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Knitters, in lieu of self-care prescriptions, I present for your consideration two fine beach reads. You can take them to the actual beach, or to the back porch with your sun hat. Stay safe!

Self Care, by Leigh Stein

Obviously, I was launched into orbit the moment I saw the cover of this book. Millennial pink, flowy script, and—what’s that inky potion dripping all down the front? Looks like a signal that the contents have undergone a shift. And indeed, the satire of Self Care stays well away from all things calming, meditative and nutritious.

The action takes place at “Richual,” a social platform for wellness and the profits that can be made on it. “Foundresses” Devin and Maren, along with SVP Khadijah, are working to secure their second round of funding. Too bad they’re also dealing with multiple scandals, from careless threats on the life of the First Daughter, to accusations of abuse by a board member, to swag printed with tone-deaf slogans.

As they scramble to control the damage, it’s anyone’s guess who will end up under the bus, and who will be left driving. The cynic? The Kool-Aid drinker? The one with a secret? All we know for sure is: there’s going to be a crash.

Contains: the performance of self-care for profit, sexual misconduct, the Secret Service, body dysmorphia, cussing galore.

Read this book if you like: cynical satire.

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We Ride Upon Sticks, by Quan Barry

Here’s a sweet chaser to Self Care’s bracing tartness. Quan Barry’s second novel is set in late-80s Danvers, Massachusetts—once known as Salem Village, the actual site of the 17th-century Salem witch hysteria. (Only the trials took place in the present-day city Salem. After the trials, in a short-sighted PR move, Salem Village changed its name to Danvers, leaving Salem proper to corner the market on witch tourism.) Barry’s Danvers is also the home of the Falcons, the losing-est field hockey team in Eastern Massachusetts. And by losing-est we mean never not shut out. Maybe the girls could use a little supernatural help?

Ask and ye shall receive, Falcons! As they stack up one seemingly impossible win on top of another, it starts to look like Danvers High School could go all the way to the state championships, if only they can stay focused and in the good graces of their patron spirit Emilio Estevez. This will prove difficult, because the team also faces the challenges of parental conflict, casual racism, demanding AP classes, and tricky romance.

Contains: teen girl energy, rule breaking, coastal New England vernacular, overdetermined period hairstyles.

Read this book if you like: contemporary BIPOC fiction, wish fulfillment, Calvin Harris’s Acceptable in the 80s, real-life Quidditch, a ripping bildungsroman without any mean girls.

Without a local bookseller, I’m about to place a book order with Loyalty Books, so tell me: What’s on your time-out reading list? What are your recent faves? Please put your recommendations in the comments.

Image:  L’Arlésienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux (Marie Julien, 1848–1911), 1888–89, Vincent van Gogh, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951. Used with permission.

MDK receives a commission for purchases made through the links in this post.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • At the beginning of the shutdown, I read “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins, upon recommendation of a coworker. Not lighthearted, but beautifully written and compelling.

    • Ditto. Meaningful and moving.

    • OUtstanding.

  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls.

    • I loved that, too!

    • I’m reading The Far Pavilions ,by M.M. Kaye, India and the British! Over 1000 pages, you keep reading because you must find out what happens to Ash,(Ashton) and then must watch John Beechum !

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

  • I immediately went to Audible (yes, I know it’s Amazon but I don’t read actual books) and put both of these books in my audio library. Just finishing “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton on audio, hate for it to end but looking forward to Max’s great suggestions! Audiobooks keep me company while I sew (more masks, anyone?) as well as knit.

    • May I suggest that you try ordering your next audio book from Libro. FM? It’s a marvelous LIttle Engine That Could, and it shares its profits with the independent bookstore of your choice—like Parnassus Books in Nashville; Oliver and Friends in Belgrade Lakes, Maine; the Bookworm of Edwards (CO); and Wellesley Books. You get to choose!

      • What a great suggestion!

      • Many public library systems also offer downloadable audio books. so while I heartily support buying from independents, there are other options as well!

  • My public library has curbside pickup so I always have a pile of books close by. For a fun read, The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, and its sequels. My book club has read two novels by Lisa Wingate, Before We Were Yours and The Book of Lost Friends, both compelling and thought provoking. I also read A LOT of murder mysteries.

    • Louise Penny.. Ian Rankin. Peter May.

      • Yes, yes! Love them all! And Martin Walker’s Bruno series is also not to be missed

        • William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series is so good. There is a lot of information about the Anishinabe/Ojibwe of Minnesota gently woven in. And Mr. Krueger is just the nicest, most humble man. I invited him to our book club, and just like that, he agreed. It was amazing.

          His two “standalone” books, Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land are also outstanding.

    • Let’s hear the murder mystery faves please! I rec all of the books by Tana French, one of my favorite mystery writers. Also Michael Rabotham (sp?)

      • Great British murder mystery writers include: Val Mcdermid, Ian Rankin, C. J. Sansom, Lin Anderson, Peter Robinson, Ann Cleeves and Peter May. Most of those are Scottish, several of the stories are set on shetland and the other Scottish islands so knitting features too. Also Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote fabulous thrillers. That’s all I can think of for now without moving to look at my bookshelves.

        • I love Catriona Macpherson Scottish writer with her books set between the wars with her detective Dandy McGilver with her lady’s maid in attendance (the clothes descriptions are devine too). Otherwise I’m a huge fan of the Golden Age, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Naigo Marsh, Josephine Tey. I do like Laurie M King, Donna Leon, Boris Akuninl Also British Library have a series where they are reprinting forgotten prewar detective fiction is is marvellous for new discoveries.

      • I am totally obsessed with Dervla McTiernan’s murder mysteries! The third in the series just came out, and there’s a novella as well. The Audible versions are narrated beautifully by an Irish lady who’s voice launches me into Galway, where the books are set.
        Book 1: The Ruin

        • So glad to hear there is a third in this series. Thanks!

      • I’ve also been on a mystery kick during lockdown. I found and loved the Amanda Pepper mysteries by Gillian Roberts. They’re fun, smart, and she always saves herself. Then I found the Martin Beck mysteries by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo–they’re a little bit darker. I’m currently finishing Tana French’s, “The Witch Elm,” and it’s too dark and intense for how I feel right now.

        • Ellis Peters medieval monk mysteries.
          Linsey Davis Roman PI!
          Fiona Deal modern Egypt mysteries plus a big dose of ancient Egypt
          Alan Bradley Flavia de Luce school girl detective with attitude.
          Mary Stewart delightfully dated 1950/60s stories.
          The Father Brown stories.
          All read or re-read over the last few weeks.

      • The Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters are such good fun — sort of murder lite. I can read them over and over.

        • Thirding Amelia Peabody! My ultimate comfort food novels. In audio book form the reader is the all-time greatest. Also, the Flavia DeLuce novels by Alan Bradley have a unique flavor that cannot be matched!

        • I second Amelia Peabody, and Peters’ Vicki Bliss mysteries are fun, too!

      • Yes! I just finished The Trespasser by Tana French. Haven’t read all of her books yet, but am working on it.

  • One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood and With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

    • One In A Million Boy is brilliant!!! Are you from Maine by any chance?

  • I just read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, novel set in England….loved her literary style. I was going to read The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, but it has a long waiting list at the library, so I got Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson… It is a novel but has some very interesting true facts about the Kentucky mountain area. One of the first books that made me want to look into the information touched on…..I had never heard of the Blue People of Kentucky! Also working my way through the Louise Penny mystery novels set in a small village in Quebec.

    • I have read both of these, and liked Book Woman better than Giver of Stars…

    • Loved Book Woman! Besides being a great story, you learn so much about these particular people. Interesting in light of the current BLM movement.

    • Ah, another “Book Woman” fan! It’s on my list, too.

  • Cherokee America by Margaret Verble and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes were a great escape. Lawrence Wright’s The End of October about a devastating Pandemic was a different kind of escape, in its own way. Made me realize how much worse it could be now – and gratefully for all the things that are not falling apart in our real world.

    • 2 pandemic reads that were the best of the year so far for me- – – the Dutch House by Ann Patchett and The Street by Ann Perry

      • I really love the Dutch House, I read it last spring and I can’t stop thinking about it.

        • I’m listening to Tom Hanks read to me right now. 🙂

  • “Writers and Lovers,” by Lily King and “The Dutch House,” by Ann Patchett

    • Both of your recommendations are excellent reads!

    • A big thumbs-up to Writers and Lovers.

  • Next week the newest book by Daniel Silva will be released, can’t wait. I’ve been reading classics. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, who always writes 20 words when he could write one. Also Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, one of his more readable books. I’ve been recovery from knee replacement surgery, so I really couldn’t even knit until I was off the opioids, but I’m making up for it now.

    • Just read and loved The Dutch House. Well written page turner. Tom Hanks narrates thé audio which my sister listened to and loved.

      • Tom Hanks was sooooo good as the narrator of this wonderful novel!

  • Fairy tales with a twist — Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Novik; Impossible by Werlin. (&sequels). YA thriller, A Skinful of Shadows, Hardinge ( just thinking about it makes me shiver).

    • I liked Novik’s earlier fantasy novels set in Napoleonic times too.

  • Copy Boy by Shelley Blanton Stroud. It is a San Francisco noir about a girl who becomes a boy to escape a crime she may or may not have committed.

    • Oooohh! Sounds fantastic.

  • I have really enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Circe and Song of Achilles, that retell and reframe the Greek epics. Straight forward, readable prose style much appreciated during this anxious and demanding time.

    • I listened to The Song of Achilles at the start of lockdown and second the recommendation. It was so good and the audiobook was very soothing. There is also an episode of the BBC Radio 4 Bookclub podcast about this book that includes a QnA with the author. I’ve been working my way through books on that podcast and then listening to the episodes afterwards. 🙂 I just downloaded the audiobook of Circe from the library.

  • I loved Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillip’s. It’s a loosely woven ‘novel’ of short stories, all set on the Kamchatka peninsula in the course of one year. The book sent me to Wikipedia and YouTube to learn more about this beautiful volcanic peninsula and its diverse array of humans.

  • I recommend “A Year Down Yonder”, “A Long Way from Chicago”, “The Teacher’s Funeral” and “Fair Weather” by Richard Peck. Technically young adult historical fiction, they’re humorous quick reads for people of any age.

  • My favorite “escape “ books are the Flavia DeLuce novels by Alan Bradley. First in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I also enjoy Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. William Kent Krueger‘sThis Tender Land and Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman are glimpses into the lives of native Americans in the depression and in the fifties that really spoke to me.

  • When all is Said by Anne Griffin – the audio is delightful, the story wonderful.

  • I have been working my way through the Shetland series and the Vera Stanhope series by Ann Cleeves. Great murder mysteries!

    • Recommend Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series.
      Agree with AnnCleeves series, Louise Penny, Tana French.
      Recently enjoyed The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
      Read My Brilliant Friend, the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series.

      • LOVE the Maisie Dobb’s series!

  • I used to work in a library, so I made a list of “comfort reads” to pass on to my friends.
    “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix Harrow.
    Just about anything by Maeve Binchey
    James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series
    Lost for Words Bookstore – Stephanie Butland
    Cherokee America – Margaret Verble
    Once Upon A River and TheThirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield
    TheBookshop on the Corner- Jenny Colman
    Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole
    Britt Marie Was Here- Fredrick Backman
    Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty
    The Chet and Bernie mysteries by spencer Quinn (always good for a chuckle)
    The Snow Child – eowyn ivey
    TheStoried Life of A J Fikry- Gabrielle Zevin
    Bachelor Brothers bed and Breakfast- Bill Richardson
    Beautiful Ruins- Jess Walter
    A Gentleman in Moscow- Amor Towles
    Peace Like A River- Leif Engel
    The Lido – Libby Page
    Alices Tulips- Sandra Dallas

    • Thank you for this list! There are many that I loved and some I’ve not heard of that I will surely try.

    • I read every Maeve Binchey book. I was very sad when she died.

    • Loved Ten Thousand Doors of January. Enjoyed Dutch House. Just finished Olive Again and now will re-read Olive Kitteridge, which was an all-time favorite read.

  • I recommend any of Faith Sullivan’s novels. She creates strong female protagonists. I especially love, “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse.”

  • At the risk of sounding like a suck-up, I just finished Ann Shayne’s Bowling Avenue. A great, light read about love, family, and redemption.

  • Crossing to Safety, which I first read thirty years ago. It stands the test of time most elegantly!

    • Anything by Wallace Stegner! Angle of Repose is wonderful, and there is one who’s name escapes me set in the Spanish Flu time (Fall of a Sparrow maybe?). And I just finished a history by him on the LDS migration from Nauvoo to Salt Lake that was fascinating.

    • Oh yes! And Angle of Repose — such thoughtful and beautifully written stories!

    • I totally agree! One of the best books I’ve ever read (twice).
      Also want to recommend “The Whistling Season” by Alvin Doig. Brilliant!

  • I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. So good and well written. Where the Crawdads Sing is good. I also loved Everyone Brave is Forgiven. One of my all time favorites is: All the Light You Cannot See. There are so many good books and authors to read. I do like the mysteries of Charles Todd and Louise Penny.

    • I love all of your recommendations that you have listed here. Amor Towles is an acquaintance of ours!

  • Anything by Elinor Lipman. The Maisie Dobbs series starting with the first, Maisie Dobbs. Life Among the Savages and the sequel Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson.

    • Also forgot A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Or watch the movie though as usual book is better. (Promise this is the last second thought)

      • Love all of Frederik Backman’s book. Wonderful author.

    • I forgot to second Chet & Bernie series by Spencer Quinn!

  • I’ve decided to go back and live in the ’20s for a little while. You know, post-pandemic? I’m currently reading “The Maze at Windermere” (which counts because it is set in Newport, even though none of its multiple time lines are in the ’20s). August reading: “Tender is the Night” and “Z.”

  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood.
    Gorgeous thoughtful writing.

    • Been waiting so long at the library for this one…

    • And funny as hell.

  • I re-read the Others series by Anne Bishop and am now loving the Redclaw Security series by McKenna Dean. Modern worlds with a twist! I also started The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I find having multiple books/genres going helps my brain.

  • Any of the many books by Maeve Binchy. Great for a total escape read!! I love how you feel like you know all of her characters by the time you finish the story. I have read them all several times each.

    • Tara Road and Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice are my two favorite comfort books. Read both multiple times!

      • Pilcher’s Shell Seekers is a favorite of mine.

  • Recent recommended reads:

    Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Don’t let the title (or page count) scare you. This is a delightfully written and thought provoking piece of work on how we got from the savannah to Suburbia..

    The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson. Interesting tale set in 1930s Kentucky, involving FDR’s Packhorse Librarians project, which you may have heard of, and the odd-but-true “Blue People” of Kentucky which you provably haven’t!

    Things I Learned from Knitting (Whether I Wanted to or Not), by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. This was a re-read for me, and a welcome respite from the gloom & doom of the day.

  • I discovered Michael Connelly’s “Jack McEvoy” character. 3 books so far. Also loved Connelly’s “Murder Book” podcast.

  • I am re-reading Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men and the whole Tiffany Aching series for the umpteenth time. Highly recommend! For me the ultimate comfort reading. I recommend any of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld novels, especially those with Granny Weatherwax.

    • Sourdough by Robin Sloane! Hilarious novel about… culture.

  • Thanks for the reading recommendations. I am going to try the books! I would recommend the Paradox series by Rachel Bach. it is about a ‘kick ass’ young woman, Devi, that I really came to admire. She’s a mercenary but she cares for people and is the only one who can figure out how to save another woman held against her wishes for years. She has strong moral values and I just plain enjoyed her and the three books.

  • What a great article! I love reading lists of books. And , I love mystery series. My suggestions for these times include the Three Pines series by Louise Penny, the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, the Inspector Lorimer series by Alex Gray, anything by Peter May. Also, it can be fun to reread childhood classics; some hold up very well (Anne of Green Gables) and some not so much ( Little Women is way more preachy than I remembered, but I still love the March sisters).

  • Ok, my two favourite series of all time are Joanne Harris’ chocolat quartet and Manda Scott’s Boudica quartet (there is another quartet that loosely follows on but I didn’t enjoy them quite as much). Both those ladies also have a few thrillers in their back catalogues too.

    For anyone who likes fantasy then all of N. K. Jemisin’s trilogies are outstanding. Definitely my current favourites. Her newest book, The City We Became, is the first of a trilogy set in a dystopian present day New York. It’s really great, if a little close to the knuckle sometimes.

    I read a ton, at least two books a week, but have a tendency to forget names of books and authors quite quickly afterwards. I keep meaning to start a reading journal so I can be better at remembering so I can be better at recommending to others. One day I might even manage it lol.

    • N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is amazing. So well written with fascinating world building and character development. I have read a LOT of science fiction and fantasy and have never read anything like this. I will have to check out her other books, thank you!

    • I loved Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, amazing memoir, a page turner.

  • Tracy Chevalier’s new book Stolen Thread is fabulous! Also try Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and the very retro Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson.

    • If you liked Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, you should check her other novels. They are all very different. Caleb’s Crossing is lovely – Puritans in Massachusetts and the first Native American to go to Harvard. I had trouble with her novel March – the story of the father in Little Women when he goes to war. I loved the original so much, I couldn’t bear to see anything changed.

      For lighter reading, try Patricia Wentworth – she created an early detective named Miss Silver, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Starting in England in the 1920’s and continuing after WWII…

  • Mysteries set in Shetland by Marsali Taylor
    Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh
    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and its sequel The Love Song of Miss Queenie by Rachel Joyce
    Old Filth by Jane Gardam
    An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

  • I started reading James Patterson’s “Women’s Murder Club” books. I got the ebooks from our library and read each of them in 2 or 3 days! I’m getting the 17th now and there are 20 so far.
    Also just read “The WIves” by Tarryn Fischer. First part is slow, but wow……..the last half!
    Anyone who watched the PBS series “Home Fires” upset that they cancelled the series can follow the villagers in 2 books by show creator Simon Block. Excellent

  • Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, my absolute favorite. True story that is a page burner,

  • I don’t read much fiction – probably leftover from getting a lit degree. But I highly recommend The First 15 Lives of Harry August. The Doomsday Book was also pretty good (the medieval part of the story was great). I love narrative non-fiction like Erik Larson’s Dead Wake. A favorite book (fiction, sort of ghost story) is House of Leaves. Currently I’m knee deep in history books and requisite current events reading.

  • I put Deacon King Kong on hold at the library before the pandemic. Finally got to pick it up a few weeks ago. As expected from any book by James McBride, it was a treat. I’m in need for some ethics tune-up and a fun read with mystery, so I’m starting the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. And, on the educate myself side of things, I’m reading How to be Antiracist.

  • City of Lights! Trust me on this. So many great tales rolled into one. Worlds Fair, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, beginnings of electric power, a US President, portrayal of all class structures in a city woman-headed school + more that would be spoilers.

  • The Dutch House, Ann Pattchett. An easy read but it’s Patchette so there’s some there there. Many think Bel Canto better, I read it too long ago to remember.

    A Gentleman in Moscow. Excellent escape Into a wonderful novel and a different time and place. I think they may be making a movie, I won’t be watching because the book too good, so I don’t want it ruined.

  • Overstory, by Richard Powers. Yes, I know it’s very thick but Wow, the prose and images transported me to heights (and I mean heights). It made me want to go outside and hug many trees.

  • Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner, Century trilogy by Ken Follett, anything by Stewart O’Nan.

  • Thank you EVERYONE for these suggestions! I am looking forward to months of goodness now <3.

    Just wanted to plug Denise Mina for the Scottish detective fiction lovers here, of which there appear to be quite a few. Her work is mostly quite dark ("tartan noir"), and I recommend the trilogy starting with Garnethill. In a lighter vein, her most recent work is Conviction, a very witty social-media-informed sorta-spoof of the Girl in a Dark Dark Train Compartment genre. With a true-crime podcast theme. Loved it.

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