October 29, 2010

Retro Friday Review: The China Garden by Liz Berry

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post each week.
I'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of it. She's always dropping good recommendations here and there and I often pick up on them. This one I ran down at my local library, where they fortunately had the gorgeous cover on the right. And not the hideously awkward cover on the left. I adore the cover on the right. It's really perfect for the book itself, evoking all the adjectives that spring to my mind when I think of it: shadowy, romantic, autumnal, and somewhat foreboding. And still it holds some secrets in reserve. In fact I always think of it as a fall read. One for someone in the mood for not having the storyline and the history of the characters totally spelled out for you. For those who like figuring things out along the way and enjoy something slightly different from the standard paranormal fare that is on display so much these days. This was my first experience reading a Liz Berry book. She is an artist and author from London and, from what I can tell, her books are not widely available on this side of the pond. Always a shame.

Clare Meredith is in a bit of a holding pattern as she prepares to go off to university. Finished with her classes, awaiting exam results, she finds herself a little disconcerted to be suddenly uprooted by her mother and unceremoniously moved from London to the remote estate of Ravensmere. Her mother has taken a position as private nurse to the owner of Ravensmere--a Mr. Aylward. Making the best of her new surroundings, Clare strikes out and familiarizes herself with the people and places of nearby Stoke Raven village. It is there she meets Mark, a somewhat rakish young biker boy fetchingly clad in leather, and the two of them strike up a friendship of sorts. At the same time, her new life begins to take on an eerie tone as it appears everyone in Stoke Raven feels like they know her already. One too many people comment on being happy to have her "back" and from there the situation only gets odder as Clare's mother reveals a few pertinent details about her past and her connection with Ravensmere itself. Then Clare discovers the China Garden and she, her mother, Mark, and Mr. Ayward find themselves thrust into a headlong rush to discover the link that binds them across time to this place. 

The China Garden is part mystery, part fantasy, part historical fiction and it kept reminding me on a regular basis of a short Mary Stewart novel. Particularly Touch Not the Cat. The rambly old English estate, the family inextricably tied to the land, the ESP. Add some exploration of ancient pagan rites meets early Christianity and you have The China Garden. I liked that Clare was a little bit older at seventeen and thinking about college and somewhat more mature issues. I liked her offbeat and leisurely developing relationship with dark Mark. I enjoyed her complicated relationship with her mother. I felt like the story never pandered to me and that I never quite knew for sure how it was going to unravel. In fact, it ended up quite more intricate and grand than I was expecting. But Clare and her intent nature grounded it all for me nicely. This one does not move along at a fast clip, but unfolds slowly and on its own time table. But the descriptions of the crumbling old manor and the small village surrounding it are lovely and I, for one, didn't at all mind sliding in alongside the characters and taking it as it came. For fans of Margaret Mahy, Libba Bray, and Mary Stewart. 

Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Leafing Through Life Review
The Lit Connection Review

October 28, 2010

Vicious Pretties

Well, don't these three make you want to run for cover? After grabbing a copy of each and tucking away with them somewhere warm and cozy, of course. I don't know, I think they each look spectacular in their own way and on this fall afternoon I'm feeling like something dangerous and uncertain.

I've actually had my eye on this one for awhile now. Ever since reading an article about it in an Australian newspaper awhile back and being intrigued. Katherine Patterson's life is torn apart when her sister dies. After moving to a new town and a new school, she makes friend with a happy and vivacious girl named Alice and life begins to look up. But there are darker currents running through this friendship and not everything is as it seems. 
Out now. 

I really cannot wait to get my hands on this one. Just look at that cover. And that title! It calls out to me, you guys. It does. Details are few, but it appears this historical mystery is about a young girl whose mother has died and whose father is home from the war and struggling to start a detective agency. His daughter sets out to help him and mystery ensues. Looks like this one will be the first in a series as well. Yay! 
Due out July 19th. 

Gotta love the concept for this debut dystopian. Set in the year 2150, Nina Oberon is approaching her sixteenth birthday with more in the way of trepidation than jubilation. Everything changes when you turn sixteen and get the tattoo marking your status. Then nothing is safe. Meanwhile, Nina's mother is attacked and she's sent searching for a father she was certain was dead. You can read the first chapter here.
Due out January 6th. 

October 20, 2010

I Can't Help Myself

I have very fond memories of the Sweet Valley High books. For some time, I faithfully trekked to the bookstore every month and purchased the new one along with the latest Nancy Drew Casefile. The Super Thrillers were my favorites. And that's why I'm going to be reading this when it comes out in March:
Ten years later. Oh, the drama!

October 19, 2010

So I'm reading Outlander . . .

. . . and I'm about two-thirds of the way through. Truth? I'm not sure what I think at this point, guys. I like Claire and Jamie quite a lot. Who wouldn't? They're sort of adorable in a practical British nurse meets highland Scottish rogue way. And I love all the history and bloodlines and details of daily life and ambiance. But I kind of feel like for a book that's gone on this long, I should be feeling a bit more depth to my two leads. You know? Also. A bit less of Claire in MORTAL PERIL every time Jamie turns his back. Seriously. If I were her I'd be a basket case by now. So. I know quite a few of you have read it and I want to know why you love it. Basically, tell me why I should continue on and if this relationship gains a little more depth in between the multitude of daring rescues and swoonworthy encounters.

Star Gazing + Emotional Geology Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is . . . Jessica!

Congratulations! Just slip me a quick email with your mailing address and we'll get your books off! Thanks so much to Linda for participating in the interview and providing a copy of Emotional Geology for the giveaway. And thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments and interest in the books. I hope you all get a chance to read them at some point. You won't be disappointed! For those interested, some of your favorite spiky heroines included Elizabeth Bennett, Kate Daniels, Eve Dallas, Anita Blake, Mercy Thompson, Scarlett O'Hara, and the Queen of Attolia. 

October 15, 2010

The Last Time I'll Read Moby Dick

I've always been fond of uncles. They're big and happy and sly. They sing Bob Dylan songs off key and make up funny nicknames for you. They pull your braids and tease you in a way Dad can't quite get away with. And one of the unexpected delights of getting married was inheriting a host of new uncles. DH's family is close and I've loved spending time with his uncles and watching them interact with him and with his parents and now with our children. I'll never forget Aaron's Uncle Larry's first words to me on the day we were married. It was freezing cold and everyone was gathering around for the pictures and he came up to me, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm, saying, "You look beautiful, dear, but tell me--what are you reading?" Priorities are priorities, even on wedding days. Pleasantries aside, let's cut straight to the heart of the matter! Come to think of it, it's the only question he ever asks me. But it's the question I love best.

Uncle Larry is a retired professor of English and a  real scholar if ever there was one. On my first trip to his house, I walked slowly and quietly, perusing the books in this room and that, admiring the accumulated love for literature and thought that lined the shelves and hallways of his home. We haven't been able to spend as much time with him in the last few years, but last summer we were up his way for another wedding and managed to drop in and talk with Larry for a little while. He was out in his driveway when we pulled up, sitting in a lawn chair, reading a battered old copy of Moby Dick. When I commented on the book, he said he was reading it for his book group--a group composed of retired professors who meet every month without fail at the Fat Friar's house to discuss books. This month it was Moby Dick. Larry said it was, "the third and last time I'll read Moby Dick." His words struck me in the gut. I had never given much thought to the last time you read a book. But as a big re-reader, the notion both intrigued and terrified me.

I first read Moby Dick in college and was startled at how much I loved it. I still find myself quoting the most memorable lines to myself:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos gets such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. 
Those words never fail to call out to the wanderer in me. Whenever it is a particularly damp and drizzly November in my soul.

Closing in on 70 years old, Larry is no slouch when it comes to exercising his mind. He belongs to two study groups and a book group, and he's reread Shakespeare's entire works, as well as much of Milton, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. But with so much still to read, Larry knew it would be his last foray with Melville's classic. He told us he read it first in high school and just devoured it, read it again in college where he found it somewhat problematic in several ways, and again this last time slowly and leisurely, with the weight of experience and age behind him. I love thinking about the different things you bring to the reading experience over time. The book doesn't change, but you do and your experience of it does. The idea of closing a book and knowing you'll never read it again fills me with sadness. But, at the same time, what a wonderful coda to a life spent reading and analyzing, absorbing and admiring the written word. Here's to many more pages, Uncle Larry, and to answers old and new to that best of all questions. 

October 14, 2010

October 12, 2010

Haters to the Left

So lately I've been doing a lot of rereading. Hence the lack of new reviews. I do apologize, but I have to go where the literary whim dictates, you know? Stacks of new books and all I want to do right now is cuddle up with old friends. And so that's precisely what I've been doing and it's been blissful in the extreme, I must say. But this does not mean that I've stopped reading reviews around the blogosphere and on GoodReads. Oh, no. And I have to say I've been a bit bemused by quite a few of them lately. Maybe bemused is the wrong word. Outraged is probably too strong. Flummoxed, or even better--incredulous--would most accurately describe my feeling upon reading disparaging, even disdainful reviews of books that I love, that own a little piece of my soul. So perhaps you'll pardon me if I go on just a little bit of a rampage.

Before we go any further, let me just state for the record that everyone is entitled to her own opinion of any book. And they're entitled to state that opinion clearly and honestly in a review of the book in any forum. I strongly affirm that right.


I recently read a review on GoodReads in which the reviewer stated that she actually destroyed the book after finishing it. The reason she gave was so that no one else would accidentally come across it in a rubbish bin somewhere and, oh, say, have the abhorrent experience of reading it thrust upon them unawares. I don't know about you, but that shocked me. I sat there with my mouth hanging open. I mean, I have, in all my years of reading, thrown exactly one book against the wall because it enraged me so. And I own up to some very violent and unholy emotions with regards to that book. But that was the extent of my outburst. I then proceeded to calm down, pick it up, dust it off, and find it a good home, where it would be loved by someone with different taste from myself. Because I can still see beyond the end of my own nose. It's still a book. And therefore sacred, in my opinion. It's still someone's blood, sweat, and tears in paper form. That author lived, loved, and breathed it into existence and for that it (and she or he) have my respect. I would no sooner destroy it than chew off my own thumb. And I've talked to enough readers and read enough reviews and processed enough reactions to know that there is bound to be someone out there who will love it.

And so I'm just going to be honest and say that every time I read an arrogant, negative, or misbegotten review of Sunshine or Graceling, Jane Eyre or Girl in the Arena, Looking for Alaska or How Green Was My Valley, I die a little inside. I feel defensive. And sad. The reasons may vary from the earnest to the petty. From the possibility that the reader was in the wrong mood and couldn't connect with the characters (we've all been there), to the opinion that the dashes in place of quotation marks interrupted the narrative flow (your mileage will obviously vary), to the annoyance that the protagonist talked to herself too much (some of you must live with much more internal silence than I do), to the oddest of all in my view--that the author had some blatant agenda (commence eye roll) or that, in the end, the book just wasn't the book you wanted it to be (sorry, but it's just not the author's "fault"). Whatever the reason, when the tone of the review goes beyond a clear account of the person's experience and dips into contempt or, even worse, vitriol--I'm out. Yes, a part of me wants to sit down and have a very involved chat with the person about why they're wrong and why I'm right and couldn't they possibly give it another chance? But it's no use. And not really my place at all.

Of course I have those books, those authors, that I just end up washing my hands of because I've tried them repeatedly in different incarnations and at different times of my life, and they just don't seem to work. I feel bad, though. Especially if they happen to be well-beloved in general. I try to take that into account in my reviews, to be honest but fair. Because I know how I feel when I hear someone just hated a book I adore. It makes me blue. Usually I'm able to just shake it off. Go reread my favorite passage and smile. Or talk about it with someone else who got it the way that I did.

But today? I'm just mad. It's still a book. Even if it wasn't your cuppa, it deserves better than that nasty piece of work you call a review.

Haters to the left.

October 7, 2010

Interview with Linda Gillard + Star Gazing & Emotional Geology Giveaway!

A little less than two months ago, I discovered Linda Gillard's work. Through a fellow blogger's review, I decided I definitely wanted to give her most recent novel, Star Gazing, a go and I ordered it immediately. The writing took my breath away, as did the two wonderful main characters, who were so very different from the ones I've been used to reading. I wanted nothing more than to spend every waking minute with them. To say nothing of the beautiful Scottish setting. I was so delighted when Linda contacted me shortly after my review, offering to send a copy of her first book--Emotional Geology--for review as well. Little did I know this book would immediately jump to my best of the year list and would find a very special place in my heart. Even before I'd finished it, I hoped Ms. Gillard would agree to an interview. These books deserve a much wider readership than they have met with thus far and I am determined to do what I can to help spread the word! Please welcome, Linda Gillard!
I’m fascinated by your road to publication. You became a published author at age 53. Tell us what inspired you to start writing and what your experience has been like?
Writing is my fourth career. I’ve been an actress and a journalist and I stayed home for ten years raising two children. Then I re-trained as a teacher, but after a few years I suffered a breakdown brought on by stress and overwork. Eventually I was diagnosed with mild bipolar. I decided if I went back to teaching I’d probably become ill again.
I was 47 and as far as I was concerned, I was on the scrap heap. But once on the correct medication, I stabilized and with the help of a supportive psychiatrist, I began to rebuild my life. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I read and I sewed a lot of patchwork quilts. One of the books I read was Louise deSalvo’s WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING. One paragraph of that changed my life. It said, 
“I didn't know that you could write simply to take care of yourself, even if you have no desire to publish your work. I didn't know that if you want to become a writer, eventually you'll learn through writing - and only through writing - all you need to know about your craft. And that while learning, you're engaging in soul-satisfying, deeply nurturing labour. I didn't know that if you want to write and don't, because you don't feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”
I realised that was how I felt. Erased. I laid the book aside and, as if in a trance, walked over to my PC, sat down and started to type. I wrote about  “a woman alone in a light, white room”. I could see the room and sense the atmosphere. I could see a woman and she was writing a letter, but I didn’t know who she was, or who she was writing to. With no thought of publication or even of writing well, I just started typing the first page of what was to become my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.
Your protagonists tend to be women over the age of 40. I found this unutterably refreshing in both Star Gazing and Emotional Geology. What drove this decision and have you run up against any opposition to focusing on slightly older characters?
When I was convalescing I read all sorts of fiction but I struggled to find any that reflected my life and experience. There was very little that featured women of my age. Romantic heroines over forty simply did not exist. Mature women appeared only as somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never had sex, unless it was for comic effect. So as a matter of principle I made my heroine 47, my own age.
(This was around 2000, but I’m not sure things are much better now. Most books are bought and read by women over 40, but the publishing world is still convinced we like to read about women much younger than ourselves.)
When EG was eventually published by an imprint that specialized in novels aimed at older women, the books were dismissed by the media as “Romance for Wrinklies”, “Grey-Lit”, even “Hag-Lit”.  (The ageism and misogyny of British culture beggars belief but hey, they used to burn us as witches, so things are definitely looking up.)
Your settings are fully fledged characters in and of themselves! Your love for them comes across the page in vivid texture and color. Does this aspect of your writing come easily and how do you go about setting the scene in your stories?
I’m glad you can “see” the settings! I think of descriptive writing as my weak spot. I avoid descriptive passages and opt instead for what I call “telling detail”- concrete detail that tells you something important about the setting.
I sort of ducked the issue in STAR GAZING. Trying to write about somewhere as beautiful as the Isle of Skye is daunting. What can you say that hasn’t already been said? I decided I’d write about the landscape, but from an unusual point of view, or ratherno point of view. My heroine, Marianne would be congenitally blind, with no visual frame of reference at all.
But even before I wrote STAR GAZING, I found our cultural obsession with visuals pretty limiting (eg attractive characters defined mostly by their appearance.) I’ve always tried to use all my senses when writing and I try to make readers use theirs. In STAR GAZING blind Marianne first experiences the hero, Keir, as a smell of hawthorn blossom. He’s a very big man and when she eventually gets to touch him, he reminds her of the trees she loves to hold.) I think that is so much more exciting than telling the reader he’s tall dark and handsome.
Emotional Geology was your first novel, a fact that still floors me. What about these characters, this story, made it a novel you had to write?
What I wrote - instinctively and therapeutically - was an alternative autobiography, what my life might have been like under very different circumstances. I was married; my heroine, Rose was single. I quilted as a hobby; she was a professional textile artist. I lived in a suburb; she lived on the bleak and remote Hebridean island of North Uist (which I knew from family holidays on the west coast of Scotland.)
The hero, Calum, was a gifted and dedicated teacher who’d cracked up after being assaulted by a pupil. He became the repository for all I wanted to say about teaching and teachers. Calum was my valediction to a profession that I’d regarded as my vocation.
Calum was also a poet and I used his dialogues with a Roseto explore the relationship between creativity and bipolar. (I was desperate to find an upside to my illness!)
But to be honest, I don’t really know where the book came from. I didn’t plan at all. I didn’t even know how it was going to end. I was too ill to do more than write a few pages at a time – just a paragraph on bad days – but I got hooked on writing and soon fell madly in love with my hero! After that it almost felt as if I was “channeling” the story. The book took on a life of its own.
Did you have an audience in mind for your books from the beginning or do you merely write to please yourself?
I just wanted to write the sort of book I wanted to read, but couldn’t find. Bookshops were awash with chick lit, which had nothing to say to me. I was an unemployed 47-year old mother of teenagers! So I set out to write a thinking-woman’s love story that tackled real issues. I wanted to put a creative woman in the spotlight and ignore her age, just look at her heart and mind and I was able to do this, with passion and paint-stripper honesty, because I knew my novel would never, ever be published! My mentally ill romantic heroine was 47 – and so was I! A less commercial proposition would be hard to imagine.
I had no idea my novel was any more than a personal and therapeutic fantasy until I joined a writers’ e-group and they said, “Youmust try to get this published.”
Both Rose (in Emotional Geology) and Marianne (in Star Gazing) live their lives with the odds stacked against them. Rose is struggling to live with bipolar disorder and recover from a recent breakdown and Marianne is blind and has been since birth. I love them both for their determination and irascibility and strength. What inspired you to gift your heroines with such weighty challenges and what kind of response have you gotten from readers?
I’m no good at devising plots, so I make character create the plot. They say there are only seven kinds of plot anyway, so it’s a question of finding an unusual angle from which to tell your story. STAR GAZING is just a boy-meets-girl story, apart from the fact that she’s 45, widowed and blind. But that changes everything!
I think I’ve always been interested in heroes (male & female) and heroism. I like to write about moral and physical courage, people fighting their demons, within and without. I studied drama at university and then I was an actress, so perhaps I instinctively write meaty parts for actresses! (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and STAR GAZING have both been optioned for films.)
Readers have mostly loved my spiky, obstinate and flawed heroines, but a few have questioned their fierce independence and some of the choices they make. Everyone loves that they are older – even young women. Some have said my books give them positive role models for what it’s like to be a woman in your 40s and 50s. (Readers love Louisa, Marianne’s 52-year old sister who writes vampire romance and has a Goth toy boy!)
But I’ve had a few battles with editors who wanted me to make my heroines “nicer”. The assumption in commercial women’s fiction is that, for a book to work, readers must identify with the heroine and apparently readers only identify with nice women. Flawed female protagonists are the province of literary fiction. Apparently.
(photo: Adam Burton)
Is there an Emotional Geology or a Star Gazing soundtrack?
There’s no EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY soundtrack because the novel is so much about silence and the gentle background noises that make up what we think of as “silence”: the wind, the sound of the sea, a pen scratching on paper, a man breathing as he sleeps beside you… There are a lot of sound effects in EG, but there’s no music.
STAR GAZING does have a soundtrack because the hero, Keir is constantly referring to pieces of music to describe things to blind Marianne. They share a love of music, so he translates visuals into sound pictures for her and that really opens up her world.
If SG had a theme tune it would be the Concerto for Birds and Orchestra by Rautavaara, which Keir posts to Marianne from Arctic Norway. (It’s a real piece of music. Some readers think I’ve made it up!) This is the music I used to play all the time, to get me in the right frame of mind for writing. It evokes a cold, northern landscape that I associate with Skye in winter, but it also represents the frozen emotional wasteland that Marianne inhabits at the beginning of the book.
What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
I keep recommending Sally Brampton’s SHOOT THE DAMN DOG, a memoir about her experience of serious depression. (The dog of the title is the “black dog” of depression.) I recommend it both as an example of excellent writing and as a self-help book. It’s immensely readable and positive.
And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:
Rose: quartz
Books: friends (because I think of  books as friends.)
Calum: legs
Music: colours
Keir: Gerard (Butler)
Writing: pencil
Marianne: thaw
The Brontes: passion
Sexy: Calum
Skye: homesick
Love: story
Home: books
Thanks so much, Linda!

And now for the giveaway! We're giving away copies of both Star Gazing and Emotional Geology today to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave a comment stating your favorite spiky, obstinate female protagonist. This giveaway is open internationally! To anywhere The Book Depository ships. The giveaway will be open for one week and will close at midnight on Thursday, October 14th. I'll announce the winner the next day. Please be sure to leave me a way of contacting you.

October 6, 2010

Victorian Pretties

And now for your creepy, Victorian fix--I bring to the table these three pretties. Two upcoming books and one reissue of a classic. But, man, don't those covers just call out to you to be stroked? Just me? Hmm....

I'm loving the graphic novel feel of this cover. I know very little about it but what I know sounds wildly intriguing. A young girl's debut season. A collection of valuable Egyptian artifacts. A dashing Napoleonic spy. True love. Honestly! I can't imagine being able to turn that combination down. It's topped off with the tagline, "Keep your wits and trust your heart." Awesome. Thanks to the Book Smugglers for the heads up on this one. Due out May 24th.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I ran across this lovely reissue while browsing Barnes & Noble's site the other day and wow. I am in love with this new design. It's just perfect somehow, with the bright orange and green and the way Mary's looking down at the keyhole. I must have it. Because one of these days I'm going to read it with Piper. Plus. This Penguin Classic rings up at a mere $4.99. Out now.

The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzbee, with illustrations by Greg Ruth
This one is really more middle grade than YA, but it's about a girl named Meg Pickel who's older brother Orion has disappeared. In her haste to track him down, Meg runs across one Mr. Charles Dickens. The two join forces in finding the source of the missing children. I love the cover. Illustrated by Greg Ruth, I just have the feeling this one should not be missed. Due out October 26th. 

October 5, 2010

The Peach Keeper Cover

I just ran across this cover for Sarah Addison Allen's upcoming novel The Peach Keeper. I like it, particularly as I've been enjoying the lovely fresh peaches we've had this fall. It does bear a certain resemblance to Deanna Raybourn's recent Dark Road to Darjeeling cover and, as that cover was for that series, represents a departure from Allen's previous, more whimsical covers. In any event, I can't wait to read this one. Allen's books are literary soul food. The Peach Keeper is due out March 22nd.

Make Me Feel Better Books: A List

I had such a great response to my question about your favorite "make me feel better" books! It delighted me to no end. I also had several people ask to see the list and so for those of you who didn't get a chance to glance through the comments I decided to compile them here in list format. The better to add to your TBR, my dears! Seriously, what I'd love is a series of Retro Friday reviews from you guys on each of these books. They are obviously near and dear to your hearts and I'd love to hear more on why. I enjoyed seeing how many of you named the same authors, the same books, and I wholeheartedly agree on anything by Robin McKinley, Sharon Shinn, Mary Stewart, Megan Whalen Turner, Tamora Pierce, Jane Austen, Eva Ibbotson, Diana Peterfruend, and the Brontes. Me being me, I'd go ahead and add Ellen Emerson White, Juliet Marillier, and Lloyd Alexander to the list. Just for good measure! So I hope you enjoy the list below. Amazing, isn't it?!

Make Me Feel Better Books

The Mitford Series by Jan Karon (Kate)
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett (Alexandra)
Dragon Prince by Melane Rawn, Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weiss, and anything by Sharon Shinn (Sunny)
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (celi.a, catherinecw, Tiffany M., farrarwilliams)
Sabriel by Garth Nix, Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, & anything by Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, and Gene Stratton Porter (celi.a)
•The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (catherinecw, MsM, Emily, Becky)
•The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce (catherinecwJen)
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (catherinecw)
Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn, Chalice by Robin McKinley, The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, and On the Edge by Ilona Andrews (LinWash)
The Good Luck Girl by Kerry Reichs (Sabrina)
•Anything by Nora Roberts or Linda Howard (Sabrina, MsM)
The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery (mainhoonemily, Raspberry)
Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and Nine Coaches Waiting or Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (mainhoonemily)
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (MsM, Emily)
Anything by Charlaine Harris (MsM)
Archangel by Sharon Shinn (Tiffany M., heidenkind)
Angelica by Sharon Shinn, Juniper by Monica Furlong,  Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi, When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn (Tiffany M.)
Early Janet Evanovich books (Brenda)
Siddartha by Herman Hesse and the Belgariad and Malorian series by David Eddings (heather)
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Sandy Shin)
Night Train to Memphis by Elizabeth Peters, anything by Christina Dodd (heidenkind)
Anything by Mary Stewart (heidenkind, Kaethe)
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Princess Allie, Jen) 
Anything by Kelley Armstrong (Princess Allie)
Anything by Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley, and Sherwood Smith (Chachic)
Anything by Diana Wynne Jones (Chachic and DarlaD)
Mystic & Rider by Sharon Shinn (Emily)
The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton (Jen)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, anything by Mary Hooper, Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, and anything by Eva Ibbotson (Raspberry)
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Lizzy)
•Anything by Dorothy Dunnett, Patrick O'Brien, and Georgette Heyer (Linda Gillard)
Dreaming in Black and White and Dreaming in Technicolor by Laura Jensen Walker, Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, Belong to Me by Marisa delos Santos, Happyface by Stephen Emond, and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Tina)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (farrarwilliams)
The Death In . . . books by M.M. Kaye (Misti, mainhoonemily)
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (Alexa)
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Kaethe)
Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes, The Secret Society Girl series by Diana Peterfreund, the first three Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig (Erin)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and anything by Meg Cabot (Becky)