‘Uplifting’ in a book means lots of things to me - and it often includes a good cry. If a book is beautifully written, even if the subject matter is grim, that does it for me. Or romance. I’m a sucker for a tale of true love – particularly if there’s a nice dollop of anguish along the way. Then there are stories about people overcoming terrible odds, such as illness, hardship, disability, torture or war. I’m definitely not a brave person, and I stand in absolute awe of those who are. And I love books about people who start off being nasty, then gradually realise the error of their ways and find redemption. Finally, I can’t resist a well-written cookbook. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, but even reading about a deliciously lemony, succulent roast chicken with crispy skin will lift my mood in a heartbeat.

The Bridges of Madison County

Robert James Waller

This is the perfect romance. It’s short, taking place over just four days. And because of that, it’s perfectly formed. Francesca, an Iowa farmer’s wife, and Robert, a National Geographic photographer - who meet when he’s looking for directions to a covered bridge he has to photograph when Francesca’s husband is away at the State Fair – don’t have time to argue about the tiresome stuff, such as who puts out the bins or picks up the kids from school.

They dance in the kitchen to a song on the radio, they make love in the field behind the house, she goes with him at dusk to photograph the bridge. It’s an instant, magical connection that neither of them understands, but both understand completely. And then they never see each other again. But, for the rest of their lives, the love lives on in both their hearts. You will probably cry, but honestly, it’s the right outcome – despite the sadness – because she has a family and he is a wandering nomad who will never be happily tied down.

All The Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

I ‘read’ this as an audio book, which worked for me. I won’t allow myself to listen to audio books in the house, so if I’m enjoying a book, I’m forced to go out for a walk – rain or shine – in order to hear the next chapter. This one upped my step count by thousands.

Set in occupied France in World War II, it’s the parallel stories of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan boy, Werner, whose lives are turned upside down by the war. Their paths eventually collide and a powerful connection develops between them. But it’s not about sex or relationships, it’s about how people find friendship – care deeply for each other – in times of trouble.

Doerr writes beautifully, and his description of how these two young people cope so stoically with the dire hand they’ve been dealt – Marie-Laure’s blindness and Werner’s orphan status - in a war-torn world is extremely poignant.

The Selfish Giant, from The Happy Prince and Other Tales

Oscar Wilde

I used to read this to my daughters when they were young, and I could never, ever get through it without a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It has religious overtones, and I’m not religious, but this doesn’t detract from a brilliantly told and moving tale of redemption.

The giant is very selfish – obvs! – but also a touching figure, his desire to keep the children out of his garden not unfamiliar in today’s world: “My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” But without the children, there is gloomy, perpetual winter in the garden, which drives the giant to despair.

The children finally manage to sneak in through a hole in the wall, and instantly spring comes back, in all its glory. The giant, amazed and enchanted, helps a little boy into one of the trees, and in doing so, realises how selfish he’s been. I defy any of you to read this and not tear up, just a little, for the lumbering, selfish giant.

Roast Chicken and Other Stories

Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham. Illustrations by Flo Bayley

This book is a delight. I don’t have to actually cook the recipes – although I do, sometimes – but just reading Hopkinson’s comments on food and cooking is entertaining and comforting in equal measure. There are no photographs, but Flo Bayley’s illustrations would bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Good cooking, Hopkinson claims, ‘… depends on two things: common sense and good taste.’ He even has an egg sauce recipe. You’ve probably no idea what egg sauce is. My mum used to make it to go with our fish fingers and peas. Simon calls it ‘old-fashioned’, and he’s not wrong, but he also says we shouldn’t turn our noses up because of that. There are recipes, for example, for delicious olive oil mash and anchovy and onion tart, but his roast chicken makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Me Before You

Jojo Moyes

Writers are often asked to sum up their new novel in a couple of sentences. And I’m wondering if Moyes found this a bit of a challenge with Me Before You. Because, on the surface, her book sounds a tad depressing: Will, a young guy with everything to live for, gets hit by a motorbike and becomes a quadriplegic. Lou, a bubbly local girl, is hired as his companion. They fall madly in love - but Will doesn’t want to live.

Not, by the sounds of it, a very cheering tale, eh? And Moyes doesn’t flinch when describing the terrible trials of Will and his loving family, assisted suicide and its ramifications and subliminally positing the question, ‘What would I do if that were me?’ But above all - despite not having a traditional happy-ever-after ending – it’s a charmingly tender, thoroughly uplifting love story which appeals on a lot of levels.

Related articles