8 Books for When You Need Some Hope

Most of the books I read are somewhat dark. I like murder mysteries, unlikable characters, complicated relationships, and unreliable protagonists. But sometimes, I need something light, something that will encourage me or make me smile. I’ve gravitated to more of these types of books over the past few years. (Maybe because of the global pandemic. Who’s to say?) If you’re looking for more books to uplift you, here are eight books for when you need some hope.

8 books for when you need some hope
The banned bookshop of Maggie Banks book cover

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

Maggie Banks is adrift and wondering what to do with her life, so when her best friend asks her to come to a small town called Bell River to manage her family’s indie bookstore for a while, Maggie says yes. However, when she gets there, Maggie realizes the bookstore is only allowed to sell classic books that most readers aren’t interested in anymore. She starts hosting secret author events and keeps a hidden inventory so the head of the literary society doesn’t stop her plans to diversify Bell River’s reading. The loveliest thing about this book is the community of characters who come together, enjoying all different types of literature and demanding change at the bookstore. Book lovers will feel warm and fuzzy inside after reading this contemporary gem.

The comfort book book cover

The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a prolific writer who’s open about his struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. He’s written about those topics in Reasons to Stay Alive and The Midnight Library, but The Comfort Book is the most recent Haig book I’ve read, so I’m going with that one for this list. The Comfort Book is what it sounds like: a collection of lists and stories about comforting things. If you’re ever in a dark place and don’t have the strength to read a full-length book, this book would be great to flip through as a reminder about the goodness that awaits you in the world. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Like I said in my 2022 favorites postDinosaurs was a wonderful surprise. Gil is the protagonist, and the novel starts when he walks from New York to Arizona to start his life over after a devastating breakup. He moves in next door to a family and quickly gets involved in their lives, becoming their friend and mentor to their young son. Gil is independently wealthy, yet he’s consistently looking for ways to volunteer and give back. Lydia Millet deftly explores male friendship and tenderness, reminding readers how fragile but beautiful life can be. 

I hope this finds you well book cover

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

I Hope This Finds You Well is a witty and inspiring collection of blackout poetry made from mean and nasty notes Kate Baer has received. She takes the words of anonymous internet trolls and turns them into art. Witnessing Baer take hate and turn it into beauty is good for my soul. 

The inner voice of love book cover

The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri J. M. Nouwen

The Inner Voice of Love is a collection of journal entries Nouwen wrote during a time of deep depression and doubt. His heartbreak spills onto the page, yet Nouwen ultimately rests and finds his identity as a beloved child of God. I remember a night shortly after I graduated from college when I felt adrift and afraid of what was next; I picked up this book, opened it to a random page, and the words were exactly what I needed at that moment. I always pick up this slim book when I need spiritual encouragement. 

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done
by Kendra Adachi

The Lazy Genius Way might seem like an odd choice for a booklist about hope, but that’s precisely what this book has given me. As an enneagram one, I struggle with perfectionism. The pressure to perform, excel, impress, and have it together at all times can be exhausting and overwhelming, two symptoms of burnout. When I’m in that “I’m overwhelmed and don’t know what to do” headspace, I turn to Kendra. The Lazy Genius Way isn’t a self-help book with steps every reader must follow to achieve a perfect life. Instead, it’s an invitation to name what matters so that readers can design a life that works for them. As a result, I’ve returned to this book time and time again to find clarity and inspiration. 

Wintering book cover

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

I just recommended Wintering in my Five Winter Reads post, but I like it enough to include it on this list too. I can’t always remember specific details or plot points of the books I read, but I can usually remember how a book made me feel. This book feels like comfort itself and gives readers permission to slow down and take care of themselves during life’s challenging moments. 

You don't have to be everything book cover

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves
edited by Diana Whitney

One of the greatest joys of my reading life is reading the perfect book at the perfect time. I had that experience when I read You Don’t Have to Be Everything. I picked it up and read it on a night when I felt sad and overwhelmed, and the poems were just what I needed to feel uplifted and hopeful. In addition to the poetry, this book is full of bold colors and illustrations, reminding me that I often need beauty in my life to come out of a slump. You don’t have to be a girl or a teen to enjoy this book, even though that’s the intended audience; any poetry lover will appreciate this diverse and inspiring collection. 

Five Winter Reads

It was fall for about five minutes where I live, and then winter came. And with it came a lot of snow. Did the snow melt right away? No, of course not. Is it still around? Indeed it is. It seems like winter makes itself known every time I look out the window these days, which means it’s time to grab my blanket and head for the couch. Today I want to share five books perfect for these cold, wet days.

5 winter reads
The child finder book cover

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Naomi Cottle is a private investigator called upon to find a missing child who disappeared when she and her family searched for a Christmas tree in the forest. A former missing child herself, Naomi is specially equipped to find the missing girl. But, as she begins her search in the snowy woods, memories from her past come back in dreams and force her to face things she thought she’d forgotten. This novel is as atmospheric as they come.

The hunting party book cover

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

I love novels with a strong sense of place, and The Hunting Party delivers. The story is set at a luxurious, remote lodge where a group of friends come together to celebrate the new year. A blizzard snows in the group, ensuring no one can leave the property. When someone is found dead on New Year’s Day, everyone becomes a suspect as old memories and resentments surface.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is a novella set during the Christmas season in Ireland. It’s 1985, and Bill Furlong is an honest and hardworking husband, father, and man of faith. He works as a coal merchant and makes a startling discovery when he drops off a delivery to a local convent. This is a slim book but one that will stay with you.

The snow child book cover

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Set in 1920s Alaska, The Snow Child tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who builds a child out of snow. The snow child disappears, but a little girl named Faina appears in the woods. Who she is and where she came from are the questions that power this memorable story. This type of book isn’t what I usually reach for, but I’m glad I read this one. The isolation and brutal cold of winter felt palpable in these pages.

Wintering book cover

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

January and February can be difficult months. The holidays are over, your New Year’s resolutions are probably broken, and winter days can seem longer than ever. Wintering is the perfect book for times like those. Katherine May writes about difficult seasons in her own life and how she learned the importance of rest and reflection. Reading this book felt like a warm hug, but not in a creepy way. You get it.


Do you have any go-to winter reads? Are there certain books you like to pick up in the colder months?

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

After taking a year off from writing, I missed this space. But I’m back with new ideas and posts to share, and I want to start with my favorite books of 2022. I set a goal to read 75 books this year, and I reached that goal with a few days to spare.

Keep reading to see which titles I loved the most.

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

The butterfly house book cover

The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg

The Butterfly House is the second book of a Danish crime series following two detectives, Jeppe Kørner and Annette Werner, as they solve murders in Copenhagen. In this volume, they’re trying to find a serial killer who uses antique medical tools on their victims before leaving them in public fountains. Clues lead the detectives to a hospital and former psychiatric facility where questions arise about how patients were treated. 

The characters here are well-developed, the writing is engaging, and the setting is exactly what you’d want from a dark crime novel. If you’re a fan of the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, don’t miss this book. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs was a wonderful surprise. I had never read Lydia Millet before, and I wasn’t even sure what Dinosaurs was about, but I picked it up anyway. I’m glad I did since it became my favorite book of 2022. 

The story follows a man named Gil who starts a new life by walking from New York to Arizona after a breakup. Independently wealthy, Gil seeks volunteer opportunities to help bring meaning to his life. He becomes close with the family next door and embraces his new role as a friend and mentor to the couple’s young son. 

If you need a lot of plot in your fiction, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want a beautifully told story full of love and hope, don’t miss this gem. 

Happy go lucky book cover

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of my go-to authors, one whose work I know I’ll always enjoy. Happy-Go-Lucky might be my new favorite collection from him. Many essays address his time in New York during the Covid-19 pandemic and his complicated relationship with his dying father. In true Sedaris fashion, he brings humor to bleak situations. We could all use some of that after the last few years. 

If I survive you book cover

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

A debut of interconnected short stories, If I Survive You follows a Jamaican immigrant family after they settle in Miami. The protagonist is Trelawny, the family’s younger son, who can’t quite live up to the eldest. He believes he’s meant to be a scholar, but life unfolds differently than he expects. Though this book addresses topics such as racism, classism, and immigration, there’s plenty of humor and lightness to be found. I love this book and can’t wait to see what’s next for Jonathan Escoffery.

Klara and the sun book cover

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Klara of this book’s title is an AF, an Artificial Friend for a sickly 14-year-old girl named Josie. Josie saw AFs in a store’s window display and immediately felt a bond with Klara, who comes home with Josie and her mother. As Klara grows to know Josie, she comes up with a plan to end her sickness. Klara and the Sun is wise and tender with important things to say about science, friendship, and what happens when those two things are combined. 

Now is not the time to panic book cover

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

In 1996, teenage Frankie met Zeke and finally found a friend, someone who saw her and encouraged her creativity. The two designed a unique poster and hung it all over town. The cryptic, dark artwork took on a life of its own, scaring the townspeople, who were sure something deadly was coming their way. When a reporter calls thirtysomething Frankie and wants to do a story about the Coalfield Panic, Frankie has to face her past and the choices she made with Zeke. Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a perfectly nostalgic novel about two misfits and the power of art. 

This here flesh book cover

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us
by Cole Arthur Riley

I first became aware of Cole Arthur Riley through her excellent Instagram account, @BlackLiturgies. I knew I’d love her book, and I do, but it surprised me how slowly I wanted to read it. I’m usually a fast reader, but the essays in This Here Flesh deserve to be savored. I took my time, underlining sentence after sentence. In prose that often reads like poetry, Arthur Riley explores faith, family, Christianity, and the stories that shaped her. This Here Flesh is a gorgeous book. 

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book cover

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows 30 years in the lives of Sam and Sadie, two childhood friends who decide to create a video game together and ultimately become business partners. I expected this book to be lighter than it is, but its depth was a pleasant surprise. Sam and Sadie are well-developed yet flawed characters I rooted for and got frustrated with in equal measure. They love each other, but this book isn’t a love story. They play and make games together, but this book isn’t about gaming. Instead, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a thoughtful, sprawling story about how friendship can sometimes save us. 

When stars are scattered book cover

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When searching for possible book club selections for the student and staff multicultural book club I co-lead, I picked up When Stars Are Scattered. I started flipping through it and was immediately absorbed by the true story of Omar and Hassan, two brothers growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Somalia. Hassan has special needs, so Omar becomes his caretaker, a situation that becomes more complicated when Omar has the chance to attend school. 

I don’t read graphic novels very often, and I read middle-grade books even less, so I’m thankful to have stumbled upon this wonderful title. Kids and adults will both appreciate this one.

You don't have to be everything book cover

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves
edited by Diana Whitney

Anthologies rarely, if ever, appear on my favorites list, but this poetry collection is special. Editor Diana Whitney chose poems from a diverse array of poets, including Amanda Gorman, Kate Baer, Andrea Gibson, Elizabeth Acevedo, and many more. The poems would be enough, but the book is also full of beautiful, brightly-colored illustrations. I read this book on a day when I felt down and discouraged, and it was just what I needed. Consider reading this next time you need some comfort and inspiration.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a list of other books I enjoy and recommend in the order I read them:

  • And We Rise: The Civil Rights Movement in Poems by Erica Martin
  • Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American by Laura Gao
  • The Angel of Rome and Other Stories by Jess Walter
  • Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman
  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett
  • The West Wing and Beyond: What I Saw Inside the Presidency by Pete Souza

The Stats

Fiction vs. nonfiction (40.8% and 59.2%)
Format (Audio 1.3%, Print 51.3%, and Digital 47.4%)
Where I got my books (Gift 2.6%, Purchased 32.9% and Library 53.2%)

In Conclusion

2022 was a great year for books, and there are already many 2023 titles I’m excited to read. I’d love to hear what books you loved this year. What books were your 2022 favorites?

My Favorite Books of 2021

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Like I imagine it was for most people, 2021 was filled with highs and lows. I ended the year grateful yet eager for the fresh start of a new year. There were some months where I read a lot and others where I finished very little or nothing at all. Despite the stops and starts of my reading life, I finished 55 books in 2021. Keep reading to see my favorites!

2021 Releases

Crossroads book cover

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

I don’t rank my favorite books, but Crossroads is easily number one. I love everything about this book, which tells the story of the Hildebrandt family navigating life during the 1970s. We follow Russ, a pastor who feels adrift and out of touch, as he longs for a woman who isn’t his wife, Marion. She feels invisible to Russ and struggles to understand her children. The oldest is Clem, an idealistic college student who’s trying to sort out his feelings about Vietnam. Becky is the only daughter, a popular teen who has her eye on a boy with a girlfriend. The last character we follow is Perry, a young drug dealer who seeks to be reformed and finally do the right thing.

If you like character-driven novels, don’t miss this book. Jonathan Franzen writes characters so well. By the time I finished Crossroads, I felt I knew these people intimately. This title is the first book in a trilogy; I cannot wait to be reunited with the Hildebrandts. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You was one of my most anticipated 2021 titles. I loved Sally Rooney’s previous book, Normal People, so I had high hopes for Beautiful World. Thankfully, I ended up loving this one too.

The book follows four friends: Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon. Alice is a novelist who barely knows Felix yet invites him with her on a work trip to Rome. Eileen and Simon are longtime friends but maybe more. Sections of the novel are epistolary in form thanks to the letters Alice and Eileen exchange about their romances, work, and hopes for the future.

If you’re looking for an exciting plot, you won’t find it here. What you will find is excellent character-driven fiction that’s perfect for people who can see themselves in the wanderers and wonderers of the world.

Hell of a book book cover

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

If this book looks familiar, it’s because it won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. After I read it, I understood why. This novel is exciting, engaging, and provides excellent commentary on today’s racial and political tensions.

The plot is hard to explain, and I think this book is best read knowing little about it anyway. All you need to know is that the story follows a Black writer who shares his name and book title with Jason Mott. Jason can’t escape the news of the most recent police shooting and keeps encountering a boy who may or may not be real as he tours the US promoting his new book. 

Hell of a Book is just that: an unputdownable, timely novel. 

In book cover

In by Will McPhail

2021 was the year in which I realized I really do like graphic novels. I grabbed In on my library’s new books shelf, knowing nothing about it except that it was pretty. This time, judging by the cover worked out quite well. 

In follows a man named Nick, an adrift illustrator who feels like he’s missing out on something. As Nick interacts with family and begins to fall in love, the real human connections he forms make his world more colorful. This book is a beautiful look at the power of relationships to save and restore us. 

The plot book cover

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

When I think about The Plot, the first word I think of is “fun.” This novel is a book within a book, perfect for suspense and literature lovers. 

The story revolves around Jacob Bonner, a once-popular author who teaches creative writing at a failing college. It’s there where Jacob meets Evan Parker, a student who arrogantly assumes he has the perfect plot to ensure a bestselling book. After hearing it, Jacob agrees. 

Years later, Jacob learns that Evan is dead and had never published his book. What does an author do with a great plot except tell the story? Jacob does, and then things begin to escalate out of his control. 

If you ever find yourself in a reading slump and need a book to get you out of it, choose The Plot

Assembly book cover

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly took me by surprise. I first heard about the book when a Goodreads friend posted his review. He said the book didn’t work for him, but the story sounded interesting, so I grabbed the book from the library, not expecting much. Thankfully, this little book exceeded my expectations. 

Assembly follows an unnamed Black woman living and working in London. The story is nonlinear, which is why I thought I might not like this book, yet it flows beautifully. This book is only 112 pages, yet its explorations of race, womanhood, capitalism, mortality, and belonging have stayed with me since I read it. I plan to revisit this one soon.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is another short but powerful book. It takes place in Ireland during the 1980s and follows a man named Bill Furlong. He sells coal and delivers it to a local convent, where he discovers something disturbing around Christmas time. 

This book tells a lovely story about compassion and love, and it does so without being preachy or too sentimental. This little book is a gem.

Quick Thoughts About Backlist Titles I Loved

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This is the best antiracist book I’ve read so far. If you’re passionate about social justice and reading diversely, don’t miss this.

Jesus and John Wayne book cover

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If you were like me and wondered how the evangelical church ended up where it is today, read this book ASAP.

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I thought this memoir couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but it did. Though hard to read, Know My Name is an essential, beautiful book.

The Stats

I always track my reading in Book Riot’s customizable reading log. (Click here for the 2022 version.) That makes it easy to see my yearly reading statistics, which delights the nerd in me.

  • Fiction vs. nonfiction: 52% of my reading was fiction; 48% was nonfiction.
  • Book format: 60% print, 30% digital, and 10% audio.
  • Diversity: 32% of the books I read were by a BIPOC author. I’d like to increase that percentage to 50% in 2022.
  • Book source: 55% of the books I read in 2021 came from the library. Support your local libraries, kids!

2022 Reading Goals

  • Read 75 books with 50% of those by a BIPOC author.
  • Slow down with book-buying. Read what I have and rely on the library for new releases.
  • Pick up some of the big books that have intimated me.

This post is always a lot of fun for me to write, so I hope you enjoyed it too. What were the best books you read in 2021? What should I add to my list in 2022?

My Favorite Sources for Book Recommendations

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Last week, one of my colleagues asked me how I find and decide what library books to get. Her question made me think not just about work but my personal reading life too.

Sometimes I’m baffled by the idea that certain readers struggle to find their next book. I feel as if I’m drowning in books some days, so the thought of someone not knowing what to read next is hard for me to wrap my head around.

Those thoughts sparked the idea behind today’s post, which is a list of my favorite book recommendation sources. I include sources I use for school libraries and my own reading. I hope this is helpful and that you find a new-to-you resource. Let’s jump in!

Photo by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

Any New Books

I’ve been a longtime subscriber of Any New Books newsletters. Each week, I get emails listing that week’s most popular book releases. You can sign up for whatever genres interest you most. I receive lists for teens, fiction, nonfiction, biographies, history, and spirituality. These newsletters are an excellent resource, especially if you’re doing work that requires you to pay attention to the latest book releases.

Book Marks

Book Marks is a site from Lit Hub, another tremendous literary resource. On Book Marks, readers see aggregated book reviews for the newest releases. I get an email from the site every Friday that shows me the top-reviewed fiction and nonfiction releases of the week. I always find at least one title on either list to add to my “to be read” list (as if that needs to get any longer).

Book Riot

Book Riot is one of my favorite sources for teen book lists and recommendations. They have book lists for every topic you could imagine. Book Riot shares the latest books but also highlights backlist titles, which is helpful for me to make sure I haven’t missed any big YA releases.

Instagram

One of the good things about social media is the celebration and attention its users give to books. Readers can find photos, videos, and recommendations for niche interests with just a couple of clicks. Here are some of my favorite literary Instagram accounts:

The Millions

Twice a year (January and July), The Millions shares its most anticipated books preview. I look forward to these lists because I always end up with a ton of recommendations. The Millions focuses primarily on literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, both of which I love. The site also offers book lists and well-written essays.

Modern Mrs. Darcy

Anne Bogel is probably the most famous book blogger out there. (She also hosts the delightful podcast, What Should I Read Next.) On Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog I’ve followed for many years, Anne shares all kinds of bookish goodness. Her summer reading guides are always packed with exciting titles, and I also love her book lists

My Local Indie

There are few things in this world I love more than a bookstore, and I’m lucky to have some good ones in my city. Auntie’s Bookstore is my favorite and the one where I shop the most. Their inventory includes titles and authors I’ve never heard about before, which makes shopping at Auntie’s extra exciting. I always make sure to stop by their staff picks section on each trip. Auntie’s also has an excellent Instagram account. Each Tuesday, they show off the newest arrivals for adults, teens, and kids. These photos help me remember which books I want to read and which ones I should get for my school libraries.

NoveList

NoveList is a subscription database you might have access to through your local public library. It’s like the best bookish search engine out there. You can search for titles by unique genres, story elements, author characteristics, etc. I use NoveList to search for the latest YA releases. I can see when a book was published, read multiple reviews of it, and save it to a list so I’ll remember to purchase it. During last year’s remote learning, I led a virtual training for my coworkers on using NoveList because I love it so much.

Social Justice Books

Last school year, I completed diversity audits of the high school libraries where I work. This was the same year when my school district passed an equity resolution, promising to provide a more inclusive learning environment for all students. As I searched for diverse books to help support that resolution, Social Justice Books was a site I turned to repeatedly. They have all kinds of book lists and sort titles by grade level, making it quick and easy to find books for teens.

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

YALSA is the best resource for finding good YA titles. They have much to offer, including book lists, book awards, quick picks for reluctant readers, and helpful articles. It doesn’t hurt that their acronym sounds like “salsa,” one of my favorite things in the entire world.


What sites should I add to my list? Where do you get book recommendations? Let me know!