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Winter Reads – Recommendations


dog-days
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It's cold. It's dark. I hate it. Winter's good for nothing except two things:

1) Sacrificing someone you dislike and chucking them in a peatbog to make sure the sun comes back next year

2) Reading. Not virtuous reading. Reading a gripping story - maybe one quite chiuroscuro, dark but with some hope or value at its centre – is the key. Maybe you expand your mind and learn new stuff about the world along the way, but you sure don't have to.  For setting, a high-backed armchair, open fire, glass of mulled wine and greyhound asleep on the floor are optimal. Still, winter reading is a forgiving activity, and if you just have a pet caterpillar and a sleeping bag, that's okay. You're still allowed to partake. 

Now, all that said, what are your recommendations? What authors or titles do you reach for when the human world should really be entering hibernation (but isn't allowed to because of boring going to work stuff?)

I'll kick off with La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom. 

Edited by dog-days
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Shardlake is terrific.

If I hadn't read them recently, Cornwell's War Lord series is the perfect December and January reading.

Sharon Kay Penman's Plantagenet novels are very good, as is Nicola Griffith's Hild.  Druon's Accursed Kings series is another series of books for the season.

In ye olden days when I hadn't read them hundreds of times, so were the LotR's volumes.  Sigh.  Nothing was as good reading for November, December and January reading.  (I was living in New Mexico then, so winter was essentially over by February.)

There isn't anything I can come up with that fills the bill like these books -- and there isn't anything being published currently it seems that does it, with the perfect touch such writers as these possess for reading in the short winter afternoons and long winter nights.  I hope some commentators will tip me off to books I don't know, written with this touch.

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8 hours ago, Zorral said:

Shardlake is terrific.

If I hadn't read them recently, Cornwell's War Lord series is the perfect December and January reading.

Sharon Kay Penman's Plantagenet novels are very good, as is Nicola Griffith's Hild.  Druon's Accursed Kings series is another series of books for the season.

In ye olden days when I hadn't read them hundreds of times, so were the LotR's volumes.  Sigh.  Nothing was as good reading for November, December and January reading.  (I was living in New Mexico then, so winter was essentially over by February.)

There isn't anything I can come up with that fills the bill like these books -- and there isn't anything being published currently it seems that does it, with the perfect touch such writers as these possess for reading in the short winter afternoons and long winter nights.  I hope some commentators will tip me off to books I don't know, written with this touch.

I'm sure you've read Collen McCullough Masters of Rome series, yes?

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10 hours ago, Reny of Storms End said:

I'm sure you've read Collen McCullough Masters of Rome series, yes?

O ya! More than once. :cheers:

8 hours ago, ljkeane said:

Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver is very wintry

Ya ... alas, these later Novik settings and characters do not appeal to my taste.  Generally, fantasy doesn't work for me any longer, while taste for historical fiction and historical location mysteries only grows.  :cheers:

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11 hours ago, ljkeane said:

Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver is very wintry if you're looking for something to fit the season.

I on the other hand really like Novik's mash-ups of folk-tale and fantasy. Her grasp of atmosphere and a fine, speaking detail is strong, and drew me in much more than the Temeraire series. Now that Scholomance has concluded, I hope she returns to her central/eastern European wells of inspiration, so I can have the pleasure of settling down to something new and eerie from her in some future December. Bet it would go well with St Lucy's Day. 

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22 hours ago, Zorral said:

Shardlake is terrific.

If I hadn't read them recently, Cornwell's War Lord series is the perfect December and January reading.

Sharon Kay Penman's Plantagenet novels are very good, as is Nicola Griffith's Hild.  Druon's Accursed Kings series is another series of books for the season.

In ye olden days when I hadn't read them hundreds of times, so were the LotR's volumes.  Sigh.  Nothing was as good reading for November, December and January reading.  (I was living in New Mexico then, so winter was essentially over by February.)

There isn't anything I can come up with that fills the bill like these books -- and there isn't anything being published currently it seems that does it, with the perfect touch such writers as these possess for reading in the short winter afternoons and long winter nights.  I hope some commentators will tip me off to books I don't know, written with this touch.

Cornwell, Penman, Griffith and Druon are all going on the Winter survival equipment list. 

An Easter Egg in the game Pentiment reminded me of the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. I'm not much of a rereader (because so many books, so little time) but I might be tempted to revisit The Virgin in the Ice, the sixth book in the series. It's obviously thematically appropriate. 

Tolkien is someone I will break my no-rereading rule for. It's been ages since I last read TLotR - I was still a child, really - so it could be time. 

Another book I'd break my rule for in winter is The Dark is Rising. Even though I have reservations about its particular form of celticism/celt-spiration, and I suspect it's hard for people to appreciate it who didn't first read it when they were a child, it is such a classic winter read it would feel unfair not to mention it.  

At this point, I could talk about The Eagle of the Ninth (revisited this November, even greater than I remember it being), but then this post would just be devolving into a list of books that I imprinted on early. 

Edited by dog-days
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6 minutes ago, dog-days said:

the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. I'm not much of a rereader (because so many books, so little time) but I might be tempted to revisit The Virgin in the Ice, the sixth book in the series. It's obviously thematically appropriate. 

O yes, it would be!

This one too:  https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/crowner-john/

I enjoyed those books quite a bit even though I read them in warm weather mostly.  But the descriptions of what it's like in 12th century winter even for the well and comfortably situated would make one feel all the more pleased to be in one's warm, cozy bed reading about it. :thumbsup:

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5 hours ago, dog-days said:

Another book I'd break my rule for in winter is The Dark is Rising.

Yes, I reread The Dark is Rising every year beginning on the Winter Solstice. I also reread around Christmas another childhood favorite, The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston. And then my third absolute annual Christmas-time reread is not another children's book but Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters which makes me desperate to jump on a plane and go to Germany the week before Christmas to visit all the Christmas markets.

But when I read your first post, before getting distracted by the Dark is Rising reference, I was going to suggest Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield.  I read it a few months ago and found myself wishing I had read it in December.  It takes place over the course of a year but begins and ends at the Winter Solstice and really has its roots in winter. It is fiction set in Victorian England except there are some fantasy elements and some mystery. I found the story in how it wove together a number of plot lines and brought them all together in the end, really satisfying.  (Hoping you have not read this and disliked it!)

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden?  The first of a really excellent trilogy.  Russian fantasy that was billed as YA but its as YA as Naomi Novik Spinning Silver is.  Very wintery and Frost is a character.

You have probably read them but I do find the Vera books by Ann Cleves very wintery.  When The Darkest Winter came out I think 2 years ago, I saved that for Christmas to read since it was especially Decemberish.  Then the Louise Penny mysteries have a quite a few winter ones with How the Light Gets In and A Fatal Grace coming to mind.  And of course Hercule Poirot's Christmas is nice to revisit every so often.

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14 hours ago, lady narcissa said:

Yes, I reread The Dark is Rising every year beginning on the Winter Solstice. I also reread around Christmas another childhood favorite, The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston. And then my third absolute annual Christmas-time reread is not another children's book but Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters which makes me desperate to jump on a plane and go to Germany the week before Christmas to visit all the Christmas markets.

But when I read your first post, before getting distracted by the Dark is Rising reference, I was going to suggest Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield.  I read it a few months ago and found myself wishing I had read it in December.  It takes place over the course of a year but begins and ends at the Winter Solstice and really has its roots in winter. It is fiction set in Victorian England except there are some fantasy elements and some mystery. I found the story in how it wove together a number of plot lines and brought them all together in the end, really satisfying.  (Hoping you have not read this and disliked it!)

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden?  The first of a really excellent trilogy.  Russian fantasy that was billed as YA but its as YA as Naomi Novik Spinning Silver is.  Very wintery and Frost is a character.

You have probably read them but I do find the Vera books by Ann Cleves very wintery.  When The Darkest Winter came out I think 2 years ago, I saved that for Christmas to read since it was especially Decemberish.  Then the Louise Penny mysteries have a quite a few winter ones with How the Light Gets In and A Fatal Grace coming to mind.  And of course Hercule Poirot's Christmas is nice to revisit every so often.

I've just read the blurb for Trojan Gold - that's a brilliant set-up for a detective novel. It sounds so much up my street I'm surprised I've never heard of it. Plus, I've been desperately missing German Christmas markets too. The UK tries to imitate them and gets them wrong, mostly in a grotty, depressingly plasticky way. 

Haven't read The Bear and the Nightingale, but will certainly now try. If it's half as good as Novik, I will enjoy it. Thank you! 

I like the Vera TV show, but haven't read any of the original books. I just know from reading the board that Cleves has a thing for birds and bird-watching, which will certainly be very useful as a subject for small-talk if I ever end up stuck in a lift with her.  I listened to most of the Gamache books last winter, often while walking home - it takes me about 50 minutes to get back from work, and I used them to force myself out of the door into the cold/rain/dark. The cosiness, murders and croissants helped propel me up the hill. 

Going back in time a bit, I remembered today that I want to revisit The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson. I don't even know now if I read it or listened to it on the radio, but it had that mix of adventure, danger and atmosphere that works well in December (or any other time of year, really) though I think I preferred the earlier sections set in Scotland to the later turns in the plot.  I also enjoyed The Slaughter of Leith Hall  by Lexie Conynham, a detective story set like TMoB after the 45, though twenty years after in this case. Apparently nothing says 'Christmas' to me more than Jacobite ex-rebels manoeuvring and stewing in the wake of their defeat. 

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9 hours ago, dog-days said:

I've just read the blurb for Trojan Gold - that's a brilliant set-up for a detective novel. It sounds so much up my street I'm surprised I've never heard of it. Plus, I've been desperately missing German Christmas markets too. The UK tries to imitate them and gets them wrong, mostly in a grotty, depressingly plasticky way.

Chicago has a Christmas market and its similarly lacking so I completely understand.  I'm glad Trojan Gold has interested you.  I do feel I should warn you, it's in the middle of a series but I do not think its necessary that you read the other books first. I think a decent job is done of updating the reader on any necessary details of characters prior relationships and interactions.  Not to discourage you from reading the others!  I don't know if you have read anything by Elizabeth Peters (also wrote under Barbara Michaels).  She is best known for her Amelia Peabody series which I have also enjoyed. But the Vicky Bliss ones are my favorites, most especially Trojan Gold and Night Train to Memphis.

I've been doing seasonal reading this fall so I have one more fallish book to finish before I begin any wintery reads.  I've picked up Moominvalley in November which I have not read before but seems perfect for the next day or two.  I never read the Moomin books as a child, they were not available here back then, but have enjoyed reading them as an adult.  This reminds me that Moominland Midwinter is a perfect January read.

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The Cleeves books are perfect, particularly The Darkest Winter, which I also got to read early in the winter. :)

As for the Christie books located in wintery bad weather -- I am not sure, since I've not read them all -- I have some trouble with her taken for granted bigotry expressions that show up at times.  But the television series are purrrrrrrrrrrrrrfect indeed!

Eagerly anticipating more recommendations from you all!

Hopefully it will arrive around Christmas, but These Days, who knows? The Fall of Númenor (mentioned in the Tolkien thread) will provide the wintery happiness we seek.

Edited by Zorral
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