I'm not a social butterfly in the best of weather, but cold, snowy January (even if it wasn't quite as cold and snowy as usual) left me lots of time for reading.
1. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs: Jacobs’s grandfather told him stories about escaping from monsters in his native Poland and moving to a British island home for children with magical abilities. Jacob’s parents explained the stories away—the monsters were Nazis, the “magical” children were Jewish, and these tales were how his grandfather coped with a horrific past. But then his grandfather is killed by one of those monsters in front of Jacob’s very eyes, which means the rest of his story may not be so made up after all.
2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern: Two master magicians make a bet with a blood oath: each will train a student who will then duel to the death. As a forum for this battle, the masters create a magical circus open only at night where everything is white and black. The pupils gamely battle, each trying to outdo the other with incredible illusions and dream-like landscapes, but the masters may not have as much control over the contest as they thought.
3. The Oregon Trail, by Rinker Buck: Rinker and his brother Nick set out to be the first to ride the Oregon Trail in an authentic covered wagon in almost one hundred years. Of course, part of the problem is that there is no Oregon Trail—not in the sense of an actual path to follow—and so as the West developed some areas are now smack in the middle of cities, others are paved roads and still others private property. As the brothers pass each landmark, incredibly well-researched passages recount what that part of the journey was like for early travelers. There’s a lot of dense, technical information in here about wagons and axels and mule breeding and more, but the adventure and excitement of the trail comes strongly through.
4. Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken: Concert violinist Etta is in the middle of her long-awaited debut when a strange sound rips through the venue. She races for cover, is shoved hard from behind…and wakes up on a ship in 1776. There she learns she comes from a family of time travelers who move through years and around the globe using portals. A powerful rival family wants the object that regulates the portals so it can control time itself. Setting off on a treasure hunt across centuries and continents, Etta must find the object before history is changed and everything she knows wiped out.
5. Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin: After the death of her husband, Nora is left alone in 1960s Ireland with four children. She is trained for nothing and must learn how to support herself by returning to the middle class she thought she’d left behind. The adjustment is rough and the book is pretty bleak, but Nora learns a lot about herself and her family, and if you’re the metaphor type, you might draw some comparisons to the political upheaval of Ireland itself during the same time period.
6. The Human Flies, by Hans Olav Lahlum: This locked room-style mystery out of Norway borrows heavily from the tradition of Agatha Christie, who I love. A rookie inspector itching to prove himself is assigned to investigate the 1968 murder of a hero of the Resistance. The deceased was found in his locked apartment with no signs of a break-in, all windows intact and no weapons in the apartment. When the suspects are narrowed down to the other residents of the building, the inspector enlists the help of a brilliant young woman confined to her apartment by a medical condition. The inspector works on the scene, talking to the suspects and gathering clues, then relays the information to his unseen assistant who uses logic and deduction to unravel their unreliable stories.
7. Stories From Jonestown, by Leigh Fondakowski: Fondakowski conducted hundreds of interviews over the course of her efforts to write a play about the memories and experiences of those who survived the 1978 Jonestown tragedy. Her sources were incredible—parents who lost children, survivors who somehow made it out of the jungle that day, even Jim Jones’s own sons. People use the infamous “drinking the kool-aid” expression so cavalierly, but I guarantee you’ll never say it again after reading these stories.
8. Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch: When Spring conquers the kingdom of Winter, the Winterians are left murdered, enslaved or lost forever. Meira, one of only a small band of refugees who escaped, has trained her entire life to revive the homeland she’s only heard about in stories. After a failed attempt to take things into her own hands bring further chaos down on the remaining refugees, Meira must take stock and evaluate why she’s fighting—in service of Winter or to fulfill her own dreams.
9. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith: This third volume in J.K. Rowling’s private detective series was by far my favorite, and in the author’s note she said it’s the most fun she’s ever had writing a book. Private investigators Strike and Robin are thrown into the middle of a serial killer’s spree when Robin receives a woman’s severed leg in the mail. Strike narrows the suspects to four, all with violent ties to his past. As he and Robin navigate their own complicated relationship, they must find the killer before he strikes again—much closer to home.
10. You, by Caroline Kepnes: This book was nutso and I read it in a day and a half. Joe works at a bookstore in the Village, where he meets Beck, an aspiring writer. He thinks she’s cute, so he googles the name on her credit card. Then he uses her tweets to figure out where she’ll be that night. Joe is an insane, scary, psycho-stalker who quickly finds out everything he needs to know about Beck and inserts himself in her life by accessing information she’s made readily available across the Internet. He believes he’s a romantic hero, because in movies and books when girls say one thing, they mean another and everyone is looking for a grand, romantic gesture. The most impressive thing, by far, was that Kepnes had me rooting for Joe—psycho, stalker Joe. She’s like a magician. One note—this book is very graphic, so if that’s not for you, skip it.
And the best thing I read this month…
11. The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer: A group of four friends, all mothers of ten-year-old boys at an Upper East Side private school, reevaluate their lives and choices as their children reach the age where they no longer need constant attention. It would have been so easy for this book to dissolve into stereotypes, but it didn’t, and that’s what I liked so much. It’s not about saying who’s right or wrong, but instead looks at the individual circumstances making up each life and the very many ways our paths can unexpectedly change.
This was my first-ever book by Wolitzer, and isn't it just the best when you find a new author you love and know there are like eight more books waiting for you?