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5 cozy books to read by the fire this winter

Dec 23, 2011, 6 a.m.

For centuries one of the most common ways to take the chill out of winter has been to read leisure books by the fire, and while there have been many changes to our hearth, as well as our books, including electronic books, the past time of reading still remains true. While there are literally millions of books to choose from, these five will both challenge the mind as well as sooth the soul, which makes them great choices to read by the fire this winter.

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd

First published in 2003, and set in 1964, this book became popular with both readers and critics. It features fourteen year old Lily Owens who is being raised by her cruel and neglectful father, T. Ray. She manages to escape with the maid, Rosalee, after Rosalee insults the wrong people. They travel to Tiburon, South Carolina, a town that will shed light on Lily's fading memory of her mother. The pair are taken in by "The Calendar Sisters" named August, June, and May who run a bee keeping farm. Here Lily finds guidance from the sisters, their religious club called the Daughters of Mary, and the bees.

Ellen Foster - Kaye Gibbons

Ellen Foster was first published in 1997, and was Kaye Gibbons' debut novel. It is narrated by Ellen, a young girl determined to become part of a family that is far better than the one she was born into. Ellen Foster not only explores Ellen's quest, but also examines the ways our own minds protect us from negative experiences and allow us to rise above them and become stronger.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird has been required reading for students for decades, and has earned its place among great leisure books. The child narrator, Scout, tells the story of how her brother, Jem, broke his arm, but it's really about the quest for justice. The focal point of the book lies with the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman, and who is being defended by Scout and Jem's father Atticus Finch. Set in Alabama during the depression it explores the capacity of both compassion and cruelty in both children and adults, and the reality that manifests with both.

Anglea's Ashes - Frank McCourt

Published in 1996, this memoir won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Set in the 30s and 40s in New Rork and Ireland, it chonicles the McCourt family's struggle to survice extreme poverty and its alcoholic patriarch. As the eldest, Frank eventually takes it upon himself to take care of the family where his father has failed, while working to secure a better foundation for his own life and future.

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

The Life of Pi challenges the survival skills of an adolescent Indian boy, Pi Patel, the son of a zoo keeper. Faced with many of the pangs common in adolescence, Pi turns to religion. But with his especially open and inquisitive mind he chooses to follow his native Hinduism as well as Christianity and Islam. The resolve Pi learns from all three disciplines, as well as his own ingenuity, serve him well when he winds up shipwrecked on a life boat when his family's move to Canada goes awry. Among the few survivors of the wreck are Pi and a full grown Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Pi is forced to respect and outthink his companion in order to keep both alive.

The common thread in all of these books is that they are all coming of age novels, and though we think we may be past it, we all come of age over and over throughout our lives, learning to accept and thrive within each new situation that we face. And whether or not we lived through challenges similar to those faced by the characters in these leisure books, we are likely to see something of ourselves in them.

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