Simon Savidge runs the channel Savidge Reads on YouTube, is a broadcaster for Sky Arts and BBC Sounds, judges book prizes and cohosts the Frank Book Club with Frank’s Editor-in-Chief, Melanie Sykes. He is bonkers about books.
As we are officially in winter, I thought I would share five of my favourite wintery and snowy books that you might like to curl up with over the festive season and into the new year.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
(Paperback, Tinder Press, £9.99)
Who doesn’t love a little shimmer of magic over the winter months? I know I do, and I think The Snow Child has elements of the magical and fairytale, set in 1920’s Alaska. Jack and Mabel have left their old lives behind and started again in the remote wilderness of the Alaskan mountains, a stark place, isolated from the rest of the world, Mabel haunted by the loss of a child years before.
As the couple try to find themselves, their relationship and hope again, they build a snow child, one who could have been the child they lost. The next day, the sculpture is gone, yet a little girl appears mysteriously looking for a home by nightfall. Can things be too good to be true? How could Jack and Mabel have been so lucky? How can they be filled with wonder and yet foreboding? We follow them as they forge this new life.
You might need some tissues to hand because the book is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful. I am slightly worried I have made it sound a bit like a thriller, which it isn’t. It’s just an addictive page turning modern fairytale, but if you are looking for a story that will take you away from it all, then this is a book for you.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (translated by Lola Rogers)
(Paperback, Pushkin Press, £8.99)
If you are a fan of mysteries, quirky novels and/or books about books (and who isn’t), then this lesser known gem is for you this Winter. In the small town of Rabbit Back, there is a secret elite society of writers, run by local children’s author Laura White. We meet Ella, a literature teacher in the town, as she is invited to join as a tenth member and her life changes in a myriad of ways, not really for the better.
Ella soon discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member before her? We follow Ella as her life gets stranger and stranger, and things get darker and darker.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a chilling, deliciously dark novel, where the uncanny and unsettling brushes up against the everyday. I was hooked from the start of the book. It is a book that I find myself often thinking back to (and now wondering why I haven’t read more of Pasi’s books.) and is one I always recommend to friends when they are after something wintery to get completely lost in.
Winter by Ali Smith
(Paperback, Penguin Books, £8.99)
I almost didn’t include Ali Smith’s Winter as it seemed a little obvious because of the title; lots of you may have read it already, and it is the second novel in her ‘seasonal quartet’. However, it is a book I loved and I think you could read it as a standalone novel. PLUS, if you have yet to read any Ali Smith, this novel is an excellent way in.
Arthur, known as Art, is returning home for Christmas feeling a failure. His dream of being an influencer with his ‘Art in Nature’ blog, where he tries to be a nature writer but often ends up making things up to make his life sound more interesting, isn’t working out, and he has split up with his girlfriend. All this, and he has to go home for Christmas, a place he isn’t keen to head back to.
One of the main reasons is his mother Sophia, a retired businesswoman, living alone in the 15 bedroomed family mansion in Cornwall with nothing to keep her company but a child’s head… no, not an actual child’s head, one who is living in the imagination of her head and one that can shapeshift to various heads and voices, think modern ‘ghosts of Scrooge’ from A Christmas Carol with Sophia being very much of Scrooge’s ilk personality wise. Naturally, I loved her.
Throw into this reunion Sophia’s ‘wild sister’ Iris and a Croatian student called Lux, who Art meets randomly and persuades to pretend to be his girlfriend for Christmas. You have a delightful, slightly gothic family drama unfolding.
One that also plays with words, which Smith is famous for, and yet building on Christmas tales of the past and some Shakespeare yet set only a few years ago creates what I think is Smith’s most comforting, joyful and accessible novel yet.
Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
(Paperback, British Library Publishing, £8.99)
I have a little tradition over the festive period, and that is to read one of the British Library’s Crime Classics. These are part of their brilliant series, which republishes crime authors from the golden age of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sawyers that are lesser known or, in some cases, have been forgotten. It also means they have a fabulous nostalgic flavour to them, like when you watch a back and white classic movie on a Sunday afternoon… only in book form. Mystery in White is my favourite so far.
Set one Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Not wanting to freeze to death, potentially, several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home. Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers seek to unravel the secrets of the empty house and then a murderer strikes in their midst, leaving many of them wishing they had never left their carriages.
I love a locked house murder mystery and even better when it’s one where no one seemingly knows who any of the other people are… then start being picked off one by one as we discover their hidden histories and links with each other and this, pun intended, is just the ticket. Perfect escapism.
Stay Another Day by Juno Dawson
(Paperback, Quercus, £7.99)
And as an extra little gift of a recommendation, if you are looking for something Christmassy, then look no further than Juno Dawson’s latest novel, which is a snowy Christmas treat. Two of the McAllister children, Rowan and Fern, are returning to their family home, a slightly spooky old manor house near Edinburgh, slightly trepidatious after a tumultuous Christmas the year before. As the family are reunited, one huge secret is revealed and then, like a chain reaction, more and more family secrets get spilt.
I have always loved Juno Dawson’s writing because it always feels authentic, and the characters she builds come fully formed and fully flawed, just like us. She is also brilliant at tackling huge themes and subject matters with warmth and directness with a sprinkling of laugh out loud inducing asides. Sexuality, gender, fidelity, eating disorders, alcoholism and more are discussed in this novel, never crammed in, always authentic and deftly written about and discussed. It often feels like you are a member of the family, or guest at the table, as this family deals with all that is going on.
It is also an absolute Christmas cracker of a book. Ideally, this has to be made into a Christmas movie by next Christmas. We have awkward family conversations around the table, choirs, snowstorms, and mad dashes to train stations for love. The romance brims; there is festive cheer and a message of acceptance and forgiveness that would warm the frostiest of hearts.
You can see Melanie and me discussing Stay Another Day for our December book club below.