Books that feel like a warm hug

After the book equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate? Something so endearing you can’t help but smile? Here are our favourite cosy, comforting reads.

Image credit: Flynn Shore/Penguin

Sometimes we read to be entertained, sometimes we read to learn more, and sometimes, every once in a while, we want to read something that simply makes us feel warm and cosy inside. These are the books that gently transport us away from the world, and into someone else’s; the books that have a surefooted happiness at the end.

There’s some seriously comforting reading to be done in the titles below, perfect if you’re looking to while away the hours on a cold winter’s day.

The best cosy and comforting books to read

Young Cristabel Seagrave loves stories, but she never quite finds somebody like her in the books in her family library. But when a whale suddenly washes up on the shore of her family's estate, she vows to live her life with renewed self-determination, self-educating with her siblings until their reach adulthood and the world approaches the precipice of wartime. Suddenly, writing their own story has never been more pressing. Told with great humour and humanity, this is the kind of story that lives in your mind for ages, long after the fire's gone out and the rest of the house has gone to bed.

There’s an unspoken rule that you shouldn’t speak to strangers on public transport. But what would happen if you did? That is the premise of The People on Platform 5. The story follows Iona, who boards the same train to work every day and has private nicknames for her fellow commuters. But when one of the passengers saves someone’s life, the passengers’ relationships with each other are forever changed, and Iona learns she might have been too quick to judge these strangers on their appearances.

The People on Platform 5 looks at what happens when strangers make time for each other, and it’s equal parts warm, witty and moving.

At 85, Veronica McCreedy's daily schedule is fairly quiet - and predictable. She likes to collect litter, she is often having to locate her glasses, and she loves a wildlife documentary. But she doesn't have much in the way of company: Veronica lives at home, alone. Until, that is, she decides to go on an adventure of a lifetime, showing that ambition and new horizons can take hold, no matter your age. This gorgeous book is funny and heartwarming.

In Bonnie Garmus’ hit debut novel, Elizabeth Zott is an intelligent, independent-minded chemist in 1960s America who is forced out of the job she loves. But when she is offered a job hosting a television cookery programme, Supper at Six, Zott inspires a revolution in her female viewers. While Zott faces a series of heart-breaking, enraging obstacles, she stays strong in the face of adversity. Her strength of character combined with the book’s charming tone and its feel-good message, make this a heart-warming read.

This debut from Irish writer Delaney may not initially seem all that comforting: the opening pages show a life of frustration for its delectable first-person narrator, Mary Rattigan, who grows up too soon against a backdrop of The Troubles. But for all the conflict – at home and on the streets – Before My Actual Heart Breaks moves compellingly into something more heartfelt, an unconventional love story that shows the value of a chosen family and the power of perseverance in hard times.

The premise of Joyce's follow-up to The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (and, before that, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) may sound far from comforting - an unlikely mission to discover a beetle so rare it may not even exist - but the bestselling author knows how to imbue a grand narrative with irresistable humanity. Journey, adventure and a delightful poignancy are steeped into Miss Benson's Beetle, about two "leftover women" defying social stereotype to find courage and conviction in themselves. A gorgeous reinvention of the Girl's Own Adventure. 

If you're after some consolation, but don't fancy fiction, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer's best-selling examination of the outdoor world and our interaction with it may do the trick. Kimmerer draws on a life lived as an indigenous scientist to share the kind of facts about too-often overlooked natural occurrences – such as moss, or fungi – in a beautifully soothing way, that will make you think afresh about your footprints in the world and how you live in it.

Sally is a script writer for weekly comedy show The Night Owls, so she’s used to working with a revolving door of big-name celebrities. But when handsome popstar Noah Brewster is the show’s guest of honour, she finds herself oddly starstruck and – to her confusion – senses chemistry between them. A moment of callous deflection on Sally’s part causes them to part ways on a sour note, but when she gets an unexpected email from Noah months later, sparks begin to fly again. Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, this is a heart-warming novel about overcoming cynicism and heartbreak, and finding connection in unlikely places.

If you’re familiar with Townsend’s utterly brilliant creation, consider this a prompt to read her books again. If not, you’re in for a treat: Adrian Mole may have become a household name for an Inbetweeners-prototype, but his diaries offer an unexpectedly poignant – and funny – insight into the human condition. For those who consume the first one in one giddy afternoon, good news: Townsend wrote seven more, charting the journey through Mole’s life and adulthood.

This latest novel from the author of How Should a Person Be? and Motherhood is as much creation and fable as it is a novel about a woman whose life's possibilities are blown wide open first by love and then by the death of her father – the latter of which turns our protagonist into a leaf for a good portion of the novel. It sounds weird, but in Heti's capable hands and inviting prose, it feels just right to let go and immerse yourself in when you need to feel connection to something.

Gang matriarch Nellie Coker has just returned from a stint in prison, determined to protect her six children and their network of lavish clubs from their ever-growing enemies. Gwendolen Kelling is also on a mission – to find her friend’s missing daughters. She knows little about London and what it takes to get what you want in this city, but she’s determined to try.

Shrines of Gaiety is an immersive and heady cocktail of a book that transports you to a decedent 1920s Soho establishment with a host of witty and brave characters. You won’t want to stop reading!  

Called "a big hearted story about friendship, family and love," this romcom follows 31-year-old, single South Londoner Yinka, who is looking for love – but not as hard as her mother is, or her aunties are, on her behalf. Yet, as she launches 'Operation Find A Date For Rachel's Wedding', Yinka begins to find that her search might bear different fruit altogether – is she actually looking for... herself? Warm and funny, this debut novel wraps its arms around you, which might be just what you were looking for when you cracked its spine.

The perfect book for those who have found themselves a little out of love with reading lately: not only is Jojo Moyes's tale of horseback librarians (a real thing, in Depression-era America) a brilliant adventure, but an ode to the power of books themselves. Also in this bestselling novel: unforgettable female friendships, love lost (and won) and some beautifully journies through the Kentucky wilderness. Bliss.

Few authors manage to suck the reader into the heart of a fictional family like Emma Straub, who makes skipping through generations of love stories and fallouts look easy. All Adults Here comes from a resolution made by 68-year-old Astrick Strick, a widow who vows to make amends for the way she raised her children. But now they’ve flown the nest, will they be as keen? Straub’s a brilliant writer for capturing the sense of a place – her previous novel, Modern Lovers, brought Brooklyn brilliantly to life. All Adults Here is set in Upstate New York, so be prepared for some wholesome new territory.

If you like your comfort comedic, then The Flip Side offers both. The concept of Bailey’s novel is simple: in the wake of a break-up, his protagonist Josh decides that life must be dictated by one thing alone – a coin toss. What happens if you leave everything to chance? In this case, a journey around the world and a chaotic chance at a happy-ever-after. The book version of a Richard Curtis film.

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