When the world seems particularly bleak, as it has at times over the past two years, many of us turn to our favorite type of media for distraction and entertainment. For readers and authors that is, of course, books. Some turned to previously unexplored genres or reread long-time faves to find a much-needed escape. Unfortunately for others, the ability to focus went by the wayside, and finishing novels became a challenge.
If you’re longing for an escape from the world right now, this article is for you. We asked ten incredible authors what books provided them with the most comfort over the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic and received a diverse list of responses across categories and genres. We hope you will find something in the list below that piques your interest and brings you some comfort.
Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun by Jonny Garza
Chosen by: Amparo Ortiz
“I’m a sucker for romance and humor, okay? Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun became an instant fave the second I started reading it. This YA contemporary hit shelves in 2021—a year after the pandemic was officially declared—and Jules’s story brought both joy and hope during stressful times.
All Jules wants is to leave Corpus Christi, Texas, and get into UCLA. Then he drunkenly comes out in a Tweet… and receives a DM from his flirty crush, Mat. Paired with Garza Villa’s heartfelt writing, Jules’s journey toward the future he’s always wanted will give you all the feels.”
Amparo Ortiz is the author of Blazewraith Games and Dragonblood Ring. She was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives on the island’s northeastern coast. She’s published short story comics in Marvel’s Voices: Comunidades #1 and in the Eisner-award winning Puerto Rico Strong. She’s also co-editor of the upcoming Our Shadows Have Claws, a young adult horror anthology featuring myths and monsters from Latin America. Learn more about her projects at www.amparoortiz.com
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
Chosen By: Tom Perrotta
“I can’t stop thinking about Gary Shteyngart’s Our Country Friends. It’s the story of a group of mostly old friends who flee the city to quarantine together in a sprawling vacation home in upstate New York. I found it thrilling, and also weirdly cathartic, to experience the chaotic early days of the pandemic through the eyes of Shteyngart, who is one of our most humane and funniest writers.
It’s all there—the fear, the confusion, the economic inequality, the absurdity, even the sickness and death. This book made me laugh with recognition, and also made me feel like we’d somehow gotten through the worst of it.”
Tom Perrotta is the author of the forthcoming novel
Tracy Flick Can’t Win
(June 7, Scribner), plus nine other bestselling works of fiction, including Election and Little Children, both of which were made into critically acclaimed movies, and The Leftovers and Mrs. Fletcher,which were both adapted into HBO series. He lives outside Boston.
A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones
Chosen By: Elle Cosimano
“During stressful times, I usually reach for the next book in a beloved series. Maybe it’s the comfort of knowing exactly what to expect—the ease of settling back into a world where the characters feel like family and the setting feels like home. During the pandemic, I picked up a new series that provided me with the perfect escape.
Darynda Jones’s A Bad Day for Sunshine introduced me to plucky, small-town sheriff and single mom, Sunshine Vicram. Like her other books, Darynda’s new series blends mystery with sizzling romance, dark comedy, plenty of thrills, and loads of witty banter. I devoured the second book, A Good Day for Chardonnay, the moment it came out and I can’t wait for the next one!”
Elle Cosimano is a USA Today bestselling author and an Edgar® Award nominee. Elle’s debut novel for adults, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, kicked off a witty, fast-paced contemporary mystery series, which was featured as a People Magazine Pick and one of New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2021. Cosimano lives with her husband and two sons in Virginia. You can learn more about Elle and her books here.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Chosen By: Julia Walton
“One of the things I love most about John Green is his ability to acknowledge something hideous without extinguishing our human capacity for hope. His latest work, a collection of essays titled The Anthropocene Reviewed, reminded me that even though the human race is a dumpster fire of chaos and contradiction, there might also be something about us worth protecting.
Since 2020 I’ve dwelled almost exclusively in the land of picture books and early chapter books with my kids, but I reached for this one like it was medicine. And it turns out, it was. Reading reviews of Kentucky Bluegrass and Canada Geese and sports I don’t care about actually soothed my broken, bleeding, Pandemic Mom mind like nothing else has. It was like a friend saying “everything is gonna be okay. And if it’s not, at least we’re in this together.”
Julia Walton is the author ofWords on Bathroom Walls (now a major motion picture on Amazon Prime Video), Just Our Luck,and On the Subject of Unmentionable Things (Out August 2022). She lives in Huntington Beach, California.
The Immortals After Dark Series by Kresley Cole
Chosen By: Erin Hahn
“This question feels impossible, as, like many of us, I read a ton to escape reality. I tended to avoid contemporary, instead devouring everything from historical romance to fanfiction. In light of that, there was a series I binged that was pure escapism from start to finish and that’s Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole.
It’s something like eighteen books long, each featuring a new set of fated “monster” mates with gorgeous, complicated world building that flows through and around each installment. The romance is intense, the steam level off the charts and miraculously, I even found myself laughing?”
Erin Hahn is a YA and adult romance author from Michigan. Her adult romance debut, Built to Last, is due to release October 18, 2022. You can preorder your copy here.
Message Not Found by Dante Medema
Chosen By: Hannah V. Sawyerr
“I got the chance to read Dante Medema’s Message Not Found last summer and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves this year! In the novel, seventeen-year-old Bailey experiences grief after her best friend Vanessa dies in a car accident nowhere near home. To deal with her grief, Bailey creates a chatbot in Vanessa’s likeness but when the chatbot reveals hints about the night Vanessa dies, Bailey learns there may be more to Vanessa’s death than she originally thought.
Over the past couple of years, many of us have experienced big changes as well as physical and emotional loss. Message Not Found confronts similar themes in a way that gives them weight but also makes the reader feel seen, and more importantly, embraced and not alone.”
Hannah V. Sawyerr is the author of the forthcoming debut novel-in-verse
Call Him By Name
(Amulet/Abrams, 2023). Her spoken word has been featured on the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” program, as well as the National Education Association’s “Do You Hear Us?” campaign. Her written word has been featured in publications such as gal-dem, ROOKIE, and Sesi Mag.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Chosen By: Grace D. Li
“I’ve always believed you find books when you need them most, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown was exactly what I needed at the start of the pandemic.
It’s a rom-com about a driven, career-oriented Ph.D. student and the fake-dating scheme she strikes up with her friend after they go viral, and in addition to being smart, achingly romantic, and full of dry, perfect humor, it centers characters of color moving freely and joyfully through the world. It’s a reminder of the stories I want to tell, and the importance of storytelling as hope and healing. Consider me a Talia Hibbert fan for life.”
Grace D. Li grew up in Pearland, Texas and currently lives in Northern California and attends medical school at Stanford University. Portrait of a Thief is her debut novel and is currently in development at Netflix, with Grace serving as an executive producer for the series.
The Kill Club by Wendy Heard
Chosen By: Jenny Howe
“My reading tastes have changed a lot during the pandemic. I never used to read thrillers, yet now, I’m obsessed with them! One of my favorites is Wendy Heard’s The Kill Club. In it, the main character, Jazz, is offered the opportunity to save her little brother from their terrible foster mother, but only if Jazz is willing to kill a stranger.
The book has so many surprising twists, and it was the first thing I read during the pandemic that pulled me out of my own head and transported me to someone else’s story. I can’t recommend it enough!”
Jenny Howe is a professor of writing and literature at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where she teaches courses that focus on the representation of bodies and identities in children’s media. Her academic writing has been published in Young Adult Literature in the Composition Classroom: Essays on Practical Applications (MacFarland Press, 2018). Her debut romantic comedy, The Make-Up Test, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in September 2022. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and the “excellent ears club” — i.e. their two rescue dogs, Tucker and Dale.
The Fastest Way to Fall by Denise Williams
Chosen By: Alechia Dow
“The pandemic changed my perspective on what I want from books when I feel like the world around me is unpredictable. I needed the feel-good, laugh-out-loud, stability of adult rom-coms. My favorite was The Fastest Way to Fall by Denise Williams! It was romantic, positive, and had a great cast of characters you couldn’t help but root for! I also loved her first book, How to Fail at Flirting—she’s definitely an author to watch and a must-buy for me!
Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef and librarian. When not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her daughter, baking, reading, or traveling.
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Chosen By: Jonathan Escoffery
“At the pandemic’s onset, I returned to Justin Torres’ miracle of a book, We the Animals, which explores one family’s intensely chaotic love. The rhythm and musicality in the opening chapter is absorbing. The family’s three rambunctious boys’ desire “more volume, more riots,” running wild, breaking household wares until—concerned for their mother, a “confused goose of a woman”—they want less, “just this,” her protection.
The novel’s heartbreaking turns capture the complexity of living in a world in which pursuing our desires can devastate others. It reminded me, too, that beauty can exist alongside the chaos.”
Jonathan Escoffery is the author of the debut story collection,
If I Survive You
(FSG, Sept. 6)
Liz Lawson is the author of “The Lucky Ones, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020, and the upcoming YA mystery The Agathas, which she co-wrote with NYT Bestselling author Kathleen Glasgow. She lives outside of Washington DC with her family and two bratty cats.