I don’t need to tell you why a list like this is necessary at the moment. If I could reread Anne of Green Gables for the next three months, I would. Unfortunately, I have too many books on my physical TBR here in Geneva that I need to get to before I move back to the US.
These books are in no particular order. They are all fantastic, escapist reads.
1. Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery
I never expected this book to be so good. I read it for the first time in 2014 because I thought the book would be twee and superficial. Boy was I wrong! Anne Shirley is one of the most relatable female protagonists. If you want lifelike characters in a cosy setting, Anne of Green Gables is a must read.
2. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Since I am currently living in Switzerland, I must mention Heidi. If you like twee, this is definitely the book for you. I found Heidi a bit too precious at times but the setting is breathtaking. I can’t dislike a book set in the Alps.
3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
If you are looking for a historical fantasy with a gothic vibe, I highly recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Susanna Clarke is a master storyteller. The two title magicians are polar opposites of each other, but their stories complement each other well. You can read my review here. I recommend reading the ebook because this is a chunker.
4. Any of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters
I have read three of the Brother Cadfael mysteries and they have all been wonderful reads. My favorite so far has been The Heretic’s Apprentice. The series follows Brother Cadfael and the Benedictines of the 12th-century abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a former crusader of the First Crusade. When he’s not tending the abbey garden, he is investigating murders. These books are more than murder mysteries, however. Their secondary story lines are just as interesting. If I ever write a novel, it will be a historical murder mystery. My review of the first book is here.
5. Orlando Furioso by Ariosto
This 16th-century epic is so much fun. Orlando Furioso is made up of several storylines, but the most prominent is Orlando’s obsession with Angelica. He quite literally loses his mind; his friend Adolpho flies to the moon on the back of a hippogryph to recover Orlando’s wits. This book has a wizard, magic rings, outrageous humor, and strong female characters. Orlando Furioso was Galileo’s favorite poem. It might become yours. I made a series of videos about this book on my BookTube channel “The Francophile Reader”.
6. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones
This is technically the second book in the Chrestomanci series, but it can be read as a stand-alone. I hope to get to the other books in the next year because The Lives of Christopher Chant was such a fun, comfort read. Christopher Chant has nine lives, but he keeps managing to get himself killed in an alternative universe. This book has amazing world building.
7. Bone by Jeff Smith
I don’t usually read graphic novels, but the Bone series is a feast for the eyes and the heart. The characters are so adorable. Having read most of the books, I can safely say that the story gets better and better as the series goes on. Fone, Phoney and Smiley are three cousins who are driven out of Boneville because Phoney Bone is…well…phony.
8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Keith Harrison
This translation was my favorite book of 2018. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is perfect from start to finish. A green knight arrives on New Year’s Day with a challenge for the knights of King Arthur’s court. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge of cutting off the green knight’s head. But the green knight doesn’t die. He picks up his head and rides away, leaving Sir Gawain to contemplate how he will maintain his end of the bargain. How will Sir Gawain survive getting his own head chopped off? This translation is remarkable! Keith Harrison manages to preserve the alliteration of the original English. To get the full experience, you should read the poem aloud.
9. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I was absolutely obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books as a child. No one knew more about his career than me. I could have included any of Dahl’s children’s books, but I chose Matilda because the film adaptation is equally delightful. This book also has a special place in my heart. When I was 14, I decided to read all of the books Matilda read at the age of 5. I got through many of the books on the list, but not all. It’s one of my bucket list projects to read all of the books on Matilda’s list.
10. Terre des hommes (trans. Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Best known for his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was also a mail carrier and fighter pilot during the early days of flight. He wrote several memoirs about the dangers of air travel in the 1930s. I recommend Wind, Sand and Stars because it is so hopeful. Like the pilot of the The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed in the Sahara desert. The story of his rescue is a welcome reminder that humans are capable of generosity and love. Check out my review here.