While I love to read outdoors overlooking my garden during the warm weather months, there is an attraction for winter reading, too — curled up in a corner, usually with a cat (or two) in my lap and a cup of tea or a plate of apple slices. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here are a few ideas for your own cozy afternoon of reading.
• “Before I Go to Sleep” (2011) by S.J. Watson is a fascinating thriller similar to “Memento.” When Christine wakes up one morning, an older woman looks out of the mirror at her. The last she remembers, she was 22, but now she’s 47? The man in bed next to her says he’s her husband, Ben. She was in an accident and her memory was affected. Her brain can’t store memories, so each day she wakes remembering only certain things from her past, sometimes more than others. The book covers the next couple of weeks, as Christine begins to accumulate memories through a journal and tries to make sense of her life and her future. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it was a good read and makes you think about memories, family, friends and what our sense of self would be like without them.
• “Unbroken” (2010) by Laura Hillenbrand is the hardest book I’ve ever read, but also the most inspiring. There are plenty of stories about soldiers and POWs battling adversity and coming out the other side, but Louie Zamperini’s lot during World War II was a trial beyond any other. The irrepressible young man, who competed in the 5,000-meter at 19 at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, becomes an airman aboard a B-24 in the Pacific and endures so many trials, it would seem farfetched if fiction. But, Hillenbrand, the author of “Seabiscuit,” makes his story and this time in our country’s history sing. She lays out the facts and figures of the war, but lends them such depth, pathos and clarity, that no one could be unmoved. I went online to find out when Zamperini died, but he’s still alive and was on Jay Leno’s show last year. He’s 96! The Coen brothers wrote a screenplay based on the book, and Angelina Jolie is directing the film for release on Christmas Day.
• John Irving (“The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp”) peoples his books with a multitude of odd characters, much like the real world — well, maybe a little quirkier. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (1989) is no exception. This was for my book club and I was surprised to learn there was an Irving book I had missed. This is a big one, at 640 pages, and his editor could have hacked out about 100 of them. But, the book is well worth the time and it was a pleasure to spend a week with the diminutive Owen, his best friend John, and the rest of the characters in Gravesend, N.H. It’s an odd amalgam of faith, friendship, love, regrets and fate. And, as with most Irving books, parts had me laughing out loud.
• “Here Be Dragons” (1985) by Sharon Kay Penman was a delightful surprise — a gift from a friend and signed by the author (who has written six historical novels). This one is about 13th-century Wales and Llewelyn, the prince of North Wales and his Norman wife, Joanna. Unfortunately, the Welsh are so busy fighting among themselves they have no chance against the might of England. This is the England of Richard the Lionheart and then King John. It’s a fascinating look at the real history of the era, the intermarriages made to secure tenuous peace, and the women who are torn between loyalties of country and family. This is no dry history book. The author really makes the characters and times come alive.
• The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich have always been a guilty pleasure. They are light and fun and make me laugh I read “Smoking Seventeen” (2011) and “Explosive Eighteen” (2012) back to back and they follow the same pattern as the first 16 books. Stephanie is a hapless bounty hunter for her bail bondsman cousin in The Burg in New Jersey, where everyone except Stephanie (even her grandmother) carries a gun. Armed with her pepper spray (or sometimes just a can of hairspray), handcuffs and the questionable help of the company’s colorful file clerk and former ’ho, Lula, Stephanie searches for lowlifes to bring in while juggling the two men in her life, the mysterious Ranger and Joe Morelli, the cop she’s known since childhood.
• Love Minette Walters and started reading “Fox Evil” (2002) before I realized I already had. But, I read it again anyway. They are psychological thrillers, with such complex characters — from the English countryside to the mean streets of London. Col. James Lockyer-Fox is being harassed with obscene phone calls since the suspicious death of his wife. Concerned about his isolation, his solicitor tries to get the colonel’s illegitimate granddaughter, who was put up for adoption as a baby, to meet him. Then, a group of travelers plant their caravans on a patch of unowned woods near the house and set up a perimeter to settle in for an adverse possession claim. Their cruel, but charismatic leader seems to have an additional motive for being there, but what is it?
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