Beach reads are an established pseudo-genre. There is no shortage of sun-soaked escapist reads. But they do have an opposite. Books set in the dead of winter tend to be atmospheric and more delicately plotted. These are books you will want to read with a cup of cocoa, a tartan blanket over your legs, and a candle burning on your coffee table. Hygge vibes are not optional.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Set during the siege of Leningrad, Lev and Kolya find themselves in prison and due to be executed. The two young men are told that they will be permitted to live if they accomplish the impossible: find one dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a Soviet colonel’s daughter. Lev and Kolya wander the starving city, chasing down rumors of still un-slaughtered chickens, making unlikely friendships, and fleeing enemies. This is a great read for someone looking for a more unconventional World War II novel, and you will love the characters.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
The year is 1987 and 14-year-old June Elbus has only one friend: her uncle Finn. After Finn’s death from AIDS, Toby comes into her life. While June had never been told of his existence, Toby had been Finn’s partner for approximately a decade. “I was the man no one wanted to see,” Toby says of his role in both Finn’s life and funeral. “He’s the guy who killed Uncle Finn,” June’s sixteen-year-old sister, Greta, says of Toby. June isn’t sure if Toby killed her uncle or not, but she is grateful to befriend someone who understands her loss, and she knows the only time that she can spend time with Toby is during tax season, when her accountant parents are not home. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a beautiful story of a misfit friendship.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Mabel and Jack, a married couple mourning their dream of having children, move to Alaska to get away. The couple is unprepared for the darkness, the cold, seasonal affective disorder, and food insecurity in a difficult-to-farm land. One day, Mabel and Jack in a rare moment of playfulness, build a snow child in their yard. The next day, the snow child is destroyed, but a little girl is spotted running through the woods, accompanied by a fox. The couple tries to find the identity of the little girl, but there are no families with small children living in the vicinity, and Mabel remembers a Russian folktale her father told her about an elderly couple who make a snow child, and the child leaves them because they resort to dishonest measures to keep her. A memorable read that blends early 20th century Alaskan history, magical realism, and Russian folklore.
The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch
Full disclosure: This is actually the second book in the Hangman’s Daughter series, but I know you can read them out of order because this is the first of the series I read, and it did not confuse me or keep me from reading the first book afterwards. This book set in 17th century Bavaria is a murder mystery in a perfect snow globe of a setting. When a well-liked priest is poisoned, Jakob Kuisl, hangman, and Simon Fronwieser, son of the local physician, turn to a note the priest scribbled just before his death for clues. As they search for answers, they attract the attention of a dangerous sect of monks and learn about a legendary treasure of the Knights Templar. Jakob Kuisl is an intriguing detective. He’s a hangman because he has little choice in the matter, being descended from a line of hangmen, but he’s also well-read, moral, and honorable. The very fact that he is the one who has to execute convicted murderers is what gives him the incentive to make sure the correct person is caught.
One by One by Ruth Ware
Snoop, a successful English tech start up, is holding their corporate retreat in a chalet in the French Alps. When they arrive at the chalet, dressed in designer clothes and already drunk, caretaker Erin knows exactly how to handle their kind as she has done it hundreds of times before. But when the Snoop crew gets down to work, Erin begins to realize that things are a bit strange here. With the offer of a company buyout, the shareholders are torn between the two warring cofounders, Eva and Topher. And strangely, all of the pressure seems to be on Liz, the shy and awkward former secretary of Snoop. After one of the group goes missing while skiing in dangerous conditions, an avalanche isolates the Snoop staff in the chalet, and then they are murdered one by one. A well-written mystery with isolated And Then There Were None vibes, One by One is a definite page-turner.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
They were the best of friends at Oxford, but they grew apart over time. Still they travel to an exotic location each year to celebrate the new year, and this year they find themselves in a luxurious yet isolated hunting lodge in Scotland. Beautiful Miranda has been disappointed by her lack of professional success in life, and so she keeps a grip on her role as queen of the friend group. Workaholic Katie wishes she hadn’t come. Emma, who joined the group as Mark’s girlfriend, wants to cement her status in the glamorous friend circle by planning the best new years celebration yet. Everyone at the lodge is hiding a secret, even the housekeeper Heather and gamekeeper Doug, and on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead. Told from alternating points of view, The Hunting Party is a suspenseful mystery.