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20 Feel-Good Books to Get You Through Tough Times

No matter how the world has got you down, these feel-good books are bound to brighten your day

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Feel-good books for a mood boost

Whew! It’s been a tumultuous few years, and you (and likely everyone you know) have been through it. If you’re looking for a way to slow down, relax and feel better, reach for your next read. While horror books may put you on edge and dystopian fiction can hit a little too close to home, there are plenty of feel-good books that’ll help you forget your worries from the first page until you hit the end.

What’s more, reading is important for your brain and IQ and can even lower stress levels by transporting you away from your troubles and into a new world. Reading also fuels empathy—something the world could use a bit more of—especially when you read fiction, which allows you to engage with characters’ emotions and helps you better understand your own. The benefits are even better when you read aloud. So consider sharing feel-good books with your kids or anyone else in your life who could use a good story.

What books make you feel good?

We’ve assembled a list of books with happy endings, uplifting themes and characters whose optimism, even in the face of difficulty, will inspire you. All the best books and stories have conflict (just like life), but it’s the way feel-good books handle the discord that matters most.

The best sci-fi books and fantasy books usually engage with strife and struggle, but they also immerse you in imaginary lands and transport you there along with characters who triumph. The best beach reads and romance novels may elicit a tear or two, but they’re usually the kind that make you feel good. The books on our list include bestsellers adapted into TV shows and movies, classics, award-winners, debuts with scores of five-star reviews and cozy reads that make you feel warm and fuzzy. They’re not free of conflict, but you know that in the end things will be OK. And so will you.

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1. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Top your stack of feel-good books with this adorably funny royal romance that’ll have you smiling as you flip the pages. With a movie adaptation on the way, now is a good time to read (or reread) one of the most popular LGBTQ+ books of recent years (it came out in 2019). The president’s son finds himself in a scandalous brouhaha with the Prince of Wales. It’s a public relations mess for their families, who force them to play nice. It gets juicier when the men fall for each other—and try to keep their love under wraps.

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2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote early feminist books that chronicled the limiting choices for women during England’s Georgian era. In this 1813 enemies-to-lovers romance, heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters have a conundrum: They have to get married to survive because the law forbids them from inheriting their father’s estate, but the prospect is tricky when love and money are intertwined. Austen lets these oppressions play out against a backdrop of witty courtship and suspenseful romance. Pride and Prejudice is one of the great feel-good books for hopeless romantics because Lizzie first falls for Mr. Wrong but ends up with the right love on her own terms.

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3. The Maid by Nita Prose

If you’re looking for the best fiction books of 2022, don’t miss The Maid, a mega-bestseller that’s being adapted into a feature film. This fast-paced mystery is the ultimate mood-lifter to curl up with at the beach, in your go-to reading nook or pretty much anywhere else. Follow a young maid, Molly, whose tidy obsessions fit well with her job in a glitzy hotel. When she stumbles into a guest suite with a dead body in it, she finds herself the suspect and will have to use her powers of observation to get to the truth.

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4. By the Book by Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory’s bestselling romances are some of the most popular books by Black authors, and the swoonworthy stories are guaranteed to lift your spirits. Her latest novel, 2022’s By the Book, offers a delightfully sweet and wholesome update of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Meet Isabelle, an overworked assistant at Tale as Old as Time publishing house who personally checks in on a star author who hasn’t delivered an awaited manuscript. Instead of a brilliant writer, she finds a man who’s sullen and withdrawn (maybe even a little beastly!). He sends her away with a shout, but when she twists her ankle, she’s forced to stay, and things get complicated, cozy and rosy.

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5. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

This stunning and bestselling 2022 debut novel is narrated by an octopus named Marcellus. You’ll fall for this contemplative, brilliant voice, a “remarkably bright creature” imprisoned in an aquarium after his capture from his ocean home. Marcellus takes to a grieving woman who works in the facility at night and whose tragic losses he laments and aims to soothe. This is one of those feel-good books that brims with sensitivity and rises above the sentimental as it touches your heart. Fans of cozy mysteries will want to scoop this up.

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6. Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Bibliophiles, fans of classic books and book club hosts, this one’s for you. Published in 2020, Meet Cute Club is dedicated to “anyone turning to romance for an escape,” and author Jack Harbon promises “we’ll get through this.” Sounds like the definition of a feel-good book, right? Immerse yourself in a sweet romance that follows Jordan, an obsessive romance reader in charge of a book club who’s sworn off of love. Then the cute book store employee who makes fun of his taste in reading shows up at the club, and sparks fly. This one is captivating, funny and totally adorable.

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7. The Martian by Andy Weir

We know what you’re thinking: There’s no way a novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars could be one of the best feel-good books of all time. But Andy Weir’s funny and addictive writing turns the worst circumstances imaginable into a funny and upbeat story. Published in 2011, The Martian tells the tale of an astronaut abandoned on Mars after crew members mistakenly leave him for dead on the harsh red planet. He finds a way to survive in an uninhabitable world and communicates with Earth despite impossible circumstances. It’s also one of the best audiobooks, with a charming narration by Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton.

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8. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is the YA book for anyone who “imagines being kissed about a hundred times a day,” just like charming narrator Charlie. She’s relentlessly teased for her size, and her mother won’t stop pushing weight-loss shakes on her. She struggles with building a sense of self-worth in a world with different expectations of what a female body should look like. This is a realistic, relatable story about friendship that’ll appeal to teen readers as well as adults. Racking up a list of awards, it was one of the most acclaimed books by Latinx authors of 2021.

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9. The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The Voting Booth is a breezy, uplifting 2020 teen romance with an affirming story about voting rights and activism at the center. After working for months to get out the vote, 18-year-old Marva is prepared and excited for her first day in the voting booth. But her enthusiasm dims when she sees Duke, who’s registered to vote, get turned away at the polling station. The two teens band together to make sure his vote is counted and find themselves falling for each other along the way. This is an upbeat presentation of civic duty and pride. Read it for a feel-good dose of social activism along with these timely books about race relations in America.

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10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

If you’re looking for addictive, feel-good Asian American books, turn to Helen Hoang. Her 2018 bestseller, The Kiss Quotient, will pull you in from the first witty pages. This love story is filled with humor and charm. Meet Stella, a single woman with Asperger’s syndrome who’s a virtuoso with data but far less skilled when it comes to love. She comes up with the perfect solution: hire a male escort to teach her the art of French kissing (and other assorted love languages). When you’re done, check out Hoang’s other smile-inducing novels.

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11. The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon

This witty romance was one of the top books for women in 2020, and it’s the first novel in Farrah Rochon’s Boyfriend Project trilogy romances. After a no-good guy catfishes Samiah and two other women, the trio goes viral. The three become best buds and, together, swear off romance. Of course, that’s when love falls in her lap. This is a zippy, fun novel that focuses as much on friendship and career as it does on navigating love and figuring out how and whom to trust along the way.

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12. Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

If you’re looking for sharp, supernatural thriller books or are a fan of the dark academia genre, pick up Sarah Gailey’s fast-paced 2019 mystery, which is set in a school for magicians. Intrepid heroine Ivy arrives at the academy where her sister works to investigate a murder. They’re estranged twins, both with secrets and their own forms of power and sorcery. It’s a fun, suspenseful world to dive into and will hold your interest until the final pages.

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13. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone collaborated on this 2019 epistolary novel, each writing letters from the point of one of the protagonists. Red and Blue are interstellar rivals trying to win the best future for their faction. You’ll get sucked into a mind-bending romance as Red and Blue travel through time and dimensions, leaving letters for each other. It’s an acclaimed, Hugo Award–winning sci-fi novel with a striking love story and thrilling adventure at the center. Get ready for captivating world-building and an inspiring emotional wallop.

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14. Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas

If you’re looking for a beautiful book about friendship or a children’s book about diversity, pick up R. Eric Thomas’s YA novel, which came out in May 2022. It’s a new take on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that follows two queer besties who must say goodbye when one learns he’s moving out of state. As a send-off, the two high-schoolers go on a one-day adventure through the city of Baltimore, squeezing in all the things they’ll miss when they’re apart. This is a funny, uplifting, sweet tale about the inspired love at the core of all great friendships.

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15. No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

This heartwarming 2017 novel offers richly drawn, relatable characters you’ll find yourself rooting for as they search for connection in a lonely world. Author Rakesh Satyal weaves together the story of two Indian Americans and the people around them with comedy and nuance. Ranjana is a new empty-nester who secretly writes erotic fan fiction. Harit is a middle-aged man living with his elderly, grieving mother. Both experience a sense of isolation that they traverse in a story that’s witty and deeply moving at once.

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16. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Author Joshua Whitehead describes his 2017 novel as a love letter to his great-gran and a story for Indigenous youth and their many underrepresented identities and experiences. Whitehead writes with striking originality and brilliant, spellbinding language as he recounts the story of a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer person who’s facing returning home for a funeral after immersion in city life and cybersex work to pay the bills. Like many books by Native American authors, Jonny Appleseed gives voice to First Nations peoples with wisdom and stunning beauty.

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17. This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Emma Straub’s latest release is the must-read time-travel book of 2022. The compulsively readable story combines science fiction with heart-wrenching family drama when a woman travels back to age 16, long before her beloved father became sick. It’s a novel that tackles the question “What if?” as it journeys to the past, indulging in the universal desire to consider what you would change if only you could. This is a heartwarming story about a woman’s relationship with her dad—a nice companion to these mother-daughter books.

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18. Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Described as a “boy-meets-boy spin on Grease,” this 2020 hit is charming and delightful. If you’re looking for feel-good books about friendship, give this YA novel a try. When Only Mostly Devastated opens, Ollie has been uprooted from his old life and plopped into a new school across the country. The same school Will—the summer crush who ghosted him—also attends. But Will’s no longer acting like the kind boy Ollie fell for; now, he’s a back-in-the-closet bully. Get caught up in a sweet story with themes about learning to be yourself.

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19. West Side Love Story by Priscilla Oliveras

This gorgeous retelling of Romeo and Juliet, published in June 2022, is one of many feel-good books from the romance genre. Priscilla Oliveras reworks the classic tale of forbidden love with page-turning passion. Set in modern-day San Antonio, West Side Love Story follows Mariana and Angelo, who come from rival families that have been feuding for decades. The two would-be sweethearts find themselves caught up in the community’s Battle of the Mariachi Bands event on different sides of the fierce competition, and things heat up. Bonus: If you’re a subscriber, you can save money by getting it on Kindle Unlimited.

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20. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This 2017 page-turner merges modern mystery with historical fiction as it recounts the life of a famous movie star, Evelyn, alongside the story of the journalist who’s summoned to interview her. Despite the harrowing accounts of heartbreak, illness and loss, this is a gripping novel with a huge fan base. Evelyn seems like an idealized sex symbol with a tragic love life and a parade of husbands. But the love of her life is actually a woman, and it’s that story and the mystery at its center that will take hold and woo you until the very end, leaving you breathless, transported and likely very emotional.

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Molly Pennington, PhD
Molly is a writer and collage artist with a PhD in film and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional astrology services and artwork are available at Baroque Moon Astrology. She covers the zodiac, books, movies, TV and culture for Reader’s Digest, and loves to talk about all the ways we make meaning.