I’ve always been an avid reader. I love all kinds of books – non-fiction, fantasy, romance, science fiction, historical fiction, and more. But like so many others, this pandemic has made it harder for me to focus, and it takes a lot more these days for me to immerse myself in a fictional world. But there are a few books that managed to do it, that completely grabbed me and transported me to a different time and place. And in the current dystopia within which we are all living, that is a gift that I will not take for granted. Here are three of them:
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is a powerful but gentle fantasy novel about a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, who is sent to a remote island to monitor a group home for a truly extraordinary group of children. He is forced to work with the group home’s caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, a man with secrets of his own. Adventures are had, lessons are learned, and Arthur and Linus find themselves growing closer and closer as they also grow as people. It offers a pointed critique of oppressive government structures while also being sweet, romantic, and profoundly kind.
Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex is the first book in a series about two childhood best friends, Annie Chang aka Aveda Jupiter, San Francisco’s own superheroine, and Eve Tanaka, who now works as Aveda’s personal assistant. When the book opens, Aveda and Eve have an established relationship dynamic in which Aveda is the leader, and Eve supports her. Early in the book, Aveda is injured, and Eve is forced to step up and take over while Aveda heals. But Eve has chosen to stay in the background, for reasons, and things in San Francisco are getting more weird than usual. Luckily, Eve has more strength and resilience than she realizes, and there’s a super cute demonologist named Nate to support her as she grows into her own. This book is funny, sweet, and a remarkably true depiction of the complexities of female friendships.
Finally, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, by Olivia Waite, is a historical romance set in nineteenth century England. Lucy Muchelney is an astronomer and translator nursing a broken heart; Catherine St. Day, the Countess of Moth, is a scientific patroness looking to have a particular astronomic text translated. When Catherine invites Lucy to stay with her while she completes the translation work, feelings ensue. The two heroines are thoughtful, complex people growing together in believable ways. The two take on the misogynistic and racist scientific establishment in ways that read as cathartic. And the author gave them a very satisfying and believable happily ever after, which was particularly important given the lack of legal protection that same-sex relationships had in this time and place.
These books are all very different, but what they had in common was the ability to immerse me in a world that was very like our own, but just different enough that they were a break from the news. And each of them emphasized the power of friendship, love, and justice, in ways that are ever more important. Give them a try!
Sara Ronis is an associate professor of Theology at St. Mary’s University, where she teaches courses on the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation. In her free time, she reads all the things, crafts, and goes for long walks with the world’s best dog.