Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates: Outlander

Thank you very much to Sonya Bates for this week’s comfort read. I’m a big fan of the Outlander TV series but I haven’t read the books yet … I think I need to do something about that soon!

Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A comfort read means different things to different people. Nostalgia perhaps, humour or a happy ending. Classics, memoirs, books from your childhood, romance. For me, it means escape.

When I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed (like when a pandemic sweeps the globe), I don’t want to have to work too hard. My brain is already in overdrive, thinking about other things – worrying. It doesn’t need another workout. What I want and need is something soothing, something I don’t have to concentrate on. The book has to pull me in right from the start and hold my attention. I need to be able to gloss over paragraphs if my mind gets distracted and not lose the thread of the story. And I need to be able to put it down and pick it up on a whim, even if days or weeks have passed.

I have several books that fit the bill, so it was hard to choose just one. In the end I chose Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – a book I’ve read several times but never seems to disappoint. On the first read, it might not qualify as there’s a lot going on, but escapism doesn’t come any greater than this. A young woman travelling through time via a stone circle and ending up in the 1700’s? It takes you away from the troubles of the 21st century in a heartbeat. It’s adventure, it’s time travel, it’s a love story. The characters are larger than life and encounter (and survive) almost insurmountable situations – even try to change history. It suspends belief at times, but hey, the premise itself suspends belief. It’s the kind of story that can help you forget about pandemics and isolation and second waves, if only for a little while.

It’s a familiar read for me, so perhaps somewhat nostalgic, and I know the characters and the story well enough that I can put it down and pick it up again without a hiccup. It is one of my go-to comfort reads, the only caveat being that the first in the series is followed by seven very large sequels. It can be hard to stop at just one, so I need to be prepared to be immersed in the land of Outlander for quite some time if I start that first chapter.

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About the Author 

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Sonya Spreen Bates  is a writer of adult and children’s fiction living in Adelaide, South Australia. She was shortlisted for the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018 for the unpublished manuscript for Inheritance of Secrets, and several of her children’s books have been commended by CCBC Best Books, Resource Links, or the Junior Library Guild in the USA.

Born in Iowa City, USA, Sonya grew up in Victoria, Canada. She studied Linguistics at the University of Victoria before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia to study Speech-Language Pathology at Dalhousie University. She worked in paediatric Speech Pathology for 25 years, first in rural British Columbia, and then in Adelaide, South Australia when she moved there in 1997, and currently works as a casual academic in clinical education.

Sonya’s first children’s book was published in 2003. Her short stories and novels have been published in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and foreign rights to her chapter book, Wildcat Run, were sold to a Chinese publisher. She started writing for adults in 2015 and her debut adult novel Inheritance of Secrets was published by HarperCollins Australia in April 2020.

Read my review of Inheritance of Secrets

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Author Eliza Henry-Jones shares her favourite comfort read: the books of James Herriot

Today’s comfort read is brought to you by the wonderful Australian author of contemporary adult and young adult novels Eliza Henry-Jones

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My favourite comfort read is the series written by James Herriot (the pen-name of Yorkshire based vet, James Wight).

Wight writes with warmth and humour about his experiences as a country vet during the 1930s through the war and into the 1950s. While parts of it haven’t dated well (unsurprising, given the first book was written in the 1960s!), his books never fail to make me laugh out loud and feel very cosy and cheery. I first read them when I was nine and stayed in Yorkshire a few years ago, so it’s sort of nostalgic on two fronts.

About the Author

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Author Eliza Henry-Jones

Eliza Henry-Jones is a novelist, researcher and freelance writer based on a little farm in the Yarra Valley of Victoria.

Her debut novel In the Quiet (2015) was published as part of a three book deal with HarperCollins Australia. She has since published Ache (2017), the young adult novel P is for Pearl (2018) and How to Grow a Family Tree (2020). Eliza’s novels have been listed for multiple awards.

Eliza has qualifications in English and psychology as well as grief, loss and trauma counselling. She has completed a first class honours thesis exploring representations of bushfire trauma in fiction and is currently a PhD candidate at Deakin University.

Eliza is a proud ambassador for the Satellite Foundation, which supports children and young people who are impacted by parental mental illness.

Eliza has been awarded a residential fellowship at Varuna in New South Wales, a young writer residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Western Australia,  the Tyrone Guthrie Fellowship in Ireland and an Australia Council Grant to work on a new novel set in Scotland.

Eliza is an experienced public speaker, facilitator and writer. You can find out more about her writing and other services here.

Click/Tap the titles to read my reviews of Ache, P is for Pearl, and How to Grow a Family Tree

Author Kerri Turner’s Favourite Comfort Reads: The books of Georgette Heyer

While it feels like the world is going mad right now it’s even more important than ever to take the time to lose yourself in a book. I bet I’m not the only one finding it difficult to concentrate on reading, even though I know I really do need to sit down, take a break and forget about what’s happening, so I’ve decided to put together a list of books that are perfect for comfort reading with the help of some of my favourite authors.

Today’s comfort read is brought to you by Kerri Turner, author of The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers and The Daughter of Victory Lights.     (My Review)

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Confession: I have a comfort author as opposed to a comfort book. I developed the habit of turning to her in times of stress without even realising it. It was Kate Forsyth, an author I greatly admire, who once pointed out to me that I’d been reading a lot of Georgette Heyer’s regency romances over the span of a few weeks. She herself found comfort in Georgette Heyer’s novels, and suspected my binge might mean I was struggling in my day-to-day life. Her suggestion proved insightful, because I promptly burst into tears. Without realising it, that was exactly my situation.

Thankfully, I was able to adjust what I could in my life to alleviate the stress. But I kept the habit of turning to Georgette Heyer’s romances whenever I need comfort. For there’s something to be said about escaping into a world that guarantees you a happy ending when everything in your own world feels uncertain.

But why Georgette Heyer, when all romance promises a happy ending? For me, there’s an added escapism to her regencies, with the gentle mockery yet simultaneous loving embrace of a long-gone world of set manners and flamboyant dress codes. I love watching the characters try to work within the rigid, often ridiculous rules of their societies to work out their happy endings. Love how Heyer plays within these lines but also pushes them to their very edges of humorous believability, such as the crossdressing hijinks in The Masqueraders, the switched-at-birth scandal of These Old Shades, or the involvement of a hot air balloon in Frederica (a particular favourite of mine).

I love the way her characters are audacious, witty, stubborn, disaffected, reckless, loyal, adventurous, flawed, wilful, intelligent, and silly.

I love the gentle nature of the words she uses that are so little seen nowadays. Words like flummery, fribble, egad, and alack have a nostalgic rhythm to them that lulls me into a sense of peace.

I love that while remaining true to the tropes of the genre, she still manages to flip things on their head in a way that surprises and delights, like the gradual shifting of the love interest from one man to another in Cotillion (another of my personal favourites).

I love her unique ability to create an insult like no other, her characters slinging phrases like ‘buffleheaded clunch’ or ‘irreclaimable ninnyhammer’ in a manner designed to make the reader laugh instead of feel the cut of them.

For me, a comfort read is about getting lost in a colourful world with touches of whimsy, guaranteed laughs, and a neat ending that brings about the kind of peace and certainty that real life lacks. Georgette Heyer provides all of these with every one of her romances. And anyone who doesn’t think so must be an irreclaimable ninnyhammer.

 

Kerri Turner is the author of The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers and The Daughter of Victory Lights

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Kerri Turner

With a background in ballet, I have always had a strong love for storytelling. All my favourite ballets tell some of the most timeless stories, from fairytales to interpretations of classic literature. I’ve also always loved reading, writing, and history. I have combined these things into my historical fiction writing.

In 2017 I signed with literary agent Haylee Nash of The Nash Agency. The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, my debut novel, was released with HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins Australia, in January 2019. A second historical fiction novel, The Daughter of Victory Lights, was released in January 2020. I am always working on my next book, so hopefully there will be many more to come.

In prior years, my short stories have been published by Reflex Fiction, Boolarong Press, Catchfire Press, Stringybark, Underground Writers, and as part of the Dangerous Women Project.

My author influences include (but are not limited to) Kate Forsyth, Sara Gruen, Belinda Alexandra, Hazel Gaynor, Ken Follett, Eli Brown, and Kate Morton. I also have a special fondness for Lorna Hill, particularly her ‘Sadler’s Wells’ series, which I have collected since childhood.

When not writing or reading, I can usually be found teaching ballet and tap dancing, baking sweet treats, or spending time with my husband and my miniature schnauzer Nelson.​

 

 

Cassie Hamer talks about her favourite comfort read: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

While it feels like the world is going mad right now it’s even more important than ever to take the time to lose yourself in a book. I bet I’m not the only one finding it difficult to concentrating on reading, even though I know I really do need to sit down, take a break, and forget about what’s happening, so I’ve decided to put together a list of books that are perfect for comfort reading with the help of some of my favourite authors.

Today’s comfort read is brought to you by Cassie Hamer, author of After the Party and The End of Cuthbert Close.

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Cassie Hamer, author of After the Party and The End of Cuthbert Close

Cassie Hamer has a professional background in journalism and PR, but now much prefers the world of fiction over fact. In 2015, she completed a Masters in Creative Writing, and has since achieved success in numerous short story competitions. Her bestselling debut fiction title After the Party was published in 2019. Cassie lives in Sydney.

cassie comfort reads

At the age of nine I was obsessed with two things – ballet and books. So you can imagine my incredible delight at discovering Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I fell in love with the cover first – it was an image of a young ballerina in pink satin pointe shoes – the ballerina I so desperately wanted to be. Then I turned to the inside and promptly fell head over heels for the book’s feisty young protagonists – Paulina, Posy and Petrova – three orphans being raised in impoverished circumstances by their guardian, the kindly Sylvia, and their strict-but-loving, Nana.

Streatfeild published the book in 1936, a mere eight years after women were given the vote in the UK. But even today, Ballet Shoes remains a deeply relevant and feminist book – the story of three young women who are driven to make a name for themselves and achieve self-sufficiency via the stage. The girls experience success and failure. They wear velvet and organdie dresses. They are constantly drinking delicious concoctions with the boarders that share the big house on Cromwell Road. They are told, regularly, that their ambition is acceptable, but they should still be decent human beings.

See? It’s just lovely, isn’t it.

I never did become a ballerina – I was as flexible as a pole – and I never got to own a pair of pointe shoes. Instead, I became a writer and, even now, I see the impact of Ballet Shoes on what I write. I’m utterly devoted to understanding and expressing the female experience. My books have a subtle feminist bent. My characters are ambitious, practical and feisty, just like the Fossil sisters. And, in a case of life imitating art, I now have three girls of my own. It has been one of the joys to rediscover this book as a mother and share it with my daughters.

It is my theory that the books we read and love in our early years leave a scar-like mark on our psyche – an indelible imprint of thought and feeling that we return to for comfort because it reminds of who we once were, the dreams and hopes we once held.

I cannot think of a happier place in which to dwell.

 

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The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer

‘Captures Australian suburbia perfectly. Has the reader gripped until the end. Perfect for anyone who wants to devour easy-to-read fiction, while also doing some detective work of their own.’ Mamamia

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your neighbours. (Trad. proverb, origin: Australian suburbia)

 Food stylist Cara, corporate lawyer Alex and stay-at-home mum Beth couldn’t be more different. If it wasn’t for the fact they live next door to each other in Cuthbert Close, they’d never have met and bonded over Bundt cake. The Close is an oasis of calm and kindness. The kind of street where kids play cricket together and neighbours pitch in each year for an end of summer party.

But no one’s told Charlie Devine, glamorous wife of online lifestyle guru, The Primal Guy. When she roars straight into the party with her huge removal truck and her teenage daughter with no care or regard for decades-old tradition, the guacamole really hits the fan.

Cara thinks the family just needs time to get used to the village-like atmosphere. Beth wants to give them home cooked meals to help them settle in. Alex, says it’s an act of war. But which one of them is right? Dead guinea pigs, cruelly discarded quiches, missing jewellery, commercial sabotage and errant husbands are just the beginning of a train of disturbing and rapidly escalating events that lead to a shocking climax.

 When the truth comes out, will it be the end of Cuthbert Close?

Dymocks

Angus and Robertston

QBD Books

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