The baby would not stop screaming.
The new mother checked everything—was the diaper pin poking her? Was an errant thread in her sock cutting off circulation to her toes? Was she hungry, wet, or feverish? No.
It was when the baby started lunging her tiny body at an object on the dresser that the mother understood what she was after—understood, in fact, what would eventually become a plague on the child’s daily chore list, on her bedtime, on her attention in class…books.
Spoiler alert: The baby was me. Family legend has it that before I could even sit up on my own, I was demanding books at all times. If right now you’re thinking, “well, duh,” then please enjoy this list of books to read while you’re staying warm this winter. They’re all books I’ve read during winters past, so I know they’re excellent cozy reading.
This list is entirely fiction with sub-genres noted, so you can scroll to find your favorite or you can look through each one because they’re all worth checking out (they are). Prefer non-fiction? I love it, too. I’ve got you covered right here.
And send me the titles of your favorite books at [email protected]. I definitely want to know.
Subgenre: Cozy Mysteries, Whodunnits, and Other Light Detective Stories
The Maid, by Nita Prose
Note: This book has won all sorts of awards. It’s currently in development as a major motion picture produced by and starring everyone’s favorite, Florence Pugh.
Molly Gray is a hotel maid with an obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette. The Regency Grand Hotel, where she works, is excellently posh. Molly delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms to a state of perfection.
Molly also struggles with social skills and sometimes misreads the intentions of others. So when she finds the infamous Charles Black dead in his bed in his suite, she’s both the best person to figure out what’s awry on the surface, and the only person who can untangle the web of deception that led to his demise.
Series: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King
Note: Looking for a fun, well-written detective series with lots of books in it? There are 17 of the Russell Memoirs and about a dozen supplemental short stories and novellas to get lost in. More good news—they’re all perfectly great reads on their own, so no pressure.
Spoiler alert: The author sets up the series by suggesting that she received a mysterious crate filled with memoirs, and that she’s simply shepherding them as requested. Silly? Yes, but also irresistible, as she’s a good author who disappears immediately after cluing us in on the situation, never elbowing back in to make the story about her.
Second spoiler: The series chronicles the adult life of Mary Russell, second wife to Sherlock Holmes. You heard me.
Quick description of the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, taken from the publisher:
In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is “remarkably beguiling” (The Boston Globe).
Subgenre: You Liked The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Note: I liked this better than Evelyn Hugo. Sorry, everyone.
Quick description, edited from the back of the book:
Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962…and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.
Subgenre: Fast-Moving Light Thriller
The Expats, by Chris Pavone
Note: Espionage, but make it lite. Perfect for reading in one sitting.
Quick description, edited from the publisher’s version:
In the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, Kate Moore’s days are filled with playdates and coffee mornings, her weekends spent in Paris and skiing in the Alps. But Kate is also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that’s become so unbearable that it begins to unravel her newly established expat life. She suspects that another American couple are not who they claim to be; her husband is acting suspiciously; and as she travels around Europe, she finds herself looking over her shoulder, increasingly terrified that her own past is catching up with her. As Kate begins to dig, to uncover the secrets of the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage, and her life.
Subgenres: Classics, Historical Fiction, Adventure, Magical-But-No-Magic
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
Note: This very short, lots-of-white-space read is wondrous and poignant. Buy a few copies and give them out as gifts.
Quick description from the publisher:
In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo—Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in the travels around the empire.
Subgenres: Classics, Humor, Historical Fiction
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Note: If the book’s description sounds like something you’d like and you haven’t seen the 2019 miniseries on Hulu yet, add it to your queue—it’s great.
Quick description, edited from the publisher:
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the US bombardier John Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it’s his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Subgenres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Action & Adventure
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Note: I haven’t watched the HBO Max miniseries based on this book, but my partner has, and he insists it’s amazing.
Also note: Published in 2015, this book was here far before the COVID-19 pandemic—but offers new meaning now.
Quick description from the publisher:
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
Subgenres: Read-In-One-Sitting, Cultural Heritage, Native American & Indigenous, Literary
There There, by Tommy Orange
Note: True fact—I was once a college English professor, and one of my favorite classes included this book as its featured text. It’s told by multiple narrators in short chapters, all leading to an event at the very end of the book—a pow wow, where the reader knows something big is going to happen. If you’re used to the terms “literary” and “cultural” meaning “slow” and “hard to read,” you need to meet Tommy Orange, who flipped the subgenres on their heads. There There ain’t your daddy’s classic literature (though it may know your mama’s).
Quick description from the publisher:
There There follows 12 characters from Native communities, all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. They converge and collide on one fateful day, and together this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. A book with “so much jangling energy and brings so much news from a distinct corner of American life that it’s a revelation” (The New York Times). It is fierce, funny, suspenseful, and impossible to put down—full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force.
Get a copy for yourself and one for your BFF who’s also a modern classic—right here.