The 50 Best winter reads

It’s cold outside and you want to snuggle down on the sofa. Just make sure you have a good book, says Sophie Morris

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The Independent Online

The experts:

Rebecca Armstrong is the features editor of ‘The Independent’ and ‘i’

Viv Bird is chief executive of Booktrust, the leading reading and writing charity,

Janine Cook is eBooks promotions manager at Waterstones,

Jonathan Ruppin is web editor for Foyles,


The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Sceptre, £14.99

“This intimate novel bears witness to the impact of the US invasion of Iraq on a small cast of soldiers, and is drawn from the author’s own time in the US army,” says Janine.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window... by Jonas Jonasson

Hesperus Press, £8.99

“Proof that not all Scandinavian writers are obsessed with murder and dark winters,” says Janine.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Atlantic Books, £12.99

“One of those must-read novels about nature vs nurture like The Slap and We Need to Talk About Kevin,” says Janine, “with a series of dark twists and turns.”

Valentina by Evie Blake

Headline, £7.99

“Set in Italy, it tells the stories of two women, Valentina in 2012 and Belle in 1929, and is both a heartbreaking love story and a romance raunchy enough to keep you warm at night,” says Janine.

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Bloomsbury, £16.99

“Norfolk’s book is rich in detail. Vivid and sensuous, this is one of the finest novels published this year, and perfect to curl up with on a night,” says Janine.

Grimm Tales for Young and for Old by Philip Pullman

Penguin Hardback, £20

“This beautiful hardback contains Pullman’s retellings of 50 of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales,” says Janine.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Headline, £7.99

“Inspired by a Russian fairy tale about a mysterious snow child, this simply told debut novel is a lovely and enchanting read,” says Janine.

NW by Zadie Smith

Penguin, £18.99

“Smith plays with structure and form in this very humane and optimistic novel, and to dazzling effect,” says Janine. “Her ear for dialogue is simply superb.”

Where Have You Been? by Joseph O’Connor

Harvill Secker, £16.99

The characters of O’Connor’s first collection of short stories in 20 years are as wide-ranging as the Irish diaspora – his subject here.

Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

Chatto & Windus, £18.99

“The return of Tremain’s larger-than-life protagonist from Restoration sees him scarcely wiser and no less outrageous,” says Jonathan.

May We Be Forgiven by A M Homes

Granta, £16.99

“This blackly humorous story of a Nixon biographer made unwilling surrogate parent to his niece and nephew is one of my favourite novels of the year,” says Jonathan.

The Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Head of Zeus, £12.99

“This first publication of two film treatments is a welcome addition to the bibliography of Raymond Chandler’s only equal,” says Jonathan.

Object Lessons

William Heinemann, £20

“The premise of pairing 20 short stories from the Paris Review archives with introductions from some of today’s finest exponents of the form results in an enthralling anthology,” says Jonathan.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Faber & Faber, £12.99

A story of Mumbai’s street world – opium dens, whore houses and human relations; Narcopolis is Indian poet Jeet Thayil’s first novel but reads as if spun by a master.

The Streets by Anthony Quinn

Jonathan Cape, £14.99

Quinn returns the streets of Somers Town to the mid-19th century as a young man from Norfolk investigates poverty and corruption in one of London’s slums.



Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

Granta, £20

“This explores the roots of European fairy tales both in terms of the forests they grew from and people who told them,” says Rebecca.

Strands: A Year of Discoveries... by Jean Sprackland

Jonathan Cape, £16.99

“Let poet Jean Sprackland be your guide across the stretch of coastline between Blackpooland Liverpool,” says Rebecca.

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley

Chatto & Windus, £30

This refreshing biography reveals how Bertie became a monarch of the people, enabling the institution to thrive through a new century.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

John Murray, £25

“Artemis Cooper’s biography will whet your appetite for more Leigh Fermor-style adventure,” says Rebecca.

The End of Men: and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin

Riverhead Books, £12.99

“With a title like that, there’s no wonder that Rosin has caused waves on both sides of the Atlantic,” says Rebecca.

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Jonathan Cape, £25

“Rushdie moves smartly between the effect of the fatwa on his family and his status as icon of free speech with wit and integrity,” says Jonathan.

How Music Works by David Byrne

Canongate, £22

“Spiked with autobiographical titbits, this laying bare of both the artistic and commercial realities of the music world is great reading,” says Jonathan.

The Tudors: The History of England, Vol.2 by Peter Ackroyd

Macmillan, £20

The second in Ackroyd’s six-volume review of English history tackles the period that intrigues people like no other.

Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre

Fourth Estate, £12.99

Goldacre’s systematic investigation of the many ways the pharmaceutical industry is putting profits ahead of the needs of patients.

What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz

Viking, £20

“Gompertz brings meaning, context and an infectious sense of fun to even the most baffling expressions of the avant-garde,” says Jonathan.

A Book for Cooks by Leslie Geddes-Brown

Merrell, £30

“Dominated by photographs and reproductions, this book chronicles not just changing dining habits but the cookery book’s role in illustration and design,” says Jonathan.

End of Your Life Bookclub by Will Schwalbe

Hodder, £16.99

“This is a life-enhancing celebration of the power of books and reading, very much in the vein of Tuesdays with Morrie,” says Janine.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

Granta, £25

“A magical catalogue of some of the planet’s most unlikely fauna, from familiar creatures to hideously alien forms,” says Jonathan.

Inconvenient people by Sarah Wise

Bodley Head, £20

Wise reopens 12 uncontested lunacy cases from the 1800s, meticulously exploring the details of each and recreating the stories with a page-turning eye for a great narrative.


Crime and thriller:

Dominion by CJ Sansom

Pan Macmillan, £18.99

“It is a gripping spy thriller set in a smoggy re-imagined 1950s London in a world where Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk,” says Janine.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Little Brown, £16.99

“This is not just brilliant period crime writing, but brilliant writing full stop, showing all Lehane’s usual intelligence,” says Janine.

The Bat: A Harry Hole thriller by Jo Nesbo

Harvill Secker, £18.99

Jo Nesbo’s latest is a 1997 publication newly translated into English. “A searing read from a chilling thriller writer,” says Rebecca.

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

Viking, £12.99

True crime at its most chilling. If you’ve been entranced by the Bo Xilai and Neil Heywood true story, this is a book for you.

Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen

Bantam Press, £18.99

“Her creation of a school for the children of murdered parents is like a horror-filled Hogwarts,” says Rebecca. “Ridiculously readable.”

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

Headline, £6.99

“This story from a young-adult novelist is told via a notebook belonging to Emily Koll, awaiting trial in a young offenders’ institute,” says Rebecca.

Books to Die For edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke

Hodder, £25

“Yep, mystery writers themselves have nominated their top reads in the form of essays,” says Rebecca.

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

Orion, £18.99

“I’ve seldom, if ever, been as hooked after reading a prologue as with Trust Your Eyes,” says Rebecca. “A twisty tale that’s told well.”

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99

“The latest novel from the new Icelandic queen of crime is set to be a spookier affair than her previous thrillers,” says Rebecca.

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

Chatto & Windus, £16.99

“What actually makes this so readable is what goes on away from the case – Hill’s musings on the human condition,” says Rebecca.


For children:

The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle

Templar, £6.99

“The Pirates Next Door is an entertaining, fabulously illustrated tale of what happens when the Jolley Rogers come to stay,” says Viv.

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

Simon & Schuster, £5.99

“I loved the twist when Princess Sue finds being rescued by the Prince not as exciting as she had imagined,” says Viv.

My Big Shouting Day! by Rebecca Patterson

Jonathan Cape, £5.99

“This is a very human story of a little girl who is having a bad day,” says Viv. “At bedtime she finds forgiveness and understanding from those who love her best.”

Toys in Space by Mini Grey

Jonathan Cape, £10.99

“An uplifting story of how a child’s toys, abandoned in the dark and scary garden overnight, find comfort through imaginative storytelling,” says Viv.

Just Imagine by Nick Sharrett and Pippa Goodhart

Doubleday, £10.99

“The most wonderful glimpse of alternative ways of seeing the world through pictures that will delight and feed a child’s imagination,” says Viv.

The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey

Andersen, £4.99

“This is an enjoyable tale told through a child’s letters to his uncle who has left him his pet dragon to look after for a few days,” says Viv. “Chaos ensues.”

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Harper Collins, £12.99

“Side-splittingly funny at times, yet life affirming, it movingly captures the precious relationship between old and young,” says Viv.

The Boy who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond

Walker, £9.99

“Stan runs away to discover the circus, but can he find the strength within him to achieve his destiny?” asks Viv.

The Messenger Bird by Ruth Eastham

Scholastic, £5.99

“Telling the gripping story of a boy’s search to rescue his dad from being imprisoned as a spy, this is a great read for girls and boys alike,” says Viv.

The Funniest Spooky Joke Book Ever by Joe King

Andersen, £3.99

“This will appeal to boys who love to catch you out with jokes you’ve heard before and others you haven’t,” says Viv.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

OUP, £6.99

“Teenager Elizabeth sets out on a dangerous hunt to find out who is stealing the objects that come straight out of Grimm fairy tales,” says Viv.

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