Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

50 best winter reads: From bestselling thrillers to prize-winning comedies

Trick of the Dark by B R Collins 
With its dissections of student life, youthful secrets and misery memoirs, a cast of charismatic lesbians and plenty of unexplained deaths, this is packed with twists and teases, says Rebecca. 'The past may be another country but as this novel proves it's a kingdom you can never truly escape from.' 
How much £7.99
Trick of the Dark by B R Collins
With its dissections of student life, youthful secrets and misery memoirs, a cast of charismatic lesbians and plenty of unexplained deaths, this is packed with twists and teases, says Rebecca. 'The past may be another country but as this novel proves it's a kingdom you can never truly escape from.'
How much £7.99
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
'A Victorian bestseller that has lost none of its power to grip,' says Tom. 'This has everything you'd want from a gothic tale - the impoverished hero, a creepily corpulent villain, incarceration, concealed identity and love triumphant.'
How much £7.99
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
The story of the redoubtable Charley Thompson, a much put-upon 15-year-old reeling from a peripatetic, chaotic childhood, says Greg. 'This is about his struggle for stability, redemption and love. An occasionally heartbreaking novel from Vlautin, one of the freshest voices in American fiction.'
How much £12.99
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The winner of the Man Booker, by The Independent's Howard Jacobson, is witty, poignant and sharply intelligent and funny in that dark, British kind of way. It asks what it means to belong - and what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.
How much £18.99
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Recently made a Nobel Laureate, one of the author's best novels is an epic based on an uprising in north-east Brazil in the late 1890s. 'Religion and politics don't mix, both fail to communicate and slaughter ensues,' says David.
How much £8.99
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
A very entertaining self-portrait from Stephen Fry, says Greg. 'This describes his effortless glide through the academic world of Cambridge and sets a deeply troubled inner self against an outwardly assured showbiz persona.
How much £20
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
'2010 is proving to be a vintage year for historical thrillers and this is a heady draught of skulduggery and the supernatural,' says Rebecca. 'The author captures the superstitions and mores of 18th-century England with a wryly witty eye.'
How much £18.99
Victory by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad's last great novel is The Tempest told again, says David. 'A man in love on an island with a wanted woman, three men in search of him and his assumed riches - the romance as thriller.'
How much £8.99
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
'Not really a winter book - or an autumn or a summer one for that matter, but it feels like it in the mind,' says Tom. 'Re-reading is a peculiarly wintry pleasure, a literary version of turning on the central heating.'
How much £6.99
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
'A very funny account of whitecollar descent,' says Tom, 'in which the founder of a failing website finds that dealing weed is his only means of keeping the wolves from the door. Unfortunately, dealing weed brings a different kind of wolf to the door.'
How much £8.99
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
Set in Japan on the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries, this astonishing book weaves together strands of love story, adventure, history, comic writing, and the resounding clash of dissonant cultures.
How much £18.99
The Faber Book of Reportage
One of my all-time favourite non-fiction books. What was it like to have dinner with Attila the Hun, to watch the Titanic sink or to see Vesuvius erupt? Eyewitness accounts edited John Carey. Fascinating.
How much £16.99
A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson
'Post-war London has seldom felt more malevolent than here,' says Rebecca. Inspired by two real-life murder cases, it hauntingly evokes the horror of what happens when a police investigation gets the wrong man.
How much £12.99
Hadrian VII by Frederick Rolfe
Published in the Wordsworth Classics series, this is a 'bizarre fantasy about an Englishman suddenly elevated to the Papacy,' says David. 'It's a comic horror of a novel, never to be forgotten.'
How much Secondhand only
The Doctor's Wife by Brian Moore
'Brian Moore's work is oddly forgotten these days - this is a reminder of how good he is,' says David. A middle-aged wife falls for a young man and their story shows how love and life don't always go together easily.
How much £9.99
Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
This centres on an English ghostwriter living in Tuscany whose life is interrupted by the arrival of a vulgar woman from the former Soviet Union. 'A biting satire,' says David.
How much £7.99
War by Sebastian Junger
An incredible work of frontline journalism, says Greg. 'Junger describes a year with Battle Company, as they fight their way through a remote valley in Eastern Afghanistan.'
How much £16.99
Defiance by Nechama Tec
A compelling collection of neverbefore published interviews with surviving members of the Bielski partisans, a Jewish collective who fought against the Nazis in occupied Poland.
How much £7.99
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
For readers who have finished the Wallander books and are in the market for something similar, Rebecca recommends Erlendur, the Icelandic detective and star of Hypothermia.
How much £7.99
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
One of those books that I return to again and again. Set amidst the upper-class in the Regency era, it's full of noise, greed and soulless materialism. No wonder it fits in so well with today.
How much £8.99
Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor
'For me the one that got away in this year's Booker submissions,' says Tom. One (critical) wintry day in the life of an actress fallen on hard times, interwoven with her love affair with John MillingtonSynge. 'Painful, moving and beautifully written.'
How much £16.99
The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris
'A perfect antidote to Christmas depression... six waspish, hilarious seasonal short stories, including the title piece, based on the author's stint as a Christmas elf at Macy's,' says Tom. 'You will never look at a nativity play in the same way again.'
How much £7.99
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
A virtuoso example of the art of the novelist, with a beautifully realised historical setting and brilliantly drawn characters, encompassing comedy, tragedy, love, hatred and adventure, all described in the colloquial voice of the eponymous bushranger.
How much £8.99
Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard
'The author elegantly brings to life the town under the shadow of the volcano with scholarly wit and a deep knowledge,' says David. The reader is transported to the Roman town where the streets, baths and shops teem with character.
How much £9.99
Let the Dead Lie by Malla Nunn
Another first-class novel set in the past, says Rebecca. A hardboiled take on segregation in 1950s South Africa, its mixedrace hero, Det Sgt Emmanuel Cooper, has been forced to leave the police force, accused of a crime he didn't commit.
How much £12.99
The Women's Room by Marilyn French
This was one of the most powerful books I read in my 20s - and a seminal work for many of us now in our forties and over. If you're younger than that, then read, learn, and understand what your mothers went through.
How much £10.99
The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann
Published in 1936, this was years ahead of its time. It's the story of a young woman's affair with a married man and has beautiful descriptions of the intensity of hope and pain that such a relationship entails.
How much £8.99
Kill Your Friends by John Niven
A bleak, scabrous and over-the-top satire on the excesses of the Cool Britannia period of the 1990s, set in the morally bereft world of A&R man Steven Stelfox. 'Utterly hilarious,' says Greg.
How much £7.99
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
'Ludicrously underrated,' says David. This is a masterpiece about a historian trying to locate her own history in wartime Cairo. 'A book to linger in the mind long after you've read the last page.'
How much £9.99
Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
For fans of The Wire, this is the real story behind the drama from David Simon - the first reporter ever to have unlimited access to the Baltimore Police Department homicide squad.
How much £8.99
The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld
Inspired by a bomb blast in Wall Street in 1916, this wonderfully twisty tale takes in a young radiologist, the FBI and American oil giants.
How much £18.99
Essential Stories by V S Pritchett
'Perhaps because he wrote stories and not one great novel, the 20th century's great miniaturist is greatly under-read,' says David. 'Some of these stories are better than most novels.'
How much £9.99
Jump! by Jilly Cooper
Cooper must be used to being mauled by the critics, but readers love her - this has sold 70,000 hardback copies in two weeks. It's just the thing for a wet winter weekend.
How much £18.99
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker, this is set in a Dublin school with a huge cast of characters, including the school psychopath and an overweight genius who's looking for ET.
How much £13.99
Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
Combining snippets of fact and history with multiple fictional threads, the author sketches a huge array of LA characters and pulls together a brilliant portrait of the city, says Greg.
How much £12.99
Killing Dragons by Fergus Fleming
This history of the conquest of the Alpine peaks, essentially an account of how the British invented mountaineering, is perfect for armchair explorers, says Tom. 'Ample quantities of snow, vertigo and British pluck - with zero chance of frostbite.'
How much £9.99
Blacklands by Belinda Bauer
This debut novel won the 2010 CWA Gold Dagger Award. 'An astonishingly assured book thanks to the writer's remarkable talent for creating realistic, and often heartbreaking characters. Bleak but brilliant,' says Rebecca.
How much £7.99
Look homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
'One of the greatest American novels of the 20th century,' says Greg. 'And it's by one of its most neglected novelists.' Delivered inWolfe's characteristically sprawling style, it creates a beautifully detailed microcosm of life in small-town America.
How much Secondhand only
The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
Following his wife's suicide, Bunny finds his life descending in a demented downward spiral, with the reassuring presence of his young son as his sole stabilising influence. 'Scarcely romantic, but haunting and hilarious in equal measure,' says Greg.
How much £16.99
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
'A comic masterpiece only recognised after the author's suicide,' says Tom. 'It's warmed not only by the New Orleans location, but also by the fires of Ignatius J Reilly's indignation, aroused by everything he comes across in the modern world.'
How much £8.99
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
'An engrossing account of the French Revolution that justifies drawing the curtains and abandoning the world of tweets and email for something that rewards concentration,' says Tom.
How much £9.99
My Father's Fortune: A Life by Michael Frayn
Michael Frayn's magnificent biographical portrait of his father, who emerges from the pages fully formed. 'A tender portrayal of familial love, and a peerlessly evocative account of a wartime childhood,' says Greg.
How much £16.99
Storm Prey by John Sandford
'John Sandford is the pen name of the hugely prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Roswell Camp - but whatever moniker he goes under, the man is a master when it comes to thrillers,' says Rebecca.
How much £12.99
Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
'There are Dickens books that don't warm you, but not many - and this one, in which he drew on his travels in the US, is often unfairly excluded from the central canon,' says Tom.
How much £1.99
Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon
Sometimes on a cold winter night you just need something fluffy and heartwarming - and this winner of the 2010 Romantic Novel of the Year could be just the thing. Girl gets boy and dog gets home.
How much £6.99
Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
'Wodehouse's unique and hilarious writings remain as fresh today as they were almost a century ago,' says Greg. This is an ideal introduction to the Jeeves andWooster canon.
How much £7.99
Heartstone by CJ Sansom
The latest in this meticulously researched series is a 16th-century thriller following Sansom's lawyer hero Matthew Shardlake as he ends up on board the Mary Rose, says Rebecca.
How much £18.99
Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
'A fine military history, describing the collision of two of the most dangerous egos of the 20th century - and those unfortunate enough to become trapped between them,' says Tom.
How much 9.99
Black Diamond by Martin Walker
'Embrace the chill of autumn with a spot of truffle hunting - and crime fighting - with Périgord policeman Bruno Courrege,' suggests Rebecca.
How much £12.99
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
One of Greene's most emotionally powerful novels, says Greg. 'It explores the destructive triumvirate of self love, romantic love and religious belief, set in gloomy post-war London.'
How much £7.99

Kate Watson-Smyth gets the experts’ verdict on the hottest books to curl-up with - whatever your literary leaning

This week’s panel

Tom Sutcliffe, television critic of ‘The Independent’ and Booker Prize judge;

Rebecca Armstrong, deputy features editor of ‘The Independent’, crime fiction addict and bookworm;

Greg Eden, online content editor of Waterstones;

David Miller, director of literary agency Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd. His novel ‘Today’ will be published by Atlantic books in the spring.

>> Click on the image to launch our guide

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