Put on the thickest fleece you own, make a mug of tea and stoke the fire because these books set in the winter are going to put a frost in the air.
We’ve curated a list of winter books that span genre, setting and vibe. We have icy murders, dark fairy tales, found families, historic adventures and commentary on climate change. Some of these winter-themed books are cozy, some are chilling and all of them are worth reading.
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Best Winter Books for Literary Fiction
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
It’s 1829, and a time in Iceland when women aren’t allowed much agency, and all of their security is derived from family. But Agnes has no family. After being charged with the murder of her employer, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm to wait out the winter as she awaits her execution.
The family who owns the farm are none to happy about it. But over the course of this book, they come to understand and sympathize with her.
Iceland’s frosty winter landscape seems like a character in this book. And although a murder sets off the plot, this quiet novel is more about the characters than it is about the crime.
The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister
Lady Jane Franklin hires an all-female crew, led by wilderness guide, Virginia Reeve. They are tasked with finding Lady Franklin’s husband and the lost Franklin Expedition. Virginia and the team set out, but they suffer near starvation, frostbite and blizzards, and some of them came packing some secrets.
The story switches back and forth between the expedition and a year later when Virginia is on trial for the murder of one of her crew.
“Author Macallister had created a wondrous novel of women’s strength and endurance in blistering Arctic weather interlaced with a compelling trial in the aftermath of the journey.”
The Terror, Dan Simmons
If Macallister’s winter themed survival book is your jam, then you may also enjoy The Terror, because it covers Sir John Franklin’s side of the Franklin Expedition. The titular “Terror” is Franklin’s expedition ship, which gets stuck in the Arctic ice. The annual thaw isn’t forthcoming and they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness.
Get ready for some starvation, scurvy, a mute Indigenous woman, men behaving badly and an actual monster.
The Children’s Blizzard, Melanie Benjamin
This historical fiction is based upon actual events which happened in the Dakota Territories in 1888.
At just the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard struck without warning. Young, inexperienced schoolteachers were suddenly faced with life and death decisions. Should they keep the children inside and risk freezing to death when fuel ran out…or should they send the children home, and pray that they wouldn’t get lost in the storm?
One teacher makes the first choice and another teacher makes the latter, and the book spools out from there.
The Ice Palace, Tarjei Vesaas
Translated by Elizabeth Rokkan
In just 176 pages, this book packs a spare but powerful punch. The book is set in a cold, dark Scandanavian winter. The story focuses on Siss and Unn, two eleven-year old girls living in an isolated, rural community. They need only a single evening together to forge an uncommon friendship that will change their lives irreparably. The book is a chilling metaphor on loss.
“…his ethereal imagery will make you feel like there is a savage winter storm just beyond your window regardless of the actual weather outside.”
Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
This book cover is so pretty, that alone is reason to pick it up. But the story is lovely as well.
At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome.
“The road was frozen. The village lay quiet under the cold sky. Komako hitched up the skirt of her kimono and tucked it into her obi. The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice.” – Kawabata
Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
In this quiet novel, five individuals, each dealing with their own painful personal tragedy, are unexpectedly brought together during the Christmas season in the Scottish countryside. It’s not an action packed book, but rather a sweetly told story of people who come together to form an unlikely family
The mood of the book takes you out of the cold and into a cozy chair by the fire while feeding you themes like love, loss and redemption.
Mysteries & Thrillers Set in Winter
Is it the dark, winter nights? Do we all go mad when it’s cold? I don’t know, but there is no shortage of genre books about winter, the snow and stone-cold murders.
The Snowman (Harry Hole #7), Jo Nesbo
There is something about those long winter nights that has inspired Nordic authors to pen some pitch black noir. And Norwegian Jo Nesbo is a master at it.
In The Snowman, A young boy finds his mother missing and goes outside. There he finds that a snowman has appeared, adorned with his mother’s scarf. Detective Harry Hole is assigned to the investigation and soon finds that there have been a series of mysterious disappearances.
The book has a large cast of interesting characters, and it’s as twisty and is dark as a December night in Oslo. This book is #7 in the series (chosen here for being set in the winter). If you like them, put the kettle on, because there are a total of 12 in the series.
Snow Blind (Dark Iceland #1), Ragnar Jónasson
Iceland has a long literary tradition. They perfected long-form prose, Reykjavik is a UNESCO city of literature, they have more authors per capita than anywhere and their Jolabokaflod (book flood) is a Christmas book-gifting tradition.
Plus, there’s that Nordic noir thing going on in Iceland too.
In Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series, rookie cop Ari Thór is posted to the remote fjordlands. A woman is found lying half naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed elderly writer falls to his death. Thór has to figure out what happened in a closed community that doesn’t trust him.
The cold, the claustrophobia and all the secrets make this a very atmospheric mystery. And if you like this winter book, you’ll find 6 in the series.
The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka #1), Camilla Lackberg
But wait…just one more Nordic Noir. In it, writer Erick Falck returns to her hometown to sort out her deceased parent’s estate. While there, the body of her childhood friend Alexandra, is found in an ice cold bath with slashed wrists. Alexandra’s parents, ask Erica to write a memoir about their daughter. As Erick works on the memoir, while the police work on what, in fact happened to Alexandra.
This is a great series for someone who likes pitch black psychological thrillers.
One by One, Ruth Ware
This wintery book is a classic locked room mystery. Ware has locked in her characters into a ski chalet while a gigantic storm and avalanche rage outside. Those assembled are on a corporate retreat and they are shareholders of a music app. There are there to decide on the fate of the company…and there is a lot of disagreement.
And then people start getting murdered or disappeared. This book has a ton of chilly suspense in whodunnit and also who’s gonna get dun next.
The Killer in the Snow (DI James Walker #2), Alex Pine
Detective Inspector Walker has a particularly vexing case on his hands. A family of three, an adult daughter and her parents, are found in a bloody scene at an isolated farmhouse. Forensic evidence suggests they were murdered on Christmas eve.
The family had a whole bagful of issues, there is creepy evidence at the scene and the whole set-up is reminiscent of a 20 year old crime.
It’s suspenseful, twisty and if you like it, you can go back and read the first in the series.
The Girl in the Ice (Erika Foster #1), Robert Bryndza
A young kid discovers a dead socialite under a thick sheet of ice in South London. DCI Foster is on the case, but the victim’s wealthy family is throwing up roadblocks. What is the family trying to keep quiet? What could be so detrimental to their reputation that they would be willing to hinder an investigation into the murder of their favorite daughter? Foster needs to find out.
Foster herself is on the edge after the recent death of her husband from a case that went terribly wrong. So, she has a lot at stake in solving this case.
If you like this icy winter book, there are 6 total in the series.
The Girls in the Snow, Stacy Green
Nikki Hunt is an FBI profiler heading up a new Behavioral Analysis Unit for the Midwest. She ends up in Stillwater Minnesota after having been away for 20 years. She’s been asked to investigate the murders of two teenagers who were found in the snow. Nikki suspects that, given the remote location, someone local was involved.
The whole thing is complicated by Nikki’s own history with the town and the tragic deaths of her parents.
The book is great for the intriguing plot and strong female protagonist. Green is a fast writer and there are already 4 books in the series.
Fantasy & Speculative Fiction Winter Books
These are great books to read in the winter if you’d like a bit of fantasy and fairy tale to go with the chilly weather.
Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy
“But there won’t be any more journeys after this one, no more oceans explored. And maybe that’s why I am filled with calm. My life has been a migration without a destination, and that in itself is senseless. I leave for no reason, just to be moving, and it breaks my heart a thousand times, a million.”
Sure, come for the chilly setting, but stay for McConaghy’s prose, exemplified by that lovely quote above. The book is set in a near-future where most of earth’s wildlife has died out due to the changing climate. Franny Stone sets out to follow the last Arctic terns in the world, as they make their migration to Antarctica. You sail along with Franny and learn about her past.
The Bear & the Nightingale (Winternight #1), Katherine Arden
This book is set in “old Russia” at the edge of a wilderness. Winter lasts most of the year, snowdrifts dwarf the houses and fairy and folk tales are not legends. After sitting by the fire, absorbing her nurse’s fairy tale stories, Vasya comes to realize that she has a second sight. She learns of Frost, who is a winter demon that appears on frigid nights to claim unwary souls.
As evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, Vasya has to protect her family while also resisting her step-mother’s demands that she marry.
This winter book is thick with dim light, cold atmospheric nights and if you like it, there are two more in the series.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Melissa Bashardoust
Mina is a 16-year old beauty whose evil magician father replaced her heart with glass. She becomes the queen by marrying the king, Lynet’s father. For her part, Lynet was also transformed by magic as she was made of snow in the image of her mother.
The book is a winter fairy tale with some elements reminiscent of Snow White and Frozen. Mina and Lynet’s relationship and rivalry are at the heart of the story.
“Every time you shudder from the cold or wrap yourself more tightly in your furs, it reminds me that somewhere, the sun shines more brightly than it does here. You carry it in your skin.” – Bashardoust
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
This book is set in winter in the Alaskan wilderness. Mabel and Jack are an aging couple who retreated from their previous life to Alaska. They struggle to get by with Jack trying desperately to turn the old farm into something that can support them through the harsh winters.
But the couple also suffered from grievous loss through a still birth and they feel their childlessness very keenly.
Then, one cold, beautiful, snowy evening, the couple decides to have some fun, creating a snow child. The next day, the snow child is gone…but they begin to see glimpses of a girl in the woods, accompanied by a red fox.
The book features themes of survival, loneliness and what it means to make a family.
A Book About How Wintering is Good For You
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May
After the onset of a mysterious physical illness, exacerbated by a lurking depression and work burnout, May decided to take a break. She pulled her son out of a school that wasn’t working for him and they embarked upon a series of forays into healing which included nature excusions, friendship-building and bracing winter swims. She talks with heartfelt honesty about how and why she slowed her roll over the course of a winter.
It’s not structured as a self-help book, but after reading her story, you’ll want to slow your roll too.
Something Lighter than Frozen Murders and Icy Dangers
South Pole Station, Ashley Shelby
In this lighter book, artist Cooper is surprised to find herself at an artist-in-residency program on Antarctica. Sure, she filled out the application but she didn’t really expect to get in.
Well, now she a “polie” mixing it up with a misfit band of artists, scientists and maintenance folks. Despite running away to the bottom of the world, none of them have escaped their own issues. When climate denier Frank Pavano shows up to do research, the interpersonal dramas go up a notch.
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