Monday, January 28, 2019

Winter Reading

I’m coming to you from Indiana (as usual), where in some areas the temperatures will be ‘dangerously cold’ this week (not as usual). We’re talking wind chills in the -30 to -40 range. Some of you reading this may be thinking that’s just a normal January day, but for us folks in Indiana, it’s not the norm. Luckily, I live in Southern Indiana, so while we are predicted to get some very cold weather we won’t get the worst of it. So I’ve got my arm warmers on - yes, they’re a thing and since my desk has a glass top they are WONDERFUL in this kind of weather - while I think about books I’ve read that are set in bitterly cold climates. After a scan through my Goodreads bookshelf, here are some books you can read while bundled under your warmest blankets and sipping some hot chocolate.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

While some of my favorite books have been historical fiction, it’s not my preferred genre to read. I’d been seeing good things about this book for a while but was hesitant to read it because I had been reading quite a few historical fiction books. But I went ahead and took the {polar} plunge and I’m glad I did. It really is a beautiful book with characters to love.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette By Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces--which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.

This book was a pleasant surprise. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, but this book took me there a few times. Sure not much of the book is set in the blistery climate of Antarctica, but you won’t care because it’s such a fun and entertaining book. It just might help you forget that you are stuck in subzero weather for a while. 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time - and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are. 

I often enjoy reading Kristin Hannah’s books and have read several in the past. This was another I was hesitant to read due to the historical fiction classification, but in my opinion it’s not heavy on the historical fiction side. Really, it was more about the relationship between a mother and her two daughters. The stories of the mother’s life in Russia will make you happy the Indiana windchill will only be -30/-40. It might also shed some light on the whole “gotta go and buy all the milk and bread before the storm hits” mentality. 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart - he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone - but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. 

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I actually don’t remember how long ago I read this book, but that hasn’t kept if from being one of my favorites. I loved how this book kept me on the line between reality and fantasy throughout the entire novel. It’s actually the inspiration for the character Ren in my current WIP. My hope is to have the readers wondering the entire time, “Is she real or not?” 

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult 

Fourteen-year-old Trixie Stone is in love for the first time. She's also the light of her father, Daniel's life -- a straight-A student; a pretty, popular freshman in high school; a girl who's always seen her father as a hero. That is, until her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence. Suddenly everything Trixie has believed about her family -- and herself -- seems to be a lie. Could the boyfriend who once made Trixie wild with happiness have been the one to end her childhood forever? She says that he is, and that is all it takes to make Daniel, a seemingly mild-mannered comic book artist with a secret tumultuous past he has hidden even from his family, venture to hell and back to protect his daughter.
With The Tenth Circle, Jodi Picoult offers her most powerful chronicle yet as she explores the unbreakable bond between parent and child, and questions whether you can reinvent yourself in the course of a lifetime -- or if your mistakes are carried forever.

I read this book more than 10 years ago and I’ll admit I don’t remember much about how it made me feel - other than cold. Because, you know, Alaska. {burr} I might have to give this one another read sometime. I do know it wasn’t my favorite Picoult book, but it’s Picoult so you really can’t go wrong. 

What are some of the blistering cold books on your bookshelves?

~ Carrie


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

With the movie coming out, I was curious about Bernadette. You got me on the humor aspect. I think I will read it.

Siouxshi said...

"Not if I Save You First" by Ally Carter was one of my favourite reads from last year and it definitely fits the snowy, chilled, grab-a-blanket kind of book! It's set (mostly) in Alaska, and it is FULL of intrigue and some friendship-on-the-cusp-of-romance going on. It's a definite rec from me for sure!

Brenda St John Brown said...

I LOVED Between Shades of Gray. I'm not sure I read a lot of winter books unless they're Christmas. Even my own books are mostly set in summer!

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