The 12 Best Feel-Good Books That Warmed My Heart Last Year

I read more than 200 books in the past year and these 12 stood out as the best feel-good books. They left my heart warmed and my soul revived.

Open book with pages folded into spine to create a heart - best feel-good books

Sometimes there are days in your life when you want to read a book, not because it’s a literary wonder, but because it leaves you with a sense of well being. You crave a novel where you can fall in love with the characters in all their messiness. You want to root for them, cry for them, and cheer them on to a satisfying conclusion.

Well, if you’re looking for your next best feel-good book, I’ve got you covered.

How I came up with this list

I am a voracious reader – you could say it’s my vocation now that I’m retired. So I read a lot, over 60,000 pages and approximately 200 books every year. While my book choices cross many genres, but one I return to over and over is “feel-good.”

Sure, “feel-good” isn’t an official genre, but you know the books when you read them. Those uplifting tales where the protagonist may struggle, and the problem may be heartbreaking, but the cast of characters reinforces your belief in humanity. When you finish, you hug the book to your heart, and it is warmed.

I browsed back through the books I read in 2020 and chose, for this list, the books that made me feel good long after I finished. In other words, the “best feel-good books” that stuck with me.

I compiled a similar list last year, so if you want even more books to choose from, check out that list here.

Links to Amazon are provided with each book summary, but I understand many are looking for alternative ways to buy books. I have a shop set up on Bookshop.org just for that reason. You can access this entire book list (and all of my booklists) by clicking on the button. Learn more about Bookshop.org here.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

My notes: This is a sweet book about misfits and trying to find your place. It’s listed as a Young Adult title but that didn’t keep me from enjoying it. It is fantasy – or fantastical – with made-up creatures (magical youth) sequestered on an island to keep non-magicals safe.

If you enjoyed Harry Potter, this may appeal to you. Think of it as Harry Potter “light” as there isn’t the good versus evil drama. This book is much more lighthearted.

by T.J. Klune
Published by Tor Books on February 1, 2021
Pages: 396
Goodreads

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

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Lager Queen of Minnesota

My notes: Oh, this book spoke to my heart as few others have. I grew up in Iowa, right next door to where this book is set, and I felt as though I was reading about people I knew. Stradal writes with humor and love. This book made it to my “very special bookshelf” I loved it so much. I think this might be the best feel-good book on the list.

by J. Ryan Stradal
Published by Penguin Group on June 23, 2020
Pages: 384
Goodreads

A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer, from the bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can't help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.
With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: "Drink lots. It's Blotz." Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen's is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it's not too late.
Meanwhile, Edith's granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up--will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?
Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that's often stacked against them. In this deeply affecting family saga, resolution can take generations, but when it finally comes, we're surprised, moved, and delighted.

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Aria’s Traveling Book Shop

My notes: OK – this book is not fine literature. But it’s a great romp through France by independent, fun-loving, women van-lifers. You can see why it made on to the Old Woman in a Van’s feel-good book list. This would be a fun book to listen to when driving between campsites, or when fantasizing about hitting the road.

by Rebecca Raisin
Published by HQ Digital on August 10, 2021
Pages: 384
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop comes another uplifting romance.

This summer will change everything!

Aria Summers knows what she wants.

A life on the road with best friend Rosie and her beloved camper-van-cum-book-shop, and definitely, definitely, no romance.
But when Aria finds herself falling – after one too many glasses of wine, from a karaoke stage – into the arms of Jonathan, a part of her comes back to life for the first time in years.
Since her beloved husband died Aria has sworn off love, unless it’s the kind you can find in the pages of a book. One love of her life is quite enough.
And so Aria tries to forget Jonathan and sets off for a summer to remember in France. But could this trip change Aria’s life forever…?

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The Midnight Library

My notes: If you ever ponder how one decision can change the trajectory of your life, this book will appeal to you. It is a lovely, touching, thought-provoking book about choices and happiness.

by Matt Haig
Published by Canongate Books Ltd. on August 20, 2020
Pages: 288
Goodreads

'Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?'
A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

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Night of Miracles

My notes: This is the companion book to The Story of Arthur Truluv, which is included in my uplifting book list. I suggest reading them in order, but you don’t have to. Berg has created a delightful, engaging cast of characters. Great books like this one, featuring elderly heroes, are rare finds.

by Elizabeth Berg
Published by Ballantine Books on June 25, 2019
Pages: 304
Goodreads

The feel-good book of the year: a delightful novel of friendship, community, and the way small acts of kindness can change your life, by the bestselling author of The Story of Arthur Truluv
Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she's hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn't know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.
When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln's parents aren't the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community--just when they need it the most.
"Elizabeth Berg's characters jump right off the page and into your heart" said Fannie Flagg about The Story of Arthur Truluv. The same could be said about Night of Miracles, a heartwarming novel that reminds us that the people we come to love are often the ones we don't expect.
Praise for Night of Miracles
"Happy, sad, sweet and slyly funny, [Night of Miracles] celebrates the nourishing comfort of community and provides a delightfully original take on the cycles of life."--People (Book of the Week)
"Find refuge in Mason, a place blessedly free of the political chaos we now know as 'real life.' In Berg's charming but far from shallow alternative reality, the focus is on the things that make life worth living: the human connections that light the way through the dark of aging, bereavement, illness and our own mistakes. . . . As the endearing, odd-lot characters of Mason, Missouri, coalesce into new families, dessert is served: a plateful of chocolate-and-vanilla pinwheel cookies for the soul."--USA Today
"Full of empathy and charm, every chapter infuses the heart with a renewed sense of hope." --Woman's World

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The Girl With the Louding Voice

My notes: I wish for everyone to read this book. The protagonist, Adduni, is a poor village girl in Nigeria who is trying to find her voice. She is a perfect heroine – smart, strong, and kind. Everyone I know who read this book loved it.

This is a fantastic Audible listen.

Bookclubs will find many topics to discuss with this book.

by Abi Daré
Published by Dutton Books on February 23, 2021
Pages: 400
Goodreads

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK!
"Brave, fresh . . . unforgettable."--The New York Times Book Review "A celebration of girls who dare to dream."--Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers (Oprah's Book Club pick) Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and recommended by The New York Times, Marie Claire, Vogue, Essence, PopSugar, Daily Mail, Electric Literature, Red, Stylist, Daily Kos, Library Journal, The Everygirl, and Read It Forward!
The unforgettable, inspiring story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her "louding voice" and speak up for herself, The Girl with the Louding Voice is a simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant tale about the power of fighting for your dreams. Despite being sold first as a child bride and then as an unpaid maid to a wealthy family in Lagos, Adunni never loses sight of her goal of escaping the life of poverty she was born into so that she can build the future she chooses for herself - and help other girls like her do the same. Her spirited determination to find joy and hope in even the most difficult circumstances imaginable will "break your heart and then put it back together again" (Jenna Bush Hager on The Today Show) even as Adunni shows us how one courageous young girl can inspire us all to reach for our dreams...and maybe even change the world.

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The Rosie Project

My notes: I laughably funning, quirky love story (that even people who don’t usually go for romances may like). This book features a neurodiverse character (Aspergers Syndrome).

by Graeme Simsion
Published by Simon Schuster on June 3, 2014
Pages: 295
Goodreads

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

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Not Without Laughter

My notes: This is a classic first published in 1930. Langston Hughes is mostly remembered as a poet, but this is one of his novels. Set in Depression-era Kansas and later in Chicago, it is a wonderful coming of age story.

This novel has darker elements as it portrays growing up during Jim Crow America, but it also depicts a loving family that survives, “not without laughter.”

You should be able to get this book at your library without a wait – and it’s a 99 cent Kindle book – worth every penny.

by Langston Hughes
Published by Dover Publications on April 4, 2008
Pages: 224
Goodreads

A shining star of the Harlem Renaissance movement, Langston Hughes is one of modern literature's most revered African-American authors. Although best known for his poetry, Hughes produced in Not Without Laughter a powerful and pioneering classic novel.
This stirring coming-of-age tale unfolds in 1930s rural Kansas. A poignant portrait of African-American family life in the early twentieth century, it follows the story of young Sandy Rogers as he grows from a boy to a man. We meet Sandy's mother, Annjee, who works as a housekeeper for a wealthy white family; his strong-willed grandmother, Hager; Jimboy, Sandy's father, who travels the country looking for work; Aunt Tempy, the social climber; and Aunt Harriet, the blues singer who has turned away from her faith.
A fascinating chronicle of a family's joys and hardships, 'Not Without Laughter' is a vivid exploration of growing up and growing strong in a racially divided society. A rich and important work, it masterfully echoes the black American experience.

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Anxious People

My notes: One of my favorite authors, Frederik Backman, is at it again. This book takes his writing in a new and lighter direction, but it is still his characteristic style. What is particularly engaging with this book is the intricate plotting. There is a spiderweb of relationships that slowly come to light and climax with a very satisfying conclusion.

This book is also a good book club pick – it is relatively short and a fast read, and there is a LOT to discuss.

by Fredrik Backman
Published by Washington Square Press on July 6, 2021
Pages: 352
Goodreads

An instant #1
New York Times
bestseller, the new novel from the author of
A Man Called Ove
is a “quirky, big-hearted novel….Wry, wise and often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a wholly original story that delivers pure pleasure” (
People
).
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.
Proving once again that Backman is “a master of writing delightful, insightful, soulful, character-driven narratives” (USA TODAY), Anxious People “captures the messy essence of being human….It’s clever and affecting, as likely to make you laugh out loud as it is to make you cry” (The Washington Post). This “endlessly entertaining mood-booster” (Real Simple) is proof that the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope can save us—even in the most anxious of times.

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The Midwife of Hope River

My notes: Do you love watching Call the Midwife? If so, then get this book now – plus the other two in the series. I am a volunteer birth doula and have high standards for birth scenes – this book nails them.

Plus it takes you to Depression-era West Virginia AND has a veterinarian. I am a veterinarian and, like birth scenes, have high standards for portrayals of veterinary medicine in fiction. This book passes that test too.

This of this almost as a cross between All Creatures Great and Small and Call the Midwife, with a dose of fun historical fiction thrown in.

by Patricia Harman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on August 28, 2012
Pages: 382
Goodreads

A remarkable new voice in American fiction, creates an uplifting novel that celebrates the miracle of life.
A William Morrow Paperback OriginalA debut novel featuring Patience Murphy, an Appalachian midwife in the 1930s struggling against disease, poverty, and prejudices-and her own haunting past-to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world
As a midwife working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience Murphy's only solace is her gift: the chance to escort mothers through the challenges of childbirth. Just beginning, she takes on the jobs no one else wants: those most in need-and least likely to pay. Patience is willing to do what it takes to fulfill her mentor's wishes, but starting a midwife practice means gaining trust, and Patience's secrets are too fragile to let anyone in.
A stirring piece of Americana, The Midwife of Hope River beats with authenticity as Patience faces seemingly insurmountable conditions: disease, poverty, and prejudices threaten at every turn. From the dangerous mines of West Virginia to the terrifying attentions of the Klu Klux Klan, Patience must strive to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world.

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The Last Train to Key West

My notes: I’m not usually a fan of romance novels, but this novel had three strong, unique female characters, some excellent and little known history of the Florida Keys and wraps up an interesting story. there is some domestic violence, but a happy ending so it fits my standard for feel-good.

by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley on June 16, 2020
Goodreads

In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's captivating new novel.
Everyone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.
The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to the stranger she’s married, her new husband’s illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.
Elizabeth Preston's trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.
Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

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The Overstory

My notes: This Pulitzer Prize winning novel has sat on my To-Read shelf since the paperback came out a couple of years ago. I kept thinking about reading it, but put it off because for some reason I thought it would be too long and too esoteric for me. I am so glad I finally read it.

Some readers may dispute whether this book fit the “feel-good” category as there is sadness and a fair amount of it. BUT – it resonated with my soul more than any book I’ve read recently. I felt good reading it – and it’s my list so I’m including it.

If you love nature, hiking, and camping then you will probably love this book. It is so hard to explain because it is not like any other book I’ve read.

The first chapter about a chestnut tree and the family that planted it absolutely stopped me in my tracks. I then just devoured the book. I suggest reading the first chapter – if you like it then read on. Everyone I know who read it loved it.

by Richard Powers
on April 2, 2019
Pages: 502
Goodreads

The Overstory is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of - and paean to - the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
A New York Times Bestseller.

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What’s on your “Best Feel-Good Books” list?

That’s it for my best feel-good booklist, but I know there are a lot more books out there that fit the category. What is your favorite heartwarming book? I’m always looking for books to read so please do me a favor and add your faves in the comments. Huge thanks!

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