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Marian Keyes Shares Her Ultimate Comfort Reads (for Covid times)

4th February 2021

Marian Keyes Shares Her Ultimate Comfort ReadsMarian Keyes shares her “Ultimate Comfort Reads” reading list on Bookshop.org to support indie bookshops

International best-selling novelist Marian Keyes (Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday and The Break) has today revealed her Ultimate Comfort Reads for challenging times, with a curated list shared on Bookshop (www.Bookshop.org) in support of indie bookshops.

Confessing she’s “personally … desperate for a holiday from reality and from my head”, Marian’s recommended reads will offer readers some much-needed solace and escapism into a world of bookish pleasure during lockdown, and beyond.

From Booker-nominated debut novels to fiercely funny memoirs, and from heart-warming stories turned into much-loved TV series to feminist retellings of traditional fairy tales, Marian’s curated list aims to inspire, engage and entertain, as an antidote to the difficult times we’re living in.

Marian’s list includes: Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, a classic comedy novel named one of BBC ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’; The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill, a feminist reimagining of The Little Mermaid; My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, the sensational debut novel nominated for the Booker Prize in 2019; Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a laugh-out-lout memoir adapted into a popular BBC series by Nick Hornby; Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, a Pride and Prejudice catapulted into our modern world; Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce, the Sunday Times best-seller chosen as a Richard & Judy Book Club Pick; the WWII romance The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson, based on the author’s own experience as a refugee.

The list has been released by Bookshop.org – the alternative to Amazon for shoppers wanting to support independent bookshops when they shop online. Celebrated by critics, readers and booksellers, Marian is known for her untiring support of independent bookshops. She was one of the first authors to take part in “At Home with Four Indies”, the virtual series of events launched in lockdown by independent booksellers from Linghams (Heswall), Booka (Oswestery), Book-ish (Crickhowell) and Forum Books (Corbridge).

Marian Keyes, author of Grown Ups, said: “Life is very challenging at the moment and personally, I’m desperate for a holiday from reality and from my head. Reading has always been a huge pleasure for me but because so much fear is circulating, there are lots of subjects I’m currently not able for. I’ve put together a collection of titles that I’ve found engaging, uplifting, distracting and entertaining. I hope that some of them give you enjoyment and respite. I am thrilled to share this list on a platform that supports the vital work of independent bookshops.

One of the most successful novelists of all time, Keyes’ books have sold over 30 million copies in 33 languages, and her writing has received several accolades, including the British Book Awards, the Irish Book Awards and the inaugural Melissa Nathan Prize for Comedy Romance. In the last year, Marian has been chair of judges for the Comedy Women in Print prize, and the second series of her instant hit, Between Ourselves, will air on BBC Radio 4 on 18 February 2021.

Marian joins a growing number of authors to share a curated reading list on Bookshop.org, such as: Elena Ferrante, Malorie Blackman, Nikesh Shukla, Emma Gannon and more. Author reading lists on Bookshop.org have proven to have a tangible impact on sales figures for the books they feature, shining a light on many lesser known works beyond bestseller lists. TripFiction also curates Top Titles for Literary Tourism over on Bookshop.org

We have highlighted titles that are strong on location.

Marian Keyes’ Ultimate Comfort Reads:

The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson (Pan MacMillan)

ENGLAND / RUSSIA

As WWI draws to a close, a love affair that stretches across countries, families and class begins, in master storyteller Eva Ibbotson’s classic historical romance The Secret Countess, with an introduction from Amanda Craig.

Anna Grazinsky, a young Russian countess, has lived in the glittering city of St Petersburg all her life in an ice-blue palace overlooking the River Neva. But when revolution tears Russia apart, her now-penniless family is forced to flee to England. Armed with an out-of-date book on housekeeping, Anna determines to help her family in any way possible, and she is soon hired as a housemaid at the Earl of Westerholme’s crumbling but magnificent mansion.

Then Rupert, the young Earl, returns home from the war and is fascinated by his new housemaid, and the more time they spend together the more they feel inexplicably drawn together. But they can never be together; Rupert is already engaged and Anna is only a servant . . .

Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen (PRH)

DUBLIN / LEINSTER

Meet Aisling.

She’s a small-town girl who dreams of the big city.

She has a heart of gold and an iron belief in the power of control tights.

She has a steady job and a loyal boyfriend (though he hasn’t put a ring on it even after seven years).

Then one disastrous romantic getaway convinces Aisling to leave him behind and head for the bright lights.

But with glamorous new flatmates, a scandal at work and a weird love square, Aisling has no idea what’s about to hit her.

I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder (Hachette)

On an unlikely backpacking trip, Rhik and his mother find themselves speaking openly for the first time in years. Afterwards, the depression that has weighed down on Rhik begins to loosen its grip for a moment – so he seizes the opportunity: to own it, to understand it, and to find out where it came from.

Through this begins a journey of investigation, healing and recovery. Along the way Rhik learns some shocking truths about his family, and realizes that, in turn, he will need to confront the secrets he has long buried. But through this, he triumphs over his fears and brings his depression into the light.

I Never Said I Loved You is the story of how Rhik learned to let go, and then keep going. With unique humour and honesty, he has created a powerfully rich, funny and poignant exploration of the light and dark in all of us.

Gravity is the Thing by Jacqueline Moriarty (Atlantic)

MONTREAL / SYDNEY

Twenty years ago, Abigail Sorenson’s brother Robert went missing one day before her sixteenth birthday, never to be seen again. That same year, she began receiving scattered chapters in the mail from a mysterious guidebook, whose anonymous authors promised to make her life soar to heights beyond her wildest dreams.

These missives have remained a constant in Abi’s life – a befuddling yet oddly comforting voice through her family’s grief over her brother’s disappearance, a move across continents, the devastating dissolution of her marriage, and the new beginning as a single mother and café owner in Sydney.

Now, two decades after receiving those first pages, Abi is invited to learn ‘the truth’ about the book. It’s an opportunity too intriguing to refuse – she believes its absurdity and her brother’s disappearance must be connected. What follows is an entirely unexpected journey of discovery that will change Abi’s life – and enchant readers.

Gravity Is the Thing is a smart, unusual, wickedly funny novel – heart-warming and life-affirming.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (Harper Collins)

Graham s second wife, Audra, is an unrestrained force of good nature. She talks non-stop through her epidural, labour and delivery, invites the doorman to move in and the eccentric members of their son s Origami Club to Thanksgiving. When she decides to make friends with Elsbeth Graham s first wife and Audra s polar opposite Graham starts to wonder: how can anyone love two such different women? And did he make the right choice?

 

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe (PRH)

In 1982 Nina Stibbe, a 20-year-old from Leicester, moved to London to work as a nanny for a very particular family. It was a perfect match: Nina had no idea how to cook, look after children or who the weirdos were who called round. And the family, busy discussing such arcane subjects as how to swear in German or the merits (or otherwise) of turkey mince, were delighted by her lack of skills. Love, Nina is the collection of letters she wrote home gloriously describing her ‘domestic’ life, the unpredictable houseguests and the cat everyone loved to hate.

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Ranjeev Balasubramanyam (PRH)

HONG KONG / USA

Professor Chandra is an expert at complex problems. There’s just one he can’t crack: the secret of happiness In the moments after the bicycle accident, Professor Chandra doesn’t see his life flash before his eyes, but his life’s work….

 

Writers and Lovers by Lily King (Pan MacMillan)

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS 

Casey has ended up back in Massachusetts after a devastating love affair. Her mother has just died and she is knocked sideways by grief and loneliness, moving between the restaurant where she waitresses for the Harvard elite and the rented shed she calls home. Her one constant is the novel she has been writing for six years, but at thirty-one she is in debt and directionless, and feels too old to be that way – it’s strange, not be the youngest kind of adult anymore.

And then, one evening, she meets Silas. He is kind, handsome, interested. But only a few weeks later, Oscar walks into her restaurant, his two boys in tow. He is older, grieving the loss of his wife, and wrapped up in his own creativity. Suddenly Casey finds herself at the point of a love triangle, torn between two very different relationships that promise two very different futures.

Lily King’s Writers & Lovers follows Casey in the last days of a long youth, a time when everything – her family, her work, her relationships – comes to a crisis. Hugely moving and impossibly funny, it is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. It is a novel about love and creativity, and ultimately it captures the moment when a woman becomes an artist.

The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill (Scholastic)

IRELAND

A reimagining of The Little Mermaid

Deep beneath the sea off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of being human… but at what terrible price? Hans Christian Andersen’s dark original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans.

TheLoveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan (Little, Brown)

PARIS

As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work: mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate: made entirely by hand, it is sold…

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (PRH)

SUSSEX

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Filter This by Sophie White (Hachette)

The Glossie Influencer Awards are fast approaching and Ali Jones is hell-bent on a win and breaking through 10,000 followers on Instagram. But when Ali inadvertantly leads people to believe she’s pregnant, she quickly realises that playing the ‘Mummy-Influencer’ card could be her ticket to Insta-success. And she’s not going to let a small detail like a fake pregnancy get in her way. Even if the reappearance of Tinder Sam, who seems determined to take his role of ‘baby’ daddy seriously, makes things a little more complicated …

Elsewhere on Insta, Shelly Devine, Ireland’s biggest influencer (and Ali’s idol) is also guarding secrets from her followers, and her husband …

Both Ali and Shelly have decisions to make but as the night of the Glossies draws near, will they realise what’s important before they lose what matters most?

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield (PRH)

DEVON

E. M. Delafield’s largely autobiographical novel takes the form of a journal written by an upper-middle-class lady living in a Devonshire village. Written with humour, this charming novel is full of the peculiarities of daily life. The Provincial Lady of the title attempts to avoid disaster and prevent chaos from descending upon her household. But with a husband reluctant to do anything but doze behind The Times, mischievous children and trying servants, it’s a challenge keeping up appearances on an inadequate income, particularly in front of the infuriating and haughty Lady Boxe. As witty and delightful today as when it was first published in 1930, Diary of a Provincial Lady is a brilliantly observed comic novel and an acknowledged classic.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic)

NIGERIA

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abi Waxman (Hachette)

LOS ANGELES

Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, an excellent trivia team and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

So when the father she never knew existed dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers.

And if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny and interested in getting to know her…

It’s time for Nina to turn her own fresh page, and find out if real life can ever live up to fiction. . .

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (Harper Collins)

Laurie and Jamie have the perfect office romance
(They set the rules via email)

Everyone can see they’re head over heels
(They staged the photos)

This must be true love
(They’re faking it)

When Laurie is dumped by her partner of eighteen years, she’s blindsided. Not only does she feel humiliated, they still have to work together.

So when she gets stuck in the lift with handsome colleague Jamie, they hatch a plan to stage the perfect romance. Revenge will be sweet…

But this fauxmance is about to get complicated. You can’t break your heart in a fake relationship – can you?

Odd One Out by Lissa Evans (Simon & Schuster)

THE MIDLANDS

Some are born odd, some achieve oddness and some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Netta Lee had always felt like the odd one out growing up. But when, as an adult, she returns to the Midlands to help her family move house, it becomes apparent that perhaps she isn’t the unusual one after all. A brother with a penchant for rubbish collection, a mother who seems to think she’s running the Bolshoi Ballet rather than the local junior dance school and a hoard of questionably competent friends challenge Netta’s ordered world.

Perhaps the life – and the people – she tried so hard to leave behind are not as distant as she thought.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury)

PHILADELPHIA

When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for ‘kidnapping’ the white child she’s actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix’s desire to help. When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know – about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (Hachette)

Leena is too young to feel stuck.
Eileen is too old to start over.
Maybe it’s time for The Switch…

Ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, Leena escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Newly single and about to turn eighty, Eileen would like a second chance at love. But her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen… So Leena proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love, and L Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire.

But with a rabble of unruly OAPs to contend with, as well as the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – local schoolteacher, Leena learns that switching lives isn’t straightforward. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, and with the online dating scene. But is her perfect match nearer to home than she first thought?

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard (Pan MacMillan)

SUSSEX

Drama series about a family transformed by World War II. As the storm clouds of war gather, the Cazalet brothers and their families retreat to their parents’ country home.

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce (Pan MacMillan)

LONDON

London, 1941. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .

Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times.

Brother of The More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

SUSSEX / ROME

Stylish, suburban Katherine is eighteen when she is propelled into the centre of Professor Jacob Goldman’s rambling home and his large eccentric family. As his enchanting yet sharp-tongued wife Jane gives birth to her sixth child, Katherine meets the volatile, stroppy Jonathan and his older, more beautiful brother Roger, who wins her heart. First love quickly leads to heartbreak and sends her fleeing to Rome but, ten years on, she returns to find the Goldmans again. A little wiser and a lot more grown-up, Katherine faces her future.
Brother of the More Famous Jack is Barbara Trapido’s highly acclaimed and much loved debut; a book that redefined the coming-of-age novel.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson (PanMacMillan)

LONDON / VIENNA

Eighteen-year-old Ruth lives in the sparkling city of Vienna with her family, where she delights in its music, energy and natural beauty. She is wildly in love with the brilliant young pianist Heini Radik and can’t wait until they are married.

But Ruth’s world is turned upside down when the Nazis invade Austria and her family are forced to flee to England, and through a devastating misunderstanding she is left behind. Her only hope to escape Vienna comes from Quin, a young English professor, who unexpectedly offers her a marriage of convenience to bring her back to London.

Ruth throws herself into her new life – but a secret marriage is more difficult than she expected, especially as she and Quin find themselves drawn together.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Harper Collins)

CINCINNATTI

Liz and Jane Bennet are good daughters. They’ve come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery, to tidy up the crumbling Tudor-style family home, and to wrench their three sisters from their various states of arrested development.

Once they are under the same roof, old patterns return fast. Soon they are being berated for their single status – and for two successful women in their late thirties, it really is too much to bear. That is, until the Lucas family’s BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men . . .

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