As the days get chillier and snow starts falling, curl up with one of these good books to read in winter.

By Rebecca Renner
Updated January 10, 2020
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With the colder days upon us, it’s time to stock up on tea, break out the quilts, and deck the halls. It’s also the perfect time of year to cancel plans and spend quality time with some good books to read in winter. The best winter books have chilly settings, preferably with plenty of snow. Some are funny. Others are tragic or mysterious. No matter the genre, books set during winter are often full of mystery. Maybe that’s because the days are getting shorter, and darkness seems to reign. Or perhaps it’s because of the eerie quiet that snow brings.

If you’re a mystery reader, you’re no stranger to books with snowy backdrops. Scandinavian crime novels, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the rest of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, pair cold settings with icy-hearted villains. Jo Nesbø, another author of Scandinavian noir novels, writes dark crime novels in a similar vein.

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For classics and literary fiction readers, there is a wealth of wintry tales. Much of Russian literature, from War and Peace to Doctor Zhivago, features an ever-present snow falling in the background. American literary fiction leans on snowy settings, too. Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell paints a frigid picture of the crime-riddle Ozarks, and Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson is a luminous coming-of-age story set near a glacial lake called Fingerbone.

If historical books are more your speed, you have plenty to choose from. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier gives a chilly portrait of the South during the Civil War, and Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel drops readers into King Henry VIII’s court.

With good books like these, you won’t have to don your snow gear to get a taste of winter. Pick up one of these seven chilly reads and experience season from the warm comfort of your reading nook.

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Credit: Courtesy of Hachette

1

Irene Steele, still reeling from the death of her husband and the realization he’d been living a double life, is back on the island of St. John to learn the truth about the man she thought she knew for so many years. While this sounds a little dark, the novel, which is a follow-up to Winter in Paradise, takes place in the Caribbean during the sunny and festive winter months. Expect romance, drama, and some holiday touches—just don’t hold your breath for any snow in this island escape of a novel.

To buy: $17; amazon.com.

Credit: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

2

If you’re looking for a thrilling, dark novel with the literal chills of the tundra, look no further than Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth. A finalist for the National Book Award, Disappearing Earth begins as two girls go missing on the shoreline of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. What follows is a gripping, tightly woven story of mystery and grief as friends, neighbors, and law enforcement grapple with the loss of these children.

To buy: $22; amazon.com.

Credit: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

3

Gingerbread has a special place as a holiday treat in many cultures. Helen Oyeyemi’s novel by the same name explores the treat’s role in folklore, where it sits at the intersection of sweet and unsettling. This mysterious and magical story follows Perdita Lee, a seemingly normal British schoolgirl, and her mother Harriet Lee, as they make peculiar gingerbread and navigate the politics of jealousy, wealth, and ambition in modern-day London.

To buy: $16; amazon.com.

Credit: Courtesy of HarperCollins

4

It is 1936, and the Nazis are on the rise in Europe. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, has already begun smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany. As her mission becomes more dangerous, she finds help along the way. A novel that is both timely and historical, The Last Train to London is lyrical and full of feeling. Readers who enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See will fall in love with this book.

To buy: $16; amazon.com.

Credit: Courtesy of HarperCollins

5

Jess has moved to London after years of dreaming of life in the city. In her new Notting Hill house-share, Jess and her new roommates come together over a Christmas dinner. She’s drawn to Alex, the man who shares her floor, and as the winter holiday progresses, they grow closer, even while the most inconvenient love triangle stands in their way. For a light, wintery read, pick up a copy of Rosie Curtis’s We Met in December.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

6

Welcome to Alaska. The year is 1920. Jack and Mabel have recently arrived as homesteaders on the unforgiving land. In this harsh place, the line between fantasy and reality bends. Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow, and they wake the next day to find that she has come to life. But nothing is as it seems. If you’re a fan of literary magical realism, grab a copy this book and a blanket to protect you from the cold.

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

7

Set in the Pacific Northwest in the 1950s, this atmospheric novel tells the story of a man wrongfully accused of a crime. Not only is the subject of this novel important—it examines the racial tension between Japanese Americans and their white neighbors after World War II—its lush description gives the story a vivid sense of place.

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

8

Have you ever had a terrible job? Like, hilariously terrible? If you have, then you’ll relate to Sedaris’s stint as an elf at Macy’s in New York City in “Santaland Diaries,” the hysterical essay that launched Sedaris’ career. Make this essay and the rest of Holidays on Ice a winter tradition.

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

9

Naomi, a private investigator, has a knack for finding missing persons—particularly young ones. Called on by the Culver family, whose daughter Madison disappeared in Skookum National Forest three years before, Naomi searches the wintry landscape, searching for clues to Madison’s disappearance, all the while remembering the pieces of her own dark past.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

10

This book was a big bestseller a few years ago, but if you haven’t read it yet, it’s not too late. In the aftermath of her own murder, Susie Salmon watches her family and her town cope with her disappearance. The setting is wintry and cold, and the climax is downright icy. Although this book is incredibly popular, the hype is well-deserved.

To buy: $7, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

11

The Thirteenth Tale is a novel for book lovers, but it’s anything but cozy. Biographer Margaret Lea is tasked with telling the life story of the enigmatic author Vida Winter, whose lauded collection of stories is missing the eponymous 13th tale. As Winter unravels her life’s story for Lea, her mysterious past of Victorian-gothic proportions unfolds.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

Credit: Amazon.com

12

Kristin Hannah is the queen of tugging at heartstrings, as you know if you’ve read her much-beloved novel The Nightingale. If you’re expecting heartache, The Winter Garden won’t disappoint. In this novel that alternates between past and present, you’ll learn about the lives of two sisters, Nina and Meredith, and their mother’s life in war-torn Leningrad.

To buy: $8, amazon.com.