21 January 2016

Winter Book Recommendations

It's annoyingly cold outside and I've already woken up more than once this year able to see my own breath in my bedroom, but this also means it’s perfect reading weather! Just snuggle up with a blanket or under a duvet and fetch yourself something hot to drink. Here are some of the books I’d recommend reading while the skies are still dark and the nights are cold:

The Humans by Matt Haig

“This was, I would later realise, a planet of things wrapped inside things. Food inside wrappers. Bodies inside clothes. Contempt inside smiles. Everything was hidden away.” 

This is the story of an unnamed alien who is sent to Earth in the guise of a maths professor in order to destroy the vital maths equation he has just discovered. But as he tries to, our alien protagonist gets to interact with humanity up close for the first time, and it drawn to their seemingly illogical and overly emotional ways. The state of being human is largely the focus of the book – something I should’ve guessed from the title – and I can honestly say it changed how I think about my own life. The novel has sad and horrible parts, but also sections which made me smile. It’s an amazing and beautifully written book, and one which stays with the reader for a long time afterwards, in the best way.

I first read this novel last January, in the middle of winter, and it just felt exactly like the season it was meant to be experienced in. It was so cold and miserable outside I stayed indoors, bundled up in bed and whizzing through this book while at the same time trying to savour every second. There are times during the story (as in most stories) where everything seems bleak and hopeless, and you are never able to win, but the overall message of the book is one of hope and acceptance, which was lovely and comforting to read while it was so dark outside.

Good Night Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian 

“It occurred to him that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn't quite the same as being weak.” 

I accidentally stole this book from my school aged ten, because it was so good and I kept rereading it that I forgot to return it. Technically a children’s book, but one that deals with some very heavy themes indeed (death, child abuse, war), it takes place during WWII, when little Willie Beech is evacuated and ends up having to live with the grumpy but kind-hearted Thomas Oakley. A lovely father-son relationship develops between them, but Willie’s time in the English countryside isn’t without its bad moments too – the threat of the war is constantly hanging over everyone’s heads.

I've chosen to recommend it for winter, because it has a lovely central theme of family and belonging, which I think is perfect for the holiday season. This book has stuck with me ever since I first read it, a decade ago, and is long overdue a reread. I would recommend it to readers of any age.

Fearless by Tim Lott

"When everyone has freedom, no one has freedom - The Controller"

I don’t remember when or where I first got this book, but I am so glad I have it now. It’s not clear whether the world in the book is a dystopian future, an alternative timeline, or something entirely different. In the City Community Faith School, a thousand unwanted girls are forced to work, and one of them, Little Fearless, is determined to escape and bring an end to it all.

I think this book is most suited to winter due its bleak but beautiful storytelling, which I believe would be a little out of place during warmer months. The characters are at times cold and unfeeling, and the story is haunting and oppressive, with plenty of suspenseful heart-in-mouth moments. But it's not all as depressing as that sounds, with Little Fearless’s unwavering hope for a better future driving the story all the way to the bitter end.

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

"Winter is the time for stories, staying fast by the glow of fire. And outside, in the darkness, the stars are brighter than you can possibly imagine."

Heart-warming, funny, but with some touching and tender moments too, this graphic novel weaves together several magical stories and histories from the same fictional world. Some of the stories have identifiable origins while others are completely new, but they are all wonderfully told and illustrated. The artwork is beautiful, and Greenberg’s style reminded me a little of woodcuts. The colouring is especially clever; the drawings start off mainly in black and white (with a few other pale shades), but gradually more bright colours are introduced, a different hue for each story or section. It is such a good book that me and my sister both bought it within the same week.

This book reminds me of winter because the very first and final sections are set on the poles, meaning there is snow and ice all around. The story taking place here is the very backbone of the narrative, so I associate the entire book with that kind of landscape and with wintery weather. Throughout all the stories there are instances of the characters settling down beside the fire to tell wonderful tales, and that kind of magical atmosphere is exactly what this book manages to capture. 

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