Chilly weather always puts me in the mood for chilling reads - books that have characters fighting for survival in the wintery wilderness or taking shelter in isolated cabins/manors/inns while winter rages outdoors and a killer is lying in wait indoors amongst unsuspecting victims. Books like these send shivers down my spine and I love combatting those very shivers with warm blankets, hot tea, and a lit candle. It’s the perfect reading experience. From mystery thrillers to horror stories, here are a few books I personally think should accompany your cold wintery nights at home.
"Flakes of snow swirled and danced across the porch. The Overlook faced it as it had for nearly three-quarters of a century, its darkened windows now bearded with snow, indifferent to the fact it was now cut off from the world...Inside its shell the three of them went about their early evening routine, like microbes trapped in the intestine of a monster."
Of course I’m gonna recommend you read one of Stephen King’s masterpieces. This book takes all the things I personally love in horror, (abandoned buildings, dark pasts, descents into madness, ghosts) combines them with most of the things I genuinely fear, (wasps, airplanes, driving in winter) and wraps them up in shiny paper with a nice little bow. It’s a spine-tingling experience that gradually escalates into a gruesome ride of terror and if you’ve shockingly never read The Shining nor seen the film directed by Stanley Kubrick, I’m instantly jealous of your opportunity to read it for the first time.
The Shining is a book I love to recommend to readers new to Stephen King for its pacing, strong character development, and claustrophobic wintery atmosphere. I would argue it’s equal parts paranormal and psychological horror. The story follows Jack Torrence, an aspiring writer who's lost his job as a teacher after an incident involving his terrible temper. When he's offered the opportunity to move his wife and son into the Overlook Hotel and take up the responsibility as caretaker during the winter off-season, he feels this is his chance to redeem himself and perhaps finally make progress on writing his play. But there's a strange and sinister aura felt within and throughout the perimeters of the ancient hotel, and only Jack's six- year old son Danny seems to sense it.
This might be my second favorite Stephen King novel after IT. The book is told from multiple perspectives and readers will be bouncing back and forth between the dark, paranoid thoughts of Jack, to the worrisome, guilt-ridden thoughts of his wife, to the confused, panicked thoughts of poor Danny. And of course the Overlook Hotel itself is practically a living, breathing entity of evil, a character all its own. Once trapped in the Overlook, all the pent up ghosts (both literal and psychological) will become restless and bound to be let loose. Sound fun? Add this horror classic to your winter reading list!
"You owe me your life, Paul. I hope you'll remember that. I hope you'll keep that in mind."
Yes, I know what you’re thinking…“Two Stephen King book recommendations in one blog post?” Yes, dear readers, because I simply couldn’t pass up another King classic set in winter and this one is sure to have you at the edge of your seat. Misery is another book I love recommending to folks new to Stephen King–probably even more so than The Shining–because it consists of mostly two characters, is a digestible 370 pages, and contains one of my favorite unhinged female villains in literature.
After a near-fatal car accident that shatters his legs, bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon awakens in the isolated Colorado home of his rescuer and number one fan, Annie Wilkes. Annie is obsessed with Paul's books and is a little more than upset when she learns he's killed off her favorite character and beloved protagonist, Misery Chastain. So she tells Paul he's going to write her another book--one where her heroine lives, one that is written especially for her and only her. If Paul refuses, she has very unpleasant ways of provoking cooperation.
I would label this book as a suspense thriller with themes of isolation, dependency, and creativity under pressure. It’s a stressful hostage situation that I’m sure Stephen King himself has nightmares about on the regular.
If you're looking for a quick read that gets your heart racing, this one might suit you well! (The film adaptation is equally fantastic!)
"The wind redoubles . . . the gale rises, and as it whistles through the rock formations, it sounds very much like a man’s screams."
I became a big fan of Australian author Darcy Coates after reading The Carrow Haunt–a haunted house story that somewhat doubles as a locked-room mystery. That being said, Coates has written nearly 50 books ranging from paranormal horror to suspense thrillers and they’re addictive and easily devourable--like buttery popcorn at the movies.
In this more recent book, a young woman named Christa, her boyfriend, and several other tourists are hoping to get cozy at a winter lodge up in the mountains. But the tour bus bound for their destination is intercepted by a snowstorm and passengers must take shelter in a seemingly abandoned hunting cabin in the woods. Christa’s boyfriend is lost somewhere in the blinding blizzard, strangers are trapped in close quarters, and to make matters worse, the tour guide’s severed head is later found impaled on a tree outside the cabin. Christa wonders if a murderer is amongst them and tensions grow high as characters’ are picked off slowly one by one.
Right off the bat, this book is suspenseful and fast-paced (I’m talking two pages per chapter) and you can practically feel the winter chill seep into your bones as you read about these characters’ fight for survival. If you’re looking for an engrossing winter suspense thriller and are new to Darcy Coates, cozy up to this book by a warm fire (but don’t leave the cabin!)
“Only humans enjoy the fears of others.”
If you’ve read anything by author Christina Henry, you know she is a fantastic storyteller, a compelling writer, and absolutely brilliant when it comes to dark fairytale retellings. Just read her earlier works if you don’t believe me (Alice and The Girl in Red to name a few) then come back and we’ll talk. The author also dabbles in the horror genre and Near the Bone is a survival horror story with literal teeth.
The story opens with a young woman named Mattie discovering a mutilated fox corpse in the wintery woods. She’s convinced something bigger than a bear is the culprit, something monstrous with sharp teeth and claws. She feels there is imminent danger on the cold, lonely mountain where she dwells. But Mattie’s life has always been in danger. With her abusive, religious zealot of a husband keeping her prisoner in their cabin in the woods, she has never truly felt safe. To make matters worse, three cryptozoologists arrive in search of this mysterious creature, disrupting the order of Mattie’s already tense situation. Between the unknown beast leaving animal corpses in its wake and a violent tyrant demanding obedience and submission to his will, Mattie must decide which monster is worse while finding her strength and fighting back.
Stories that balance human monsters with the paranormal are always a draw for me and if you enjoy survival narratives, creature features, cryptids, and isolation tropes, this might be right up your alley. (Trigger warnings for domestic abuse).
"There were no lights anywhere--no lights in windows, no traffic lights or lampposts--and it took them all a second or two to realize what they were seeing: little houses dotting the far end of the field, masked by darkness [...] A terrible image surfaced in Todd's mind at that moment: all the residents of this quiet little hamlet watching them from the darkness of their homes, cloaked in black, their eyes like silver dollars. Or maybe they have no eyes at all. Maybe they have no faces."
Snow is a suspenseful small-town horror story that starts out with a group of characters attempting to drive home in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve due to their flights being canceled. But things take a terrifying turn when they experience car trouble and get stranded in a town where a flesh-hungry threat is lying in wait.
This is a fast paced read with multi-perspective storytelling and brain-dead corpses seemingly formed from the cold (no I’m not talking about white walkers from Game of Thrones, but close!) Author Ronald Malfi also makes good use of the isolation trope as our band of survivors realize help is far from on its way to this secluded, unnervingly quiet town.
“I learned that people will believe what they want to believe. And it’s truly frightening how easily they’ll believe it.”
Books like An Unwanted Guest tend to leave me feeling too paranoid to stay in cozy inns secluded in the wintry wilderness. But this book will definitely scratch the itch for a suspenseful "whodunit" murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None".
In this wintery thriller, the Mitchell Inn located deep in the woodsy mountains is where a group of strangers are looking forward to a relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives. They're hoping for cross country skiing, romantic dinners, warm beds in spacious rooms, and hot drinks by a blazing fire. What they aren't expecting is a blizzard that will have them all stranded, a murder that will leave guests horrified, and a killer amongst them. Characters start dropping off like flies, tensions mount, fear sets in, and the chills are bone deep.
I honestly thought I would have been able to guess who the murderer was before the end of the book but I was stumped! I highly recommend this for readers who love a good "closed circle" mystery with a compelling cast of characters stressed in the midst of claustrophobic circumstances!
Need more wintery thrills to pair with your hot cider by the fire this winter? Here are some honorable mentions below:
-Christina James is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.