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The 50 Best winter reads

Now the weather has turned colder, what could be better than curling up somewhere cosy with a good book? Sophie Morris presents the literary experts’ top choices

Sophie Morris
Friday 25 October 2013 16:47

The experts:

Joanna de Guia - Owner of east London’s Victoria Park Books,

Cathy Moore - A director of the Cambridge Wordfest, taking place 1 Dec,

Jonathan Ruppin - Web editor for Foyles,

Chris White - Fiction buyer at Waterstones,


The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood

Canongate, £14.99

“An orphaned peasant boy thrives when offered a new life by a French nobleman,” says Jonathan. “One for fans of Andrew Miller’s Ingenious Pain,” he adds.

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

Hamish Hamilton, £18.99

“Eggers turns his attention to social-media corporations, and, with a plot worthy of the greatest thriller, imagines a dystopian future where their power runs unchecked,” says Chris. “1984 for the dotcom generation.”

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A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

Portobello, £12.99

“In the bitter cold of a Polish winter, three German soldiers are despatched on a mission to round up Jewish prisoners,” explains Chris. “A masterpiece which explores the complicity of ordinary men in terrible evil.”

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Little, Brown, £20

Recommended by both Chris and Cathy. “Tartt’s novel is one of towering ambition, which weaves its divergent strands across decades and continents, into a vibrant tapestry, leaving the reader absorbed from start to finish,” says Chris.

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Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Pushkin Press, £12.99

“A woman trying come to terms with being dumped finds herself circumnavigating Iceland,” says Jonathan.

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Harvest by Jim Crace

Picador, £16.99

Shortlisted for the Man Booker. Crace looks back to a period that defines the way we live now, when enclosure caused the widespread collapse of communities.

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Three Brothers by Peter Ackroyd

Chatto & Windus, £14.99

“Three brothers, born in the 1960s, lead disparate lives, but all are haunted by the disappearance of their mother during childhood,” says Chris.

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Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

HarperCollins, £16.99

“This takes an unflinching look at obesity through the eyes of a family learning to cope with an overweight family member,” says Cathy.

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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Bloomsbury, £18.99

Gilbert reminds readers she can do, and undo, narratives through impeccably observed and original stories.

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The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Granta, £18.99

Earlier this month, Catton won the Man Booker with this, her second novel. Says Jonathan: “She’s one of the finest writers of our time.”

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Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Quercus, £16.99

“A childless couple adopt a young Nigerian boy whose mother had been convinced by an evangelical bishop that he was possessed by an evil wizard,” says Jonathan.

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Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

Vintage, £7.99

A retired actor, Buffy, tries to make a living running a ramshackle B&B in Wales. “This warm, funny and generous romp of a novel is a delight,” says Cathy.

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The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

Simon & Schuster, £12.99

“A poignant, and, at times, harrowing account of Somalia’s descent into civil war, that brings together a refugee girl, a widow and a female soldier,” says Jonathan.

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Maddadam by Margaret Atwood

Bloomsbury, £18.99

The final instalment in Atwood’s satirical end-of-the-world trilogy returns to her odd collection of characters that are the offspring of scientific experimentation.

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The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi

Harvill Secker, £16.99

“A bereaved literary professor and a boy from a South Pacific island are brought together in an extraordinary near-future adventure,” says Jonathan.

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Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng

Picador, £14.99

While American readers argue over its authenticity, British readers can sit back and relish this terrific slice of Southern Gothic.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Bloomsbury, £16.99

The Lowland begins with two young brothers on the streets of Calcutta in 1967, and pursues them through the devastating political events of the time.

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Half the Kingdom by Lore Segal

Melville House, £13.99

“There’s so much going on within the pages of this deceptively tricksy novella, it calls for an immediate re-read,” says Jonathan.

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Pink Mist by Owen Sheers

Faber & Faber, £12.99

“Owen Sheers should rightly take his place as the war poet of our generation with this small but powerful volume of verse drama,” says Cathy.

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The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Virago, £14.99

This book examines the cult of love and monogamy through the stories of a number of couples through the 1900s to the present day.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Picador, £12.99

“A woman convicted of murder in 19th-century Iceland is billeted to a farm while she awaits her death sentence,” says Jonathan.

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Police by Jo Nesbo

Vintage, £18.99

“In the dark world of Scandinavian crime, Jo Nesbo’s novels are darker than most,” says Chris. “Settle down with a glass of Akvavit and prepare for a long night.”

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Barcelona Shadows by Marc Pastor

Pushkin Press, £12.99

“This intelligent serial-killer thriller, with a rare female murderer, is based on a real case in 19th-century Barcelona,” says Jonathan

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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Hutchinson, £18.99

“Harris’s gift for breathing life into historical characters is on full display in this brilliant fictionalisation of L’affair Dreyfus,” says Chris.

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Solo by William Boyd

Jonathan Cape, £18.99

It takes a brave chap to assume the mantle of Ian Fleming’s Bond, but William Boyd is just the fellow. Bond tracks a warlord through a civil war in a fictional west African state.

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Prayer by Philip Kerr

Quercus, £18.99

“An FBI agent’s crisis of faith is turned upside down by a series of deaths that a deeply disturbed woman claims were committed using the power of prayer,” says Jonathan. “A thriller that ticks all the boxes.”

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The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

Harvill Secker, £12.99

“If you haven’t yet indulged in the joys of a Fred Vargas crime novel, you absolutely must,” says Cathy. “This latest outing for the offbeat Commissaire Adamsberg is her best.”

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Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Michael Joseph, £18.99

Jonathan says: “Iggulden got the balance between action and authenticity just right in his previous Roman Empire series, and he does so again amid the Wars of the Roses.”

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Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

Orion, £18.99

“Rebus is determinedly centre stage in Rankin’s finest novel for years,” says Chris. “A firstrate thriller but also a forensic examination of contemporary Scottish society.”

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Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99

“Ever wondered what happened to Danny, the psychic son from The Shining? Doctor Sleep reunites us with him,” reveals Chris. “A sequel worthy of its predecessor.”

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Elizabeth’s Bedfellows by Anna Whitelock

Bloomsbury, £20

The first Queen Elizabeth is examined again in this revelatory book, which seeks out the private woman behind the public image.

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The Broken Road: From Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermour

John Murray, £25

“At last, the final volume of the Leigh Fermour trilogy has emerged,” enthuses Chris.

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My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

Hodder & Stoughton, £25

Chris says: “A fascinating insight into the mind of possibly the greatest manager of all time, which all fans of the game will wish to read.”

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The Blunders of our Governments by Anthony King & Ivor Crew

Oneworld, £25

“An entertaining journey through the cock-ups of governments,” says Cathy.

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Autobiography by Morrissey

Penguin Classics, £8.99

“Shrouded in secrecy, this could be the most anticipated book of the century,” says Chris. “His legions of fans will think so, anyway.”

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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back by Tim Harford

Little, Brown, £20

Bluff your way through macroeconomics with this read. Harford explains the global impact of local events.

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Chinese Whispers: Why Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong by Ben Chu

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99

The Independent’s economics editor reassesses everything we assume about the country.

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Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Granta Books £9.99

“This book introduces us to six North Koreans and what life is truly like living under one of the world’s most oppressive regimes,” says Cathy.

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The Bombing War by Richard Overy

Allen Lane, £30

“A richly detailed history, which never shies away from questioning conventional moral assumptions about the Second World War,” says Chris.

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A Very British Killing by AT Williams

Vintage £9.99

“This lucid account of the death of Baha Mousa, at the hands of British Troops in Iraq, is a deserving winner of the Orwell Prize,” says Cathy.

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The Very Helpful Hedgehog by Rosie Wellesley

Pavilion, £5.99

“No hedgehog is an island, as Isaac discovers when he gets an apple stuck to his spines, and is forced to accept help to remove it,” says Joanna.

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A Letter for Bear by David Lucas

Flying Eye Books, £10

“Poor Bear, there he is, delivering everybody’s post, but there is never anything for him!” explains Joanna. “One day all that changes. Perfect for wintry evenings.”

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Star Girl by Karin Littlewood

Frances Lincoln, £11.99

“Gracie has a special star that shines outside her window,” says Joanna. “Karin Littlewood’s deceptively simple story is lit up with glorious illustrations.”

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Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

Macmillan, £9.99

“This beautifully produced book for under-10s is the story of Ada Goth, who lives with her father, Lord Goth, and lots of ghosts,” says Joanna.

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Zombie Dawn!!! by Tanya Landman

Walker, £5.99

According to Joanna: “hopefully the first in a new series of whodunnits starring Sam Swann and his trusty hound Watson; this is set in the world of movie making.”

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Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

OUP, £8.99

“Hilarious story of Oliver Crisp, who sets off to find his explorer parents when they disappear,” says Joanna.

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Shine by Candy Gourlay

David Fickling Books, £10.99

“What makes a monster? To her isolated and superstitious community, Rosa is a monster, but online she is whoever she wants to be,” says Joanna. “By turns chilling and moving.”

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Sawbones by Catherine Johnson

Walker, £6.99

“Historical fiction with a gruesome twist, Sawbones is set among the resurrectionists and surgeons of the 18th century,” says Joanna.

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Butterfly Grave by Anne Cassidy

Bloomsbury, £6.99

“The final part of a trilogy about a vanishing,” says Joanna. “A very adult thriller written by an author with absolute control of her genre.”

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Animation Studio by Helen Piercy

Walker, £12.99, includes set and booklet

“A beautifully illustrated animation set, with all you need to make a video on your phone,” says Joanna.

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