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As the winter holiday season creeps closer, Booktok seems to turn into an endless void of holiday romance books. Which I can’t lie, I’ve read a few I enjoyed. But I kinda wanted to go in a different direction this year.
So I thought it would be fun to make a short list of books that are winter/holiday themed within other genres, like Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Dark Academia.
This list is comprised of a few books I have read, and some that I have added to my never-ending tbr list, but hope to read before winter is over.
Books I have read:
- Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeney
- The Family Game by Catherine Steadman
- Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
- Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
- The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Books I want to read:
- If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
- The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
- Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
- The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
- The Secret History by Donna Tart
- The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeney
Things in the marriage between Mr and Mrs Wright have been wrong for a long time. Adam and Amelia win a weekend trip to Scotland, they decide it might just be what they need to mend their marriage. However, Adam suffers from face blindness, unable to recognize his friends, family, and wife.
On each anniversary Adam and Amelia exchange traditional gifts, paper, cotton, pottery, tin, etc alongside a letter Amelia writes each year, but doesn’t let Adam read, until now.
However, they didn’t win this trip. Someone is lying and this trip may not spell out happily ever after. Because after 10 years of secrets, some are bound to come out.
This was such a fun read. As the story went on, I could feel all of the little strings being connected between all of the characters.
There are three POVs in this book but it works. Adam’s face blindness creates an interesting tension level I would not have expected.
There is a lot of tension between Adam and Amelia and Amelia’s letters really reveal the state of their marriage each year.
The snowy setting, the old, renovated church where Adam and Amelia are staying really sets the atmosphere as one that is cold, harsh, and unrelenting.
I also really enjoyed the twist at the end and the best part? The dog doesn’t die! (I don’t know about you, but pets being hurt or dying can make me DNF a book faster than any other trope out there.)
The Family Game by Catherine Steadman
Harriet/Harry is a novelist on the rise, engaged to Edward. And not just any Edward, but Edward Holbeck. One of the most prominent and old money families in America. Despite Edward leaving his family and privilege behind to forge his own path, he cannot stay away forever.
Despite severing ties with his family, Edward is the one who will inherit the family’s fortune. Harry finds herself drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks as they welcome her with readily open arms.
But everything changes when she meets Robert, Edward’s charming father who gives her a cassette tape revealing a shocking confession and setting a deadly game in motion.
Harry and Edward’s relationship moves really fast. This story is set during Christmas/winter time but is not warm and fuzzy by any means. This book can easily be compared to “Ready or Not”, but with all of the secrets you could ever want about a ridiculously wealthy family.
I also didn’t know how I would feel about Harry being pregnant in the story. It is introduced very early on but it did not impact the story in an overly negative way.
I listened to the audiobook version and the cassette tapes were what really made me love this story. The cringy audio over Robert’s voice really was just fantastic and felt like I was right there with Harry listening to the tapes.
The ending however is where I kinda stop liking the book. It is very much over the top and the reveal almost felt more like a cop-out than anything else. Which was so disappointing because despite enjoying the other aspects of the story.
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Everyone in Ernie Cunningham’s life has killed someone. The overachievers have killed more than one. So when Ernie’s family all gathers at a ski resort, Ernie finds himself wrapped up in yet another murder mystery with his own family as you guessed it, someone at the ski resort has been killed.
This book is a ride. The main character Ernie, speaks to the reader directly. There is a lot of dry humor which I found I enjoyed. I liked learning about Ernie and his family.
The ski resort setting in the mountains is the perfect backdrop.
However, the murder mystery plot itself has way too many elements. I found myself a bit confused at times. So much happens and in between, Ernie would revert back to telling personal stories which only led to more confusion. I had to wonder how relevant his memories were to the main story, the murder.
However, it was a fun read and I’d recommend reading the book version. I think I was also confused because I was listening versus being able to re-read the page until it clicked.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
During a dark midwinter night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, a wounded stranger appears, holding the lifeless body of a young girl. However, hours later, the young girl stirs and leaves people wondering if it is magic or science that has saved the young girl’s life?
Those who dwell on the river bank begin the search for where the missing girl has come from. Yet as they search, the mystery only deepens.
Three families step up to claim the young girl. A wealthy young mother believes the girl to be her kidnapped daughter, who has been missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret affair and stands ready to welcome their granddaughter. And the parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees the girl as the image of her younger sister.
The return of the girl is not without complications, no matter how tragic the past losses have been, the girl cannot be everyone’s. Many secrets will be revealed before the girl’s true identity can be known.
Right out of the gate, I loved this book for its ability to weave folklore into a magical story. The prose in this book is undoubtedly beautiful and kept my attention, aside from the mystery of the little girl.
Despite the prose, there are times when it feels rather long-winded. I read this two years ago every night before bed, and some nights I would want to skip a few pages to just get to the next part.
I also wasn’t too much of a fan of the characters. You could say I came for the vibes.
The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Five women are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. Our main character Alex, is a struggling writer and is thrilled to have been chosen.
Once the women arrive, they learn they must write a fully fleshed-out novel in a month’s time and the best one will receive the seven-figure publishing deal.
But then women begin to die.
Trapped and terrified, yet still desperately writing, it is clear there is more going on than just a writing retreat at Blackbriar Estate. Alex must confront her own demons and finish her novel, to save herself.
This was unhinged. Thrilling? No. Wild? A bit. Ridiculous? Absolutely.
The methods used on the women to keep them writing were outright wrong. There is literally no consent given in this book and it is insane.
There is a scene with Alex in the basement that I am still not over because it still grosses me out to this day. I genuinely disliked this book but it reminds me a bit of Bunny by Mona Awad with just how wild, unhinged, and non-sensical it is.
When I first read this book I absolutely hated that I forced myself to finish it. And while I still hate it, at least now I can laugh about how bad it is.
Books I Want To Read: (in no particular order)
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
This book has been at the top of my must-read Dark Academia books for a long time now.
I also love a story told through a good old flashback and I am just really hoping this book lives up to the exception my brain has put on it.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Ever since I read The Guest List, I have been on a slow mission to read all of Lucy Foley’s work.
With a murderer amongst the backdrop of winter Scottish wilderness, I am so excited to play detective again.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
This year has turned me into a Fantasy reader again. When I was in middle school I would devour books like Inkheart, Eragon, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and revel in how much I loved escaping into these magical worlds. Somewhere along the way, I lost my love for fantasy.
But now it’s back and stronger than ever and if you google winter fantasy, Spinning Silver is the first to pop up!
The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Ardan
This is one of my best friend’s favorite books and I’ve read good things about the Winternight Trilogy. So I am excited to dive in and hopefully continue the series.
The Secret History by Donna Tart
I have been wanting to read this book for the absolute longest time and just…haven’t.
So with its backdrop on a wintery Vermont college campus, sign me right up.
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
I really need to read more mythology and folklore if I am being honest. I saw a review that said what Madeline Miller did for Circe, is what Genevieve Gornichec did for Angrboda and I was sold.
Literally, nothing else needed to be said.
And there you have it! 11 Non-Romance winter book recs! I might have gotten ahead of myself by recommending books I have yet to read, but I am confident I will enjoy these books and look forward to talking about them during my recap.
Have you read any of the books on this list or have recs of your own? Let me know below!