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Even if it’s not raining, sometimes I just know that’s the feel I’m going for, and it’s one of my favorite moods to read in. (You should see how many books I had to trim to get this list down to ten, which I only did because I was tired of writing descriptions. I started out with close to thirty.) It’s all about atmosphere—the kind of books that give you chills, that make you want to be curled up with a blanket and a cuddly pet and something hot to drink.
Baby’s in Black, by Arne Bellstorf—A beautiful graphic novel that tells the story of the Beatles before they were famous. It’s a romantic and tragic story, with the atmospheric setting of Hamburg in the early 1960s.
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent—Haunting historical fiction about the last woman to be beheaded in Iceland. Not for people who need happy endings, but the character development is so rich, both the story and the setting are melancholy, and overall the book is totally engaging.
East, by Edith Pattou—A fairy tale retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is similar to Beauty and the Beast, in a cold and wintery Nordic setting.
A Great and Terrible Beauty—This book actually begins on a very hot day in India, but soon travels to a Gothic boarding school in Victorian England. There’s magic and secret societies and four girls who start out as enemies but end up tied together in ways they could never have imagined.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith—Set in England in the early 1900s, narrated by seventeen-year-old Cassandra, who lives with her family in a dilapidated old castle. I’ve heard that it took some people a little while to get hooked, but for me the whole thing was lovely. Her father is a struggling writer, her stepmother communes with nature, and her new neighbors/landlords are rich Americans with two unmarried sons.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern—A circus of illusions that appears suddenly overnight, in black and white tents that contain cloud mazes, ice gardens, and two illusionists in a competition only one of them can survive. If you’re into audiobooks at all, listen to this one. It’s narrated by Jim Dale (the fantastic narrator of the Harry Potter books) and there are a few seconds of music at the very beginning that will put you right in the rainy day mood.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier—A classic for a reason, mysterious and compelling.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See—In rural nineteenth-century China, two little girls are paired together as laotongs, basically an arranged best friendship. For the rest of their lives, Snow Flower and Lily will send each other messages on fans, written in the secret language Chinese women developed to communicate away from men.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy—One of my favorite books since I first read it over ten years ago, Tess has actually gotten me through some hard times. You should never read Thomas Hardy expecting happy endings, but something about this book has always felt so comforting to me.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle—If anything is perfect for a rainy day, it’s a book that begins, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Meg Murry, one of the best protagonists of my childhood (and that of every other kid growing up since it was published in 1962), sits huddled under a quilt in her attic bedroom, and that’s where you’ll want to be when you read it.