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Escapist fiction for someone in a fragile state...

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Jul 30, 2016, 2:56pm Top

I'm a librarian, and feel somewhat stumped by this question:
"My mother wants to read something that will take her mind off her health concerns; she'll be in the hospital for a few days undergoing a procedure."

Basically, she laid out the following conditions about the book suggestions:

1. It has to be a well-told story (with believable characters) and resolves in a satisfying ending, if not an outright "happy ending."

2. She wants to steer clear of excess violence... no rape scenes, no animal abuse... no dark tones or mood... no psychopaths...
and no obsession over death and dying.

4. She's not interested in "bonnet rippers", "inspirational", overt romance genre, or emotionally manipulative tear-jerkers (Sparks).

See why I'm struggling?

My first thought was something like "The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise," by Julia Stuart, but that leans towards the quirky, zany oddball characters...
which is fine, but I don't want to rely TOO heavily on those types of books which use eccentricities and humor as the main driving element.

Any ideas you can throw my way? Thanks, Josh Duke

Jul 30, 2016, 3:15pm Top

Well they are short but I always like The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series when I have to get my mind off things. There are mysteries but no murders or anything really disturbing. They are light, gentle and humorous yet there is character development. Since the stories take place in Botswana there is a different culture to think about.

I hope your mother's hospital stay goes well. .

Jul 30, 2016, 3:38pm Top

I just finished Judy Blume's In the Unlikely Event. It's not a great book, but it let me keep reading during a recent hospital stay when the more demanding things I had been reading were just too much.

It is based on three airplane crashes near Newark airport in 1951/52, so there is death, but not violence. My biggest problem with the book is that the main character is a teenage girl, and it feels like a YA book that got too long and perhaps a bit too much sex for that market.

Edited: Jul 30, 2016, 3:58pm Top

The very first thing I thought of was As The Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer . . . an almost-Dickensian story of a poor kid from East London who starts as a pushcart vendor in a street market and ends (after many complications) as the owner of "the biggest store in the world."

Archer's First Among Equals is a bit like The West Wing for British politics: Three articulate, ambitious young men vying for power and influence but staying well clear of the kind of moral swamps depicted in (either version of) House of Cards. Finally, Archer's short-story collections, like A Twist in the Tale, are also great escapism, and tend toward twist endings leading to clever, satisfying resolutions for all involved.

William Martin does long-form historical mysteries -- think James Michener meets National Treasure or The DaVinci Code -- which I remember as being gripping and free of graphic violence and spiritual bleakness. Back Bay, Cape Cod, Annapolis, among others . . .

Andrew M. Greeley mines similar territory on a smaller scale in the "Nuala McGrail" series . . . about an American man and his Irish girlfriend/fiancee/wife who investigate (fictional) mysteries from Irish and Irish-American history. There is (as I recall) PG-13 level swearing and enthusiastic but non-graphic sex (in the context of the main characters' committed, monogamous relationship), but no graphic violence . . . and the Good Guys always win in the end. They're identifiable by their titles: Irish Gold, Irish Lace, etc. etc.

Sharyn McCrumb's "Appalachia" stories are magnificent pieces of writing, but perhaps a bit darker than what's wanted here . . . her stand-alone novels St. Dale (about a group of stock-car-racing fans on a pilgrimage) and Once Around the Track (about a nearly-all-female NASCAR team) are fun and diverting, though, even if you're not a big NASCAR fan (which I'm not).

Finally, two from somewhat further afield . . .

Flanagan's Run by Tom McNab is a one-off historical novel about a 2,000-mile cross-country foot race staged in 1931, the rock-bottom depths of the Depression, and Great Circle by Sam Llewellyn is the story of a round-the-world yacht race in the then-present-day late 1980s. They both cut back and forth between the stories of multiple characters, and (like McCrumb's NASCAR novels) they're as much about the characters and their individual journeys are they are about the backdrop.

I hope this helps . . . and best wishes to your patron and her mom!

Jul 30, 2016, 4:34pm Top

My go to books are Pride and Prejudice and Our Hearts Were Young and Gay- both very old and good to read!

Jul 30, 2016, 4:36pm Top

Yes I think that and maybe Wodehouse?
She's not my mother actually, it's the patrons mother.
But I've had this question come up frequently over the years while working in the Fiction area of the library.

Jul 30, 2016, 4:38pm Top

Hmm, thanks, I've thought about Blume but I've never read her so I can't really vouch. I'll have to dig around this title and some of her others and see if they fit. Thanks!

Jul 30, 2016, 4:47pm Top

Thank you for this evocative list! Archer in particular has me sold, and I think it adds an epic to the mix that might hit the spot.
All the others will be investigated, thank you so much. Josh

Jul 30, 2016, 4:50pm Top

Ah yes, I did add P&P to my list!
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay seems like a great jumping off point to discuss a number of memoir options, thanks!

Jul 30, 2016, 6:01pm Top

Mary Kay Andrews has a bunch of books that are not overt romance, but generally have a romance in them. They usually feature a woman (or women) getting back on their feet after some event (broken marriage, broken engagement, job loss, etc.) and I always find them cheering. Katie Fforde is a British writer who is much the same.

Jul 30, 2016, 6:05pm Top

Oh, and mysteries by Donna Andrews (no relation to Mary Kay as far as I know), starting with Murder with Peacocks are great. They are more on the cozy side of the mystery genre (so no gore or serial killers), with fun characters and humour.

Jul 30, 2016, 6:21pm Top

>6 runningbeardbooks: Wodehouse is very good for hospital reading (if you can stop the nurses from "borrowing" them...). I've found Barbara Pym is good too, although her endings are only happy in the sense that no wedding bells ring out for anyone at all.
Alexander McCall Smith (already mentioned above) is probably good if they insist on something written in the last decade or two.
What about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - a modern version of the village romantic comedy?

>1 runningbeardbooks: Is a bonnet-ripper a more respectable type of bodice-ripper? I haven't seen that term before.

Jul 30, 2016, 9:32pm Top

I believe bonnet ripper refers to Amish romance :)

Jul 31, 2016, 12:57am Top

>1 runningbeardbooks: Those are pretty much my requirements in fiction even when I'm not in a fragile state! If I see the words "dark" or "edgy" in a review or a synopsis, I generally don't bother with the book.

My experience with recovery from shoulder surgery and various other medical unpleasantness inclines me to second >2 krazy4katz:, >12 tardis:, and >13 thorold:. The No. Ladies' Detective Agency series should be high on the reading list for anyone who needs to relax and heal. (I wish my mom, a lifelong mystery reader who loved to read about other cultures, had had a chance to read them.) And I read almost all Donna Andrews' "bird" mysteries while recuperating from the rotator cuff repair. I had medication that dealt with the pain, made me relaxed, but somehow also kept me from going to sleep! Andrews was the perfect solution. I could read a bit, doze off, and then pick up the book and read a little more. And Wodehouse is hilarious and his books have a sweet quality that I really appreciate (I also learned a lot about English literature and pulp fiction while reading them).

For mystery fans, I would also recommend the four books by Sarah Caudwell. Yes, there is some real suspense, and some violence (after all, they are murder mysteries), but they are also funny and worth rereading just for the repartee. The last one, the Sybil in Her Grave, is darker in tone and may not be "quite the thing" for someone in a fragile state.

Jul 31, 2016, 1:27pm Top

>2 krazy4katz: Those books jumped into my mind as I read the original post as well.

Since she is a mother, perhaps she has read the classics, but here are a couple in case:
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

For light mysteries:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Feel Good Books:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Jul 31, 2016, 5:48pm Top

Laurie Colwin's novels, any of them, but especially Happy All the Time. Beautiful, intelligent writing. Memorable characters. Sophisticated domesticity.

Aug 1, 2016, 11:11am Top

Thanks this is a great list. I forgot about Bradley!

Aug 1, 2016, 11:12am Top

Thankfully my library has several of her titles so this is perfect!

Aug 1, 2016, 12:32pm Top

Maybe try Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons by Lorna Landvik. Or any of the travel books by Bill Bryson?

My personal refuge in times of trouble is anything by Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher.

Aug 1, 2016, 2:56pm Top

I know you said that you don't want to rely TOO heavily on humorous novels, but I take it that you don't reject all humor out of hand. In that spirit, I recommend Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. I read two or three while I was in the hospital and they took my mind completely off my worries and concerns (it also hurt my stitches laughing.) I'd start with the first one, One for the Money, because the characters do progress through the series.

Aug 1, 2016, 4:41pm Top

I think Ann B Ross's Miss Julia series would be good.... the first one is Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

Definitely agree with those who recommended No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and the Flavia De Luce series by Bradley

Aug 1, 2016, 6:27pm Top

Any of the Phyllis Whitney novels are good. And the Dorothy Gilman Mrs. Pollifax series is a lot of fun and not graphic in any manner.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:05pm Top

These are all good suggestions. I'll add The Blue Castle by L.M Montgomery, any of Stratton Porter's, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Gerald Durrell and James Herriot.

Edited: Sep 17, 2016, 9:47pm Top

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