Top Ten Tuesday: books that make me smile

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. Today we’re enthusing about books that put a smile on our faces.

I almost didn’t do this week’s prompt because I’m in a bit of a grump slump at the moment. But honestly, what better time to think about this?

I feel I ought to add here that I rarely (if ever) read comedy. Fantasy and SF written explicitly for comic effect rarely works on me, although I enjoy light-hearted genre novels, wise-cracking casts and fantasies of manner.

This led me to wondering whether there’s a difference between books that make me smile and comfort reads… and the answer is wholeheartedly yes. I take comfort in books that are objectively quite dark, but where I love the characters (and have the safety net of knowing what happens, which reduces tension on a reread); whilst there is an overlap – because of course books that make me smile can be comforting too – it is an overlap not a match.

So, what makes my list this week?

Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series is – on the face of it – not obviously my bag. A blonde ballroom dancer engaging in absurd antics in New York City whilst wearing short skirts is surely enough red flags to… completely win me over, unexpectedly. The chapter intros alone make me giggle, and the unexpected tribe of cake-eating religious talking mice cinch the deal. It’s daft, it’s light-hearted and it’s likely to be my next (re)read because I’ve been thinking about it all week. Timing, eh.

The Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell hits similar notes. Our hero is younger, so – reading this as a worldweary adult – I get to laugh at some of his teen drama, but the series hits serious notes about power structures and prejudice that I admire. Besides, it stars a wise-cracking squirrel cat who just wants to eat your eyeballs.

…in fact, the word I’m reaching for to describe Spellslinger is caper, and that might be the perfect term for figuring out what’s going to make me smile. My next pick is Stark Holborn’s latest novella, Triggernometry, where my facial muscles got a work-out from the unexpected juxtaposition of Western tropes with Mathematics.

…so, sticking with capers, three more immediately leap to mind. I remain bowled over by the amount of fun I had reading Windswept by Adam Rakunas, a cheerfully diverse megacorporate dystopia in which our grumpy heroine tries to game the labor union sign-up system so she can buy a distillery to help her manage her anxiety. Whut? Quite. Add in spies, conspiracies and snark and wait for the grins.

Nick Harkaway’s first three novels (The Gone-Away World, Angelmaker and Tigerman) also fall firmly in this territory: absurdist adventures that take off at a million miles an hour and soon have me grinning at unexpected ninja (wait, is there any other kind?) coming for your cake or bisexual octagenarian spies determined to Save The World.

Last but not least, John Scalzi’s near-future crime thrillers set in the Hadenverse are a delight. The setting provides ample opportunity for snarking at real-world issues and the plots are high-octane, but it’s the grace notes that put a smile on my face: keeping track of how many threeps Chris writes off, not to mention the witness protection cat in Head On.

My last group fall into that overlap with comfort reads: books I’ll reread endlessly, I suspect, because they give me the warm and fuzzies as well as making me grin. The Murderbot novellas delight me with Murderbot’s long-suffering insistence that humans are irritating (and need rescuing, stat) and the regular juxtaposition of how reassuring humans find this grumpy SecBot.

Zen Cho’s Regency fantasies of manners are enjoyably acid-tongued deconstructions of colonialism and prejudice, although my smiles are typically responses to how shamelessly self-serving Prunella Gentlewoman can be as she disrupts English magic.

Life-long favourite The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander sits in a similar niche to Spellslinger: the joy is in hero Taran’s difficult coming of age. It’s difficult not to grin at his often wrong-headed convictions, or Eilonwy’s understandable frustrations with them. Yes Taran, I’m laughing at you, I’m afraid – but I’m doing it with love.

I’ll award the final mention to Turning Darkness Into Light, Marie Brennan’s sort-of stand-alone / sort-of sequel to The Memoirs of Lady Trent. This is a pure character play for me: Audrey is every bit as impulsive as young Isabella, and her entirely logical responses to situations tend to escalate out of control with hilarious (if alarming) results. Consequently, she is precious and I adore her.

What books make you smile?