When Winter Gets Nasty, It’s Time To Hunker Down, With a Book

Winter has been pretty nasty around here lately, folks. Probably it’s nasty where many of you are as well. Cold and icy, making walking treacherous. And then last night, a big dump of snow, very big, with high winds, and white-out conditions. Schools are closed. Roads are hazardous. It’s dangerous out there, and downright depressing.

So what am I doing about it? Nothing. Nothing at all. I waved the white flag days ago, and hunkered down in front of the fire. After all, I’m retired; I don’t have to battle the snow, and the bad roads, and the traffic to get to work anymore. I’m drawing on all my resources to find the silver lining in this beastly weather.

Beautiful, yep, but very, very cold.

I’m implementing our Canadian version of hygge. What my friend Marina tells me is called “tout douillet” in French. Devant le feu, tout douillet, avec un bon livre.  All cosy in front of the fire, with a good book. Not to mention feet up, cup of tea in hand. Ahhh. That’s better.

What we’re reading while we get tout douillet.

Hubby is recovering from surgery, and he’s not able to ski. So we’ve been walking at a local indoor walking track, then grabbing a latte on the way home, where we hunker down again with our books. And today, we’re not going anywhere. We made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, and then, you guessed it, we cosied up in front of the fire with our books.

I just finished reading The Dry by Jane Harper. I loved it. This book was recommended by Sue N. when she read my Mystery Lovers Anonymous post. Sue said that maybe reading what she called “Australian Bush Noir” would be an antidote for what ailed us during our long, cold winter. And she was right.

The novel is set in a remote farming town in the outback of Australia, and I very much enjoyed Harper’s depiction of place. The main character, Aaron Falk, is a detective from Melbourne who comes home for the funeral of his childhood friend, killed along with his wife and son in an apparent double-murder-suicide. Although I was gripped by the mystery surrounding the deaths of Falk’s friend and his family, I found Harper’s clever plot device, a combination of flashbacks and real-time narration, somewhat contrived at times. Especially at the end. But it’s a weakness easily overlooked, and does not stop me from recommending the book. Hubby is reading it now.

Hubby and I have spent a little time in places like the setting of Harper’s novel. Small towns in the Australian outback, isolated and slowly dying from the drought. We spent a week in the Murray River area, in 2003, where the river level and the overall watershed had declined drastically in recent years, and we were constantly amazed that the dry and stubble strewn fields could support any life, let alone a herd of cattle or sheep. Then in 2008, we drove from booming, cosmopolitan Perth, in western Australia, north through some very remote areas to Broome.

On the road north in Western Australia, in 2008. Heading into the “bush” apparently.

We still chuckle about the roadhouse where we made our first stop on our first day out of Perth. I asked for a latte. And the cheerful girl behind the counter just laughed and said, “No lattes around here. Yis are in the bush now.”  Ha. My face still flushes over that gaffe. But I do kind of wish I had retorted, “Bush? Bush? I don’t see any bush.” Because the Canadian bush which is characterized by dense forest, rocks, lakes, bogs, and mosquitoes is very different from the Australian bush. Very different, indeed

After I finished The Dry, I ordered, for my Kindle, another book suggested by Sue. The Ruin, written by a young Irish-Australian writer Dervla McTiernan, is set in Galway, Ireland which Hubby and I visited a few years ago. And, coincidentally, McTiernan lives in Perth, Australia. Ha. So it would seem to be a book we were meant to read. I liked this book very much. McTiernan is a good writer. However, I think she relies a bit too much on elements of the thriller genre, and would be better served if she slowed the pace down and didn’t rely so much on plot, especially towards the end. It’s not a perfect book, but I really enjoyed the characters, the depiction of setting, and her style, and I will look for more by her. Hubby says to tell you he seconds my opinion.

The last book that I’ve recently read in my battle against the winter blues is Peter James’ Dead If You Don’t. I enjoy James’ Roy Grace series. I love the police procedural aspect of his books, the details of how and why a case progresses. And this one was great. I pretty much carried it with me everywhere for two days. I read it during breakfast, propped it up on the table while I ate lunch, continued after lunch in front of the fire, on the exercise bike, even while Hubby was watching hockey on television, and trying to talk to me about the game despite my baleful, shut-up-and-let-me-read looks. I was dying to finish it, and then, of course, disappointed when it was done. Not disappointed in the book, no, no, but in the fact that now I had nothing to read. Again. Sigh.

Two of  my favourite Canadian novels.

So I scanned my book shelves in desperation. “Maybe it’s time I came home from parts faraway and read some Canadian content,” I thought yesterday. And I dug out two of my favourite Canadian novels. Jane Urquhart’s Away, about Irish immigrants, especially the women. And Carol Shield’s Swan: A Mystery. Shields is one of my very favourite writers. I thought about her the other day when someone said on IG that they were reading Shields’ novel The Stone Diaries for which she won the Governor General’s award and a Pulitzer. But Swann, one of her lesser known books, is my favourite. It’s about a naive, country housewife, whose tiny book of poems becomes famous, and much fought over by the literary world. If you can find it and are not familiar with this gem of Shields’ you must read it. I’m loving it all over again.

Both of these books deal in part with surviving life in Canada. And thinking that a little commiseration is just what I need right now, I ordered Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush: or Forest Life in Canada from the library. I haven’t read this Canadian classic, published in the mid-1800s, since I was in university. How unprepared for life in Canada were Susanna Moodie and her gentleman-farmer husband! I’m sure reading it again will make me feel grateful for paved roads and central heating, if nothing else.

Moodie’s book has inspired numerous other Canadian writers,  including Margaret Atwood whose book of poetry The Journals of Susanna Moodie is a series of poems told in Susanna Moodie’s voice. One of my favourite Canadian non-fiction writers, Charlotte Gray, wrote of Moodie as well. I loved Gray’s book Sisters in the Wilderness, which tells the story of Susanna Moodie and her sister Catherine Parr Trail, who both left bucolic England to come to the backwoods of Canada in the 1800s. And as you may know, it’s the title of Gray’s book which gave me the idea for my blog name.

And now, time is getting on while I’ve been writing, folks. I hear the distinctive sound of a snow-blower outside my window. Hubby is out in the cold watching that the young man who he’s hired to clear snow for us (while Hubby is out of action) doesn’t do something to himself while running the snowblower for the first time or when shovelling the four-foot high bank that the plow just left at the end of our driveway.

And here I am all warm and cosy, inside. I do feel a bit guilty.  Sigh.

The lovely clock given to us by an elderly neighbour.

So I guess I’d better stir myself to go make dinner. Then after dinner we’ll no doubt retreat to the living room to loll by the fire with our wine and our books. As my friend Marina says, “Devant le feu, tout douillet, avec un bon livre.”

And I would add, avec un verre de vin.

Rouge, I think.

How about you my friends? How are you weathering (pun intended) winter? Devant le feu avec un bon livre?

You can find all the books I’ve reviewed on Amazon. I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, now. If you want to buy the book by clicking on one of the links below, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. If you don’t want to do that, no worries. No worries at all.

Jane Harper’s The Dry (here.) Dervla McTiernan’s The Ruin (here). Peter James’ Dead If You Don’t (here). Jane Urquhart’s Away (here). Carol Shields’ Swann: A Mystery (here). Charlotte Gray’s Sisters in the Wilderness (here).


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33 thoughts on “When Winter Gets Nasty, It’s Time To Hunker Down, With a Book”

  1. Looking forward to see your new blog,Sue!
    Despite the lots of snow in all the neighbour countries (even our coast, which is supposed to be without it at all)-we were in some kind of climate bubble this year and had only a week of snow,about 15 cm. I like winters like that-maybe a little bit colder (in a croatian way,not more than -10°C ), but dry (nevertheless,I've seized an opportunity to hunker down with a book-or more). It is complicated to find help to shovel the snow so I'm always in stress about it (and yes,I want the snow blower now when I've learned that there is something like that )
    I've liked The Dry as well and there is Harper's Force of Nature on the top of the pile by my bed(btw I especially like the book on top of your books :-))
    Thank you for WJ Burley and Wycliffe-it is comfort read between some others excellent, but poignant, books ( Tara Westover's Educated,Tommy Orange's There,There,KL Randis Spilled Milk,Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers….to name just a few..)
    The books you've mentioned go to the ever growing list

    1. I found Tara Westover's book gripping. And you're right, the Wycliffe books are great as a denouement, after plowing through a terrible book, or after reading something wonderful but sad.
      P.S. Hubby and I are researching another trip. As you noticed. 🙂

  2. We have had a very mild winter it appears. Spring seems to be well on the way, plenty of sunshine even if a bit nippy like this morning. I have ploughed my way through books I got at Christmas and a few more that I found around the house but mostly I am getting out and about as much as I can (new power walking routine) and then watching lots of old episodes of Time Team in the evenings, whilst playing Patience. All strangely soothing. But a new season of Shetland has just started on BBC this week which was a treat. More brooding and taciturnity on the northern isles.

    1. I am so jealous of your approaching spring. I remember visiting London on our March Break in 2000, and being amazed at the flowers when it was still snow and ice here.
      I guess that will be the last season of Shetland. Look forward to it and dread it at the same time.

  3. I love to hear your reviews of your reading matter as I have managed to get through our local library's entire stock of detective/crime novels and am looking around for more. I have read quite a few of the ones you have mentioned here, and in previous posts, so am eager to hear your recommendations for my future reading!
    Winter here has been cold, damp and very windy (well we are stuck in the middle of the Irish Sea) but as I am, like you, fairly recently retired I feel very happy that I can just retreat back to the fireside with a book and a coffee if I don't feel like venturing outside.
    Looking forward to seeing your new-look blog and reading your very entertaining posts.

  4. Almost choked on my tea over your comment about the talkative husband who "despite my baleful, shut-up-and-let-me-read looks" persists in yakking about trivialities (sorry Hubby). When one in in the midst of the denouement of a book, she is unlikely to care about the hockey score (sacrilege, I know) or who posted what on FB (especially as this particular person isn't on it). And my DH wonders why I read in my home office instead of the living room.

    Hope the blast of snow and cold isn't too prolonged or–at the very least–that your supply of books is deeper than the snow.

  5. I can recommend “The Sixteen Trees of the Somme”, written by Lars Mytting and translated from the Norwegian language by Paul Russell Garrett. There’s a brief synopsis below in the Guardian link that explains it much better than I can. I kept putting the book down after a few chapters to prolong my reading over a couple of days. I was torn between wanting to know the ending but also regretting reaching the end. If I had read this last year it would have been my book of the year.

    Reading a book like this spoils your general reading for a little while. I’ve been back to the library and local bookshop but can’t settle on anything else just now so I’m reading some non fiction and filling my gaps in world history. Other recent good reading material before I read Mytting’s book were the biographies of Michelle Obama and Hillary Rodham-Clinton; and Force of Nature by Jane Harper. Michael Connolly’s books are always a treat. A recent disappointment was the final “Shetland” book by Anne Cleeves. I just felt she was busy trying to wrap up everyone’s stories too neatly. They had to come to an end – the body count for such a small group of islands was getting ridiculous.

    You may be interested in this article from the Guardian newspaper asking top crime writers about their favourite books. I haven’t read all of them but there were some good reminders about authors I had read in my youth, e.g. Nicolas Freeling and Patricia Highsmith, but I had forgotten about them. Always worth a re-read. Thank you for your recommendations of Canadian writers. I’ll add them to my evergrowing list of books to read. Have you tried Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series ? A number of criminal novelists recommend her. I foolishly read her latest book, “The Stone Circle” first, and wished I had started on her first book to read them chronologically. I’ve missed seeing how the characters develop and their interesting personal lives.

    A fellow blogger, “No Hat, No Gloves” recommended the Rivers of London series. I’ve bought them on kindle and shared them on my family account. 3 out of 5 thumbs up so far with another relative busy finishing another series before starting them.


    I'm looking forward to the new blog style. Roll on next week !

    1. Thanks for all that wonderful info, Heather. I will now add to my "to read" list. I enjoy the Elly Griffiths series. I just finished listening to Dark Angel on my i-pod.
      P.S. I'm saving those links for later.

  6. PS. Hurrah ! Whilst writing to you, an email has come in from my library saying my next reserved book has arrived. "The Lost Man" by Jane Harper. The library is fifteen minutes' walk from my home so I am off now to the library returning via a new patisserie/coffee shop that has opened this week. Tea and a rather nice slice of cake for both of us are called for to accompany this evening's reading.

  7. Books are a saviour to long winter evenings when there is little to watch of interest on the television…getting lost in a book's location is a delight especially when situated in front of a lit fireplace and a great cup of tea in hand (or wine as the mood strikes us). It has been very cold here in Winnipeg although the other day we were the only Canadian province NOT to have a weather advisory of some sort…a rare occurrence indeed! Here's to wonderful books…don't speak to me when I am in the midst of a gripping story as I likely won't even hear you! Cheers, Alayne

  8. I have The Dry on my "For Later" virtual shelf at the library. Right now reading the excellent Man Booker-winner Milkman (by Anna Burns). and looking forward to Susan Hill's Comforts of Home which is up next. . . Plus you can bet I filled a bag of books at the wonderful Powell's Books here in Portland — you'd love it, Sue, a full city-block building, rooms of books used and new, colour-coded such that Art is found in the Pearl room, travel and languages in the Red Room, etc. . .

    1. Should explain that my first paragraph (yes, I wrote you an essay 😉 got deleted accidentally — the one where I explained why I'm in Portland. We drove down here Sunday, just after their snowstorm of last Friday, highway traffic reports of which had made me anxious about the five-hour drive. No problems with that, though, and we made it out of Vancouver just before the snowstorm hit there, with it trailing behind us through most of Washington. Now we head back home to Vancouver where another snowstorm is expected to hit today, and I'm hoping they've got the roads nicely cleared when we drive home tomorrow. At which point, I'll be hunkering down with that bag of new books, enjoying the view of the ice and snow from a cosy seat inside. Tout douillet!

  9. Un verre de vin rouge devant la cheminée – c’est parfait en hiver !

    Sooooo many books you’ve recommended here. (I’ve been reading essays at 4 am. E. B. White most recently. Delicious. I know, I know. 4 am is a bit odd, but that’s when I’m awake and in reading mode.)


  10. Devant le feu avec un bon livre seems a perfect way to pass the winter. Straight out of a book! I read more in summer but that's work related. Lots of interesting sounding books there and in the comments. You must be very excited about your new blog layout. Look forward to the great reveal. Iris

  11. Frequent reader, infrequent comment-er here! Recent Canadian books that I liked are Elizabeth Hay's A Student of Weather and Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers. Recent book I loved but not Canadian is Lauren Groff's Florida. Currently reading Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Have had Milkman since Christmas so that will be next up. And have ordered the Susannah Moodie and Charlotte Grey – thanks for the recommendations.

  12. Hi Sue, your way of coping with the snowy weather seems ideal and so relaxing. Transporting yourself to different parts of the world without leaving your chair or your treadmill! 🙂 Plus you have the most gorgeous view just metres from your window. I hope hubby soon feels fully fit and you’re both off travelling again … I too noticed your research material!
    Good Luck with the new blog format … hope the transition goes smoothly and is hassle free!

  13. Carol Shields is one of my absolute favorites especially Swann (ironically I like The Stone Diaries the least of hers). I'm alternating between research for a book I'm writing and working my way slowly through Trollope's Barsetshire series- it's all so Victorian and then suddenly turns deeply insightful about the ways that humans think and behave that feels as modern as it can be.

  14. Sue,it is so lovely! So fresh and new-I love the font,headlines,graphic….and you really don’t need description under the name of the blog-it is such a great name! Who knows -knows!
    Such a wonderful morning surprise(although without new post) -I was expecting it this morning (the mail notification usually comes with a day-or more-delay,so I check on the blog nevertheless)
    An excellent job and transformation-congratulations!

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