Cozy and Curious Winter Reads

November 18, 2019

Hello everyone!

We’ve officially crossed over into Deep Fall – when half the trees are bare and the wind is cold rather than crisp. Sara is still in a huff because it dropped to 19 degrees in Atlanta a few nights ago. (“What is this? OHIO?” she screams into the void.) Meanwhile, Brittany is arraying herself in sweaters and scarfs in Virginia and hoping it snows soon. (Sara’s feelings about snow are… unprintable.)

As the days get shorter and darker, one thing we can both agree on is that this is the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book. Last week, Brittany shared her reflections on Erin Morgenstern’s new novel, The Starless Sea. Something she didn’t mention was that, at the reading she attended, Morgenstern said she felt that The Starless Sea is a Winter Book (The Night Circus, for those who are wondering, is a Fall Book for her!)

It absolutely is – it is all snow and hot drinks and hidden forest cottages and secrets – and this got us thinking about our own favorite wintery reads – the books that are perfect to read by a roaring fire while nursing a cup of tea, the books we devour in cocoons of blankets while wearing our toastiest, most absurdly patterned socks.

So, with this in mind, we’ve written up a list of what we think are the best winter reads, a mix of novels and short stories and even poetry that will enchant and ensorcel you. Here are some of our favorites!

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – Well of course! To hear more about this gorgeous novel, check out Brittany’s previous post.

Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip – We have both loved Patricia McKillip’s work since we were teenagers. She creates beautiful fairy tales and fantasies that feel like perfect crystal worlds inside of snow globes. Winter Rose is one of our favorites and one of the most wintry.
“The Witch of Duva” by Leigh Bardugo – This chilling story is a companion tale to Bardugo’s first novel, but it can be read independently too. This tale freezes you down to your bones as it offers a meditation on hunger, witches, and trust. You can read it here, on

“England Under the White Witch” and “A Country Called Winter” by Theodora Goss – Our friend Theodora Goss is a BOSS. You already know this if you’ve read her delightfully (and meticulously researched) Athena Club trilogy. She also writes gorgeous, sometimes melancholy, always though-provoking fairy tales. She achieves Peak Winter in “England Under the White Witch” and “A Country Called Winter”, both of which can be read online for free.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost – Hang with us while we go old-school for a moment. If you don’t have the time to dive into a novel or short story, but you still want a taste of magic winter, Frost delivers in these two classic poems. Read them on your phone while waiting for the bus or read them dramatically out loud at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner (if you do the latter, we absolutely want to know about it), and revel in the snow and ice.

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor – This is one of our favorite books. Ever. It was written as a tie-in to Laini Taylor’s sweeping fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and, while we love the trilogy, this stand-alone story totally stole our hearts. If you want a quirky, wildly creative and enchanting winter love story, HERE YOU GO. Be sure to read the illustrated version, which ups the charm by at least 100%.

“The Dead” by James Joyce – This might be the most unexpected pick on our list. James Joyce is not exactly a staple for fantastic literature. But there is something about this short story that we both find profoundly haunting, and we think the last sentence is one of the most beautiful in English literature: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” You can read this one online too.

“The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell – Gaskell was a prolific and very famous writer in Victorian England. She wrote some interesting novels like North and South and Ruth, but we think she shines brightest in her ghost stories. The major climactic scene in “The Old Nurse’s Story” is set just before Christmas, and the intrusive, even sinister threat of snow and cold sets the tale’s tone. Read this one online here!

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This list would not be complete without The Golden Compass (also published under the title The Northern Lights). Actually, we love the entire trilogy, His Dark Materials. Like, to the extent that Sara included a reading from it in her wedding ceremony. But The Golden Compass features polar bears, a quest to the aurora borealis, and a desperate rescue mission through snow and darkness.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – In many ways, Angela Carter is the fairy godmother of the contemporary feminist fairy tale. Her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, is a tour de force through reimagined worlds where sleeping beauties are tarot-reading vampires and beasts remain beasts. Many of the tales in this collection unfold in wintery landscapes, but perhaps the most seasonal of all is her “Erl-King.”

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – If what you’re looking for is more in the vein of WINTER MURDER, look no further than this Agatha Christie classic. Featuring a train stopped by a snowbank and a murderer on the loose within the narrow corridors, this claustrophobic tale provides a puzzle perfect for a cold night.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Let’s face it, you can’t really write a winter-fantasy themed reading list without including the magical world cursed to remain “always winter, never Christmas.” Unrivaled for cozy reading by the fireplace, this is a winter classic for the ages.

Here are a few more titles on our radar that we haven’t yet read but are on our list for this year:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

What are your favorite wintery reads? Let us know in the comments!

Finally, we have a bit of Carterhaugh history for you!

The very first piece of writing we ever collaborated on, to be exact. More than eight years ago, we were sitting by a swimming pool on a blisteringly hot summer day, so we decided to see what would happen if we tried to write a poem about the Snow Queen together. The result was “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” and it was published in Nightblade Magazine and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Snag a free copy of this poem based on the Andersen fairy tale for your winter reading binge! Click here to get your free (and pretty!) printable copy!

P.S. We have also just opened up registration for our winter-themed mini-course, “Kindling a Light in the Darkness: Winter Folklore and Fairy Tales,” which we must admit goes PERFECTLY with this post, AND a self-guided “Introduction to Fairy Tales” course!! Check them both out here!


  1. Claire Thomas

    Thank you guys, this made me so, so happy after a cold and drizzly day in New England! This is such a marvelous idea, and I am so excited to read (or reread) the books on this list! I love so many of the authors and books on here, especially Robert Frost and Patricia McKillip (I would love to know what your all-time favorite of hers is?)! Mostly, I just wanted to say how happy it made me that you pulled my favorite sentence out of “The Dead”. I get chills whenever I read that story, it’s just so amazing. Thank you both!!

    1. Aww, I’m so glad, Claire! My favorite McKillip is her Riddle-Master, which I devoured for the first time when I was about 16, and I still think is just absolutely gorgeous. What’s your favorite of hers?

      When I added “The Dead” to this list, I wondered if our readers would think I was nuts (since it’s a bit far from what we usually talk about), so this makes me so happy!!

      1. Claire Thomas

        James Joyce is fantastic and deserves to be included on all lists! πŸ™‚

        Riddle-Master is one of only a few of hers I haven’t read yet, but I have a copy on my shelf, ready to go, so I may move it up the list now! I have so many favorites of hers (Alphabet of Thorn, the Bards of Bone Plain, and Kingfisher spring to mind), but my all time favorite is The Changeling Sea. I’m not sure why, except that it’s about the ocean and it’s just charming.

        I also thought of one winter book to add to your list! Snow-Walker, by Catherine Fisher. It’s full of winter and folktale elements, and you just feel so lucky to be under a warm blanket when you read it! It’s been a while since I re-read it, but I think it might be loosely connected to the Snow Queen.

        Also, we absolutely should have dedicated winter reading/hibernation time! And separate from the holidays, because there’s just too much going on to really sink into a good book.

        Thanks again for the wonderful list, I’m so excited to spend some time reading whenever I have a few days off!

          1. Thank you Claire (this is Brittany!!) I think my favorite McKillip might actually be Winter Rose now that I think about it!! It’s partially just because I have very fond memories of reading it :). I actually haven’t read as many of her novels as I would like to though – for example, The Changeling Sea has been on my TBR pile forever!!

            Snow-Walker sounds super cool – I will check it out asap! <3!

        1. I haven’t read the Changeling Sea! *adds to list* Ditto for the Snow-Walker. I seriously need a month straight of dedicated reading time to get through all this goodness!

          1. Claire Thomas

            Same here! Books are piling up around me, but one day, I will catch up. I’d love to know what you guys think of The Changeling Sea or Snow-Walker if you wind up reading them! I will have to re-read Winter Rose now as well… I remember liking it, but it’s been a while!

  2. Don’t you feel like we should all get a few months off, just to read cozily by fire with mulled wine in hand? (I wish!)
    Lovely recommendations – thank you! – and I will add my enthusiasm for ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ (Arden) and ‘The Snow Child’ (Ivey). Both stay with you in the best way and are full of magic that seems very real-world applicable (as in, just because you close the covers of the book, doesn’t mean the end of the magic…)
    I will also add some recs:
    ‘The Dark Is Rising’ series by Susan Cooper – very moody and perfect for the season. There was a whole group of people on Twitter who read through the series together over the holiday period last season and many report feeling inspired to get more in touch with their creative sides and have revived their love for seasonal traditions. Good stuff!
    Jane Yolen’s ‘The Wild Hunt’ is a very short book – almost a novella I think – but packs a punch. I’ve never forgotten it (and I first read it eons ago) – full of mythos and folklore – chock-full.
    For an anthology of quick, but lovely reads I recommend ‘Frozen Fairy Tales’ edited by Kate Wolford. Anthologies can be a bit hit or miss, but almost all of the included stories are great, touching or cozy Winter reads, perfect for fairy tale and folklore folk.
    One last novel to curl up with and read for now: ‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw. How can I describe this one? Moth-winged bulls, skittish albino creatures hiding in the “snow-glazed woods” and a boy falling in love with a girl who is slowly turning to glass. It will depend on what you like in your books – it’s not a wild ride but it can be immersive. It’s not an urban fantasy, nor does it use pixie dust-like magic, but it most definitely is a poignant Winter fairy tale, and one that will linger in your memory, especially when the weather turns icy.
    I also recommend just reading a bunch of fairy tales set in Winter! (We read a fairy or folktale almost nightly year-round here and in the holiday season I just pull out all the snowy ones- it’s a great way to make the evenings extra magical.)

    1. “Don’t you feel like we should all get a few months off, just to read cozily by fire with mulled wine in hand?” WHY YES I DO FEEL LIKE THAT. Honestly, I feel so relieved to no longer feel guilty ever time I read a novel (thanks, grad school!) that I’m almost giddy every time I sit down with a new book.

      And thank you for the other recommendations! I didn’t read The Dark Is Rising series until I was about 20, but I absolutely loved it. I’m probably due for a re-read. Most of your other suggestions are new to me, so thank you! What are your very favorite snowy fairy tales?

      1. Oh boy – always so hard to choose favorites… here goes with a short(ish) list:

        ❆ The Cat on the Dovrefjell (aka The Molly of the Dovrefjell) – Norway – this is my first pick
        ❆ The Crane Wife -Japan – this is my other first pick… yes I cannot choose one I love most
        ❆ Strawberries in Snow (aka Three Little Men in the Wood) – Germany, & the Russian variant The Twelve Months. There are a ton of variants on this tale and all the Russian ones seem to have snow – I like them all! – they all come third on my faves list
        ❆ Snegurochka (The Snow Child/Maiden version but also Little Daughter of the Snow, which has some awesome animal details) – both from Russia – fourth fave
        ❆ Silvershod/Silver Hoof – based on Siberian folklore (literary – Bazhov Russia) – fifth because magical deer and jewels that remind me of Christmas tree colored lights among the snow and trees!

        Honorable mentions:
        ❆ The Snow Queen – mainly for the little robber girl episode & the woman who wrote on the fish – I want to know more about those two characters! – Denmark (literary – HCA)
        ❆ The Little Girl and the Winter Whirlwinds – Bulgaria – all the weather personified
        ❆ The Selfish Giant – England (literary – Oscar Wilde) – very didactic/preachy but the imagery…
        ❆ The Trolls and the Youngest Tomte – Sweden – easy to parallel this with so many Xmas stories of elfish kids pushing boundaries for presents, but also some insight as to how tomte perhaps turned into Christmas elves…
        ❆ The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – Germany (literary – E.T.A. Hoffman, not Dumas) – toys to life amiright?

        Must not forget (for balance):
        ❆ The Little Match Girl – Denmark (literary – HCA)
        ❆ The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf – Denmark, also HCA (he has a lot! Including The Fir Tree – although I prefer Phoebe’s pop culture update with all the trees getting their Christmas destiny from ‘Friends’)
        ❆ The Elves & the Shoemaker – Germany
        ❆ Snow White & Rose Red – Germany (for seasonal hospitality)

        ❆ Good King Wenceslas – Bohemia/Czech legend-then-carol – very comforting/warming (trivia: this Winter carol is set to the tune of an old SPRING carol!)

        SUPER BONUS: (because this is exactly how it feels when reading in Winter)
        The Dragon After His Winter Sleep – China – It’s really short, so I’m going to copy the trad text (translated) here for anyone who doesn’t know it:
        ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆
        Once there was a scholar who was reading in the upper story of his house. It was a rainy, cloudy day and the weather was gloomy. Suddenly he saw a little thing which shone like a fire-fly. It crawled upon the table, and wherever it went it left traces of burns, curved like the tracks of a rainworm. Gradually it wound itself about the scholar’s book and the book, too, grew black. Then it occurred to him that it might be a dragon. So he carried it out of doors on the book. There he stood for quite some time; but it sat uncurled, without moving in the least.

        Then the scholar said: β€œIt shall not be said of me that I was lacking in respect.” With these words he carried back the book and once more laid it on the table. Then he put on his robes of ceremony, made a deep bow and escorted the dragon out on it again.

        No sooner had he left the door, than he noticed that the dragon raised his head and stretched himself. Then he flew up from the book with a hissing sound, like a radiant streak. Once more he turned around toward the scholar, and his head had already grown to the size of a barrel, while his body must have been a full fathom in length. He gave one more snaky twist, and then there was a terrible crash of thunder and the dragon went sailing through the air.

        The scholar then returned and looked to see which way the little creature had come. And he could follow his tracks hither and thither, to his chest of books.

        Note: This tale is also from the β€œStrange Stories.” The dragon, head of all scaled creatures and insects, hibernates during the winter according to the Chinese belief. At the time he is quite small.
        (from Chinese Fairy Tales, Strange Stories section, 1921)
        ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆ ❆

        1. Oh I love the Chinese story!! And your whole list is lovely… I especially love that you included “Strawberries in the Snow,” that’s one of my all time favorites that doesn’t get NEARLY as much attention as it should!! ~ Brittany

        2. What a great list!!! I absolutely loved the Chinese story, which was completely new to me. Thank you!

          It’s funny, I love a lot of HCA, but some of it is just too sad for me. (This might stem from when I had to read ALL his collected fairy tales for my candidacy exam. Some of those stories are BRUTAL, and I definitely don’t recommend reading them all back-to-back-to-back when you’re already stressed and anxious over a horrifying exam!) Oscar Wilde’s are sad, too, but still so good!

          The Crane Wife is one of my favorite legends. I remember reading a GORGEOUS picture book copy I got from the public library when I was little, and the illustrations were spellbinding!

          Thank you for this awesome list!

  3. Joanna

    I just sat here , updating my library wish list… I highly recommend the Katherine Arden trilogy on audiobook.

  4. That sounds like just the thing Gypsy. Perfect list, just what I need for the hot summer here… no sarcasm, I actively look out for books set in Winter when its too hot to move. I loved the Snow Child and the Katherine Arden trilogy.

    I’ve got “The way past winter” by Kiran Milwood Hargrave on my shelf, just waiting for a hot day.

    1. Thanks Spike! Glad you liked the list, and I will also have to go hunt down “The Way Past Winter”…
      Reminds me of a middle-grade novel I just read, “The Girl Who Speaks Bear” by Sophie Anderson. Very snowy, lovely atypical story, took inspiration from “The Bear’s Son” (Russian tale) except the girl actually has bear legs… One of the lovely things about this one, is fairy tales link the chapters together – some are retellings of existing tales (or a blend) while others are new, but feel old, and all work together as the girl learns where she’s from. The Winter aspect is dominant – both magical and bringing peril. I’ve been recommending it to teachers and parents. (Book Depository has good prices and free worldwide shipping – great way to get UK books that won’t be released elsewhere for another 12 months!)

  5. Michelle Pittenger

    Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale is still a favorite.

  6. Allison

    What a great post – will save it for next Winter. A post with Spring reads would be lovely!

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