Top Five Comfort Reads

3rd Apr 2013

Top Five Comfort Reads

It might technically be time for spring cleaning and tulips, but the winter weather isn’t quite done with us yet. When the pouring rain dashes all hopes of the first picnic of the year, don’t despair. This is the perfect time to treat yourself to an old comforting doorstopper of a read, curl up in your onesie, get yourself a pint of tea and enjoy one of these big fat girly classics.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

You have to read GWTW at some point in your life because a) its brilliant and b) you can feel 100% superior to anyone who’s just seen the film. The amount of detail, scope and epicness Mitchell squeezes in to just over 1000 pages is staggering; whilst covering fifteen years in the life of ultimate Fictional Bitch, Scarlett O’Hara, Mitchell also gives you a complete world of the American Deep South, the Civil War and its aftermath.

Scarlett is horrible – you’ll hate her completely throughout – but her cunning and manipulation of events is so steely and badass you can’t help but admire her. Her eventual disintegration is one of the best written and most convincing falls from grace in print.

This book will make you very, very angry in its depiction of people of colour – and it is right to recognise the racism it contains – but honestly, were it not for that, this book would be up there with my favourites ever. The quality and depth of the writing and the timeless characters make this book the benchmark for every other historical blockbuster.

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

You know you’re in for a good time when it gets banned in Massachusetts Every single woman I have ever lent this book to has loved it, it is my favourite book, I’m re-reading it right now because I love it so much and I refuse to stop bleating on about it until you’ve read it too.

Opening during the English Civil War, this is the story of Amber StClare, a penniless orphan who becomes one of the first ever actresses, a Duchess and mistress to Charles II. When 16 year old Amber meets dashing Lord Carlton at her village fair and runs away with him to London, it kick starts a story that takes in every single aspect of urban life at the time, from debtor’s prison to Covent Garden.

Amber is as big a bitch as Scarlett O’Hara, and her use of her looks and her wiles to charm the men around her whilst clinging to the hope of the love of the one man who doesn’t want her is comparable to that of the Southern Queen, but Amber starts with nothing, and has a hell of a lot more fun.

Written eight years after GWTW, this book was banned in several states as pornography (it isn’t) and, according to the attorney general of Massachusetts, contains 39 illegitimate pregnancies and 10 instances of women undressing in front of men. You know you’re in for a good time when it gets banned in Massachusetts.

Lace by Shirley Conran

Re-released for its 30th anniversary last summer, this epic blockbuster and self-proclaimed feminist classic (I’ll leave you to be the judge of that) took the women-make-it-big-in-business-world model and made it even more glamorous. If you ever loved Barbara Taylor Bradford or Jackie Collins as a teen you need to get into Lace.

The story of four finishing school friends who lead amazingly complex lives, this is also the story of actress and It girl Lili, who confronts the four women at the beginning of the book with the infamous line “which of you bitches is my mother?”.

This book is also famous for being very, very rude (I won’t give too much away, but goldfish fans might want to look away for parts of it). The book also includes child sexual exploitation, rape, emotional and physical abuse and domestic violence, and opens with a thirteen year old having an abortion, so shouldn’t be read lightly.

There are parts, especially those bits set in the Swiss finishing school, where Shirley Conran hits the nail right on the head in terms of growing up ignorant of everything to do with gender and sexuality but being desperate to know; I found myself nodding my head along to many parts of this. In fact I wish I hadn’t just read this so I could re-read it all over again!

The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye

This massive book, and MM Kaye’s other historical epic The Shadow of the Moon, are set in India during the 19th century and are known for their scope and historical accuracy, as well as the sense of adventure contained within. They were both re-released in 2011 and you shouldn’t be put off by their size; The Shadow of the Moon could easily be another 200 pages longer and I would still love it.

The Far Pavilions is the story of Ashton Pelham-Martyn, born to English parents during the British Raj, and brought up as a Hindu servant. Ashton eventually discovers his history, and becomes an officer for the Raj in the North West Frontier. When he is asked to chaperone the beautiful princess Juli, who was his childhood friend, to her arranged marriage he begins to question his duties to his country (and which country is actually his).

Parts of this book that are so gripping that when I first read it I was very very rude to an old friend on a train because I couldn’t put it down, not even for five minutes.

Falling For a Dancer by Deirdre Purcell

Set in rural Ireland in the 1930s, this is story of Elizabeth Sullivan, whose affair with travelling actor George brings shame to her family and leads to her forced marriage to a much older man living in isolation on Ireland’s West Coast. The wildness of nature is all around her, and Elizabeth starts to find a kind of happiness in her secluded life, but a trip to a local dance leads to more heartache as Elizabeth discovers her own sexuality and longings for freedom.

This book is wonderful, and the TV series (which changes the end far too much for my liking) was apparently hugely popular in Ireland, but I’d never heard of this book until it was recommended to me by my friend who is Irish. If you liked Dancing at Lughnasa then you would love this book.

I know this list is slightly historical-fiction heavy, and I could mention a good dozen more. Which books do you love to curl up with? Are there big fat books in other genres that you love? 

Jess Haigh


  • Karen W. says:

    I love historical fiction novels so thank you for sharing your recommendations. I recently read a fantastic historical romance novel by author Layne Wong, “Shanghai Love” (http://laynewong.com/). It is an unlikely love story between a Chinese herbalist and a Jewish refugee looking for safety from Nazi Germany. The herbalist, Peilin, was betrothed to a man who was killed before their wedding but tradition and honor forced the marriage along anyways. She is sent to Shanghai to manage his family’s herbal shop. Shanghai is also Henri’s destination as he has graduated from medical school as Hitler is rising to power. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, Peilin’s brother. Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him. It is a book that can easily transport you to another place and another time. I hope you will give it a read! It was definitely a book that I would come home from work, get into my PJs and curl up on the couch to read (such a great feeling!)