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As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, there’s nothing better to do than read the best winter books (for adults) in front of a blazing fireplace. Here you’ll find a handpicked list of tried and true winter book recommendations for every reader’s tastes, from the classics to gripping thrillers and cozy romances. These books will transport your mind to snowy locations with immersive stories.

Grab a warm beverage and a blanket and find your next great winter read!

stack of winter books with winter home decor.

Top 3

TOP PICKS

BEARTOWN: best for fans of Friday Night Lights

THE GREAT ALONE: best for fans of emotional historical fiction

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS: best for fans of classic books and locked-room mysteries

Quick List

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  3. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
  4. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  5. Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
  6. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  7. The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane
  8. Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
  9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  10. One by One by Ruth Ware
  11. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
  12. A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella
  13. Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
  14. Run by Ann Patchett
  15. The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
  16. The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman
  17. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  18. Still Life by Louise Penny
  19. The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler
  20. Winter by Ali Smith
  21. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
  22. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  23. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat for Difficult Times by Katherine May
  24. Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand
  25. Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Details on All the Best Winter Books

METHODOLOGY

Winter makes one of the most poignant settings for both dramatic and whimsical plots. It’s both enchanted me and kept me on the edge of my seat. As a very seasonal reader, each winter, I read as many books about winter as possible, then continue to refine this “best of” list to help readers find the right book for their own reading preferences.

Of note, I consider the best Winter reads to be different than holiday-themed books, so you won’t find any of those here. I look at this more as a great book list dedicated to January and February reads.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Best for fans of the classics

Anna Karenina just feels like winter. Not only are wintery Russian scenes, but its massive length just makes it feel like something in which to indulge when you are stuck inside. (I read 10 pages per day all Winter long, and I definitely recommend this reading strategy for this book.)

This novel tells the tragic love story of a married woman having an affair with absolutely dire consequences, and it intertwines some Russian history at the same time.

Despite its length, it’s not extremely difficult to read, and it’s well worth exploring its themes of familial versus romantic love amidst a 19th-century Russian backdrop.

Related Post: Best Quotes from Anna Karenina


The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Best for fans of fantasy

National bestseller

The Bear and The Nightingale is the first in the Winternight trilogy series, beloved by fantasy book lovers. It’s a YA coming-of-age Russian fairy tale in which young Vasilia and her family brave the Medieval Russian wilderness each Winter. Together with the Frost King, she must face the brutality of the Winter King to save the village.

I always struggle with fantasy (I’m a realist), so this one was a bit of a struggle for me, but one great tip I can share is there’s actually a Russian glossary at the end of it! I wish I had known this initially, so I could better keep track of the unfamiliar language being used.

Still, I enjoyed the unique read and know it’s a SUPER beloved book by fantasy fans.


Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Best for fans of Friday Night Lights

Named a Best Book of the Year by LibraryReads, BookBrowse and Goodreads

Late one evening, toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.

Fredrick Backman

That stunning quote begins one of the best winter novels, Beartown, and, if it hasn’t fully drawn you in, I don’t know what will. Beartown is a small, struggling Swedish town obsessed with outdoor winter ice hockey, and major drama ensues amongst the many community members, whose lives intersect with each other in very consequential ways.

Beartown‘s ice hockey team is competing in the national semi-finals, and they are set to win. The town’s fate rests in the hands of a team of teenage boys.

The big game becomes the catalyst for an act of violence that leaves a teenage girl traumatized. The result is a town in turmoil.

Beartown presents the communal hope inspired by a winter sporting event and what can tear them apart. Trust me when I say that you will be completely immersed in the cold, dark world of Beartown and its many community members. It’s, quote simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read.


Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Best for fans of the classics

In a small New England town, the narrator is snowed in with Ethan Frome, who had an accident twenty years earlier, where he learns the haunting, gothic story of a love triangle with an ironic winter-themed ending.

It’s a short read on the Gilmore Girls book list that I recall loving as a high school student.


The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

Frozen River is feminist historical fiction that offers a middle-aged protagonist based on a real person. In 1789 New England, a man is entombed in ice and the midwife healer Martha Ballard must determine his cause of death.

She’s aware that he allegedly raped someone just a few months earlier and believes murder to be the cause. However, a local physician disagrees, forcing her to prove it alone.

The road to trial is grueling, placing her diary, her duties, and her loyalties on center stage. The cold winter setting parallels the gripping and shocking narrative, begging for justice before spring arrives.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Best for fans of emotional historical fiction

#1 New York Times instant bestseller

The Great Alone, and particularly its desolate and cold Alaska setting utterly mesmerized me. On numerous occasions, I found myself googling “Alaska 1970s” to get an even clearer picture of the beautiful state that felt like a main character in its own right. The Great Alone is one of the best books to read in Winter because it focuses on survival, particularly in a harsh climate.

The Allbright family is dealing with the PTSD of the father, Ernt, who was a POW in Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Leni is caught in the crossfire of her father’s mental illness and her parents’ tumultuous relationship, but her friendship with a local boy keeps her sane.

As the long and brutal winter approaches, trauma ensues and Leni and her mother are left to survive on their own.

The Great Alone has stayed with me since I first read it, and I still often think about this book. It’s such a beautiful story about the human spirit fighting for survival figuratively and literally in a wilderness that can be both beautiful and devastating.

For more, read my full review and summary of The Great Alone.


The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane

Best for fans of slow burns and character-driven novels

The Half Moon is an atmospheric literary drama about a marriage in crisis, Malcolm is a bartender who finally buys the bar where he works but realizes he made a bad deal. Meanwhile, his wife is a successful attorney who realizes she may never become a mother. (Infertility is a big theme in this one.)

During Malcolm’s first week of ownership, a blizzard hits the town and knocks the power out, he discovers shocking news about his wife, and he becomes embroiled in the search for a missing patron.

The stormy Winter week was the perfect setting for this story, the pieces of which slowly built like the snow on the ground. I could see it in my mind’s eye and physically feel it as I read along. Then, like the blizzard gathering steam, the last 100 pages fell fast and left me glued to the couch late at night.

The major plotlines unraveled unlike any literary fiction or mystery I’ve ever read, leaving a lot between the lines to infer for those who love thoroughly woven narratives.

If this type of novel is your thing, it would be great for a few snowbound days by the fire.


Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

Best for those looking for a quick, but emotional, read

Light on Snow is a captivating novel you can read throughout one snowy, winter weekend. (I did, and I couldn’t put it down.) Though it takes place in December, its themes are those of winter — finding light in the darkness.

Nicky is an astute, observant 12-year-old who lives alone with her father in rural New Hampshire after an accident took the lives of her mother and baby sister. During a walk in the snow one day, they happen upon a newborn baby left in the cold.

This event changes the course of their lives, as Nicky recalls as an adult looking back on it. First, they are thrust into a criminal investigation and then, a woman with a connection to the baby shows up at their home just as a blizzard hits, forcing them all to hunker down, reckon with the darkness in their lives, and find the light.

It’s an intimate novel in which the family’s grief is palpable in the painstaking detail in which it is told, including such subtle descriptions as that of the home’s dust captured in the winter light. It also challenges the reader’s ability to empathize with the darkest parts of others’ lives.


Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Best for fans of travel and mysteries

The most widely read mystery of all time

In the cold Winter mystery book Murder on the Orient Express, after the stroke of midnight, a snowdrift halts the Orient Express to a stop. By morning, an American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, having been stabbed a dozen times, with his door locked from the inside.

Isolated by the snow and with a killer on board, the renowned detective Hercule Poirot must uncover the murderer from a cast of memorable characters full of secrets.

It’s exactly what you would expect from an Agatha Christie book, and it absolutely stands the test of time. Of note, I also really enjoyed the recent movie version of this book.


One by One by Ruth Ware

Best for fans of Agatha Christie and “Clue” type mysteries

Instant New York Times bestseller

Speaking of Agatha Christie, One by One is an Agatha Christie-style thriller book set in Winter.

After eight coworkers from a trendy London tech start-up get snowed in at a luxurious ski resort in the French Alps, an avalanche cuts the group off from the outside world.

It may seem cozy, but as the hours pass without any sign of a possible rescue, the group begins to dwindle, as four characters die “one by one” in this locked room mystery book about Winter, in which ulterior motives and dark secrets are slowly revealed as tensions mound.

This atmospheric book kept me totally engaged and guessing “whodunnit” as I read along in the “dead” of Winter. It remains a favorite, particularly on a snowy day, and I also recommend that you reference my One by One character guide to keep track of all the many characters.


Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Best for fans of literature and character-driven novels

  • National bestseller
  • One of Time Magazine’s top five books of the year

Peace Like A River is a remarkable debut in which each sentence is thoughtfully and painstakingly crafted. Not unlike Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, eleven-year-old Reuben Land, narrates the tale of tracking his outlaw brother’s murder trial and escape across the Midwest in the 1960s. Reuben and his sister and father traverse snowy terrain in search of their relative, believing in miracles all along the way.

It’s a unique book with winter settings and themes of family, love, and faith in the face of the harshest elements.


A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

Best for fans of authors Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout

A Quiet Life is the type of book I like to call “a slice of life” because it offers a mostly character-driven narrative over the course of somewhat ordinary days in which the reader peers into the minds of the characters.

This one takes place in a cold Northeastern Pennsylvanian winter (something I’ve lived my own entire life), and it follows three separate people in search of light and hope on the darkest of days.

Chuck’s an aging man whose wife has just died and is struggling to make his annual trip to Hilton Head without her. Kirsten aspired to be a veterinarian, but she has become lost after the sudden, tragic death of her father. And Ella works two jobs to stay afloat while her young daughter is missing.

As dreary as this sounds, I assure you, it’s not. It’s a beautiful, real portrait of human life.


Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Instant New York Times bestseller

Rock Paper Scissors is one book that exquisitely delivers unique plot points and twists that are almost guaranteed to surprise you.

Work-obsessed screenwriter Adam and his wife Amelia retreat to the snowy Scottish highlands for a weekend retreat that they intend to either save or end their marriage. Adding strains on the marriage are Adam’s inability to recognize faces and his grief over the tragic death of his mother.

Intermixed with the present storyline are ten wedding anniversary letters to Adam slowly revealing the past and threatening not just their marriage, but their lives, in the present.

The twists (yes, that’s plural) are, indeed, twisted, and I truly don’t think anyone would be able to see them coming. Feeney is an absolute master at crafting twists that are so precise and unfamiliar, and it shows in this particular novel really well. The pacing in the middle felt slow to me, and it lacked some believability, but I did also love the haunting feeling of the ending.

Overall, I thought it was a really satisfying cozy mystery that felt totally unexpected, leaving the reader to ponder what a person really knows about his or her spouse.


Run by Ann Patchett

Best for fans of character-driven novels

Run is yet another tremendous novel by the great Ann Patchett, this time about the 24 hours after a snowy Boston car accident that forever binds and changes the futures of two families…and exposes their shared pasts.

Set in such a small about of time, it’s a character-driven novel about family, economics, politics, and duty, and it’s one of my favorites of hers, teasing out all of the details about one unique group of people you come to love, and how they react to each other over the course of the most momentous day of their lives.


The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Best for fans of mysteries and thrillers

The Sanatorium is an atmospheric thriller, taking place at an isolated hotel (formerly a sanatorium) high in the snowy Swiss Alps.

Elin has taken time off from her job as a detective and is still processing the death of her brother many years ago when she visits with her estranged brother and his new fiance to celebrate their engagement.

During a storm, something even more sinister is brewing as her soon-to-be sister-in-law goes missing. As the storm closes off access to the hotel, panic ensues and a wild ride of twists, turns, more missing persons, and even deaths unfold, thrusting Elin back into detective mode to uncover the truth about this hotel.

It’s a captivating and creepy, wintery thriller that constantly moves in different directions and tackles numerous mysteries at once in the most perfectly eerie setting for the season.


The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman

Best for fans of stories about second chances and middle-aged protagonists

Instant bestseller

The Secret of Snow is a beautifully written story about coping with grief that you won’t be able to put down (I certainly wasn’t!). Sonny Dunes is a single, middle-aged California meteorologist whose job is replaced by a virtual meteorologist. When this causes her to have a breakdown, the only station that’s willing to hire her is in the Michigan hometown she’s been avoiding.

She’s preferred her “sunny” lifestyle for one glaring reason that’s haunted her — snowy Michigan reminds her of her younger sister, who loved the snow…and died because of it.

As her genuinely charming mother welcomes her back and helps her navigate her new life, Sonny is also forced to face her grief and her fear and disdain for the snow head-on.

Covering the small town’s winter events, she starts to form newer, better memories of the snow, and has a second chance at life and love. Filled with snow-related metaphors, this is one of the best winter books for fans of thoughtful modern women’s fiction will not want to miss.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Best for fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and The Giver of Stars

Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The Snow Child is set in Alaska 1920, and the landscape has been tough on Jack and Mabel. They are childless and drifting apart. Jack is crumbling under the weight of running the farm, and Mabel is isolated and lonely.

During the season’s first snowfall, they build a child from the snow. The snow child is gone by the next morning, but a young blond girl of the wilderness, Faina, is running through the trees.

Jack and Mabel cannot fathom how Faina seems to have appeared from the pages of a fairy tale, yet they begin to love her as a daughter. However, Alaska can be a violent and mysterious place, but Faina transforms them all.

If you are a super fan of Where the Crawdads Sing, this is the winter book for you, as it has a very similar character arc.  It also shares the historical backdrop of women in The Giver of Stars.


Still Life by Louise Penny

Best for fans of cozy mysteries

Winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards

Still Life begins the bestselling “Inspector Gamache” series, in which murders are investigated in a small Canadian town called Three Pines.

This one begins during Thanksgiving week, and ends in the winter as snow is falling. Centered on the suspicious death of a retired teacher and painter, which may have been a hunting accident or a murder, what’s unique about this mystery book (and the entire series) is how it delves into the human psyche and what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly quaint, quiet town.

Indeed, “Still Life” is the perfect title to begin the series of familiar townspeople and their thoughtful investigator.

(Read the books in order if you don’t want spoilers.)


The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler

Best for fans of Gilmore Girls and romantic comedies

Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Romance

The Tourist Attraction is a small-town romantic comedy series reminiscent of Gilmore Girls, with a quirky diner called The Tourist Trap and loveable characters — including a rogue moose.

Zoey is on her dream two-week vacation in cold and snowy Alaska when she visits Graham’s diner. He’s a grumpy local who’s unenthused about slinging grub for resort visitors.

But Zoey is just so sunny and kind as she humorously interacts with the locals that she just may change his heart.

It’s a lighthearted story that’s not too steamy and keeps you entertained with a uniquely winter-themed setting along the way.


Winter by Ali Smith

Best for fans of family drama fiction

Winter is the second in Man Booker Prize Finalist Ali Smith’s beloved seasonal quartet of books. It’s set around Christmas, but it definitely has more Winter themes and tones to it.

Darkness is immediately introduced in winter as Sophia, a 60-something living alone in Cornwall, deals with a speck in her cornea that has grown into a “disembodied human head.”

However, the novel centers around the 2017 Christmas in which Sophia’s son, Art (who loves to blog at “Art in Nature”), comes home to visit with his new girlfriend Lux. Sophia also struggles to cope with her relationship with her sister, Iris.

Through flashbacks and flash-forwards, the family dynamics, as well as political and social themes of Brexit and more are explored, with an emphasis on working together, both in personal relationships and the community.


Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Best for fans of emotional historical fiction like that of Chantel Cleeton

In Winter Garden, another one of Kristin Hannah’s best books, Meredith and Nina Whitson are two very different sisters. While one is a stay-at-home mother managing the family apple orchard, the other is a famed, world-traveled photojournalist.

When their father becomes sick, the sisters come together again, next to their cold and disapproving mother. The only connection between the sisters and their mother was the Russian fairy tale their mother often told them.

Their father’s last wish is that the fairy tale is told one last time—and all the way to the end. This begins a journey into the truth behind their mother’s life in war-torn Leningrad decades ago, and the sisters learn a secret so terrible that it shakes them to the core and changes their beliefs about themselves.

It’s a must for fans of Kristin Hannah.


The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Best for fans of spooky, supernatural ghost stories

The Winter People was such a great winter read! For fans of Stephen King and Stranger Things, it’s great for those who want the spooky reading season to last beyond the Fall. The suspense kept me engaged, and the twists surprised me.

In present-day Vermont, the town of West Hall has a history of mysterious disappearances and deaths, all the way back to Sara Harrison Shea, who was found dead in 1908 shortly after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie, in a snowstorm. Now, in the same house, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mom has disappeared without a trace.

A partial copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary begins to offer clues about The Winter People, as Ruthie learns she’s not the only one looking for someone that they’ve lost. The race for the truth reveals both the supernatural dangers that lurk in shadows and the power of familial love.


Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Best for fans of non-fiction

New York Times bestseller

Wintering is a quick non-fiction book about Winter, filled with all kinds of thoughtful musings on the season. The author reflects on this season after her husband became ill, her son stopped attending school and her own medical issues led her to leave her job.

The author looks to literature, mythology, and nature for insight into the transformative power of rest and retreat. There are solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters, and sailing the arctic seas.

At the end of the day, it’s an interesting read about how we relate to the season of winter, accepting its presence and finding nourishment and joy within.


Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Best for those looking for an escape

Winter in Paradise is the first of three books in the Paradise series by Elin Hilderbrand, and it whisks you away to St. John, just after the New Year. As Irene rings in a cold and snowy Midwestern New Year, one shocking phone call forever changes her life. Her beloved husband, who was away on “business,” was killed in a helicopter crash on the Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive in St. John, they discover that Irene’s husband had a secret life involving some of the locals. This one is pure winter escapism!


Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Best for those looking for a light, heartwarming story

Winter Solstice contains both elements of winter and Christmas. However, it is a book with Winter in the title, and it refers to the new beginnings the solstice offers, so I think it fits most appropriately on this list of the best Winter books. I read it after Christmas, and it didn’t feel too festive to me. I think it can be read and enjoyed anytime in December or January.

It’s the story of a group of five people who end up spending the holidays together in a large, Scottish estate house: a former London stage actress, a grieving widow, a young woman recovering from an ill-fated love affair with a married man, her angsty teenage niece, and a young divorcee without a real “home.”

And it’s filled with snow, charm, and second chances.

Bonus: More Winter Books

As I mentioned, I am a seasonal reader and try to read as many winter books each year. So, I thought I’d share my current Winter “to be read” list with you in case you want even more winter book suggestions. I will update this post after I read each of them.

  1. The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
  2. Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
  3. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  4. Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  6. The Shining by Stephen King
  7. Trapped by Michael Northrup
  8. A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
  9. A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire
  10. Winterland by Rae Meadows
  11. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
  12. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Conclusion

In the winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold. -ben aaronovitch.

The best winter books were hand-picked to include an array of books with which you can cozy up next to a fireplace when it’s cold and snowing outside. From classics to thrillers, and even romance, there’s something literary for every wintery mood.

SHOP THE POST

To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my top 3 picks are:

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