Best books to snuggle up with
It is cold, it is dark, it is winter - it is the perfect time to curl up in a reading nest with a cup of something hot (mulled wine, anybody?) and cake, and a good book that occupies hours of your time and that you don't want to escape from at all.
I realise that as I write this list, it might not be for everyone - mostly because my idea of a 'snuggle up' book is something tome-y, and immersive, and above all escapist. So, with that in mind, please do proceed with caution (and perhaps a fair bit of skepticism?)
Also, the more of these lists I write, the more I notice how much crossover there is between each one. Whatever, it's my blog, don't @ me.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
I've talked about this one in my Classics Worth Reading recommendation list. Basically, A LOT happens in this book, and it touches on a lot of themes, both the prosaic and the philosophical. It's also one of the more perfect snuggle-up books, because you can bring it into a warm and cozy reading nest and travel around the sparkling, glitzy, hard-edged life of St Petersburg and Moscow, and travel to far-flung places and different times and live the vicarious rollercoaster of emotions taking place in this book without ever having to move off your couch. Just maybe skip the bits where Tolstoy goes off on a tangent about large-scale farming.
Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
This, I think, is maybe my favorite of the Margaret Atwood books that I have read. The story is about a young woman who is accused and convicted of the murder of her employer and his mistress, and she tells the story of her life and her crime to a psychologist who comes to visit her in prison and is trying to use her as an example of one of his newer psychological theories. Margaret Atwood's writing throughout this novel is magisterial, and the tension builds in such a slow burn that by the time you're halfway through the book it's unbearable, and unputdownable.
The Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy is the best historical fiction (and perhaps some of the best fiction writing full stop) of the twenty-first century. There, I said it. These books are, quite simply, masterpieces. The suspense, the world-building, the characterization, the language all work together to weave a tapestry of vivid realism and stunning escapism. They are intelligent, they are lush, they are exquisite. I am also just in awe of the literary technique and skill that allowed Mantel to take Cromwell and rework him into a typical tragic hero, and make him the narrator we trust throughout the shifting mirages of the Tudor court we are launched in. Everything about these books is perfectly written and perfectly balanced, from the pacing to the historical research to the sweeping rhetoric. I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I feel that you should all read these series. And, they're quite chunky and there's a lot of material there, so you can curl up undisturbed with them for a long, long time. If you need more convincing, my review of the final book, The Mirror and the Light, is here.
House of Niccoló series, Dorothy Dunnett
Another perfect curl-up-able series. There isn't much I can say here that I haven't already said in my series recap, but this is one of those series that just gets better and better the more you revisit it, so I'm really quite looking forward to my inevitable reread and feeling very clever and good about myself when I pick up on all the clues and mysteries. There's 8 books and they're all fiendishly clever and fun, so there's plenty to bring into a reading nest. Just have someone bring you tea and biscuits and you're set.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
When I started thinking about putting this list together, this book is the one that jumped out at me as the most obvious, and the most immediate, suggestion. The Count of Monte Cristo is the most quintessential of the adventure books - and it's got just about everything you could possibly want. Wrongful accusation and arrest, a prison break, a treasure hunt for fabulous wealth, and then the most bonkers and elaborate revenge plot known to fiction. Every single character in this book has never met an extreme decision they didn't immediately pursue, the dialogue is overwrought and melodramatic, and everything in it strains the bounds of credibility - but this book is one of my favorites of all time, it's such a rollicking good fun read, and it's actually unputdownable. There's something delightful about reading this wild adventure story in the height of winter.
The Pillars of the Earth tetralogy, by Ken Follett
I really like Follett's sweeping historical fictions, and the ones I think he's done best is the Pillars of the Earth series (I've read the first three books, Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and A Column of Fire; the fourth book, The Morning and the Evening, is sat on my TBR shelf waiting for me to clock off work for the three weeks of Christmas). This series covers a fictional village, Knightsbridge, from the sinking of the White Ship in 1120 and all the way up to the implementation of a network of spies under Elizabeth I; a lot happens, obviously, and all of it is well-crafted, well-researched, and above all immersive. While the characters can feel a bit caricatural or prototypical, the plot is propulsive and the way the narrative threads sketch themselves out over centuries is really well done and just delightful to read. Just talking about this series makes me want to give it a revisit.
A bonus anticipatory recommendation for you, as well: one of the series I'm most looking forward to curling up with come the Christmas holidays is the pictured Merlin trilogy, by Mary Stewart. It's got everything I love - fantasy, witchcraft, magic, adventure, romance, complex characters. Also, when I received the box that my friend gifted it to me in, it was addressed to 'Hell Hath No Fury' and I really liked that bit.
Please let me know if you will be taking any of these books into your respective reading nests over the next few dark, cold months - or if you've read any of them and have thoughts!