Book Review: Greenglass House

Oya everyone!

So, I’ve been on several different mini obsession kicks lately. Pirates, superheroes, the like. Things I want to read about and things I want to write about to the exclusion of most else. Pirates, ghosts and DnD are a few that have stuck around a bit longer, as I keep finding new ways to both use and consume the ideas and stories that come from those ideas.

Imagine my excitement when I was recommended a book that incorporated all three, along with found family and themes of adoption, Nooks and Crannies-esque mansion mystery, incredible use of character description and voice, and tiny details that turn out to be the key to everything.

Of course I didn’t know any of this going in. My friend just cryptically said, “Yeah, you’ll love this one.” and I asked no more questions.

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

Back cover of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Personally I think Kate Milford did a lovely job with this book. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading, and nearly threw the book across the room at one point on instinct after figuring out The Big Twist mere sentences before it happened.

The whole beginning is just perfect. Milo’s emotions are simply portrayed, but you feel them with him. The conflict between wanting nothing more than to finally rest after a long time working and be a little bit selfish, as a treat, and knowing that there are still things that must be done and people to be taken care of even if it’s on your vacation time. The cold from the snowstorm outside seeps into your bones, you can smell the candles and the Christmas tree. Your paranoia kicks in, learned from years of reading mystery books and yearning for adventure, when the guests start spilling in with their various quirks and oddities. You’re already scanning for a villain when there hasn’t yet been a crime. And then Meddy, sweet little Meddy walks in, and you feel it with Milo. The little click that means this one is your partner. This is the one that will help you on your quest. This is the one on your side in this sea of strange people with unknown motives.

An introduction of a role-playing game caught me entirely off guard but man, it was genius the way she did it. Milo’s a shy little guy, okay, he doesn’t want to cause problems and he doesn’t think he’s very clever so when a mystery pops up he surely doesn’t think he’s the one to solve it. But Meddy gets him to think of it like his character would; Negret, the rogue, is confident and clever and charismatic and stealthy. Of course he’d be able to talk to a few adults in order to find out why they’re all here, he’d even be able to make friends with them. Negret would totally be able to search a room for clues and connect dots and find out exactly what was different from the last time he saw it. Negret wouldn’t fall off an icy fire escape in an emergency, he’s much too sure-footed for that. But of course it is Milo doing all these things, really, and he really is quite good at things when he isn’t thinking too hard about it. I love him.

The crime that sets off the investigation is theft, but the grand mystery that unfolds as the kids explore is really about pirates, war, and a powerful machine hidden somewhere in the house. Every guest has some personal connection to the house, the machine, or the man behind it all, but only by a clever scheme by Milo is any information revealed in the secretive group. Swapping stories around the fireplace, all more personal and much more real than anyone wants them to be, reveals tales of long-lost family members; a heartbreaking love triangle between criminals; intrigue and deception surrounding stained glass; a famous outlaw and his child.

Build up of tension and stakes is masterfully done. Information is revealed at the right times with the right pace to get you to think and solve with increasing desperation as things start to get dangerous. The weather, time, and the corrupt powers-that-be conspire together to raise the stakes until everything is out in the open and everybody is counting on Milo. The real Milo, not the character, because Milo can do anything Negret can and he can do it better because he’s doing it to save the people and the place he loves.

And THEN

THEN IT’S A GHOST STORY THE WHOLE TIME

And it’s done so well. The signs were there the whole time, but of course you aren’t looking for them, you’re looking for the missing items, the codes in the windows, trying to find out which guest is the imposter or if there even is one. And it’s so satisfying when it all comes together. When every mystery is solved and every person is understood. One by one they all leave and it’s just Milo, and his parents, and their big house full of history and maybe just a little bit of crime.

So yeah, friend, I did love it. You said there were sequels? Let me just -zooms to the library-

See you next week!

~Ace

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