Friday, 21 November 2014

Four Perfect Winter Reads

My dial's firmly set to hibernation mode at the moment and I possibly won't be leaving the house of an evening this side of Christmas. Snuggling up on the sofa with a book is my current activity of choice, but I've been labouring away at a bit of a 'difficult' book for the past couple of weeks, a timely reminder that it doesn't make sense to keep going with a book that is a penance rather than a pleasure -  it anyone can suggest an alternative I can squeeze in before Christmas, I'd appreciate it. If you're stuck in a similarly frustrating book rut, perhaps you might like to consider the following four books I reckon are perfect for getting lost in on a cold winter's day...

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Subtitled 'A Ghost Story' this chilling tale transports readers to the remote wilds of the Arctic, where Jack and his fellow explorers set up base on a remote ice-cap to further their scientific pursuits. But from the very outset the group's expedition seems jinxed and Jack cannot shake off the sense that some ominous presence isn't pleased by their arrival. As the Arctic winter sets in and the group's isolation becomes ever more apparent, Jack's unease grows, but he persists in staying alone in the remote cabin when injury forces his travel companions to leave. The book conveys a hugely strong sense of place, from the infinite, unknown landscapes of the Arctic ice cap to the limited, claustrophobic confines of the cabin, a place where Jack must confront fears both imaginary and real. A gripping chiller of a book that you'll struggle not to devour in one sitting.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The book describes the central characters of this mystery as 'untamed twins', which was enough to reel me in. Thankfully, the blurb didn't disappoint in this case; The Thirteenth Tale is a book in the classic Gothic mould, partly set in the faded environs of the once grand Angelfield House, a place rampant with secrets, where parental neglect has left two mysterious sisters, Emmeline and Adeline to grow feral. Switching between the past and present day, the twins' story is told through the eyes of enigmatic author Vida Winter, who - close to death - slowly reveals the dark secrets of Angelfield, and the dysfunctional March family, so that her 'Thirteenth Tale' can finally emerge. 

The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The misty ambiance of 16th-century Holland is the setting for this slim novel, a vivid imagining of the story behind Vermeer's enigmatic painting. The novel has the spare writing style that I like and realistic characterisation, bringing to life a cast that includes the shy, dutiful Griet, the unreadable, sometimes tempestuous painter, his distant, cold wife and the all-seeing, steely-eyed matriarch of the house, Vermeer's mother-in-law. As Vermeer's fascination with Griet becomes evident to the other members of the household, tensions rise and small but not insignificant power battles ensue. While the housemaids gossip and the mother-in-law curries favour with Vermeer's wealthy patron, the impenetrable artist gives his muse his wife's pearl earrings and sets to work on his masterpiece...

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Susan Hill really knows how to give her readers a short, sharp burst of the shivers. If you've read or seen the film adaptation of The Woman In Black, you'll know her brand of horror is of the traditional sort, played out against a backdrop rich with Gothic motifs - remote landscapes, crumbling old houses and mysterious characters patently carrying some dreadful burden of past tragedies. When antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning on a routine visit to a client and stumbles upon an abandoned house, he feels compelled to explore. And then he feels a little hand take his but when he looks down, there's no child there. Adam's subsequent 'haunting' and attempt to unravel the story behind the 'White House' leads the reader on spine-tingling journey as he grapples with a presence that slowly becomes more and more sinister.

If you're heading off for some winter sun, you might like to take a look at my summer reading suggestions, perfect for sunny climes. On that note, I recently discovered TripFiction, a clever website that lets you search books set in different locations, so if you're going on holiday in, say, Italy, you can find a definitive list of books with an Italian setting, from literary classics to contemporary crime. Take a look here. 


  1. These are such great reads! Hope you enjoy them... AND a big thank you for your lovely mention of TripFiction!

    1. Thanks! As I mentioned in my tweet, I think I need an excuse to get away somewhere exotic. I'll definitely be consulting your website for my holiday reading!


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