The 50 Best winter reads

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They’re the perfect accompaniment to a comfy chair and a warm fire... Kate Watson-Smyth picks new and classic books for the chilly months

This week’s panel:

Jonathan Ruppin, web editor of Foyles bookshop and judge of the 2011 Geoffrey Faber Memorial and Muslim Writers Awards Published Novel prizes;

Alice O’Keeffe, books editor of ‘The Bookseller’;

Val McDermid, whose latest novel, ‘The Retribution’p p (£18.99, Little Brown) is out now;

David Miller, literary agent at Rogers, Coleridge & White and author of ‘Today’ (£12.99, Atlantic);

Sophie Hannah, whose latest novel, ‘Lasting Damage’a a (£7.99, Hodder), is now out in paperback;

Reader email: 50best@independent.co.uk

1. Emma by Jane Austen

'Intrigue, misinterpretation and bad behaviour, all with a shot of acid,' says Val McDermid. Emma Woodhouse, "handsome, clever and rich", sets about interfering in other people's lives and leaves a trail of genteel havoc in her wake. This edition is a beautiful clothbound hardback.

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

'With echoes of Japanese 'yomihon', fantastical tales of often doomed romantic yearning, Mitchell's story has a bardic quality that makes you want to hear it sat eagerly at someone's feet,' says Jonathan Ruppin.

Publisher: Sceptre

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

3. History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

A novel spangled with all the glories of la belle époque, with a hero to make everyone swoon, says Jonathan. 'Piet Barol's ascent through Dutch society, fuelled by quick wits and raw sex appeal, is a sensuously described period piece.'

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

4. I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge

This 'intensely private' man opens up again to discuss his lifelong ambition to wind up his production company, leave London and return to local radio. 'Pure comic genius,' says Alice O'Keeffe.

Publisher: Harper Collins

How much: £18 at The Independent's bookshop

5. The Fear Index by Robert Harris

Robert Harris has ranged far and wide with his subject matter, from the Nazis of Fatherland to the politics of Ancient Rome in Lustrum, says Alice. 'His latest is an up-to-the-minute thriller set in the world of high finance. Gripping stuff.'

Publisher: Hutchinson

How much: £15.99 at The Independent's bookshop

6. Daddy’s Rules by Rachel Sontag

'A brilliant account of how Sontag resisted her cruel, unstable father's mind control, and finally broke free,' says Sophie Hannah.

Publisher: Harper Perennial

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

7. A Taste for Death by PD James

'This is, to my mind, the best Dalgliesh novel,' says David Miller. 'Set in Notting Hill, it has all the best elements of a whodunit.'

Publisher: Faber and Faber

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

8. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

From the war years to the 1960s we follow the lives of three New England friends. 'Beautifully written,' says Alice.

Publisher: Picador

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

9. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Escape a gloomy winter with this sparklingly witty and caustic novel that never fails to lift the spirits, says Alice.

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

10. Anthony Burgess by Roger Lewis

'Roger Lewis's book about Anthony Burgess is the funniest account of a literary life you'll ever read,' says David.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

11. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Here's the first 1,000 pages in Ken Follett's new trilogy following five families in America, Russia, Germany and Wales through the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Publisher: Pan

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

12. Christian Louboutin by Philippe Garcia and Christian Louboutin

The ultimate coffee-table book is all about the designer's shoes and comes with a fold-out cover and pop-up shoes.

Publisher: Rizzoli International Publications

How much: £76.50 at The Independent's bookshop

13. Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

A thriller told from the perspective of an amnesia victim who must piece together her life anew every day. If you can't trust your own memory, who can you trust? Out in paperback in January.

Publisher: Doubleday

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

14. In Office Hours by Lucy Kellaway

'Why didn't everybody notice how brilliant this novel was when it came out in paperback in January?' asks Sophie. 'It's the best book about relationships that I've read for a long, long time.'

Publisher: Penguin

How much: £6.64 at The Independent's bookshop

15. The Death of Grass by John Christopher

Science fiction's most chillingly authentic apocalypse in which a virus spreads across the globe wiping out grass and crops, says Jonathan. It's strongly reminiscent of John Wyndham.

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

16. Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

'This book will make your stomach hurt, you'll laugh so much,' says Sophie. 'The eponymous Dad is so awful to everybody he encounters, and yet he's so witty.'

Publisher: Pan

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

17. Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

'Acclaimed travel writer Thubron's account of his epic nine-month journey along one of the world's great trade routes is an adventure classic,' says Alice.

Publisher: Vintage

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

18. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

'This is the best practical guide I know to a writer's development,' says Val. 'It's a master craftsman's guide to how a competent writer can become a good one.'

Publisher: New English Library

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

19. The Affair by Lee Child

Fans of Jack Reacher will have been eagerly awaiting this latest instalment. It's not the strongest in the series but it's still a good read and fleshes out the character a little more.

Publisher: Bantam Press

How much: £17.09 at The Independent's bookshop

20. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

'What seems at first a timeless and exquisite adult fairytale is boiled down to something harsher beneath the New South Wales sun,' says Jonathan.

Publisher: Vintage

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

21. The Octopus by Frank Norris

Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck cited Norris as an influence. 'I can't imagine I'll ever read another 600-page novel in one sitting,' says Jonathan.

Publisher: Dover Publications

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

22. Awkward Family Pet Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

'This celebrates the special bond some people have with their pets — and gives the rest of us a good laugh,' says Alice.

Publisher: Bantam Press

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

23. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

It has been described as the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century. It's set around the time of Stalingrad and tells the story of the Shaposhnikov family.

Publisher: Vintage Classics

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

24. Londoners by Craig Taylor

A compelling oral history that reveals the capital through the voices of 80 or so ordinary Londoners who live and work in the capital now.

Publisher: Granta

How much: £20 at The Independent's bookshop

25. The Facility by Simon Lelic

'With his fragile, sympathetic characters, Lelic has the same ability to make us look at the society we're creating as John le Carré,' says Jonathan.

Publisher: Picador

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

26. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

'From the start, Winterson demonstrated a deep fascination with the power of love and that concern is nowhere more apparent than here,' says Val.

Publisher: Contemporary Classics

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

27. The Lady with the Little Dog by Anton Chekhov

'Chekhov's stories still don't have as many readers as they should, and they are the perfect treat for a winter's night,' says David. 'This collection is one of the best.'

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

28. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

When a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles after a Hindu Goddess plunges a sword into his chest, detective Vish Puri investigates

Publisher: Hutchinson

How much: £13.49 at The Independent's bookshop

29. The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist

'This tells the story of the intrigues at the Danish Court in Copenhagen in the 1760s,' says David. 'It's one of the most compelling novels I've read.'

Publisher: Vintage

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

30. How to Survive the Titanic by Frances Wilson

'A brilliantly observed and researched account of what happened to the Titanic and the man who co-owned the vessel once he had jumped from it,' says David.

Publisher: Bloomsbury

How much: £17.09 at The Independent's bookshop

31. Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

The latest book from the Norwegian crime writer isn't a Harry Hole adventure but concerns Roger Brown, a charming headhunter. It has a vein of dark humour running through it.

Publisher: Harvill Secker

How much: £10.79 at The Independent's bookshop

32. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Lou takes a new job as a carer for Will who has recently been confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident. "A perceptive and moving tale," says Alice.

Publisher: Michael Joseph

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

33. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The perfect winter read to curl with up, says Alice. 'I can think of no other novel more likely to put one in the mood for Christmas.'

Publisher: Puffin Classics

How much: £6.64 at The Independent's bookshop

34. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The collision of two disparate worlds is the rich source of high and low comedy, says Val. 'Still achingly funny.'

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

35. The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

Billed as a YA (young adult) novel, this strikingly original tale about memory and identity is set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Publisher: Indigo

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

36. Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

'There is nothing sentimental or judgemental about Jackie Kay's account of her journey to discover her birth parents,' says Val.

Publisher: Picador

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

37. Darkside by Belinda Bauer

Her superb debut, Blacklands, won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger last year. 'If you like Kate Atkinson, do give Bauer a try,' says Alice.

Publisher: Corgi

How much: £6.64 at The Independent's bookshop

38. The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

One of Murdoch's finest books says Sophie. 'Iris Murdoch understood like no other writer the buried craziness at the heart of every human being.'

Publisher: Vintage Classics

How much: £8.54 at The Independent's bookshop

39. Something Happened by Joseph Heller

'For me, it's the best thing Heller ever wrote – I read it on a beach and laughed out loud, and finished it on the plane home in tears,' says David.

Publisher: Vintage

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

40. Fludd by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel channels the wit and eye for detail of Waugh, Wodehouse and Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm in this wry morality tale, says Jonathan.

Publisher: Fourth Estate

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

41. Witch Light by Susan Fletcher

Corrag, a young Scottish girl who has survived the Glencoe massacre, awaits being burned for witchcraft. 'I've rarely wanted to meet a character as much as this feisty sprite.' says Jonathan.

Publisher: Fourth Estate

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

42. Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski

'Jenny Diski wraps an uncompromising review of her troubled childhood with her consequent search for peace amidst the brutally achromatic expanses of the Antarctica.'

Publisher: Virago

How much: £9.49 at The Independent's bookshop

43. Tony & Susan by Austin Wright

The manuscript of a new novel shocks the writer's ex-wife. 'We share both her fascination with the story and her unease about what she is learning about her ex-husband,' says Jonathan.

Publisher: Atlantic

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

44. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

'This novel about a woman's struggle to survive is so much more than a love story,' says Sophie. 'But it has an amazingly romantic love story at its centre. I couldn't put it down.'

Publisher: Macmillan

How much: £11.69 at The Independent's bookshop

45. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

'Of all the Victorian novels I read as an undergraduate, this is the one I have revisited most often,' says Val. 'It's an unflinching and satirical look at the dark side of human nature.'

Publisher: Penguin Classics

How much: £2.38 at The Independent's bookshop

46. Matricide at St Martha’s by Ruth Dudley Edwards

When a Cambridge college is left a huge legacy, murder ensues. 'Nobody is safe from RDE's acid, bitchy and clever wit,' says Val.

Publisher: Kindle or second-hand copies only

How much: Around £5

47. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Greece in the age of heroes. Achilles and Patroclus, Gods and Fate. Miller has rewritten The Illiad as a modern novel and love story in this, her first book.

Publisher: Bloomsbury

How much: £17.09 at The Independent's bookshop

48. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin's meticulously researched and beautifully written biography, which flows like fiction, is an absorbing account of the great man.

Publisher: Viking

How much: £27 at The Independent's bookshop

49. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

'Desire, grief and loss mingle in an emotionally intense novel that never forgets it's also a murder mystery,' says Val.

Publisher: Harper

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

50. The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

A reworking of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility that's romantic, crisp and funny.

Publisher: Corsair

How much: £7.59 at The Independent's bookshop

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