Six Lighter Fiction Stories for Great Escapism
01 Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Nineteen-year-old Avery Abrams was set to be the next big gymnastics Olympic champion. She had the training, the talent, and the drive. But during the Olympic Trials, she sustained a career-ending injury. For the next few years she dabbled in college, she partied, she drifted, she dated a professional football player, but she didn't find peace and wasn't able to truly come to terms with her new reality.
When she hits a version of rock bottom and moves home, Avery's former teammate and crush Ryan (who did become an Olympic champion) talks her into helping him coach Hallie, a young phenom at the gym where Avery spent much of her youth.
With lots of gymnastics details that made the setting come to life, Head Over Heels was the engrossing, light fiction book I needed. Orenstein didn't hit any false notes for me and kept me satisfyingly wrapped up in the elite gymnastics world of the story. For my full review, see Head Over Heels.
02 Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis
Sometimes in order to delve into a lighter fiction book I find that I have to suspend my disbelief about human behavior. But letting go of expectations about realistic cause and effect in order to buy into a romantic setup (see my review of What You Wish For) is far more difficult for me than suspending my disbelief to buy into the outlandish or supernatural aspects of a romantic but otherwise truly oddball book (see my review of My Lady Jane). The premise of Dear Emmie Blue made me wonder if the story would feel too far-fetched.
Lia Louis's Dear Emmie Blue characters are appealingly faulted, sometimes selfish and foolish. Unlikely bonds are forged and reforged. There's a love triangle that I adored.
03 Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
This book hit the spot for me. Katherine Center's Cassie is a tough-as-nails firefighter who has closed herself off emotionally to protect herself. Her life is orderly and regimented and under control. So clearly everything is about to be upended so that Cassie will be forced to alter her plans and careful schedule and figure out how to come through it all.
Although you may see some of the big plot events coming, Center makes the journey so enjoyable that I just didn't care. This is satisfying escapism, but it's not silly or outlandish.
Things You Save in a Fire is a quick read that addresses serious matters—betrayal, loyalty, duty, trust, and love, with a little sleuthing and romance to round out things. I thought it was great.
For my full review of this book, please see Things You Save in a Fire.
04 Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating totally fits the bill as light-fiction escapism--in this case, with lots of sexy talk and sexy scenes and sexy thoughts and sex.
Hazel is a strong personality, and I found myself bristling at her questioning whether she's too much sometimes. Yet the authors clearly care deeply about their characters, and the characters care deeply about each other.
It all makes for a heartwarming read in which everyone is trying to love and live and be happy. You can see a satisfying version of happily ever after coming, but I didn't predict the circumstances.
05 Beach Read by Emily Henry
Is it fair for a person (me) with particular requirements for light fiction (ideally: not too outlandish of a hook and premise, characters who follow somewhat logical steps in their lives, inner voices that feel real, human connections that warm my heart, and a little romantic something-something) to continue reading light fiction while kind of expecting disappointment?
Yes. Yes, it is. Because I suspected that Emily Henry's Beach Read might be a major gem on my light fiction-escapism-pandemic-era reading list and a book that might bring me fully into the bosom of this genre. Fortunately, I was correct.
The initial scene-setting didn't feel as authentic to me as the rest of the book. But after that, Beach Read met all of my criteria above and more; it's sweet and funny, it's about writing and books, there are wonderfully faulted love-crossed main protagonists with a shared history, and they share a sexy-playful-obsession that might lead to heartbreak or might lead to love.
I mentioned this book in Three Wackily Different Books I'm Reading Right Now, 9/3/20 Edition. For my full review of this book, see Beach Read.
06 One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
In Kate Stayman-London's One to Watch, Bea Schumacher is a popular plus-size fashion blogger who has Instagram fame, wonderful friends--and an unhealthy obsession with a male friend who's attached to someone else.
After she drunk-blogs scathing comments about the unrealistic body images of the stars of Main Squeeze (a reality TV show in which a single woman dates strangers hand-picked by the producers and aims to marry one of them), Bea is surprised when a show producer reaches out to her with an unexpected question: Would Bea consider starring in a season of Main Squeeze?
Bea finds the proposal laughable, then considers what it might mean for her career, for promoting body positivity, and maybe even for her lackluster romantic life. She's in--for a fantastic wardrobe, incredibly awkward moments, scripted romance, and a beautiful Malibu backdrop. What could go wrong?
For my full review of this book, please see One to Watch.
What are some of your favorite lighter fiction books?
I've been particularly drawn to these types of stories lately because the chances feel slim that things could go seriously or painfully, irrevocably awry for the characters.
That's not to say that real, weighty issues aren't raised within these pages, because they are. In the books above, characters cope with abuse or alcohol abuse; they struggle to feel self-respect, a healthy body image, or to establish a true and real sense of self; and they find themselves capable of demonstrating strength in difficult circumstances. But all of these issues are explored within what feels like a safe space--amid swirling attraction, burgeoning romance, self-discovery, some temporary heartbreak, and, typically, a satisfying ending. I love this balance, especially right now.
So here's the greedy question: What are some other lighter fiction stories I should be reading?