgia for me. A well-written cozy gets me every single time.

Katie Mack said...

Thanks Lynn!

Wendy - Yes, I always fall back to contemporaries and categories as my comfort reads. Maybe it's because I'm still fairly new to historicals, but mostly I think it's because for so many years I read nothing but contemporaries -- categories, at that. That subgenre was my first love, so to speak, so that's what I return to when I need comfort. And I totally get the nostalgia factor you have with cozy mysteries -- I think it has a great impact on comfort.