As someone whose job and life revolves around the beginning, middle, and end of university semesters, January is always a respite for me. The holidays are over, and my hours and days are free for reading. This January was no different, and I read eight books this month. Here’s what I thought:
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Serafina doesn’t have much of a problem with her pa’s edict never to venture into the forest, as the entire Biltmore estate is her playground as well as the place where her father works and where they both live in secret. She isn’t sure why her existence is hush hush, but she doesn’t question him, happy being the estate’s CRC, or Chief Rat Catcher, until the night she witnesses a man in a black cloak hunting and seemingly killing a young girl before narrowly escaping his clutches. That night, everything changes, and Serafina must do what she must, even seeking out the mysteries of the forest, to save herself and the other children of Biltmore.
While Serafina’s mystery was evident to me nearly right away, I still enjoyed reading about her stalking the halls of Biltmore, or enjoyed it enough to pick up the second book in the series.
Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty
Serafina is coming to terms with the revelations she uncovered at the end of her adventures with the awful powers of the black cloak. She has built a fragile friendship with the orphan nephew of Mr. Vanderbilt when she witnesses yet another evil, deep in the forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and must embrace her newfound legacy to protect those she loves.
Once Beatty removes the mystery of Serafina’s discovery about her identity, the series takes off. Serafina has been sheltered, living alone with her pa below stairs, so watching her develop and jealously guard her friendship with Braedon was at once irritating and endearing. However, the mystery is more developed here, and the villain pretty dark for a middle grade book.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
When I teach American Literature, I always teach an excerpt from this book, but I’d never read the book in its entirety until now. I read it start to finish one evening, and I don’t know that I’d recommend that – the book is full of grief, as Didion stops and starts, retelling the story of her marriage and her husband’s sudden death while their daughter was in a coma. For someone like me who guards against emotion, I could relate to so much of what Didion wrote, as she processed her thoughts and feelings, and was pretty shocked at the wide array of reviews out there for this – because of her and her husband’s backgrounds in film, many, many seem to discount her writing. I, for one, found it a fascinating foray into one woman’s grief.
Starflight by Melissa Landers
I really don’t know how this quirky little book landed on my Goodreads “to-read” shelf. Part sci-fi, part romance, and part futuristic adventure tale, I wasn’t in love with this book, but from the Goodreads reviews, people who loved the show Firefly seem to be all about this one.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is impossibly impossible. Her daughter Bee adores her. Her genius Microsoft husband seems slightly in awe of her, but everyone else seems to despise her. When Bee calls in a promise to leave Seattle for a trip to Antarctica, Bernadette’s quirks seem to amplify until she has no choice but to disappear. Bee must seek out the facets of Bernadette she and others couldn’t or wouldn’t see to find the mother she cannot live without.
Sometimes my tendency to avoid the “hot” book works against me. This book was all anyone could talk about several years ago, and I thought, “Nope, not for me.” Oh, Jennifer Hopeless, how you were wrong. This book ended all too soon for me. Reading Bernadette’s emails to her virtual assistant in India and piecing together what exactly went wrong was fascinating, even though, at times, you definitely feel like you are witnessing the mental breakdown of an individual. Still, it was fun and fast, and I loved it.
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
Dublin pathologist Quirke finds his brother-in-law in his morgue one evening, during an office party with a file he shouldn’t have. That’s strange enough, but when the body is gone the next morning, Quirke embarks on a self-destructive path to seek out the truth of what happened to Christine Falls.
You can almost always count me in for an Irish detective novel. This time, though, I’m lukewarm. Christine Falls has no real mystery to it and very little suspense.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Puzzles and potions. Christopher Rowe learns both when he is rescued from an orphanage and apprenticed to Master Blackthorn, but across London, apothecaries are being murdered. With the help of his only friend, Sam, Christopher must use Blackthorn’s last gift to him to stop the killing and learn what secrets his master was guarding.
A complete win for me, this middle grade novel was fun, suspenseful, and interesting – never speaking down to its audience. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Twelve-year-old Milo is finishing up homework and planning on enjoying his winter break at Greenglass House when the guest bell rings. As he and his parents welcome an odd guest, the bell rings again, and again. Frustrated that he’ll have to work during the break, Milo feels slightly better when a series of odd events introduces him to Meddy, the cook’s daughter, and they embark on an adventure to discover why each guest is really at Greenglass House.
This! A middle grade, locked room-type mystery, Greenglass House was full of intrigue, folklore, extreme winter temperatures, and self discovery, making it the perfect January read.