The wind is blowing, the leaves are falling, and the nights are drawing in. Pretty lights line the high street, the fluffy jumpers and quirky pyjamas come out of the wardrobe, and the flow of tea is continuous. This is my favourite time of year; between October and December, when the world around us changes with surprising speed. Blink and you’ll miss the magic.
So what do I read during this wonderful time of year? As some of you may know, I tend to go through cycles, reading everything I can on one subject or by one author, before moving on to another. In October, I read a lot of Stephen King – and, the year before, Joe Hill – revelling in the feeling of being terrified. But now the time for scary stories has passed, and I find myself drawn to an altogether different reading experience.
Above all else, I adore historical fiction; the richness of the characters, perhaps remembered, but brought to life with the stroke of a pen. Events, not monotonously recited, but energetically described, pulling the reader into the excitement. In this way, I’ve witnessed the calendar riots and the Salem witch trials, the debauchery of Victorian London and the clash of Vikings and Saxons. I was there at Anne Boleyn’s execution, watching through modern, feminist eyes; I was aboard the Carpathia, rescuing survivors of the Titanic; I’ve learned of religion and culture and food and memorable people, all through the pages of books.
I read historical fiction any time of year, but there are some that are strictly reserved for winter. The ones I’ve chosen below truly evoke the magic of the season, and I highly recommend them, together with a blanket, some fluffy slippers, a lamp casting a warm glow, and a cup of tea. Oh, and a cat, curled up on your lap, of course. As they say in Iceland, blindur er bóklaus maður: blind is a man (or woman!) without a book.
(I’ve read all of these books before, and some of them have already been reviewed for Lovereading, The Book Bag, or this blog. Please note the reviews below contain minor spoilers.)
The Snow Child
By Eowen Ivey
It’s not often I’m lost for words, but honestly, the description from Goodreads below explains The Snow Child a lot better than I could. This story, quite simply, completely captured my heart.
‘Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.’
The Crimson Petal & The White
By Michel Faber
Each time I grab this book off the shelf, I love it more and more. A highly original, dark historical fiction set in Victorian London, The Crimson Petal and the White is an absolute must-read. It’s not strictly wintry, but it is set during a very cold, desolate time, and, to be quite honest, I’d defend reading it at any time of the year.
By Hannah Kent
I love this book. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever read before. Set in Iceland in in the 19th century, Burial Rites follows Agnes Magnusdottir, suspected murderer, and the last woman to be executed in the country. After rereading it again this month, I was instantly pulled back into the story of Agnes, maid to murderess, through Kent’s enchanting writing. Bleak, dark, yet strangely uplifting, this novel is simply fantastic.
40 Days Without Shadow
By Olivier Truc
An exciting thriller set in Swedish Lapland, this book is original, remarkable, and will stay with you long after you turn the last page. To read my full, rather long review, head over to The Book Bag.
By Joakim Zander
On a remote Swedish island, a little girl, Klara, grows up without a father. Now, twenty years later, she discovers a secret: a secret that powerful men will kill to keep hidden.
The Swimmer begins in 1980, with a bombing in Damascus, and a tragedy that can be felt across decades.
After an explosive start, we are gently introduced to Mahmoud Shammosh, a Ph.D student in Sweden, Klara Walldeen, a Swedish girl working in Brussels, George Loow, a young lobbyist, and, of course, the swimmer, who wants nothing more than to atone for the past. The characters are intriguing, full of their own secrets, and those of others.
I became very invested in Klara in particular, and thoroughly enjoyed her story. Her courage and intelligence, as well as her ability to act quickly in tense situations, drew me to her. I also came to like George, and became immersed in his role.
The EU quarter of Brussels is perfectly described, as is the Grand Place, where I’ve spent time in the past. Zander writes coherently and with fluidity, jumping between several narrators, without losing the rhythm of the story.
This book focuses on contemporary issues, crossing the globe, from remote Sweden to the war-torn Middle East. Zander manages to address these issues with tact and sensitivity, while remaining bold.
Without giving too much of the plot away, this political thriller is action-packed and full of excitement. It kept me on edge, and I devoured it within days. An absolute must-read.
By Cecilia Ekbäck
Set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, Wolf Winter is an intriguing, beautiful tale, full of mystery and magic. Maija and her family arrive from Finland to a harsh, desolate place, to take over their uncle’s homestead. Looming above them is the mountain Blackåsen, which whispers dark secrets to the new arrivals.
After finding the mutilated body of local man Eriksson, Maija’s eldest daughter Frederika embarks on a fascinating journey, pulled towards the mountains and the powers it threatens to engulf her in. Maija is drawn into discovering what happened to Eriksson, and in doing so, uncovers many dark tragedies and mysteries surrounding the town.
The main characters are unique, full of feminine strength and intuition. Maija is determined, dedicated to bringing her family through the horrifying winter, and uncovering the truth. But her fear of fear itself only serves to hold her back from embracing the history of the mountains. Frederika, unburdened by the past that plagues her mother, is more perceptive, and soon accepts her fate. Both women must find a way to survive in the face of adversity.
The harsh landscape is described beautifully. The beautiful, unforgiving mountains, the horrifying snowstorms; this atmospheric story will captivate and stun you. A delightful murder mystery, full of captivating characters, seductive scenery, and mystical magic, you won’t want to put this book down. I chose Wolf Winter as my book of 2014, which really is no surprise.
A Place Called Winter
By Patrick Gale
A Place Called Winter, largely set in the newly colonised Canadian prairies, is full of heart-breaking journeys, intricate characters, and harsh landscapes. The reader will travel through Winter too, as you embark on an emotional discovery of immense proportions.
By Daniel Woodrell
I caught the movie, starring the fabulous Jennifer Lawrence, on BBC iPlayer a couple of months ago. I love Jennifer Lawrence, and would watch anything she’s in with delight, but this story was so moving, I simply had to get the book. It’s short, simply yet beautifully written, and wholly enthralling.
I just read Burial Rites again, and I think I’ll get lost in Wolf Winter or rediscover The Snow Child soon. What are you reading this winter? Let me know on Twitter (@VikkiPatis) or Instagram using #WinterReads.