When I am stressed, the only way to shake myself out of my funk is to pick up a novel that bears exactly zero resemblance to my current situation. I need to escape to another world or another character’s problems if I’m going to take a break from mine. I expect you might be feeling the same way these days. Here are a few “escapist reads” from various genres, so that you can also find respite in a good book!
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emma Orczy)
In the midst of the French Revolution, an anonymous hero is rescuing noblemen right from under the guillotine. The only clue to his identity? He always leaves behind a message featuring a small red flower—the scarlet pimpernel.
The reader is in on the secret of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity—he is English lord Sir Percy Blakeley—but most of the novel is told from the perspective of his wife, French actress Marguerite St. Just, who doesn’t know the secret at first. A series of misunderstandings have driven the two apart, and it will take a series of daring exploits in order to bring them back together.
This novel is self-consciously over-dramatic and hopelessly romantic, which is half the fun! The 1982 film captures the tone perfectly if you’re looking for a further fix after reading the original.
Illusionarium (Heather Dixon Wallwork)
I love all of Heather Dixon Wallwork’s books, not to mention her quirky and charming blog. The setting really shines in this novel, a steampunk science fiction with a magical twist.
An apprentice scientist, Jonathan, is roped into the search for a cure to a deadly plague threatening the aerial city of Fata Morgana. Then he encounters fantillium, a newly discovered chemical that not only allows people to share hallucination, but access parallel worlds. Faced with this new moral landscape, Jonathan begins to lose his way and must rediscover his own internal compass.
Though of course the main plot is engaging, I consider the side characters to be the true highlight of the book. Take, for example, the cool and confident guard, Lockwood, who makes a great foil to our unseasoned protagonist. (I’m planning to reread it, mainly just to read about him again!)
Howl’s Moving Castle (Dianna Wynne Jones)
The further you get into this imaginative fairytale, the more wonderful it becomes. The book tells the story of Sophie, an eldest sister resigned to a simple life of hard work while her younger sisters go and make something of themselves. That all changes when she has a run-in with the Witch of the Waste—who has the audacity to turn Sophie into an old woman! With nowhere to go and no clue how to break the spell, Sophie forces her way into the magical floating castle of the moody wizard Howl, his apprentice Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer.
This is truly one of the most original and charming stories I have ever read. All of the characters are utterly endearing, although it may take some time to warm to Howl, given the young wizard’s many, many moods. The Studio Ghibli film is entirely unlike the novel, but equally magical.
A Dress for the Wicked (Autumn Krause)
It’s an alternate-history Project Runway, with twice the intrigue, a dash of romance, and (dare I say it?) even better fashion. This was my beach read on vacation last year, and I could not set it down—I had it with me at the dinner table! Emmy comes from a small town, but she dreams of being the first girl from her region to win the annual design competition in the capitol’s premiere fashion house. However, qualifying to compete is only the first challenge. Soon she learns that it will take more than an eye for fashion to outwit the powers that are orchestrating the competition.
This novel had a similar feel to The Hunger Games trilogy because of the competitive challenges, but with a Victorian-inspired setting and a different set of stakes. But make no mistake, fashion can change history—an often-overlooked historical fact that makes Krause’s debut novel so interesting to read. You can read about the author’s real-life inspiration for the novel here at Verily.
The Blue Castle (L.M. Montgomery)
My sister just finished reading this book, and I could not have been more excited to share the ending with her! A novel based on an apparently serious premise quickly becomes a light-hearted story about rediscovering the beauty of everyday life. Valancy Stirling is going on thirty and still unmarried, which would be bearable if it weren’t for her insufferable relations. Then her doctor tells her that her heart is failing, prompting Valancy to finally stop waiting for the rest of her life and to start pursuing her dreams.
This is a book that will grow with you; I appreciate it more the older I get. There is only so much I can say about the story without giving away the many delightful surprises held in store, but trust me: it will lift your spirits and give you hope.