Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cheerful Books for Spring (and Summer)

When I reach for a book of fiction, it is almost always the literary kind. Literary as in not bound by the rules of genre fiction. Literary as in being in the spectrum between cloudy-day gray and janitor’s bucket water gray. Literary as in not in the business of making the reader smile at the end.

I’m okay with this, because I like to read books that take place in the real world – no heart-pounding thrillers, no candy-coated chick lit. But a cheerful book is good for my soul every now and then.

I define a cheerful book as one telling the story of good people trying to do their best, and then (eventually) good things happen to them. Cheerful books are upbeat without being silly – no “Aw, come on!” moments – and you believe that these good things can happen to you, too.

In preparation for National “A Book and a Coffee” Day on May 31, 2009, here is a list of cheerful books I recommend to you:

1. Love Walked In and its sequel Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

This text is from the Love Walked In reading group guide:

When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. Charming and debonair, the spitting image of Cary Grant, Martin sweeps Cornelia off her feet, but, as it turns out, Martin Grace is more the harbinger of change than change itself.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, eleven-year-old Clare Hobbs must learn to fend for herself after her increasingly unstable mother has a breakdown and disappears. Taking inspiration from famous orphans (Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and even Harry Potter) Clare musters the courage to seek out her estranged father. When the two of them show up at Cornelia’s cafĂ©, Cornelia and Clare form a bond as unlikely as it is deep. Together, they face difficult choices and discover that knowing what you love and why is as real as life gets.

How can you resist a book like this? I thought it was the real deal, a book with great characters and some genuine (as opposed to contrived) surprises.

2. The Monk Downstairs and its sequel The Monk Upstairs by Tim Farrington

Can you imagine falling for a former monk? That is what happens to Rebecca Martin when she rents her in-law apartment to Michael Christopher, who has spent the last twenty years in a monastery and is like no man she has met before.

These are romantic novels which do not fit the romance novel straightjacket, and I am ever in search for books like these.

3. The Shopaholic series and Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

I take pride in not being frivolous, so I didn’t think I would enjoy reading books with the word “shopaholic” in the title. Ms. Kinsella’s books are great fun. The misadventures of Becky Bloomwood prove a truth that the stern budget-nags of the media never hint at: there’s inimitable joy in buying beautiful things. Through these books, you can experience that joy without incurring a triple-figure credit card bill.

4.The Soulful Sex series by Diana Laurence

I enjoy an erotic scene as much as the next person, but most published erotica writers think that sex walks in wearing six-inch heels, a black leather corset, and a red lipsticked mouth from which few words longer than four letters emerge.

In Ms. Laurence’s books, you meet characters like the people you know in real life and you get to know and like them before they become intimate. Sex is better that way, isn’t it?

5. The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish

The first (and in my opinion, the best) of Ms. Radish’s feminist fairy tales, this novel has a seemingly simple plot: Eight women spontaneously decide to start walking. Behind this simplicity, though, lies earth-shaking results for the women, their families, perfect strangers, and the whole nation. This is a book which says it’s not just a clichĂ© -- you can make a difference.

6. The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue and Madame Mirabou’s School of Love by Barbara Samuel

I admit that I like these books for personal reasons – “Goddesses” contains one character who is an aspiring writer (just like me!) and “Madame” has a photo of a woman in a bathtub on its cover – I do some of my best reading in the tub! These are books about making real-life miracles with the gifts you already have.

I found out that Ms. Samuel is now writing under a new name, Barbara O’Neal, and has published a new book, The Lost Recipe of Happiness. I just bought that book today. Will it be added to my list of cheerful books? Stay tuned.

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