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The 50 Best Winter Reads

By Katy Guest, John Walsh, Toby Green, Rebecca Armstrong and Ben Naylor

Published 02/11/2009

<b>The First Person and Other Stories, by Ali Smith</b><br/>
A glorious collection that celebrates and subverts the short story form ? though it?s much more fun than that sounds ? Ali Smith?s latest begins with the premise that ?The novel [is] a flabby old whore? whereas the short story is ?a nimble goddess, a slim nymph.? Many of the stories are about lovers; all contain moments of clarity that make you wince. In one, the thought that ?Her clothes smell overwhelmingly of the same washing powder as yours? is devastating.<br/>
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
The First Person and Other Stories, by Ali Smith
A glorious collection that celebrates and subverts the short story form ? though it?s much more fun than that sounds ? Ali Smith?s latest begins with the premise that ?The novel [is] a flabby old whore? whereas the short story is ?a nimble goddess, a slim nymph.? Many of the stories are about lovers; all contain moments of clarity that make you wince. In one, the thought that ?Her clothes smell overwhelmingly of the same washing powder as yours? is devastating.
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
A global bestseller since its publication in 1844, Alexander Dumas?s massive adventure story has everything ? post-Napoleon France, resourceful hero, flighty Spanish girlfriend, secret letters, intrigue, wrongful imprisonment and treachery, as Edmund Dantes is transformed from idealistic sailor to cynical aristocrat bent on revenge. There?s even a scene in which he manipulates the 1830s French bond market.
Publisher:Penguin Classics
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon
David Simon?s The Wire has been deservedly lauded as one of the greatest TV shows ever, but this is the book that basically started it all. Simon, back then a crime reporter on the Baltimore Sun, spent a year shadowing the city?s homicide unit and was granted unprecedented access. The resulting work gives a fantastic insight into the world of real policing, making it an indispensable crime book that?s not just for fans of The Wire.
The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox
The sequel to Cox?s ode to Victoriana, The Meaning of Night, The Glass of Time is an accomplished work of page-turning brilliance. Follow Esperanza Gorst as she enters the service of the imperious Lady Tansor, a woman whose propensity for secrets is almost matched by that of her new employee. Readers who haven?t read The Glass of Time should really do so before tackling this, if only to prolong the delight that this gothic sensation gives.
Publisher: John Murray
Necropolis, by Anthony Horowitz
Best-known for his Bondesque creation, Alex Rider, Anthony Horowitz has also produced this highly entertaining fantasy horror series that traces the adventures of five, time-travelling adolescents with magical abilities in their battle to save earth from a sinister race, The Old Ones. Fans of the series won?t be disappointed in this action-packed addition but it?s not for the under-twelves. Horowitz claims it?s his darkest book yet.
Publisher: Walker Books
The Atmospheric Railway, by Shena Mackay
Shena Mackay has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, for her novel The Orchard on Fire, and the Orange Prize, for Heligoland, but it is as a short story writer that she has earned the most loyal and devoted fans. This new, huge collection of 13 new stories, alongside 23 taken from previous collections, ought to please hardcore aficionados and tempt newcomers equally.
Publisher:Jonathan Cape
Go, by John Clellon Holmes
Although the first ?Beat? novel was And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by John Kerouac and William Burroughs, Go (1952) was first to display the luminaries of the postwar underground in their glory. John Clellon Holmes?s semi-autobiographical novel follows square Paul Hobbes choosing between marriage to nice Kathryn and hanging with the junkies, poets and petty crimes of the New York demi-monde.
Publisher:Penguin Modern Classics
Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
After a presidential campaign that seemed to stretch on forever, you may be sick of reading about the first black President of the United States, but for a true insight into his mind then you can?t do much better than his memoirs, written before he entered politics. If you want to know more about his manifesto then pick up his later work Audacity Of Hope, but this exploration of race and identity gives a personal view of the new leader of the free world.
When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson
Murder, arson and abduction are at the heart of When Will There Be Good News? But this is no traditional crime novel. Starting with the brutal slaying of a young mother and two of her three children, it follows the story of the one who got away. Thirty years later, as her family?s killer is set to walk free, Joanna Mason vanishes with her baby. Kate Atkinson adds a horrific train crash, a fiercely loyal babysitter and a dodgy husband into the mix and comes up with an elegant tale of love, loss and life.
The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams
An accomplished debut from David Walliams. When his mother leaves Walliams?s young hero, Dennis, dresses in her clothes to remind him of her smell and warmth. He enjoys football and flicking through Vogue and when he falls for a fashion student he further relishes being adorned in the finer-sexes fabrics. Don?t worry, there?s nothing remotely Norman Bates-ish about his book; it?s a light-hearted romp that encourages tolerance and individuality.
Publisher:Harper Collins
The Believers, by Zoe Heller
At a time when US politics has apparently never been so exciting to British people, Heller?s insider look at American life, specifically the prejudices and power of its liberal intelligentsia, could not be more timely. The illness of a New York lawyer shakes the beliefs of all his family, as they and their country come to terms with self-doubt. His wife, Audrey, is a character even more vivid than Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal.
Publisher:Fig Tree Press
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by MR James
Find a 16th-century coaching inn on, say, the Norfolk coast, order a tankard of ale, sit by the fire and, as the rain lashes the leaded windows, read MR James?s peerless ghost stories. Originally read by candlelight to a group of friends on successive Christmas Eves in King?s College, Cambridge, they?ve lost none of their dry, academic chill.
Publisher:Dover Publications
Frost/Nixon, by David Frost
Dramatised on the stage and now on film, David Frost?s showdown with the disgraced US President Richard Nixon is one of the most famous interviews ever conducted. Here, Frost tells the inside story of how he managed to get Nixon to confront his role in the Watergate scandal in what is a fascinating document of how one of the key moments in American political history came to have a British twist.
Publisher:Pan MacMillan
The Private Patient, by PD James
Every new book starring Commander Adam Dalgliesh is a treat and The Private Patient is no exception. From the opening paragraph, ?On November 21st, the day of her 47th birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon...?, James gives her fans everything they could hope for. Namely a victim with a hoard of enemies, a secluded private nursing home and the forthcoming marriage of Dalgliesh to the long-suffering Emma Lavenham.
Publisher:Faber & Faber
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
An orphan, whose parents are brutally murdered, is raised by the most unlikely of foster parents ? ghosts. In this wonderful novel from fantasy master Neil Gaiman he escapes its dark premise by being extremely witty and including a wealth of endearing spectres. It concerns the fate of Bod, said orphan, who is forced to spend his childhood hiding from an ancient Egyptian society, the Jacks of all Trades, who have realised Bod is the youth of whom they have foretold will threaten their existence.
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Good To Be God, by Tibor Fischer
Don?t read this book if you?re fond of the illusion that life is happy, fights are fair and good guys win. This is Tibor Fischer at his cynical best. In short, an unemployed lightbulb salesman goes to Miami to pass himself off as God; the result is more funny than profound. ?Being right doesn?t improve the quality of your life,? the hero mournfully reports, ?any more than wearing yellow socks.
Publisher:Alma Books
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
If you want a reminder of what a real recession was like, 80 years before the one we?re in, try John Steinbeck?s stunning 1939 novel of the great Depression. The story of the Joad family, poor Oklahoma sharecroppers forced by poverty, dust and repossession to make a hopelessly optimistic trek to the promised land of California, wrings the heart.
Publisher:Penguin Classics
Stephen Fry in America, by Stephen Fry
In the past few months there has been a flurry of TV personalities willing to travel around America, attempting to explain how the world?s most powerful country works. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Fry?s road trip ? complete with black minicab ? was by far the most entertaining, and in this wonderful accompaniment, his writing style proves to be as pleasurable as his presenting.
Publisher: HarperCollins
The Pyramid, by Henning Mankell
The average fictional policeman is seldom a happy creature. Curmudgeonly, dyspeptic, cynical ? yes, but rarely laugh-a-minute. Mankell?s much-loved hero Inspector Wallander is no exception to this rule and those who have followed his career will be well aware of his miserable love life and poor health. But how did he become the man he is now? Mankell explores the theme in this collection of short stories, which are set earlier in Wallander?s life.
Publisher:Harvill Secker
Before I Die, by Jenny Downham
It?s all in the title. The novel is narrated by Tessa, a 16 year-old dying from leukaemia eager to experience all she can before she succumbs to the disease. Experiments with drugs and sex ensue, but it is Tessa?s realisation of the simple beauty of life that is so touching. What could have easily been a teenage tearjerker is a moving and heart-wrenching story that will have you pleading for a miracle of Hollywood proportions. It?s an excellent advocate for the case against age-banding fiction.
Publisher:Black Swan
A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carre
Described by HariKunzru as ?one of the most sophisticated fictional responses to the war on terror yet published?, John le Carré?s 21st novel shows why his fiction both defines and escapes the spy novel genre. Issa is a young Muslim immigrant of uncertain origins, living in Hamburg with a Turkish couple and defended by an idealistic young lawyer. This is a skilful author at his best as he calmly unpicks the post-9/11 world.
Publisher:Hodder and Stoughton
A Scots Quair, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
In some respects, the Caledonian Grapes of Wrath, this trilogy (comprising Sunset Song, Cloud Howe and Grey Granite) has been voted ?the best Scottish book of all time?. A saga set in three small towns in the Grampians, it tells the story of Chris Guthrie, and her experiences with men, war, children, God and Communism. Both lyrical and politically engaged.
Doors Open, by Ian Rankin
Although Ian Rankin has written crime novels without the fabulously boozy Inspector Rebus at the helm, it?s his allergic-to-authority hero who sticks in the minds of detective-fiction fans. But now that Rankin has retired Rebus, he can get on with using his considerable talents to create standalone titles like this one. Doors Open might be set in Edinburgh but it feels a world away from the edgy city of his previous books. Here, three men plot what they believe is the ultimate art heist.
Tony's Ten Years: Memories of the Blair Administration, by Adam Boulton
For years Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, has had a unique view of goings on in the corridors of power of Westminster. In this book, he follows Tony Blair as he embarks on his farewell tour around the world, reflecting on the key moments and characters that shaped the New Labour movement and defined the past decade.
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness?s first novel for teenagers was deservedly awarded this year?s Guardian prize for children?s fiction. The first, in what will be a trilogy, follows the journey of Todd, a 12 year-old boy, who flees his home in Prentisstown, a place inhabited by only men, where a virus has enabled all the inhabitants to be able to hear each others thoughts. When Todd encounters a patch of silence from the irrepressible din ? called ?the noise? ? in the form of a girl he sets out in search of answers. Highly original.
Publisher:Walker Books
Crime, by Irvine Welsh
Ray Lennox, a minor character from his 1998 book, Filth, returns in Irvine Welsh?s latest novel, this time set on the mean, wide-open streets of Miami. It?s a good, old-fashioned cop drama ? with a paedophile ring and bent cops by the mile ? all wrapped up in a distancing, second-person narrative and written with the pace and drive of a much younger Welsh. Owing to the delicate subject matter, it?s also mercifully short on smut.
Publisher:Jonathan Cape
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte
Anne is the least-read of the Haworth-haunting sisters, but her 1848 novel is a treat. The titular tenant, Helen Graham, much fancied by the narrator, much gossiped about by neighbours, unburdens the tragic story of her husband?s drunkenness, debauchery and infidelity (clearly based on the behaviour of Anne?s brother Branwell.) Victorian readers were shocked to their corset-stays.
Publisher:Oxford World?s Classics
Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please?, by Julian Norridge
No nation is better than Britain for taking a sport, and giving it a set of rules ? yet, as any sporting fan will know, this has hardly resulted in global success. This frequently funny book looks at a number of sports by turn, telling how the Marquess of Queensberry banned boxers from wrestling and how the British invented baseball, making it a great read both to dip into or to consume all in one go.
Publisher:Allen Lane
Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith
Child 44won CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award for the best thriller of the year. The reason for its success is the way Smith combines mystery, murder and the brutality of Stalin?s Russia, all set against a detailed historical backdrop. One of the tools of the totalitarian regime, Officer Leo Demidov, is a man who personifies the double-think of communism ? while chasing criminals, he operates in a society where there doctrine says there is no crime. It is the suspicious death of a young boy that forces him to examine what his life has become.
Publisher:Simon & Schuster Ltd
Kaspar Prince of Cats, by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Michael Morpurgo and illustrator Michael Foreman have collaborated on more than 20 titles. In this novel an orphaned bell-boy, Johnny Trott, is made guardian of Kaspar Kandinsky, a cat. The pair set sail on the Titanic and experience adventures galore. Morpurgo draws on his own experiences of a residency at the Savoy to imbue this novel with some added colour and his storytelling ability is superbly supplemented by Foreman's detailed pictures. Your little ones will love it and you probably will too.
Publisher:Harper Collins
Manual, by Daren King
Though he may never have surpassed the slightly unhinged genius of his debut novel, Boxy an Star,Daren King continues to offer dextrous little flashes of brilliance and breathe fresh air into the literary world. Manual describes Michael, his friend Patsy, her friend Owl and their adventures in high finance and low rent. It is the most charming and innocent book you will ever read about the world of kinky fetish services.
Publisher:Faber & Faber
The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
If you haven?t yet discovered Ms Wharton ? close friend of Henry James, and often matching him for psychological acuity ? check out her 1905 ?novel of manners? in which clever, independent Lily Bart tries to make a lucrative marriage but turns off her suitors, one by one, through her flirtiness and love of the good life. A cautionary tale of social disaster, told with wit and élan.
Publisher:Penguin Classics
Who Runs Britain?, by Robert Peston
As the BBC?s business editor, Robert Peston has become the face of the economic crisis that?s currently gripping our globe. In this, a compelling tale of big business and its hold over our government, he gives a fascinating insight into the financial world, which is especially useful if you?ve found yourself bamboozled recently by various financial jargon.
Publisher:Hodder & Stoughton
The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly performs a clever trick in his latest work. As well as featuring his long-established LAPD cop Harry Bosch, The Brass Verdict sees defence attorney Mickey Haller, who first appeared in The Lincoln Lawyer, take the stage too. The two characters, each on different sides of the legal profession, have to work together to bring down an assassin, and, despite their differences, this unlikely pairing is ? for Connelly?s readers at least ? a success.
The Carbon Diaries 2015, by Saci Lloyd
It?s London 2015 and the UK has introduced carbon rationing. The diarist is Laura, a typical adolescent ? hormonal, insecure, and self-deprecating ? who has to endure the tribulations of adolescence while growing accustomed to drought, floods and considering how many points she will use charging her mobile. Lloyd?s attempts to encourage young people to consider the effects of climate change are a perfect example of how to blend an important message into an entertaining novel.
Publisher:Hodder Children?s Books
Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
This complex but rewarding study in moral disintegration is heavily autobiographical, set in 1939 Mexico on the Day of the Dead, shimmering with menace and warnings of destruction. The hero is Geoffrey Firmin, the British ex-consul, striving to make sense of his life through a fog of alcohol, as his wife conducts an affair with a French film-maker in the symbolic shadow of two volcanoes.
Publisher:Penguin Modern Classics
Fathers & Sons, by Richard Madeley
This isn?t so much an autobiography, rather a history of Richard Madeley?s family ? and what a family it is. The TV presenter, a surprisingly skilled writer, goes back to his grandfather, who was abandoned when his family emigrated without telling him. As the story follows down the lineage through Madeley?s father, and then his own life, he constructs a very personal and touching view of how families develop through the generations.
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
The Wasted Vigil, by Nadeem Aslam
Criticised by some for its juxtaposition of beautiful writing and brutal events, this third book by the young Pakistani-British writer was hailed by fans as an astonishing oversight by the Booker panel. Spanning 30 years of Afghan history, it examines old and new conflicts as they are seen by English, Russian, American and local pawns of history. The poetic language does nothing to lessen its unflinching moments of violence.
Publisher:Faber & Faber
The Priest of Evil, by Matti Joensuu
There?s a lot to like about Priest of Evil. It taps into the current vogue for Scandinavian crime spearheaded by Henning Mankell and it?s written by a former investigator for the Helsinki Police Department. Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää is investigating killings in Helsinki?s Metro stations and in doing so comes into contact with the titular Priest of Evil, a religious maniac living under the city?s streets.
Publisher:Arcadia Books
Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Screen-writer turned novelist Boyce?s latest effort, Cosmic, is in a similar vein to his last novel, Millions, where a young buy finds a vast sum of money. This novel, however, sees an entirely different childhood fantasy come true. Boyce?s protagonist, the peculiarly tall Liam, whose only friends are his adversities on internet gaming sites, manages to convince a space programme he is an adult and they send him on an expedition.
Personal Days, by Ed Park
If you liked Joshua Ferris?s Then We Came to the End, Park?s debut is the best of several imitators. Smartly of-the-moment, this is office life at its best and worst: the ?instant folklore? of the internet age (?when you feel a tingling in your fingers it means that someone?s Googling you?); the modernist poetry of an email inbox; the weird of experience of being a boss: ?Every night, the chances are that at least one of [your staff] dreams of you.?
Publisher:Jonathan Cape
The Inimitable Jeeves, by PG Wodehouse
The Everyman Library is boldly re-publishing the complete (90-plus) works of the great Plum in handsome editions with jacket illustrations by Andrzej Klimowski. The Inimitable, first published in 1923, finds Bertie and Jeeves trying to extricate Bingo Little from the clutches of a teashop waitress, a romantic novelist and the lovely Honoria Glossop.
Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre
In his weekly newspaper column, Ben Goldacre has made it his mission to uncover and expose the scientific scare stories and examples of ?bad science? that litter the media. From an expert with a mail-order PhD to debunking the myths of homeopathy, he talks the reader through some notable cases and shows how you don?t need a science degree to spot ?bad science? yourself.
Publisher:Fourth Estate
The Vows of Silence, by Susan Hill
This is the fourth of Hill?s series of upmarket detective novels starring the handsome but tortured Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler. His latest case sees the cathedral city of Lafferton at the mercy of a gunman who is slaughtering newly and soon-to-be married women with professional precision. As the populace begins to panic, the police struggle to keep a grip on the case. Beautifully written and often poignant.
Publisher:Chatto & Windus
Double Cross, by Malorie Blackman
In a parallel universe, the dark-skinned ruling class, the Crosses, subjugate the fairer skinned noughts, the under-class, who were once slaves. Double Cross, which is the fourth novel in Blackman?s Noughts and Crosses series, exploring racism in a fictional dystopia, sees Callie, the daughter of a Cross and a Nought, and her boyfriend, Tobie, struggling to escape from a world of gangs and terrorism. A relentless, powerful and extremely relevant thriller.
Publisher:Random House
Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright
Wright?s sprawling, epic narrative, set among the Waanyi people of northern Australia and beginning shortly before time began, is a massive headspin of a novel that is difficult to comprehend fully and almost impossible to forget. Stories are bound up with landscape and people, with heroes that evoke an entire history of literature in English. ?Anyone can find hope in the stories?, it begins, ?the big stories and the little ones in between. So...?
The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy
If the TV dramatisation of Tess left you yearning for further tragic inter-twinings in the bosky meadows of Wessex, read this tremendous ménage à quatre by the master of rustic fatalism. Damon the publican marries the lovely Thomasin, but secretly loves the flighty Eustacia, who marries Thomasin?s cousin?s Clym, who goes blind? Not exactly fun, but utterly absorbing.
Publisher:Penguin Classics
Vanity Fair: a Century of Iconic Images
Vanity Fair has always been as much about the photographs as it has the stories and this collection of over 300 photos from 95 years shows why. With big names behind the camera, such as Annie Leibovitz and Mario Testino, and even bigger names in front ? Pablo Picasso and Cary Grant to name just a few ? this journey through a century of pop culture is the perfect book for your coffee table.
Publisher:National Portrait Gallery Publications
Gomorrah: Italy?s Other Mafia, by Roberto Saviano
Would that the bleak Neopolitan underworld that Saviano so skilfully depicts in Gomorrah be crime fiction. Alas, it?s crime reality ? a tragic, brutal and bloody reality that has been turned into a recently released film. The book charts the rise of the criminal syndicate the Camorra and its illegal activities which range from drug peddling and prostitution to murder and arms-dealing. A profoundly powerful book.
Publisher:Pan Books
Cookie, by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Former Children?s Laureate and indefatigable novelist Jacqueline Wilson?s novel carries an over-nine age band something she ardently opposes ? she claims it was simply a publisher?s mistake. It is familiar Wilson territory. A young girl, Beauty, who is bullied by classmates at school and a domineering father at home, has her only friend in her mother. The story follows their search for a better life.
Publisher:Random House

Gripped by thrillers? Hooked on classics? Our panellists select the hottest books for colder months – whatever your literary leaning.

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