Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

JUMP Start Your January With These Fine Fiction Titles


Are you or your kids battling the winter blues? If so, check out these Juvenile Fiction and Young Adult titles.

You may not have heard of these books. But they’re all good, solid stories. Even better, they come highly recommended by The Momster and Kimber. (We love historical fiction. But we love well-written juvenile and YA fiction too. That probably means something. Can we get back to you on that?)

Anyway. Grab a hot cuppa. Put your feet up. Stoke up the fireplace or crank up the furnace. Get ready to warm up your winter with these excellent Mom-Tested, Kimber-Approved reads:

The Lost Cipher (Albert Whitman & Company, 2016)

By Michael Oechsle

Juvenile Fiction

Almost passed up this little book while browsing the library the other day. Glad I didn’t. What a delightful read!


Thirteen year-old Lucas Whitlach feels alone in the world. His Marine father has just been killed in Afghanistan. Taken in by his grandparents, Lucas is invited to a week at Camp Kawani. Tucked into the rustic Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Kawani is a special camp for kids who have lost a parent, 

Lucas is convinced he’s going to have a monumentally lousy time until he meets his cabin mates, Alex and George. While out on a guided hike, the boys hear about a legend regarding an enormous buried treasure. It’s supposedly still hidden somewhere in the rugged mountains near camp.

Can He Crack the Code?

Lucas is desperate to save the beautiful mountain he calls him. It’s slated to be purchased by strip miners and destroyed. So when he hears about the treasure of lost gold, Lucas has a light bulb moment. If he can decipher the mysterious cipher code divulging the location of the treasure, maybe he can find it and buy his mountain and save it from destruction.

So the trio sneaks away to go looking. They wind up discovering more than they bargained for. Much more.

Warm & Uplifting

Uplifting and thoroughly engaging, The Lost Cipher is a great story. It’s just plain fun. Clever plot twists abound and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Warm and vibrant, The Lost Cipher is also chockfull of vivid descriptions, believable dialogue, sturdy characters, and lively prose. Ditto humor, pathos, and a deep sense of longing. There’s a little bit of everything. Mystery. Family secrets. History. Outdoor adventure. Copperheads. Dusty legends and cobwebbed outhouses. A crusty old hermit. And a way to find home.

Our rating: 4.5


I, Cosmo (Nosy Crow, 2019)

By Carlie Sorosiak

Cosmo is a golden retriever. He’s thirteen years old and narrates his own story. Like all golden retrievers, Cosmo has a heart of gold. He’ll do anything to make his human boy, Max, happy. And that’s a mighty tall order. Because Max’s parents are headed for a divorce. Max is afraid he and Cosmo will be forced to go their separate ways in the divorce settlement. But maybe, just maybe…


Inspired by Danny and Sandy in Grease, Max and Cosmo figure if they can win the First Annual Rainy-Day Dance Society’s Canine Freestyle Championship and snag the grand prize, a spot in a movie, Max’s parents will see how great Max and Cosmo are together. Inseparable, in fact. Because “divorce is a sheepdog, waiting in a dark corner, picking at our weakest spots.”

Courage & Heart

So, despite advancing age, arthritis and creaky joints, Cosmo musters all his formidable courage and heart and learns doggie choreography under the patient tutelage of Max’s Uncle Reggie. Because Cosmo’s future with his beloved Max is at stake!

This is such a sweet story. Earnest, engaging, and heartfelt, it’s also laced with generous doses of humor. (Kimber: Mom did that sniffly thing again. She does that a lot with dog stories. So I snuggled onto her lap and shared my squeaky toy with her. She doesn’t quite get how to carry it in her mouth. But you know how moms are.)

Voiced entirely by Cosmo, the story brims with that special brand of loyalty unique to dogs, showing readers once again how no obstacle is a match for “dogged” love.

We loved it!

Our rating: 5.0


Empress of All Seasons (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018)

By Emiko Jean

YA Fiction/Fantasy

Duty and home. The whole before the self. It is an honor to serve your clan.

The mantra has been drilled into Mari by her mother since infancy. In the all-female village of Tsuma, Mari is known for being plain. Since childhood, Mari has been trained for one thing: travel to the Imperial City and the Palace of Illusions for a winner-takes-all competition. 

Survive the enchanted rooms and the prize is marriage to the Emperor’s son, the “Cold Prince” Taro, and the title of Empress of Honoku. But once married, Mari knows her duty is to steal her husband’s fortune and return to Tsuma, her “sleepy village of all women” with the purloined riches.

But in the All Seasons rooms where the competition takes place, many enter. Few depart.

Besides. Young Mari the “Animal Girl” wants to be free, above all. But what does that mean, exactly? How much will it cost? What is the “lean tiger in winter” willing to pay? Can she? What’s to become of her longtime friend, Akira, the heavily scarred Son of Nightmares, also an outcast? And finally, what about Mari’s secret? If discovered, it could get her killed. 

Empress of All Seasons is a barn burner with a high octane kick. It moves lightning-fast as it builds toward a fiery crescendo in an all or nothing battle for freedom and more.

Superb Writing

The writing is superb. From rogue samurai to secret passageways and trap doors, clock towers, overgrown gardens, mountain villages, red cliff daisies, kimonos and seasonal “rooms,” the author’s world-building skills are exceptional. Bolstered by intriguing, dynamic characters and settings, the plot blossoms into a potent blend of palace intrigue, romance, loss, power, treachery, pathos, and sacrifice. I couldn’t put it down! Indeed, Empress of All Seasons would make a first-rate movie.

(Caveat: Mom doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in this book. Nor does she endorse the worldview presented. She can, however, appreciate good art when she sees it.)

Our rating: 4.5




What are you reading to warm up your winter?



Snowy lake image credit: Maria Naas.

2 thoughts on “JUMP Start Your January With These Fine Fiction Titles

  1. These sound great, and codes are always a big draw for me. Wish somebody had saved the mountains of Colorado Springs from strip mining.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s