What better way to spend a cold winter’s evening than curled up under a blanket with a good book? We’ve compiled a list of our book recommendations for the season, with everything from brutal historical novels to gripping sci-fi books!
Looking to travel back in time? Steph, our Senior Communications & Marketing Manager, and Vicki, our Programme Officer, have some historical fiction recommendations that are worth shouting about!
Steph’s pick is The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, ‘a beautiful and brutal story set within a vivid and dramatic rural landscape‘. Befitting of a December read because events begin on Christmas Eve 1617 and take place in the harsh conditions of Finnmark, Norway… but not necessarily a cosy book! The Mercies is a historical fiction novel inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials. Vicki also recommends this book, adding ‘this book will have you shivering from more than just the cold…‘
‘This book will have you shivering from more than just the cold…’
Vicki would also like to recommend Burial Rites by Hannah Kent: ‘For those looking toward the cold and dark for their winter reads, I highly recommend Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Inspired by the true story of the last woman to be hanged in Iceland, this novel shows how an open mind can lead to friendship in unlikely circumstances.‘
Friendships and relationships
If you’re looking for something heart warming, Chris, our Chief Executive, and Rebecca, our Emerging Translator Mentorships Programme Manager, recommend books which explore reconciliation and unlikely friendships.
Chris is recommending Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner: ‘While winter may not be a lead character in this novel, the darkening days and gathering strange forces that Townsend Warner summons always make me think of (and read this book in) winter.
After a lifetime of being a live-in daughter and aunt, Laura Willowes decides to head out of London to the Chilterns to reclaim her life and identity. She arrives in Great Mop, and settles in to village life, falling in love with the hills, valleys and landscape around her and accustoming herself to some of the strange noises at night and the quirks of country life. When her new found independence is threatened by the appearance of her nephew, who decides to move to the same village to be a writer, Laura quite calmly enters into a pact with an unlikely ally to preserve that independence. With a brilliant cast of characters, this is a ruthless comedy of manners set at the turn of the last century that will shock and amuse in equal measure.‘
Rebecca’s go-to winter read is Twelve Nights by Urs Faes (translated by Jamie Lee Searle). Twelve Nights is a novella set in the snowy Black Forest, in the time ‘between the years’, the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany that belong as much to the here and now, as it does to superstition. As Manfred walks through snowy hills, he also travels back to his childhood and reminisces about his brother, from whom he became estranged over a woman and the family farm. And the reader is never quite sure which part of the story is dream, memory, or the work of spirits.
Mysteries and thrillers
In the mood for something more thrilling? Winter is the perfect time to get nose deep in a page-turning mystery novel, and we have some recommendations which you won’t want to put down!
David, our Head of Finance, recommends Crimson Snow by Martin Edwards, which brings together a dozen vintage crime stories set in winter. Welcome to a world of Father Christmases behaving oddly, a famous fictional detective in a Yuletide drama, mysterious tracks in the snow, and some very unpleasant carol singers. David says ‘Having read a lot of the British Library Crime classics this is a great seasonal read that transports you back in time to a bygone age with no tv or internet. A book to be read by an open fire on a wintry afternoon with a nice seasonal drink at hand.‘
‘A book to be read by an open fire on a wintry afternoon with a nice seasonal drink at hand.’
Molly, our Communications Assistant, has reread Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie a thousand times. When the Orient Express is stopped dead by a snowdrift, American millionaire Ratchett is murdered, stabbed a dozen times in his own compartment with the door curiously locked from the inside. Molly loves this story because it ‘has all the hallmarks of Christie’s detective novels: a seemingly impossible murder, Hercule Poirot on the case, not everything is as it seems etc etc. – definitely worth a read!‘
With the chilly season now in full flow, Gill, our Digital Marketing Manager, and Peggy, our Executive Director, have recommendations which are suitable for all the family. Let out your inner child this Christmas, and enjoy these fantasy books.
Gill highly recommends Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, ‘a heart warming story for a cold winter’s evening‘. Northern Lights tells the story of Lyra, a precocious, no-nonsense and mature 12-year-old girl – orphaned in an alternate-reality Oxford. Her quest includes all the usual rough-and-tumble of adventure, friendship and hard decisions. It also weaves in adult themes such as the nature of the soul, addiction and depression, other dimensions and the insidious potential of religion. Gill says ‘there might be a few people out there who have still not read the first book in Pullman’s much-loved His Dark Materials series, and so it is to you that this recommendation is aimed. Northern Lights is a novel which transcends age and genre pigeonholes to earn fans of all ages, stages and interests.‘ Christina, our Events Manager, also recommends Northern Lights, saying ‘it’s best read whilst snuggled up under a cosy blanket and accompanied with a mug chocolatl…‘
Peggy loves Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. Moomin wakes from hibernation while his family are all still a-slumber to contend all on his own with the mysterious new world of winter. He nevertheless overcomes isolation, loneliness and adversity with the help of his friends, and returns with new stories to the comfort of the Moominfold! ‘Simultaneously unsettling and comforting, and as beautiful to look at as it was when you were small, Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter is perfect to share with the young persons in your life this festive time, or, like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, to keep all to yourself.‘
Big science fiction fan? You’re in luck! Here are two of our favourite magical science-fiction books to read under a warm blanket this winter.
Last winter, Freya, our Operations Officer, read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: ‘The gentle stillness and transgressive exploration of fallowness in seasons, genders, political and social progress is perfect for reading at this time of year.
This genre defining novel is set in the backdrop of a bleak snow planet called Gethen, fondly referred to as Winter, and follows Genly Ai – an interplanetary emissary sent to make contact and encourage Gethen to join a sort-of intergalactic united nations. Gethen folx are ambisexual, with no fixed sex; having a profound impact on the culture of the planet. Le Guin throws away the tropes of speculative fiction by, instead of imagining a world outside of humanity, instead offering ‘thought experiment’ on the role of sex in sculpting a civilisation on a baron, icy planet.‘
Travel to new and bizarre places with Gill’s other recommendation, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson. In Fall, Stephenson extrapolates the idea of cryogenic freezing the dead and explores the concept of mapping the minds of the dead and uploading them to the Cloud. While the brain and its synapses can be (relatively) easily replicated as ones and zeroes, no one has yet managed to turn these ‘pictures of brains’ into ‘working minds’. What would happen if you awoke, after death, in a digital landscape, the first to arrive? Would it be a new digital Eden for the first visitor to craft and build, or would it become a living hell? Gill says ‘Stephenson’s prose is lucid and clear. This foundation allows him to take us to new and bizarre places as he eases us from a recognisable world into one so alien and fascinating that it leaves you breathless.‘
Need a last minute Christmas gift?
Purchase a high-quality print (each one hand-made by Well Nice Prints, an independent printmaking studio in the city) featuring inspirational quotes from literary figures of Norwich, including Sir Thomas Browne, Julian of Norwich, and more!
You may also like...
Explore three unique non-fiction books
Our weekly spotlight on an East Anglian Book Awards 2022 shortlist
12th December 2022
Explore three wonderful Fiction books from East Anglia
Our weekly spotlight on an East Anglian Book Awards 2022 shortlist
29th November 2022
NCW staff recommend their favourite reads of the summer
From page-turning mysteries to horrifying short stories…
19th August 2022