You trudge through the drifts, bits of ice falling onto your neck and trickling under your collar. Your toes are numb, your eyelashes stick together, your breath condenses on the scarf over your mouth. Your core is so cold it’s almost warm, surely the beginning of hypothermia. The scent of chai tea wafts over you ... wait, what? Oh, thank goodness. This isn’t real. You’re not fighting for your life. You are on your chaise lounge, swaddled in a Snuggie, under a faux Sherpa blanket, on top of which sits a cat or two. Last year’s Adult Winter Reading Challenge mug is in one hand, a chilling adventure story is in the other. It’s the depth of winter, and you are working hard on reading your four books to earn this year’s limited-edition travel mug from Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
It can be a fun challenge to read along a theme, such as books that take place during winter or in snow. I’m always amazed at how writers can turn words into stories that feel so realistic I think it’s happening to me. I can feel the cold, the beauty, the fear, and the love come through the pages and transport me to a different place. And once I close the book, I snap back to my reality. (This “snap” is often unwelcome and brought on by fake-hungry cats wanting their dinner two hours early.)
Get into your jammies and snuggle up with these novels that take place during winter:
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende. A minor traffic accident during a snowstorm in Brooklyn sparks an unexpected love story. After Richard Bowmaster, a 60-year-old scholar, hits the car of Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, Evelyn turns up at Richard’s house for help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant, Lucia Maraz, a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile, for her advice. These very different people are brought together in a love story that spans present-day Brooklyn and Guatemala and 1970s Chile and Brazil.
Close your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian. Six months after a cataclysmic nuclear disaster destroys Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, as well as her home and family, 16-year-old Emily is living in an igloo of ice and trash bags while protecting a homeless boy. Convinced she’ll be hated as the daughter of the drunken father who caused the nuclear meltdown, Emily assumes a fictional identity and must grapple with the drive to cut herself to relieve her guilt, loneliness, and fear about her future.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Alaska in 1920 is a tough place to homestead, and recent arrivals Jack and Mabel are drifting apart, crumbling under the weight of farm work, loneliness and despair. In a brief moment of joy during the season’s first snowfall, they build a snow child. The next morning, the child is gone, but they glimpse a young girl running through the trees. Called Faina, the girl seems to be a child of the woods, hunting with a red fox at her side, and somehow survives alone. Jack and Mabel come to love Faina as their own, but in this beautiful, harsh wilderness, things are rarely as they appear, including Faina herself.
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Carnegie Medalist McCaughrean takes us on a thrilling journey through a frozen heart of darkness. Symone “Sym” Wates is not an average teen. She’s obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic Captain Oakes from Sir Robert Scott’s doomed expedition to the North Pole. In secret, Sym confesses all of her hopes and fears to the silent Oakes. Her uncle Victor, however, is even more obsessed. When he takes Sym on a dream trip to Antarctica, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that challenges everything she knows.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. In this retelling of “Snow White,” Boy Novak arrives in Massachusetts in the winter of 1953 looking for the opposite of the life she left behind in New York. Boy marries Arturo Whitman, a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his daughter, Snow. But when Boy gives birth to a dark-skinned daughter, it exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white.
The Terror by Dan Simmons. The crew of the HMS Terror expect to finally find the legendary Northwest Passage as part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition. As the fleet enters a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a stark landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. The 126 men are constantly cold, trying to survive with poisonous food, dwindling coal supplies and collapsing ships. It gets worse: There is something out there in the frigid ice, an unseen predator. When expedition leader Sir John Franklin meets a terrible death, Capt. Francis Crozier takes over and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice.
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent. Kathleen McElwain, whose husband died five years ago, now works in a little store tucked away in the Pennsylvania Blue Ridge Mountains. She feeds the occasional hunter or hiker and otherwise stays isolated and engrossed in books. One snowy afternoon, a stranger shows up, not dressed for winter and without transportation. The stranger, Danil, says he’s a student from Uzbekistan, and Kathleen is instantly drawn to him. Eventually, though, Danil confesses he is wanted for a serious crime in his home country, and Kathleen ends up on high alert when she discovers an odd connection to Danil’s past and the secrets of her marriage.
In the Dark by Loreth Anne White. Eight lucky guests are drawn to a luxury vacation at a secluded wilderness spa. When a fierce storm hits and contact with the outside world is cut off, the guests begin to suspect it’s a trap. Each one of them has a secret and something to hide. Now they all have something to fear—each other. Alerted to the vanished party of strangers, homicide cop Mason Deniaud and rescue expert Callie Sutton must brave the harsh mountains before all of the guests are hunted down, one by one.
If you haven’t signed up for the Adult Winter Reading Challenge yet, visit librarypoint.org/winter. Log four books read between Jan. 1 and March 31 to earn your limited-edition Central Rappahannock Regional Library travel mug.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.