6 of the best: Winter Reads

Woman resting with cup of hot drink and book near fireplace

Curl up with a good book this January - Credit: AlexRaths/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Memorable walks through the British countryside and a heart-warming love story set in war-torn 1970s Cyprus feature in Dorset author Jess Morency's winter reading list

The View from The Hill by Christopher Somerville: Drift through countryside where a vixen is ‘lent glamour by the light of a harvest moon at its fullest, hanging like a Chinese lantern over the Dorset coast.’ Or follow footsteps that pass through ‘the piled leaves of last autumn, fungal twigs and split old chestnut shells, that shine like a beacon, a promise of the oncoming spring’. Christopher Somerville is the walking correspondent of The Times, and during the enforced idleness of Covid he revisited his 450 notebooks, written over four decades spent exploring Britain on foot.  

Book cover for View from the Hill picture of gate opening onto a country lane

View from the Hill - Credit: Haus Publishing

The result is an absolute delight. Split into the four seasons, the book divides into mostly bite-sized chapters, with titles like ‘Apple Confetti’, ‘Land of the Dragon’ and ‘T is for Thermos.’ Sprinkled throughout are reminders of our shared experience from the last two years and I particularly enjoyed, ‘Covid Autumn: India in the Cotswolds’, where Somerville recalls stumbling across the extraordinary Sezincote House ‘built in 1805 for Charles Cockerell, who incorporated Georgian, Muslim and Hindu architectural styles in a glorious, jolting mishmash of a building.’ 

Published by Haus Publishing at £16.99. You can buy the book online from  hauspublishing.com with 25% off, using the coupon code DORSET.    

Book cover for Wild Mountain Thyme with small child in a snow

Wild Mountain Thyme - Credit: Hodder

Wild Mountain Thyme by Rosamunde Pilcher: Victoria Bradshaw fell in love with the elusive playwright Oliver Dobbs when she was just 18. Now, years later, he’s a widower standing on her doorstep holding his two-year-old son. When he persuades Victoria to travel with them to a remote Scottish castle, their early-spring trip becomes a journey of self-discovery – for one of them at least.  

This is a truly nostalgic read, first published in 1978. It’s an era of typing pools, people smoking in offices and men assuring women they weren’t going to be ‘ravished.’ Best known for her multi-million selling The Shell Seekers, Pilcher’s writing is gentle and witty with a great sense of place; making it the perfect book to curl up with by the fire. As long as you don’t mind your female protagonist being so passive she makes Tess of the D’Urbervilles look like an advocate for #metoo. Given Pilcher’s gritty and practical approach to life, this seems surprising. ‘Marriage is like a job,’ she once wrote. ‘A long, difficult job, and both partners have to work harder than ever before.’ Born in 1924, she died aged 94, survived by four children, 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Hard work indeed.  

Published by Hodder at £8.99   

Book cover Identity, Ignorance and Innovation published by Hodder & Stoughton

Identity. Ignorance and Innovation published by Hodder & Stoughton - Credit: no credit needed

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Identify, Ignorance, Innovation by Matthew D’Ancona: Flicking through D’Ancona’s book, you are aware you’re reading the output of a very big brain. The book is densely packed, with facts and ideas from figures as varied as Akala, Neil Gaiman and Steve Jobs. However, I’d advise you to take the time to sit and digest it in its entirety, for it deals with some of the fundamental issues of today. 

‘We have to be careful that the noisiest voices aren’t the only voices,’ he said, in conversation with Kate Adie at the Dorchester Literary Festival in 2021. ‘With so much power aggregated on-line, what about off-line communities? And we need to internationally force tech companies to open up their algorithms. But you ask them and they start snarling. It’s become the black box of technology, but is absolutely key.’ The book proposes a new way of understanding the world, where pluralism of voices is essential and we cannot waste a decade arguing about cancel culture. Covering subjects including our broken education system, the social care crisis and technological disruption, if you care about how society is evolving, then this is a book for you.  

Published by Hodder & Stoughton at £20, paperback available end of January, £9.99  

Book cover The Jigsaw Man

The Jigsaw Man - Credit: Harper Collins

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson: When body parts are found on the banks of the River Thames in Deptford, eerie echoes of previous crimes lead DI Angelica Henley to question Peter Olivier, aka The Jigsaw Killer - serving a life sentence for a series of horrific murders.  When a severed head is delivered to Henley's home she realises the copycat is taking a personal interest in her, and the victims have not been chosen at random. Then, when Olivier escapes from prison, she finds herself up against not one serial killer, but two. 

This is a book that draws you in right from the start. The backstory is seamlessly integrated without impeding the action, and the clever ‘who dunnit’ element firmly pulls you through. Nadine Matheson began her working life at the BBC before becoming a criminal lawyer. Asked whether her book draws any inspiration from cases she’d worked on, she recalled the real-life story of Jeffrey Howe - whose leg was found on the side of a motorway in 2009. ‘I was working on a case when I heard the news, and that moment has always stayed with me. Strange as this sounds, I would have liked to have represented a serial killer, but I never did.’

Published by Harper Collins at £8.99 

Book cover The Heart's Invisible Furies

The Heart's Invisible Furies - Credit: Black Swan

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: After listening to this on Audible – brilliantly read by Stephen Hogan – I recommended it to a friend, suggesting that while I found the first half quite slow, the second is utterly thrilling. ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was so funny?’ she demanded when I next saw her. ‘The whole way through. I absolutely loved it.’ It’s an epic novel - Boyne’s 15th - beginning in 1945 and covering 70 years in the life of protagonist, Cyril Avery: ‘Who is not a real Avery – or so his adoptive parents are constantly reminding him’. 

Told in intervals of seven years we follow his numerous relationships, including with his adoptive mother: deliciously irritated by her success as a novelist, and the action moves from Dublin to Amsterdam and New York. Boyne has described Cyril’s journey as, ‘A hoot… I imagine him like a Lucky Jim type guy who keeps stumbling into doing stupid things, like marrying a woman. Not a clever thing for a gay man.’ He also, ‘wanted to write about a country which could have been this bastion of conservatism that then became the first to vote for equal rights marriage.’ As much a history of Ireland as it’s an observation of one man, it’s a truly fabulous read, with every character – however incidental – deftly drawn and remarkably memorable.

Published Black Swan at £8.99

Click here to find out BBC presenter and Dorset resident Kate Adie's favourite books 

Book cover The Island of Missing Trees

The Island of Missing Trees - Credit: Penguin

Jan Jaggard, manager of Waterstones in Dorchester recommends... 

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak  

Kostos (a Greek Cypriot) and Defne (a Turkish Cypriot) fall in love when they secretly meet in a taverna. Watching over them is a fig tree - the narrator for the story. When war comes to the island their worlds are blown apart. Afterwards Kostos, now in London, returns to search for his never-forgotten love. The reunited couple rescue the fig tree from the ruins of the taverna and smuggle it into England, where it becomes a symbol for all that is untold of the past. Ada, the couple’s daughter, is oblivious to all her parents have been through, until one day a visitor arrives who changes everything.  

Never would I have imagined myself caring so much about the thoughts, feelings and opinions of a tree. The historical content is also fascinating: the 1974 war wasn’t something I knew about, while Cypriot culture is explored with warmth and humour. The book introduces us to the work of The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, and nothing could have bought home to me the horror of war more than these chapters. Ultimately, it’s a love story and a celebration of people and nature, weaving a tapestry of connections that are undeniable to us all.  

Published by Penguin at £14.99. Click and collect at Waterstones in Dorchester via waterstones.com (or call 01305 257123 and collect). 

Image of woman in jeans and jacket outside a pub door

Jess Morency {crop in for head shot for the topper image] - Credit: Peter Yendell

Follow Jess Morency on Twitter @meHappyShed