On a cold, grey winter’s afternoon, few things are as comforting as curling up with a good book and a hot drink. As 2020 draws to a close, many of us will have spent much more time in front of our screens this year than usual – but using your winter downtime to catch up on some reading can provide the perfect respite. But which books are best to read at this time of year?
Whether you want to feel warm and cosy while reading a book set in the blistering cold, or get a dose of motivation to prepare you for the New Year, there’s a winter book out there for everyone. Here are 17 of our picks for books to read this winter.
Step back in time to Vienna in 1914 with this mysterious, romantic novel from Daniel Mason. The story tells the tale of young medical student Lucius as he tries to survive through the devastation of the First World War. After enlisting, Lucius’s dreams of saving lives on the battlefield are dashed when he’s posted to a remote, typhus-ravaged field hospital. Supplies have run out, doctors have fled, and it’s up to Lucius and a single remaining nurse to keep going – but everything changes when an unconscious and mysterious soldier is found in the snow. Set amongst the golden ballrooms of Imperial Vienna and the icy forests of the Eastern Front, The Winter Soldier is a well-researched, beautifully written, and incredibly immersive novel.
If you’re dreaming of escaping to a warm Caribbean beach right now, then this next book might be your perfect winter read. It’s a freezing, snowy New Year’s Eve in Nantucket when Irene receives the devastating news that her husband has been killed in a helicopter crash while away on business. As she tries to find out what happened, she travels to the Caribbean island of St. John, where her husband’s body was found – but nothing can prepare her for what she discovers about him along the way. Winter In Paradise is an intriguing and darkly humorous read that combines bittersweet stories and compelling characters – and the pristine beaches of St. John provide a wonderfully unsettling backdrop as Irene uncovers a web of deceit.
Written in 1994, this intelligent, elegantly written novel by David Guterson is now published as part of the Bloomsbury Modern Classics list. On a snowy, isolated Washington State island in the 1950s, a Japanese-American man is charged with the murder of a white fisherman. As the trial unfolds over winter, the town’s shameful history resurfaces, and the islanders grapple with guilt over the way they treated their Japanese residents in the Second World War. Much more than a murder mystery, this skillfuly crafted novel explores themes of memory, love, death and star-crossed lovers. As you read, you’ll discover that far more is at stake than one man’s guilt or innocence.
If you’re looking for an uplifting, feel good romance book – the literary equivalent of Love Actually or Bridget Jones’ Diary – then One Day in December might be your ideal winter read. On a freezing winter’s day, Laurie locks eyes with a man on a bus. She didn’t believe in love at first sight – until now – and when the bus pulls away, she knows she’ll see the man again. And later that year, she does… the only problem is that he’s going out with her best friend. This Sunday Times bestseller is an immensely moving, heartwarming, and surprisingly deep read that will have you laughing and crying.
Set in 1920s Alaska, The Snow Child tells the story of childless couple Jack and Mabel, who are making a new start in a remote homestead. Haunted by the loss of their baby many years before, the couple brace themselves for winter. When the first snow falls, they decide to build a daughter out of snow – just for fun. But the next day their creation has disappeared, and they spot a strange young girl running through the trees. Jack and Mabel take the girl in – but who is this mysterious Faina, and is she what she seems? This magical re-telling of an old Russian fairy tale became a bestseller and was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize – and for good reason. A haunting tale about love, loss, and the bleakness of winter.
In Furiously Happy, New York Times bestselling author Jenny Lawson proves that you can write a funny and uplifting book about crippling depression and anxiety. This powerful book is about the author’s lifelong experience with mental illness, and how she eventually triumphed over medical depression. Providing plenty of helpful strategies from Lawson’s experiences, Furiously Happy is partly a biography, and partly a guide to embracing ourselves and living life to the fullest – even when that seems impossible. A moving, honest and outrageously funny read that will make you feel like you can conquer anything.
A must-read for fans of historical thrillers, Wolf Winter was the winner of the 2016 HWA Goldsboro Debut Crown Award, and this beautifully written suspense novel will have you hooked. Set in 1700s Sweden, Wolf Winter tells the story of a Finnish family who are trying to leave their painful past behind. They hope to make a new start in a Swedish settlement on Blackåsen Mountain… but as the winter-long darkness arrives, new challenges arise. When a dead man is found in the snow, the family are forced to question who they can trust – and whether they really want to discover the secrets of the mountain. A darkly atmospheric novel that will have you shivering.
This classic wartime novella is about as wintery as you can get, and its short length makes it the perfect book to curl up in bed with. Paul Gallico’s most famous story takes place on the wild and desolate Essex marshes, over the span of seven winters. One chilly day, a young village girl finds an injured snow goose, and brings it to the local hunchback artist for him to heal. Their quiet friendship slowly evolves against the backdrop of the Second World War, and the story unfolds in a fable-like way. Heartbreaking, gripping and unashamedly sentimental, this poignant book sends a clear message about the power of love.
If you’re looking for a book that will make you incredibly grateful to be stuck at home in the warm, then The Terror might be it. Stephen King called Dan Simmons’ bestselling novel a “brilliant, massive combination of history and supernatural horror”, and that’s no exaggeration. The Terror tells the story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition that set out to find the legendary North-West Passage. But when the ships get trapped in the Arctic ice, the crew have to hope a thaw will let them out. As they wait, supplies dwindle, tensions rise, and temperatures drop – but that’s not all. Out in the freezing darkness, something is stalking them. Do the men dare one last attempt at survival? A gripping read – and at more than 700 pages, it’s a book that you can really get stuck into.
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is set against ‘The Great Frost’ of 1608 – a period of such extreme cold that birds froze while they were flying and “fell like stones to the ground”. Exuberant young nobleman Orlando is a member of Queen Elizabeth’s court who falls for the bewitching Sasha. But after Sasha’s betrayal, Orlando becomes frozen in time. Three centuries pass, and the young man has transformed into a modern, 36-year-old woman – though somehow, he remains the same person who fell in love on that cold winter’s day in 1608. A funny and unusual story that explores the nature of sexuality through history, Orlando is one of Virginia Woolf’s lighter reads.
Set in the bleak North Dakota winter in the 1960s, Peace Like a River is a mesmerising coming of age story about fathers, sons, outlaws, and communities. When two bullies break into eleven-year-old Rube Land’s house, his older brother Davy guns them down and is sent to prison. Then he breaks out and disappears. Desperate to find their lost outlaw, the Land family pile into their old family car and set out to find him in the wild and freezing Dakota Badlands. What follows next is an intriguing story that explores whether family love should come before what’s right.
In this understated and romantic novel, five people are brought together unexpectedly when tragedy strikes. Each character is dealing with their own tragedy, and they seek refuge in a rambling house in Scotland over the Christmas period. With well-drawn, believable characters, Winter Solstice gently explores themes of middle-aged love, teenage angst, human warmth and broken hearts. The perfect fireside read, this is a heartwarming story about love, loss, solace and redemption..
Into Thin Air tells the true story of what it’s like to try to survive on Mount Everest during a storm. In March 1996, journalist and expert climber Jon Krakauer joined an expedition led by renowned Everest guide Rob Hall – but when a storm rolled in and battered the mountain, the expedition turned into an epic battle for survival. By the end of the summit day, eight people were dead. Though this true story is a harrowing account of the worst single-season death toll in Everest’s history, it’s also a powerful story of grit, courage and survival – against all odds.
Anna Kavan’s 1967 novel Ice was praised as the best science fiction of the year when it came out, and it’s just as powerful today. Set in a frozen post-nuclear dystopia, the story follows three characters as they struggle to survive. Every day the ice encroaches further across the planet, freezing everything in its past, and against this chilling backdrop our unnamed narrator pursues the silver-haired “ice maiden” he’s in love with. As he tries to free her from her controlling husband, he falls into strange daydreams and hallucinations, and as the reader, we aren’t sure who or what is real. A raw and brutal book that will make you glad to be in your own cosy home.
After the year we’ve all had, many of us are hoping 2021 will be a new start. But true change starts from within, and in Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin offers simple yet effective guidance on how to improve ourselves – and by consequence, our lives. Most of us have a habit we’d like to change, but succeeding in changing habits is easier said than done. This book allows you to find ways to turn your habits into something that helps you, rather than hinders you. So whether you want to exercise more, use your phone less, or think more positively, Better Than Before will help you understand why some habits are so entrenched – and how you can change them for the better.
It’s 1974, and 13-year-old Leni and her family move to Alaska in search of a new start. Her father is a former Vietnam POW who suffers from horrific PTSD, and isolated in the harsh Alaskan winter, both her father’s mental health and her parents’ volatile marriage begin to deteriorate. But then Leni meets Matthew, and she begins to hope again… With beautiful descriptions of the bleakly beautiful Alaskan landscape, this is a remarkable novel about female strength, love, sacrifice and survival.
New York Times bestseller Isabel Allende’s 2018 novel takes you across the Atlantic to Brooklyn, where the biggest snowstorm in living memory is rolling in. After a traffic accident on the frozen streets, three very different people are brought together: a lonely university professor in his sixties, his humorous Chilean tenant, and a young and undocumented Guatemalan migrant. In the Midst of Winter is a compelling multi-generational story about hope, endurance, grief and friendship.
As we roll towards mid-winter and the days get darker and colder, there’s something wonderful about picking up a book and being transported to another world. Even though most of us have had a challenging year, sometimes it can help to remind ourselves of the comforts we do have – like warm homes, comfy sofas, and cosy evenings to curl up with a good book.
Whether they’re novels about loss, love or survival, these winter-themed books will hopefully help you find the positives of being at home – and perhaps get you looking towards the New Year. For more uplifting winter reads, you might want to check out our article on 15 inspiring self-development books.