The dark, chilly days of winter have arrived and you know what that means: it’s time to snuggle up with a warm drink and a good book. With a beautiful crop of literary works to choose from, it was no easy feat to whittle down the list. This season’s picks range from gripping memoirs to historical fiction to a handful of beautifully crafted thrillers to a beloved classic.
In no particular order, the 12 reads I hope to cuddle up with this winter…
A House in the Sky: a memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
In August 2008, Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped by Somali militants and held captive for fifteen months. A House in the Sky is Amanda’s vivid and moving account of the suffering she endured and how she kept hope alive. We learn about her experiences growing up in a violent home in Red Deer, Alberta and her desire to escape it all, her years of backpacking, and the intense desire to make it as a TV reporter that drove her to Mogadishu, Somalia.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love says: “This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Harrowing, hopeful, graceful, redeeming, and true, it tells a story of inhumanity and humanity that somehow feels deeply ancient and completely modern.”
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
In Cutting for Stone, the debut novel from Abraham Verghese, twin brothers Marion and Shiva Stone are born to an Indian nun and a British surgeon. Orphaned at a young age, they must learn to traverse the world together as they grow up in Ethiopia on the brink of revolution. The twins’ story transports us between Addis Ababa and New York City and explores themes of love, betrayal and medicine.
Praise from the Los Angeles Times: “Shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth conspire to create the story of a single life. Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair.”
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
From critically-acclaimed author Anthony Doerr comes the magical tale of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths fatefully cross in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Since its release earlier on this year, the novel has received tons of praise from both critics and readers – shortlisted for the 2014 National Book Award and named best historical fiction for 2014 by Goodreads users.
Booklist gave this one a starred review, saying: “A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned.”
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
This one was brought to my attention by an employee at my neighbourhood bookstore. Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, A Tale for the Time Being is a deeply engaging story of human connections. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore outside her British Columbia beach house. Hidden inside is the diary of a sixteen-year-old Japanese schoolgirl named Nao who has decided there’s only one way to escape her loneliness and her classmates’ bullying – to take her own life.
Elle had this to say: “Forget the proverbial message in a bottle: This Tale fractures clichés as it affirms the lifesaving power of words. . . . As Ozeki explores the ties between reader and writer, she offers a lesson in redemption that reinforces the pricelessness of the here and now.”
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
This one has sat on my to-be-read list for far too long and winter seems like the perfect time to dive right in. In December 2003, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne saw their only daughter, Quintana fall ill with pneumonia, then septic shock. Days later, as the couple sat down to dinner after visiting their daughter in the hospital, Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack. In her National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion paints a vivid portrait of love, loss, grief and the human ability to emerge stronger after facing the most heartbreaking of trials.
Robert Pinsky of The New York Times Book Review calls it: “Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, and memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement . . . sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth.”
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
While writing her best-selling memoir, Wild, author Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column for online literary magazine, The Rumpus. Under the pseudonym Sugar, she responded to letters from readers facing every problem imaginable – from broken marriages to painful miscarriages, drug addiction to life-threatening illnesses.
Tiny Beautiful Things is more than just a collection of her advice columns. As Quenby Moone, nonfiction editor of The Nervous Breakdown puts it: “Tiny Beautiful Things isn’t really a compilation of her advice columns. More, it’s a series of essays about life in all its grimy, unpleasant heartache, and a plea to rise above it to love truthfully and deeply and well, despite all our handicaps.”
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Topping Amazon’s 100 best books of 2014 list, Celeste Ng’s debut literary thriller opens with the chilling line, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” Set in 1970s small-town Ohio, Ng tells the story of a Chinese-American family whose 16-year-old daughter, Lydia is found dead in the local lake. Ng explores issues of gender and race and casts light on a family’s struggle to fit into “white” American culture.
O, The Oprah Magazine says: “Cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive… Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story… Ng’s themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.”
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
In her debut novel, Nadia Hashimi knits together the stories of two women who are separated by generations but share the same dreams. With a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can rarely attend school or leave the house. To make life easier, Rahima adopts the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows her to dress as a boy. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba did the same.
Khaled Hosseini, author of And the Mountains Echoed says: “Nadia Hashimi has written, first and foremost, a tender and beautiful family story. Her always engaging multigenerational tale is a portrait of Afghanistan in all of its perplexing, enigmatic glory, and a mirror into the still ongoing struggles of Afghan women.”
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe
In spring 2011, three women enlisted in the Indiana National Guard. Months later, the 9/11 attacks happened and they were deployed overseas. In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe tracks the lives of these women over twelve years as they do multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. She highlights how war affected their lives and the challenges of returning home with the scars of battle.
Publisher’s Weekly describes it as: “Moving… Highlighting how profoundly military service changed their lives–and the lives of their families–this visceral narrative illuminates the role of women in the military, the burdens placed on the National Guard, and the disproportionate burden of these wars borne by the poor.”
Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
I’ve decided to give short stories a chance and this collection sounds like the perfect jumping off point. In her first collection of short stories in twenty years, McCracken seamlessly interweaves feelings of loneliness with moments of pure joy. Since its release in April of this year, the collection has received a steady stream of praise. The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews all named it one of the best books of the year.
Los Angeles Times calls it: “Stunningly beautiful . . . brilliantly moving . . . Moments of joy and pure magic flicker and pitch-perfect humor acts as a furtive SOS signal through the fog of loss.”
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
In Reconstructing Amelia, successful lawyer and single mom, Kate receives a shocking phone call from her daughter’s private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia, an overachiever and all-around good girl has been suspended for cheating. Kate rushes to the school and upon arrival, learns that Amelia is dead. The police rule Amelia’s death a suicide, but Kate refuses to believe it. When Kate receives an anonymous text saying: Amelia didn’t jump, she sets out to learn the truth by piecing together the final days of her daughter’s life.
Entertainment Weekly describes it as “Gossip Girl meets Gone Girl.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” So begins Jane Austen’s most popular novel in her own lifetime. Set in late-eighteenth-century England, Pride and Prejudice focuses on the Bennets who are seeking suitable husbands for their five unmarried daughters. Loved this one from my high school English class. How gorgeous is this cover from the Penguin Drop Caps series?
What kind of books do you gravitate towards in the colder months?