A women with red nails is wrapped in a red, plaid blanket and holding a blue book and a blue mug.

What We’re Reading | The Winter List

Winter can sometimes feel like the longest season, but there is no better time to curl up under a blanket and get stuck into a great book. The Write for Harlequin team has read endlessly this season, and we’re here to share our favorite books of the last couple months with you. Hopefully you’ll find something to add to your to-read list to keep you busy until the spring arrives.

Caroline Timmings is reading…

The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson. This novella was creepy and really, really evocative. An American college student is abroad in England after losing her mother to cancer. Now alone in the world, she is delighted to be invited to a fellow classmate’s English country estate for the holidays. She’s even happier when she arrives and meets her classmate’s handsome brother. But things are not exactly right at this idyllic home. Lots of creaking and moaning and inexplicable occurrences. Reading this book felt like campfires, deep snow, hot apple cider, cold air… Everything about this story was visceral. I listened to the audiobook and think that really added something to the experience!

Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi. One word for this story: ADORABLE. Hattie owns and operates a successful farm. She’s independent and self-sufficient, especially after losing both of her parents at such a young age. Even more so because Hattie has never been conventionally attractive. Her longtime friend and farm hand, Reed, has been a constant presence in her life since childhood. But when a neighboring farmer starts pursuing Hattie, Reed starts to realize that perhaps his friendly affection for Hattie is much more. This was such a cute story with a compelling friends-to-lovers, reverse age gap dynamic. I loved seeing Reed and Hattie develop their feelings for each other. From the outset they are each other’s strongest supporters. This was an absolute pleasure to read.

Emma Cole is reading…

Jenny Kiefer’s This Wretched Valley begins with a fantastic opening sentence and doesn’t let up from there. Dylan, her boyfriend, and two friends set out on a camping trip in the wilds of Kentucky so she can climb some new rock, and her friend Clay can finish his dissertation. They never come back.  I enjoy stories that lay out the aftermath at the beginning, and then you need to find out how everything ends up the way it does. It’s such a great treatment for a lot of horror stories because the dread is baked in from the start, and Jenny does a brilliant job of telling you how bad things are going to get and still making you hope that somehow, things will turn out okay. I enjoyed the way the story skips around in time to give a fuller picture of the setting, and each reveal amps up the suspense and seals each character’s fate. This is a well-written horror novel that’s truly horrific. WARNING: Not for the faint of heart, there are some moments of disgustingly realistic-sounding violence and body horror.

Cynthia Pelayo’s Forgotten Sisters is a mystery, but not just a mystery; a love story but not just a love story; a horror story but not just a horror story. This layered and lush novel about sisters, grief, murder, and Chicago drops the reader into the story just after a major trauma has occurred, and ruminates in the aftermath of that horror through the eyes of Anna, a crime podcaster who lives in an old house with her sister Jennie, who doesn’t seem to be doing well after the drowning deaths of their parents. The house itself seems to be grieving, and Anna is struggling to take care of her sister and herself. A string of drowning deaths in the city of Chicago sets off a series of events that pull Anna into the mystery, and her search for answers brings to light details of her own life that she isn’t prepared to examine. Cynthia does a really wonderful job here, the writing is gorgeously laid out and the asides that are so clearly researched add so much depth to the plot. I really enjoyed this: the mystery is satisfying, the love story is sweet and hopeful, and the relationship between Anna and Jennie is so real. There are moments of dread throughout, and some supernatural elements that borrow from dark fairytales.

Jenny Macey is reading…

I recently read Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo and devoured it in a single sitting! A fascinating exploration into the experience of everyday sexism in South Korea, it was a harrowing and beautifully devastating read. The story opens with the protagonist, Kim Jiyoung, as she begins to show signs of a dissociative disorder. The novel then goes back through Jiyoung’s life and explores the misogyny and oppressive societal expectations that culminated in her psychosis, before we ultimately return to the event that triggered it. The power of this story lies in the banality of Jiyoung’s experiences; the normalcy of the oppression she faced, and the relatability of that narrative for women globally. An easy 5-star read for me, and an eye-opening one. Highly recommend!

I would also urge you to pick up Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. A stunning depiction of love, race, identity, and art, this is a gorgeous love story unique in its narrative style. We follow the affair between a photographer and a dancer whose love is tragically off-limits, so they suppress their feelings (or try to!) and develop a close friendship instead. Though, of course, they aren’t able to resist the magnetic pull for long, and they then find themselves presented with new challenges to test their fledgling relationship. Though a classic romance formula, it’s the author’s expressive style, the second-person narration, and the reflective nature of the (unnamed throughout) protagonist’s voice that really set this book apart for me.

Deirdre McCluskey is reading…

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin was on a few favorite and best books lists in 2022. I wasn’t sure a novel about 90s gamers and game designers would be for me. But the story of Sam and Sadie and their friendship, partnership, lives, loves, families, triumphs and tragedies hooked me to the very last page. A wonderfully immersive read about creativity, connection, loss, hope, and “infinite restarts”. I’m still thinking about it!

Miranda Indrigo is reading…

Books and the beach? Yes, please! Susan Mallery’s The Boardwalk Bookshop is the perfect sunny read to brighten up the chilly Canadian February days. Susan brings her trademark wit and insight to the stories of Bree, Ashley and Mikki, three friends who share a beachside bookstore/gift shop/bakery. Each at a different stage of their lives, they support each other through their unique romance challenges—whether that’s dating again after divorce, a perfect relationship that may not mean the perfect future, or learning to break free of a lifetime of trust issues—with great heart and humor.  Bree, Ashley and Mikki’s stories kept me turning the pages and cheering them on as they figured out their own unique happy endings. 

We hope that you’ve found a recommendation or two here and happy reading!