Let’s be honest, winter isn’t the most uplifting of seasons.
You’re coming down from the festive holiday high into a month of oppressing darkness and chilled bones. Coupled with possible anxiety over being back at work/school and Christmas debt, it’s no wonder we mark the third Monday of January as Blue.
That’s why it’s so important to do more of what brings us joy this month. For me, that means more snuggly blankets, comforting baked goods, and indulging in some heartwarming winter books.
In this post, I’ve pulled together 7 of my favourite books to read in the winter time. From nostalgic childish romps to chilling gothic mysteries to heartfelt tear-jerkers, I hope the books in this list will lift your spirits and help you feel more alive this season.
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
“Narnia… the land beyond the wardrobe door, a secret place frozen in eternal winter, a magical country waiting to be set free.
Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor's mysterious old house. At first her brothers and sister don't believe her when she tells of her visit to the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund, then Peter and Susan step through the wardrobe themselves. In Narnia they find a country buried under the evil enchantment of the White Witch. When they meet the Lion Aslan, they realize they've been called to a great adventure and bravely join the battle to free Narnia from the Witch's sinister spell.”
This book never fails to give me all the feels and nostalgia. It’s magical, adventurous, tense at times, and full of childlike wonder. Yes, it contains blatant Christian allegory, but I don’t think that sours the heart and soul of the tale. Even if you’ve read it before, I encourage you to re-read it with a grown-up perspective – let your imagination roam free and rediscover the whimsy and excitement of childhood. You’ll feel like a kid in a winter wonderland.
2. Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield
“On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.”
Setterfield’s storytelling is masterful. This tale, which straddles the line between historical mystery and fairy tale realism, had me gripped from the first page. The book itself opens during the wintertime and follows the characters through a full year as they slowly unveil the mystery of the child’s identity. It’s altogether enchanting, heartbreaking, and haunting. If you love books with rich worlds and well-drawn characters, you’ll love this supernatural tale.
3. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
“‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .’
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.”
Fans of the Brontës will massively enjoy du Maurier’s 20th century gothic masterpiece. Don’t be fooled by the dust jacket copy – Rebecca is not a romance; it is a psychological suspense novel that delves into the consequences of jealousy. A haunting tale of a young woman plagued by the shadows of her husband’s former wife and her maturation from naive, timid girl to assertive, strong woman. It’s the perfect spine-tingling winter book to cosy up with under a blanket on a rainy night.
4. The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa
“Sometimes you have to leave behind everything you know to find the place you truly belong...
Nana the cat is on a road trip. He is not sure where he's going or why, but it means that he gets to sit in the front seat of a silver van with his beloved owner, Satoru. Side by side, they cruise around Japan through the changing seasons, visiting Satoru's old friends. But what is the purpose of this road trip? And why is everyone so interested in Nana? Nana does not know and Satoru won't say. But when Nana finally works it out, his small heart will break.”
Warning: books don’t normally make me cry, but I was an absolute MESS by the end of this story. It’s fair to say that if you’ve ever had a special relationship with a pet, you’ll probably end up in the same boat. Written mostly from Nana the cat’s perspective, this tender and quirky tale will fill you with equal parts joy and heartbreak. I loved the character of Nana, his witty derision of humans, and his sweet relationship with his master Satoru. It’s the perfect winter book to curl up with – just make sure your pet is at hand for cuddles.
5. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“‘It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’
Charles Dickens’ masterpiece moves between two great European capitals, London and Paris, before and during the French Revolution. The struggle between the proletariats and the aristocracy in France and how the implacable hatred between the two threatens to destroy the happiness of exiled French nobleman Charles Darnay and his beautiful wife, Lucie Manette, are the twin themes of the story. When Darnay risks death by returning to Paris, Sydney Carton, a dissolute barrister who several years earlier had promised to ‘embrace any sacrifice’ for Lucie and those dear to her, sets out to save the young aristocrat, at any price.”
I regret that it took me so long to read this masterpiece of literary fiction. Perceptive and critical of society in the way only a Dickens’ novel can be. While it’s less humorous than his other novels, there are moments of sly wit that balance out the dark themes of human suffering, injustice, and revenge. It’s a wonderfully written story with engaging characters that will leave you reflective and moved for weeks.
6. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
“Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.”
If you’re feeling down and need a bit of a fantastical escape, I would recommend Neverwhere to you. A well-crafted story with vibrant worldbuilding and playful characters, this book reads like a comforting hug. It’s equal parts spooky, silly, and bizarre, but leaves you with some pretty big reflections on homelessness and the idea of the ‘outsider’. Perfect for fans of Terry Pratchett. It’ll pick you right up and thrust you out of your winter blues.
7. Northern Lights (The Golden Compass), Philip Pullman
“Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal--including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.
Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want – but what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.”
Personally, I find very little to fault about Pullman’s writing and storytelling. As a child, this book was incredibly exciting and I found the characters and world very real. As an adult, I feel the same, but it also forces you to explore deeper themes of morality, manipulation, and the conflict between science and religion. But it’s not preachy or overbearing. Northern Lights allows you to imagine with abandon – something I feel we cut ourselves off from doing so very often in our daily lives. It’s a fun, magical, and thoughtful winter book.
I hope these winter books bring you some comfort and warmth during this difficult season.
If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to subscribe to the Bookish Bakes mailing list for biweekly thoughts on books, helpful baking tips, and other ideas to help reduce your stress.