Curling up with a children’s classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is my idea of comfort reading—on my own or sharing with children. Ten-year-old Mary Lennox, spoiled and disagreeable, is orphaned and shipped from India to her uncle’s manor house in Yorkshire, where English servants will not jump to her every command. Cheerful Martha’s stories of her brother, Dickon, and an abandoned garden get Mary outdoors, but it is the sound of crying in the manor that leads to her biggest discovery. Watching Mary blossom, as she grows and makes her first friends, is a joyful experience every time.
Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series is another favorite. In The American Agent, Maisie assists Scotland Yard and the Secret Service to investigate the murder of an American journalist during the 1939 London Blitz. Her assignment pairs her with handsome Mark Scott, the American agent, and a tangle of politics and propaganda slows their search. Meanwhile, Maisie’s aging father, her young foster daughter and fellow ambulance drivers keep her busy and awake for long nights. Winspear evokes the era expertly without distracting from solving the murder.