While social distancing can seem bleak and daunting, one of my favorite coping mechanisms has been to forget what’s happening around me and dive into another world with a quality book. While you won’t find non-fiction on this list (because let’s be honest, you don’t want to think about our world any more than necessary), enjoying fantastical and historical fiction is one of the most reliable forms of entertainment. Now that many of you have a lot more free time on your hands, may I present my top five book recommendations for these trying times.
1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
To be completely honest, I would recommend anything this author writes. Her books hold a very special place in my heart (and an entire shelf on my bookcase). In a truly amazing display of self-control, I chose to include only one. A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect introduction to the fantastical worlds of VE Schwab. On her Twitter, Schwab recommends you start with this series “If you like Harry Potter/Avatar + TLA.” A Darker Shade of Magic allows readers to escape into a world ruled by magic. There are four parallel Londons: red, white, grey, and the long-lost black. These parallel worlds each contain a different amount of magic which shapes the cultural landscape of that universe. This story follows Kell, a magician with the rare ability to travel between worlds. On a mission to deliver something for the king, Kell brings back something he shouldn’t have which throws the worlds off-balance. This trilogy is fast-paced and engaging from the very beginning, making it the perfect series to binge when you find yourself with a lot more free time.
2. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This science-fiction stands out from the crowd due to its one of a kind format. Every book in this trilogy is written as a manifesto. The reader follows along as if they were witnessing the trial that sets off this book. Illuminae combines personal diary logs, narrations of audio recording from random security guards, diagrams, doodles, spiraling text from an (evil?) artificial intelligence named AIDEN. The varied text presentations make the 600+ pages of this book fly by. This first installment follows Kady and Ezra as they are trapped on a spaceship fleeing for their lives after their home planet was attacked by a rival corporation. As they flee from the warships that intend to destroy them, a mysterious plague breaks out and their AI suddenly develops some interesting ideas about the common good. Illuminae starts with a bang (quite literally) and never slows down. The chilling atmosphere adds just the right touch of anticipation which Kaufman and Kristoff enhance with unsettling text displays. The audiobooks are full-cast so if reading physically isn’t your thing, this is a great option. That being said, the visuals in the book are truly breathtaking if you get the chance to check them out.
3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches is the first book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. This story follows scholar and reluctant witch Diana Bishop and the chaos that ensues after she accidentally calls up an alchemical manuscript that has been lost for centuries. Suddenly, every vampire, daemon, and witch in the magical world that Diana has been trying her best to ignore comes after her, intent on getting the manuscript for themselves. She then meets the mysterious Matthew Clairmont, who, despite his charms, may have a hidden agenda of his own. Diana can no longer deny that she lives in a world of magic and her life is changed forever. This series is perfect for binge-reading (I would know since I read it in three days during a particularly rainy summer break), the characters are endearing, and the world is enchantingly complex.
4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity is a story about friendship. It’s also the story about female contributions in the Second World War. But at its core, it’s about an unbreakable bond between two women. Arrested by the Gestapo in France, British operative “Verity” is faced with a choice between torture and confession. The reader follows as she weaves together her confession in a dank cell on scrap pieces of paper. However, it’s not British secrets she writes, but the story of her life and friendship with pilot Maddie Brodatt. The story of her past is broken by accounts of her life in the Gestapo prison, presenting an emotional contrast that buries itself in your heart. I can’t list all the reasons why I adore this book, because spoilers, but I can promise you that the ending will leave you breathless.
5. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book has been all over the internet and for good reasons. Daisy Jones & The Six follows the rise to success and sudden disbandment of the fictional rock ‘n’ roll band Daisy Jones & The Six. Their story is written as if a series of interviews, littered with the side tangents and personal quirks you would expect from an actual interview. If you listen to it on audiobook, which I did and would highly recommend, it becomes difficult to remember that these fictional characters never existed. They are incredibly well developed and even if you don’t like them, you understand them. One of the best parts of this book is how successfully Reid presents the charm and atmosphere of the rock ‘n’ roll era in the late seventies. I need to see this story told in a TV show as soon as possible.