No disrespect meant to the downers of the literary world, but sometimes you just want a book that makes you smile. Here’s a collection of the best feel-good reads of the year so far. They’ll make you laugh, and they might make you cry — but only tears of happiness.
The Hawk’s Way, by Sy Montgomery
If you’re a bird-lover — or otherwise revel in nature — you’ll appreciate Montgomery’s latest, which clocks in at just under 100 pages. In “The Hawk’s Way,” she recalls getting to know a 4-year-old raptor named Jazz, which led her on a journey to understand the animals. It’s an informative read that will make you want to go outside and look up into the sky.
Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt
If a misanthropic octopus sounds like fun, you’ll appreciate Van Pelt’s debut novel. It’s about Tova, a widow who works the night shift at a Washington state aquarium, which keeps her busy after her son’s disappeared three decades ago. The giant octopus, named Marcellus, just might hold the keys to unearthing what happened to Tova’s son. “Remarkably Bright Creatures” is a charming novel with a stunning setting and the perfect amount of wit and wisdom.
From Hollywood with Love, by Scott Meslow
We can’t all live in a rom-com, but we can at least appreciate the masters of the genre. Meslow offers a worthy homage to them in this deep-dive that spans 30 years of hits, from “When Harry Met Sally” to “Crazy Rich Asians.” The book is sprinkled with fun trivia, photos and interviews with directors and stars. You’ll be “Waiting to Exhale” until you finish it.
Book Lovers, by Emily Henry
Nora is a workaholic literary agent with a reputation as a shark. Charlie is the brooding book editor who works just as much as she does. After a combative first meeting, the two New Yorkers bump into each other in a small North Carolina town years later, when they’d both rather be anywhere else. Despite their sizzling chemistry, Nora and Charlie do their best to resist the happily ever after that readers will root for from Page 1. Henry’s signature witty banter sets “Book Lovers” apart in the current crop of rom-coms.
Chef’s Kiss, by TJ Alexander
Pick up Alexander’s debut novel for the autumnal galette or cookie-crumb-crust cheesecake. Stay for the romance that develops between pastry chef Simone and her nonbinary colleague Ray. “Chef’s Kiss,” which takes place in a Bon Appétit-style test kitchen, is like a dish of comfort food you’ll want to devour.
Flying Solo, by Linda Holmes
Holmes’s debut novel, “Evvie Drake Starts Over,” was required summer reading when it published in 2019. Now she’s back with “Flying Solo,” about a single woman on the cusp of her 40th birthday who returns to Maine to clean out her great aunt’s home. While there, she finds a mysterious wooden duck that leads her on — well, a wild-goose chase, which detours to an old love. The novel is a refreshing reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all mold for a relationship, and that fulfillment can be achieved many ways.
One Italian Summer, by Rebecca Serle
Katy is unmoored when her mom, Carol, dies — so she heads to Italy on the vacation they had been planning to take together. Once there, she encounters a 30-year-old incarnation of her mother, and the two embark on a magical romp that helps Katy understand who Carol was as a young woman, before her identity became “mom.” Serle’s novel is a touching mother-daughter story that speaks to the transcendence of parental love. Try the audio version, which is narrated by actor Lauren Graham.
Let’s Not Do That Again, by Grant Ginder
If you long for the days of “Veep,” look for the same dysfunctional family dynamics and political misadventures in Ginder’s latest novel. It’s about Senate hopeful Nancy Harrison, whose adult children are problematically adrift — especially Greta, who’s making headlines for her involvement in a Parisian riot. That’s not good for the ol’ campaign, so Nancy and her son head to France to bring Greta home. Ginder — whose previous novels include “The People We Hate at the Wedding” — delivers a delicious satire that’s excellent escapism.
This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub
Straub puts her own spin on “13 Going on 30” in this stirring time-travel novel. It centers on Alice, who’s stuck in many aspects of life as she watches her beloved father slowly die. She wakes up on the eve of her 40th birthday and discovers she’s 16 again — and that her dad is young and vibrant. This time around, she asks him questions, soaks in his stories and gets a second chance to fix old mistakes. Like all of Straub’s books, “This Time Tomorrow” shines with humor and warmth.
Unlikely Animals, by Annie Hartnett
In Hartnett’s new novel, protagonist Emma returns home to New Hampshire to care for her dad, who has a disintegrating brain disease. He’s hallucinating animals and also reports seeing the ghost of Ernest, a naturalist who has been dead for many years. There’s a lot happening in “Unlikely Animals,” including Emma and her dad’s efforts to find an old friend struggling with addiction. It’s a quirky, poignant novel about family, community and love for our animal friends.
The Wise Women, by Gina Sorell
Wendy was a longtime successful advice columnist — though you wouldn’t know it based off her two daughters’ disorganized lives. They’re riddled with problems, some of which might be her fault, so she flees her Florida retirement village and shows up in New York to save the day. As the women aim to solve their dilemmas, it becomes apparent that Wendy has plenty of her own. “The Wise Women” is cheerful and full of heart.
Kings of B’more, by R. Eric Thomas
The YA debut of humor writer Thomas introduces readers to Harrison and Linus — Black, queer best friends about to be separated by a move. They plan a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-worthy goodbye that involves a mini road trip, their first Pride celebration and a rooftop dance party, all of which they enjoy while trying to dodge their parents. “Kings of B’more” is a fun, sweet ode to Black joy.
Here’s a cozy to take along on vacation: It’s about Molly, a social mystery challenged housekeeper at a fancy hotel who finds a wealthy guest dead in the penthouse. Once the police decide she’s suspect No. 1 — an easy case to make, based on her slightly odd mannerisms — her organized life is thrown into chaos. Fortunately, an unexpected and quirky cast of friends turns up to help prove her innocence. “The Maid” is a lighthearted mystery that shines as Molly evolves and learns to connect. It’s being adapted into a movie starring Florence Pugh.