When I need a break, I lose myself in a book. At these moments I often just want to immerse myself in another world; to forget about my anxieties and to-do list and think only about what I’m reading.
In this post, I’ve put together my favourite books to get lost in. They’re also perfect books to read when you need a distraction or if you haven’t read in a while, offering sheer escapism through unforgettable worlds and iconic characters.
The books in this list aren’t Russian classics. Instead, they’re the novels that broke my reading droughts and reminded me precisely why I love books.
To help you to rekindle the joyful habit of retreating into fictional worlds, read on for some of the best novels to get lost in and forget about the world…
The best books to get lost in when you want to escape into a book
1. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Full disclosure: I haven’t finished reading The Marriage Portrait yet. But I am completely lost in it right now. I’ve heard a lot about this 2022 bestseller, but as I rarely make time for historical fiction, I approached it tentatively.
A few hundred pages in, it’s been utterly bewitching. Maggie O’Farrell is clearly a magical writer and absolutely capable of following (and exceeding?) the success of Hamnet.
It’s winter in 1561, and Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is convinced that her husband is going to kill her. She’s sixteen years old and has so far led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo, developing her hidden talent as an artist and stretching the confines of her imagination as her family ignores her.
Now, in a remote villa, Lucrezia is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband – and she has no idea what she’ll do against a ruler of a province – and trained soldier – to ensure her survival.
2. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Forget about Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert’s other books are totally different. I adored Elizabeth Gilbert’s most recent novels, The Signature of All Things and City of Girls.
In particular, City of Girls is a perfect novel to get lost in when you want a break. Told from the perspective of Vivian Morris as she looks back on her youth in 1940s New York, City of Girls shares Vivian’s story of female sexuality and promiscuity, pleasure and regret.
It’s a journey of true love and becoming, and an immersive page-turner that makes you feel like you’re there with Vivian.
3. A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
I’ve been on something of a Rosamunde Pilcher binge this year. Her gorgeously cozy and slice-of-life writing has been exactly what I’ve needed to bring balance to my life when other things are out of my control.
The Shell Seekers is a good place to start with Rosamunde Pilcher – and Winter Solstice is one of the most perfect books to read in winter – but I also love this collection of short stories, published in 2021 (posthumously, after Rosamund Pilcher’s death in 2019).
Each of the fifteen stories in A Place Like Home is a perfect slice of romance, written with warm and comforting nostalgia and offering an antidote to challenging times.
It’s one of the best books to get lost in, letting you escape through the pages to the Mediterranean sunshine and sparkling blue seas, the fresh spring air of a Northumbrian village, or the fruit orchards of a recuperating stay in the Scottish countryside.
4. Greenwood by Michael Christie
Just like I experienced with its big brother The Overstory, Richard Powers’s bestseller with many similar threads but much greater fame, it took me a few attempts to get into Greenwood by Michael Christie.
The first chapter didn’t pull me in, but after about an hour of reading Greenwood, I was hooked. I read most of this doorstop of a book in a weekend, completely lost in the multi-generational saga.
Greenwood charts a family’s rise and fall alongside its secrets and inherited crimes, accompanied all the while by one steady presence: trees. I didn’t think it could be as good as The Overstory, but I really should have had more belief in it: it’s a superb book.
5. Circe by Madeline Miller
In this stunningly-woven page-turner, Circe sets forth her tale: a vivid, mesmerizing epic of rivalry, love, and loss. It’s a woman’s story told in a man’s world, and her defiance is captivating.
When Circe’s powerful magic threatens the gods, Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts.
However, Circe isn’t left in peace for long, and it’s an unexpected visitor, the mortal Odysseus, for whom she will risk everything.
6. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This big book is the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Ethiopia.
Bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
From Ethiopia to New York City and back again, you’ll meet a fascinating family of doctors who weave an incredible story of heartbreak, loss, and the relationships that shape their lives.
7. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
If you like the idea of a surrealist classic book to get lost in, read Kafka on the Shore. This fan favourite from Murakami (and one of my all-time favourite books) is an immersive and otherworldly book that’s surprisingly tranquil.
Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative runs back and forth between the life of fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura, who has run away from home, and an aging man called Nakata.
It’s also a wonderful book about books. “As I gaze at the vacant, birdless scene outside, I suddenly want to read a book – any book. As long as it’s shaped like a book and has printing, it’s fine by me. I just want to hold a book in my hands, turn the pages, scan the words with my eyes.”
8. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
If you want a lighthearted book to get lost in, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a fantastic choice. In this bestselling novel by Maria Semple, the quirky main character flees the anxieties of everyday American life for Antarctica.
It’s the perfect laid-back, easygoing book to immerse yourself in while imagining your own winter escape. I also think it’s one of the best books to read if you haven’t read in a while.
9. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
“A big, breathless tale of nonstop suspense” is how The New York Times described I Am Pilgrim in 2014. Neither my dad nor my eighteen-year-old brother could stop reading it, which is high praise indeed.
Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist: a man who must return from obscurity, and the only man who can uncover a flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.
10. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
The Priory of the Orange Tree is an enthralling, epic fantasy about a divided world on the brink of war – and the women who must lead the fight to save it.
I read this book on The Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and Russia, and it was the perfect choice for long days with a book as the remote landscape rolled past.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.