Today’s theme is Books Guaranteed to Make You Smile. I’ve made lists like this before – Books That Make Me Smile, Laugh-Out-Loud Reads, and Gentle Books For Trying Times – but I noticed that I often recommend the same few books over and over, so I worked hard to put together a list of books I’ve not featured in this kind of list before!
And there’s quite a variety, so I hope everyone finds something to make them smile here 🙂Battle Royal (Palace Insiders, #1) by Lucy Parker
Representation: Asexual secondary character
Beloved author Lucy Parker pens a delicious new romantic comedy that is a battle of whisks and wits.
Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.
Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.
When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.
The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.
In this royal battle, can there be room for two?
It’s not spec-fic! Not even a little!!! Well, okay, one of the protagonists (I bet you can guess which) runs a fairyland-themed bakery with a dark-enchanted-forest bar in the basement, but that’s as close to anything SFF as it gets. I don’t care: this was so much fun, and if parts of it made me tear up (because FEELS) it also made me laugh, and beam, a lot. Of course there’s some drama, but it’s a feel-good romance with CAKES, and I can vouch for it being excellently written! One of my favourites of the year, actually, contemporary or not!The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard
Representation: Polynesian-coded MC and secondary characters, brown cast
An impulsive word can start a war.
A timely word can stop one.
A simple act of friendship can change the course of history.
Cliopher Mdang is the personal secretary of the Last Emperor of Astandalas, the Lord of Rising Stars, the Lord Magus of Zunidh, the Sun-on-Earth, the god.
He has spent more time with the Emperor of Astandalas than any other person.
He has never once touched his lord.
He has never called him by name.
He has never initiated a conversation.
One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.
The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.
Hands of the Emperor is a very different book – it’s big and long and there’s a fair bit of magic, and it covers many things, but it is fundamentally a book that will make you glow. There is so much…so much goodness in this book, so much earnest but not naive optimism, so much determination to make the world better…and it’s not any kind of dystopia, there’s no violence, the struggle is hard but not that kind of hard, but it’s a struggle that succeeds, over and over again. It’s soothing. It’s soul-stirring. It gave me goosebumps and made me cry but cry with joy, with sheer perfect happiness, so yes, it will also make you smile. Smiling is the least of it.
This is a book that will stay with me forever, and I urge you to give it a try.Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley
Genres: Sci Fi
Mars, the Red Planet, farthest flung outpost of the British Empire. Under the benevolent reign of the Empress Eternal, commerce and culture are flourishing along the banks of the great canals, and around the shores of the crater lakes. But this brave new world is not as safe as it might seem. The Russians, unhappy that Venus has proved far less hospitable, covet Britain’s colony. And the Martian creatures, while not as intelligent and malevolent as HG Wells had predicted, are certainly dangerous to the unwary.
What, then, of the young girls of the Martian colony? Their brothers might be sent to Earth for education at Eton and Oxbridge, but girls are made of sterner stuff. Be it unreasonable parents, Russian spies, or the deadly Martian wildlife, no challenge is beyond the resourceful girls of the Crater School.
BOARDING SCHOOL ON MARS. Do you really need to hear anything else?! This is one of those books that is very easy to read, that is relaxing to read – nothing really bad happens or could happen, there are only adventurous shenanigans, and there’s something about low-stakes shenanigans that is just wonderful, isn’t there? When you’re in a certain kind of mood? It’s fun and not so complicated, but still with clever, whimsical worldbuilding and enough going on to keep you engaged.
I loved it, and you can read my review here!One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Representation: Bisexual MC, lesbian Asian-American love interest, F/F or wlw, trans secondary character, Black secondary character, Jewish secondary character, secondary M/M or mlm, queer cast
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue comes a new romantic comedy that will stop readers in their tracks...
For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.
This book won’t just make you smile, it IS a smile – the brightest smile ever, lighting up the whole of NYC. It’s funny and relatable and is gloriously queer, and the romance is swoonworthy, and literally everything about this is perfect, okay? EVERYTHING.
Which I could not do justice to in my review, but hey, I tried!His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik
Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
Yes, this is a book about the Napoleonic Wars + dragons – but the dragons make an ENORMOUS difference, and no, I don’t mean in the military sense (although they do that too). The dragons are people, with their own personalities and likes and dislikes and Opinions, and Temeraire, who is the Main and Also Best Dragon, is utterly charming. UTTERLY. I defy you not to adore him, and his questions about and takes on humans, which are delightful and hilarious. He will win you over in seconds and you’ll spend the rest of the series smiling at him, as you should!A Civil Campaign (Vorkosigan Saga, #12) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Representation: Disabled MC
Genres: Sci Fi
Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won't do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan... Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles' brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan... Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Mile's cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan...
A complex story, as the various members of Miles' family attempt to find their one true love, and a measure of destiny. This against a background of domestic political squabbles and an earnest attempt at capitalist enterprise.
True, A Civil Campaign is a book plucked out of the middle of a long-running series – but I think it would work perfectly well as a standalone; although you’d probably enjoy seeing Miles all flustered more if you knew him better, the book contains all you need to know. The sci fi elements are pretty light; it’s effectively a regency romance, with a hero who’s far too smart for his own good and a heroine who is also brilliant – enough to see right through him. There’s drama, and a few scares, but you know it’s all going to end well, and it does. Definitely a guaranteed-smile book!
(And no, that’s not them on the cover – that’s the Emperor and the new Empress getting married. I felt like that needed saying.)The Little Queen by Meia Geddes
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
When her mother and father pass away, the little queen must figure out how to be a little queen. And so she begins her adventures, journeying away from her palace and into the world to determine how she should go about going on. The little queen soon encounters numerous folks who teach her a thing or two: the book sniffer, the dream writer, and the architect of silence are just a few. Along the way, the little queen finds friendship, love, and meaning in being a leader in her world. The Little Queen is a magical exploration of self-discovery, vocation, community, and home.
This is a Soft book – you know, the kind that are dreamy and more than a little odd, but in whimsical way. And it’s a little bit sad – the Little Queen only becomes queen because her parents have died, after all. But her journey of discovery includes Fish Rescuers and Sleep Soothers and Dream Writers, Plant Whisperers and Season Painters and Animal Singers – all kinds of wonderful people doing strange and wonderful things, and it’s all very soothing and sweet. And even in my e-copy, the illustrations are beautiful!Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (Winner Bakes All, #1) by Alexis Hall
Representation: Bisexual MC, Desi secondary character
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.
Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.
Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.
IT’S ANOTHER BAKING BOOK! Well, yes – apparently baking romances are my thing now??? I actually read this one before Battle Royal, and I picked it up because it’s by Alexis Hall and I will read anything he chooses to write, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun! There is drama and some angst, yes, but there are also so many hilarious moments and uplifting, celebratory, triumphant ones too. I’d be shocked if you didn’t smile at LEAST ten gazillion times by the end!Paladin's Grace (The Saint of Steel, #1) by T. Kingfisher
Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year…
Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters a fugitive named Grace in an alley and witnesses an assassination attempt gone wrong. Now the pair must navigate a web of treachery, beset on all sides by spies and poisoners, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind…
From the Hugo and Nebula Award winning author of Swordheart and The Twisted Ones comes a saga of murder, magic, and love on the far side of despair.
You can always count on Ursula Vernon/TK Kingfisher’s books to make you smile (well, except possibly her horror??? It’s the one book of hers I haven’t read, so I can’t say whether it’s a smiles-guaranteed book), and the Saint of Steel duology is no exception. It’s set in the same verse as Clockwork Boys and Swordheart, but you don’t need to have read either to enjoy the hell out of these! The first one features a socially awkward perfume-maker crossing ways with a paladin who has no idea how to be romantic as they both get caught up in Conspiracy and Murder; the second presents a suave paladin of the same order and a nun who takes no nonsense and does not need to, who finish up the last of the Conspiracy as they go along. Both are hysterically funny, interspersed with painfully, joyfully realistic human moments, and if you haven’t read them yet, you really need to.
You can read my review of book one here!
With a strange, otherworldly style, poetic clarity, and striking honesty, Ask Baba Yaga contains beautifully skewed wisdom to be consulted in times of need.
Dear Baba Yaga,
I think I must crave male attention too much. I fear that, without it, I would feel invisible.
When you seek others this way, you are invisible nonetheless. Yr shawl is covered in mirrors in which others admire themselves; this is why they greet you so passionately. It is good to be seen, but it is better to see. Find a being to look hard into, & you will see yrself and what is more than you.
In age-old Slavic fairy tales, the witch Baba Yaga is sought out by those with a burning need for guidance. In contemporary life, Baba Yaga—a dangerous, slippery oracle—answered earnest questions on The Hairpin for years. These pages collect her most poignant, surreal, and humorous exchanges along with all-new questions and answers for those seeking her mystical advice.
This is a book that will make you smile in a very different way, I think. It’s not funny, and it’s not trying to be; it is weird and wild and strange. It’s exactly what it promises – otherworldly advice for everyday troubles. It’s a beautiful little book, and it will make you think, and find your own wildness again, if you happen to have misplaced it. It’s a book I’m very happy to have found, and I hope you find it too if you need it.
So there we have it – 10 Books Sure to Make You Smile! Let me know if you decide to give any of these a try!