Comfort Reads: When the World is Crashing Down

Some days it just doesn’t pay to gnaw through the leather straps.

…Ahem. Some days are just… too much. Too many people, too much noise, too many allergens and worries. About all you can do is find something to give your brain a brief break from reality, so that hopefully the problems look smaller afterward. Books, fanfic, movies, all are good.

When you’re really stressed, though, your brain may not have the energy to absorb anything new. Especially if it might not be as good as you’re hoping for. That’s where the comfort read comes in. The book (or fanfic, or even movie) that you’ve read before, possibly many times, and read again when you need a predictable good-guys-win, bad-guys-flattened sort of thing.

Here’s a few of my comfort reads.

A Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters. Goes into the reality of medieval sieges, and the difference between lawful war and murder – because someone tried to hide a murder in the executions. Bad idea when Brother Cadfael is around….

The Withdrawing Room by Charlotte MacLeod, or any of her Peter Shandy mysteries. People have manners! And motives. And there are scattered clues so you can guess the bad guy, but it’s still surprising at the end.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. Chinese myths and fairy tales turned to mystery and adventure, with plenty of humor and great protagonists. Number Ten Ox is a pure-hearted good guy, and Li Kao is an excellent sage with a slight flaw in his character. (And a body count that may rival several executioners.)

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti. One fantastic element, a lighter than air metal, and the caste society built around it and programming. A messenger and a cranky clockmaker make for an interesting romantic couple in the middle of intrigue and murder.

What are some of your comfort reads?


37 thoughts on “Comfort Reads: When the World is Crashing Down

  1. Any fantasy/science fiction book with a good plot and interesting characters works for me. I’ll sometimes return to my childhood favorites like “Redwall” or the “Charlie Bone” series if I’m having an especially rough day.

    Lots of people might think poorly of me, but I really enjoy books where characters journey to other worlds since I first read “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” and has extended to the isekai genre.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Huh, never heard of that one. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to check it out.

        And side note, I really like reading your “Pearls of Fire”. I keep coming back to it and keep finishing it wanting more. You’re that good of an author.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Not just one book – something like 12! Most of the series is about people native to the world, however. And it is remarkable how seamlessly the transition from isekai to normal fantasy/SF happens.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Speaking of Isekai. Has anyone else here read/seen Kyo Kara Maoh? It’s one of the things I go to when I want good laughs mixed with political drama and fantasy.


  2. Aside from such classics as Zenna Henderson (mostly short-stories so it’s easy to just flip through until I find one that sparks my interest right then) and James H. Schmitz (Witches of Karres especially, tho the rest of his work too. the modern additions to the Witches setting, tho, just don’t quite work because their authors didn’t get the feel right), several of your stories fit in the “re-read whenever I need something to read and don’t want to bother searching for something new” category (your SAO, RK, Magi, & Bleach fics especially, tho some of the others too).

    Tho on the note of the failure of the Baen’s additions to the Witches of Karres setting… one of the interesting things about Schmitz’s writing is that from some of the descriptions he used, I’m pretty sure he either had Synesthesia or knew well someone who did, because the descriptions really came across as a Synesthete trying to describe “this is what I’m sensing, when I’ve got sensory-crosswiring making the relevant description sound like gibberish to neurotypicals”. The modern books just got “some of the sensory descriptions sound like gibberish, so let’s throw out some gibberish whenever we want to sound weird and make something appear to be special… (besides just getting various other bits of tone and setting just slightly “off”). They’d be acceptable low-quality modern SF fare if they were sold as unrelated, but they’re just disappointing when claimed to be sequels. And that’s one reason your works are comfort reads, you manage to make the characters and setting actually feel right (or _better_ than right), fix plotholes, and still make fun/interesting stories.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Zenna Henderson as comfort reading is an astonishing thought to me. I read a book of her short stories once, and everything I remember was upsetting. Chacun a son gout!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll agree that a lot of what she wrote was “upsetting” or about upsetting things, at least on the surface, but her faith does show up in her writing if you look. It’s kinda like the song “It is well with my soul”, where the story behind the song is upsetting, but simultaneously makes the song itself more meaningful (really, that’s basically the concept behind the the stories of The People, that they’ve suffered through horror and loss _and can still be happy/content in the little things, and in their trust in God_). And that’s aside from all the little bits of hope flowering throughout most of the more upsetting stories (even if there are a few that don’t explicitly show it), where even while upsetting stuff is happening, there’s some small sign of hope the characters can notice and focus on.
        And, of course, nostalgia also plays a part. I re-read them because it reminds me of reading them in the past. They were part of my experience growing up, and being reminded of that is calming. This was actually what I was noting as more relevant to Vathara’s post today, that it’s not necessarily the content of the story that makes it a “comfort story”, as it is that “you don’t have to think about something new, you can use the experience of something well-known to center yourself.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. First – I love Ellis Peter’s Cadfael books. They’re awesome.

    The TV adaptations done with Derek Jacobi are good fun too (though some details get changed in some stories) but One Corpse Too Many has one part that’s utterly hilarious for me in the TV ep: there’s a scene where the camera does this incredible pan across the ranks of the dead bodies, stacked in ranks of ten (making it real easy to see at the end that there is five bodies in the final rank so 95 corpses instead of the lawfully executed 94) but since I’d spent the better part of six straight months doing dedicated inventory counting, my brain was automatically tallying the image.

    The hilarity: the realities of scale in their shooting models only gave them room for a total of nine ranks of bodies. Eight ranks of ten and one rank of five… is 85 bodies.

    I still remember the thought that blasted through my head: it’s not one corpse too many, it’s nine corpses too few!

    Second, my brainmeat comfort activities:

    a) Reading: CLAMP manga (the light stuff, like Angelic Layer). Xanth books (anything from the first couple dozen books). The Chronicles of Narnia. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern (only those before her kids got writing credits though).

    b) Movies and TV shows: Fruits Basket. M*A*S*H. Star Trek (no Discovery, Enterprise, or Picard, but most of the rest of the series and some of the movies). Lucky Star. Disney’s Gargoyles.

    c) Music. Some religious (Lex de Azevedo has an incredible orchestra only set of hymns, very soothing). Some quiet, romantic, soothing, etc; Bryan Adams, Donna Lewis, Enya, Sting, Robert Miles.

    d) Video games. Just one though – Pong or BrickBreaker or whatever they’re calling it these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Most of Particia Wrede, your Embers for reading; Hogans Heroes, MASH and Andy Griffith for tv; music from The Hu on YouTube, and the accapealla group Home Free. Those are my go tos, and I usually branch out from there till I feel better. Occasional movies, but those are rare.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have a whole list of books I’ll go back and reread when my brain just doesn’t want to deal with anything new. Some have already been covered, but…
    Robin McKinley, Patricia Brigg’s early stuff (Hobb’s Bargain, Dragon Blood/Bone), Albert Payson Terhune – any of the Lad books, Tolkien, Lois McMaster Bujold. Those are the first ones that come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ll read anything by Terry Pratchett. The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz is good too and the Ring of Fire series by Eric Flint (That one can be hit or miss since there are so many additional authors.) I’ve read “Bridge of Birds” and thought it was awesome, but the sequels weren’t as good.

    I’ll also watch MASH or Hogan’s Heros. But I’ll also turn on How It’s Made or almost any of the DIY/home renovation shows-I’ll learn something and don’t have to think much. I’ll also watch the Red Skelton show. For movies, I’m a fan of the Die Hard series (best christmas movie ever! ) I mostly stay away from anything made in the last decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So my favorites for comfort reads are in no particular order. Count Taka by you. Timewreck Titanic by Rhys B. Davies, which is an ISoT which is basically time travel isekai, in which the Y2k bug sends the titanic centennial memorial fleet back to save the titanic. Taylor Varga, which is a crossover between Luna Varga, an anime OVA that only had 4 episodes and I had to search for it, and Worm, which is such a grimdark slog that I couldn’t finish it, while TV isn’t for everyone and causes tons of arguments I enjoy it as a sometimes fic. Finally there’s Ashes of the Past by Saphroneth, which again is a sometimes fic and not everyone likes it, it’s a Ash Ketchum Gary Stu fic where he’s time traveled to the first day of his pokemon journey because team galactic has managed to destroy the world. Both TV and AotP are at least twice as long as Embers but they’re kinda slice of life with ass kicking, sometimes you want to read a power fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I head straight for Marguerite Henry or Walter Farley. Occasionally I’ll seek out Anne of Green Gables or Black Beauty or anything by Louis L’Amour.

    I’m old fashioned. Sue me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love your stories and books, but I also like Anne of Green Gables and Narnia. What’s amazing about Narnia is that they are tiny books with big print, and yet the stories feel big and not cramped. Like an epic in 100 pages.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m probably going to get some weird looks for this, but a lot of Stephen King’s stuff, especially The Dark Tower series. He’s good at writing interesting, well filled out characters and he has a tendency towards hopeful endings. And if you don’t like horror, he has a fantasy book that he wrote for his daughter. Read it ages ago from the school library, it’s called The Eyes of the Dragon.

    Good Omens, both book and series. Well, first season, I have no idea what they’ll do with the second season. Lovely story with lots of humor and a happy ending, what more could you ask for?

    Tea with the Black Dragon by RA MacAvoy, which I haven’t read in a while but glimpsed on my shelf when I glanced over. Beautiful romantic story that I literally just found out has a sequel. *Good* romance, too, not “Oh look they are so pretty, let me throw myself at someone I barely know” or “We’re going to snap and snarl, but it’s just the sexual tension”. Shudder. There are some stories that *need to die*.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup, Twisting the Rope is not a bad sequel at all.

      McAvoy is definitely one of the writers that has been mistreated by the publishing industry. In the Eighties and early Nineties she was regarded as pretty major and got omnibus and library editions. And then she was nonexistent, suddenly. (I have never seen all three Lens of the World books.)

      I gather she has a couple of ebooks through Kevin Anderson’s Wordfire Press, which I never heard about before: Albatross and Shimmer. They look fun they are more than five years old, alas.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The storm trilogy by Mercedes Lackey comes to mind first. Dealing with dragons and the enchanted forest books. A young adult series but sometimes that’s what’s needed to ease the mind.

    For fanfic Thorns because I really like it. Embers for sure. Darcy Lewis agent of shield, I like the humor. A couple of mdzs fanfic have joined the rotation recently (just… everything by Nirejseki Brilliant stories all.)

    The prices bride for movie, or nightmare before Christmas.

    Okami if we extend to video games or any of the early final fantasies.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m not sure I’ve been doing a lot of comfort reading in the last few years….comfort gaming, maybe? For me, it’s nearly anything Legend of Zelda.

    If I’m playing, it’d be Hyrule Warriors (although either sailing around the world map in Wind Waker, or riding horses around in Twilight Princess and Breath of the Wild are pretty mindlessly relaxing).

    If I’m watching, there’s a particular speed-runner whose channel I like, because he’s very calm and has a decent voice. And he doesn’t chatter just to fill the silence.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Watership down by Richard Adams. The ending brings me the most soul deep satisfaction of anything else I’ve ever read. Also it has some of the most believable in world mythology I’ve ever seen.


  14. For books:
    The Goblin Emperor, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, The Walking Drum, Murderbot Diaries, The 500 Kingdoms series, plus more that aren’t coming to my mind.
    For manga:
    Natsume’s Book of Friends, Fullmetal Alchemist, His and Her Circumstances, Red River, Beware of the Villainess, Another Typical Fantasy Romance, and whatever might have caught my eye when browsing.
    TV shows:
    Leverage, Good Omens, Planet Earth, Bob Ross
    Studio Ghibli, Laika films, Pixar, The Mummy 1&2, The Princess Bride, The Sound of Music, R&H Cinderella, Prince of Egypt, and The Goonies.
    These lists are by no means complete, but they are what jumps out to me as I scan my shelves.


  15. I forgot my fanfictions:
    Accidental Warlord AU by Inexplicifics, Embers by Vathara, Friends Across Borders by MueraRashaye, Re-Entry by Flamethrower, Love is For Children by Ysabetwordsmith, and 50 more pages worth of bookmarked fics on my AO3 account.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …You are a terrible, no-good person. Thanks to you I just spent the last three days binging the Accidental Warlord series.

      …now I have to go see what other good stuff I can find for The Witcher series.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I would love to list so many books and series. I keep lining up lists of new books to read and am mentally adding ones I see here, new and otherwise, but I know I am not going to read them.

    What do you do when new things are too much for your brain and comfort reads hurt because you don’t believe in their optimism anymore? (McCaffrey, I loved everything, own so many, have not opened a one in years, now. This applies to so many authors I adored. Even new stuff– once, I would have been able to have an opinion on such things as Brandon Sanderson new releases etc. After loving Elantris years ago, and Mistborn, and the conclusion to the Wheel of Time and the beginning of The Way of Kings, since those days sometime the discovery is gone. I check out library books and return them a month later, unfinished. Last batch, unopened. )
    I work, and touch base on my accustomed sites, and escape into sleeping too much or at the wrong times.

    Can’t read? This maybe is my time of writing. Hideous creations, but words expressed so this phase passes. Encouragement to others. And so, encouragement to myself. Because it may have been a while since I have been this, and not for so long, but in writing I remember my best and worst, and have the tempering of them both. I’ll not inflict more than this on you, thank you for being and I hope to enjoy more of these works someday soon. ❤


  17. The Dragonriders of Pern for me is very good.
    The entire Safehold series by David Weber(Warning Wall of Doorstopper books)
    Posleen War by John Ringo(grim but humorous)
    Robb Returns by Darkscribbler on fanfiction( Actually makes Game of Thrones feel-good. Considered unrealistic by many, but I like it.)
    Terry Pratchet’s Discworld, mostly the Watch books.
    Xanth by Piers Anthony(Pun-splosion).
    I also like Christian fantasy/ Revelations-themed mostly, tho the Cooper kids by Frank E Peretti are good. Tortall is always good.
    RWBY seasons 1& 2 are good, but I’m waiting for the series to go back to an upward trend… So Lots of stuff.
    Almost forgot! Beware of Chicken on Spacebattles! Xianxia outlier in that it’s actually a good read, without a murderhobo protagonist,even!


  18. The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch,
    some of John Dickson Carr’s books (he wrote a lot), for instance The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (hilarious) and Fire, Burn!
    Sherlock Holmes, of course,
    The Lord of the Rings,

    and all through my pre-teens; Robin Hood by Rosemary Sutcliff.
    Derring-do, friendship, daring rescues at the foot of the gallows and an ending that (to this day) makes me weep every time.

    Liked by 1 person

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