Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine, is our most recent “read-together” book. The novel is difficult to categorize. It has a steampunk vibe, but it is set in the future. It also could qualify as alternate history since, at the center of the novel, is the Library of Alexandria, which was never destroyed. It also has a dystopian feel because free thought is restricted, people are spied on without their knowledge, and the core characters seem to be destined to overthrow a corrupt, yet all-powerful, system.

As Phoebe will note, there are some strong Harry Potter resonances. Not so much in the plot, but in the personalities of the characters and their dynamic. But we did forget about that after awhile, as the main characters asserted themselves as distinct people.

One thing I liked about it was the multi-cultural nature of the cast. Jess, the protagonist, is from London, but the other main characters hail from all over Europe, and there is an assortment of religions represented. They also have distinct personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. They are interesting people, and, as a reader, you are invested in their success.

Characters do die, and there is a war going on, and Jess and his friends have to work in a war zone at one point. And there is nothing glorious about it. People suffer and experience loss and physical harm–but at no point did I consider it gratuitous. I don’t recall ever thinking that X crossed a line or that the author did not need to do Y.

I would recommend it, particularly if you are a fan of the Harry Potter and looking for something new. It is the first book of a series, so there are some cliffhangers, but they aren’t drastic. Some aspects of the plot are tied up and there is a conclusion for someone who doesn’t want to go further. And now for Phoebe’s review!


Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine, is the first book in the Great Library series. It is set in 2034, where real paper books, called “originals,” are illegal. You can only read books on “blanks,” which are kind of like e-books. This book follows Jess Brightwell. His family are smugglers; they take originals and smuggle them to important people who pay lots of money to his family. After taking a test, Jess is accepted in the Great Library’s training program.

The thing that I really enjoyed about this book is that it was so good at character development, and that made it really suspenseful. Although the story is narrated by Jess, and mainly follows his journey through the training program, we learn so much about the other characters.

So many times, in this book, I compared the characters to characters from the Harry Potter series. We have Jess, who is very much like Harry Potter. He is usually the hero in many situations, he has abilities that many other people have. We have Khalila, who is very much the Hermione Granger of the story. She is very smart, always knows the answer to a question, and at times she even acted like Hermione. We had Thomas who at first seemed like Ron Weasley, but as we got more character development on him, he was more like Neville Longbottom; willing to do anything for his friends.

This book was very good, and I will definitely recommend it to some of my friends. I look forward to reading the other books!


The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Another solo review by Phoebe!

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, by Chelsea Sedoti, was an OK book. I got it as an ARC back in 2016, but it has since come out. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is about a girl named Hawthorn who becomes interested in a case of a missing girl from her town, Lizzie Lovett. She didn’t really know Lizzie Lovett, and didn’t really like her, but she tries to solve the case anyway.

One of the things I didn’t like about this book was how much of a romance it is. I went into the book thinking it would be a mystery, but a good portion of the book is about Hawthorn’s relationship with Lizzie Lovett’s boyfriend Enzo. Everybody thinks that Enzo killed Lizzie Lovett because she disappeared during the night, when the two were out camping. However, Hawthorn doesn’t think that, so she finds Enzo, and they start a relationship.

The other thing that I didn’t like about this book was a little more personal. Hawthorn’s mom was making her family go vegan. Hawthorn was always making rude comments about the food and how gross it was. I have been vegan for my whole life, so reading this kind of hurt. I personally don’t know what non-vegan food tastes like, but I can’t imagine it’s that bad, even for people who are trying it for the first time.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is an okay book, but I don’t know if I would recommend it. I guess if you are looking for a book that has both mystery and romance, then this is the book for you! But, I definitely don’t recommend this to any fellow vegans out there.

The Familiars series

Phoebe and I have read all of The Familiars series together–even though she is almost fourteen, we both still enjoy reading a book together. I figured she would outgrow the desire to have her mom read to her, but not yet!

At the moment, there are four books in the series: The Familiars, Secrets of the Crown, Circle of Heroes, and Palace of Dreams–all authored by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson. They are more middle grade than young adult. The are a good alternative or companion to the Harry Potter novels.

The main characters are the animal companions to magic workers, not the human wizards. The books focus on three: Aldwyn the cat, Skylar the blue jay, and Gilbert the tree frog. They go on many adventures with and without their human “loyals”: Jack, Dalton, and Marianne, respectively. Jack and Marianne are also siblings. It is set in a fictional world that has its own rules and geography.

The adventures Aldwyn, Skylar, and Gilbert go on are fun, and there is a lot about friendship building, family in the broadest sense of the word, and learning to use their magic powers. There are definite funny bits, particularly with Gilbert, who always seems to find himself in a scrape. There is mild danger and suspense, but nothing that should cause too much stress for younger readers.

I recommend it as a good family read since it can appeal to a broad range of tastes. Now for Phoebe’s review! Minor spoilers ahead.

The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, is a great series. It incorporated my favorite things that I look for when I am reading a book: magic, animals, and mystery. The Familiars is about three animals, a bird named Skylar, a cat named Aldywn, and a frog named Gilbert. They are the familiars of three students at a magical school called Turnbuckle Academy. They go on quests together, saving the world that they live in.

It is hard to choose a favorite character. I love all three of them for different reasons. If I had to choose one, I would probably choose Skylar. She was the brains of the trio, and she was often saving their lives when they got into a sticky situation.

I was often able to relate this series with the Harry Potter series. You have a Aldwyn, who is the main character, and is more or less the center of the story. He comes from a life as a street cat, with no family. You have Skylar who is the girl in the trio, and the one with all of the smarts. If there is a life or death situation for the trio, she is the one who usually figures out how to save them. And then, you have Gilbert. He is the humorous one, and the one that often is a little clueless. Although he helps in his own ways, he sometimes makes the situation worse.

I also liked how each of the familiars had a magical power. Aldwyn is telekinetic, Skylar can create illusions, and Gilbert can see the future through puddle viewings. This gave them all something unique that only they could do. I would recommend this book to more of a younger audience. I read the last book last month, but I read the other three books several years ago, which is when I enjoyed them the most.

Everything, Everything

The final book selection for our teen book club this year was Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. This is a really fast read–I finished it in two days, and I wasn’t under any pressure to read it quickly. It is just really compelling, and it hooks the reader–you must know what happens next.

As Phoebe notes below, she was turned off by the book initially because it is touted as a young adult romance, but that is not all it is. There are elements of mystery, family relationships, and growing up. Maddy has an extreme immune system disorder–she is basically allergic to everything. So, as a result, she never goes outside, and few people come to her. She pretty much lives in a bubble.

All of that starts to change when Olly and his family move in next door. He and Maddy start with texting and chat, but it doesn’t satisfy them for long, and Maddy begins to push against her restrictions. There are consequences to this, and there are some revelations, but, for the most part, the story unfolds in a way that is believable and realistic. I enjoyed the story, even though I am far from the target audience.

There is a sex scene, but it is really subtle, and it is possible to “not see it” if you don’t want to. One of the younger readers in the group talked about the characters “making out,” and the scene could be read that way.

Potential talking points include what parents feel they need to do to protect their kids, teen relationships, and living with chronic illness.

Now for Phoebe’s review!

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, is a great book. Normally, I hate romance books, but this was the perfect balance; it was romancy, but not too romancy. Everything, Everything is about a girl named Maddy who is so sick that she can’t leave her house. Then a boy named Olly moves next door. Maddy falls in love with Olly. With the help of her nurse, Carla, she gets to meet Olly, and they develop a relationship. Maddy starts to take more risks, and dangerous situations result.

What I liked about this book the most is that although it is a romance book, romance isn’t all that it is about. It is about Maddy’s quest to meet Olly and her struggle to have a life despite her illness. Another thing I liked about this book is that Maddy is homeschooled, and she likes to read. Throughout my one year of being homeschooled, I have not read a book where any of the characters happen to be homeschooled.

This book has a lot twists, and I think I might give some other romance books a chance now that I read Everything, Everything. I would recommend this book to people who think that they don’t like romance books. If it hadn’t been for my homeschool book club, I would have never read this, but I am glad I did. I look forward to reading Yoon’s next book, The Sun is Also a Star, and seeing the movie version of Everything, Everything when it comes out.

The Invasion of the Tearling

When I wrote my review of The Queen of the Tearling about a year ago, I mentioned that I had concerns about the appropriateness of the book for teens, young teens in particular. I decided to read the second book for a couple of reasons–I did enjoy the story, and I wanted to see how it continued, but I also wanted to see if the second book had the same degree of concerning content as the first. Sadly, not only does Invasion continue the theme of sexual violence, in some ways it is worse. There are some spoilers ahead.

Kelsea is still a strong character, and she does strive to rule her people wisely. Her actions in the first book come back to haunt her as the Red Queen invades, hence the title. However, Kelsea also goes down a bit of a dark path, and she makes choices that could compromise her integrity. Yes, she is a ruler, and sometimes leaders have to make hard choices, but some of the choices she makes seem to be abuses of the power she holds. She does redeem herself to some extent by the end, and the third book in the series should clarify whether her ethically gray choices will have positive or negative repurcussions.

This book also splits between two times and places, as Kelsea’s consciousness travels back to observe the life of a pre-Crossing woman named Lily, and Lily lives in a dystopian version of our world that is particularly horrible to women. There is clearly a connection between the two women, and Kelsea is supposed to learn from Lily’s experiences. However, the Lily sections are particularly tough. At one point she is brutally and graphically raped by her husband, and that scene again raised doubts about why this book is considered Young Adult.

Will I read the third book? Probably–because I do want to know how the story ends, and there are good things about the characters and the story. But nothing in this second book made me reconsider its appropriateness for anyone under the age of sixteen.

84, Charing Cross Road

Phoebe read this book solo, so the review is all hers! Mild spoilers only.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, is a good book. It wasn’t a book that I would necessarily buy myself at the bookstore, but it was given to me as a gift, so I decided to try it out. 84, Charing Cross Road is a book of letters between a woman living in New York and the owner of a small bookstore in London.

It is interesting to read a book that is completely letters, mostly because it is something I didn’t think I would like, and because it is a more relaxing kind of book. I loved how Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, the owner of the bookstore, were able to make such a strong friendship, without ever meeting each other.

My favorite parts of the book are when Frank Doel had new books come in, and over the holidays. Whenever Frank Doel had new books come into his book store that he thought Helene would like, he would tell her in a letter. She would usually be super happy, and she would ask for him to send it. I loved when it was the holidays because Helene would always send over something for everyone who worked in the bookstore, and they would usually send something to her as well.

This book is a great example of long distance friendships. It shows that you don’t have to live in the same state, country, or even on the same continent to be friends. Helene Hanff, Frank Doel, and the other workers at the bookstore never meet, but that didn’t matter to them.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, is categorized as an adult mystery novel, but it is very accessible to tween and teen readers. Part of that is because the protagonist, Flavia de Luce, is eleven years old. There is a murder, but it happens off stage, and there is no gore involved. The focus of the story is Flavia’s solving of the crime, getting in the way of the police, tormenting her sisters, and reveling in science. Since it is set in the 1950s, there is a bit of cultural history involved, and that could make for good conversations. It is also first in a series, so there are more Flavia adventures for readers who click with her!

Phoebe’s review follows. I will let her provide more details.–

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, is very good. One of my favorite things about the book is the main character, Flavia de Luce. She is an eleven-year-old girl who is exceptionally smart. I love books with a strong, awesome, female lead, and, in this book, she is around my age, which makes it even more inspiring. This book is set during the 1950s, which makes it even more impressive that Flavia is, and is able to be, so smart. No one tries to deny the fact that she can be, or is, really smart.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a murder mystery. It is suspenseful, and I like that no matter how hard the police try to get Flavia to stop investigating the murder, she always seems to get information. It is interesting how all the characters do contribute to the story, and in some cases, the murder investigation,—even if they are minor characters.

Flavia has two sisters—Daphne and Ophelia. Throughout the story, they don’t really do anything; they just sit around reading or playing the piano. But even they have their moments–and if she didn’t have sisters, Flavia wouldn’t have anyone to torment with her poison experiments.

This book showed me to look and pay attention to all the little details because they might become important later in the story. In Sweetness, there are a lot of minor events and characters that, at first, you think have nothing to do with the story, but, then, it seems that the whole book revolves around that one thing.

I really enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes murder mysteries, and books with a strong, awesome, female lead.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, won the Newbery Award in 2010, so that is already a statement about the quality of the book. However, there is also something of a stigma attached to award-winning books as well–that they tend to lack in the excitement category.

This book is fun for both kids and adults. Since it is set in the 1970s, many parents will remember living a life similar to that of Miranda and her friends. Miranda’s mom is training to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, so that is a theme of sorts through the book, and if you watched any incarnation of that game show, you will get the jokes, so to speak.

Miranda’s favorite book, and the book she carries with her everywhere, is A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. It is not vial to have read that book first, but it certainly does help with the subtext.

Most importantly, this is a book about friendship–and the ups and downs of those relationships. That makes the story relateable to almost anyone. There are also scenes that can be jumping off points to discuss racism, economic class, urban life, and what makes a family. Phoebe’s review is below.


When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, was a good book. The book is about a girl named Miranda who finds mysterious notes hidden in her things. Miranda is just an ordinary middle school girl, which, at some points, I can relate too. The one time in the story when I could relate to Miranda the most was about her and her friend Sal, who happens to be a boy. I have always had male friends, and I could relate to her getting teased about it.

This book was full of twists, and you really had to pay attention to catch them. When we eventually find out who was sending Miranda the notes, I was so surprised. This book was also set during the 1970s, and I thought it was interesting to see how independent kids were back then. Today, most parents don’t let their kids walk around the city alone like Miranda was able to do in the book. It made me realize how much times have changed.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery. It is a short book with big text, but don’t let that fool you. Being short, it makes it easy to skip over major details, which I did multiple times–and then I had to go back and reread.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor

We recently finished the second book in the Magnus Chase series, and, like all Rick Riordan books, it did not disappoint. Phoebe’s comments will be posted below.

We have now read all the novels that are currently in print, and they have all been full of adventure and humor. They are a great introduction to mythology as well because the novels remain pretty faithful to the original stories.

However, the most important thing about these series is that they are inclusive. Despite some negative comments on this issue, Riordan has not shied away from including heroes and heroines from all walks of life. In this series alone there are characters who are or were deaf, Muslim, gender-fluid, homeless, and African-American–and that is only scratching the surface, really.

The other important thing about this series–like the others–is that it is about teamwork. The characters are always stronger when they cast aside their differences and work together. They argue and bicker, but they always have each others’ backs. And that is a vital lesson in today’s world.

If I have one complaint, it’s that there is yet to be a female lead character in his series. There are plenty of awesome girls in his worlds, and they take charge and do plenty of rescuing, but they have yet to be the star.

Phoebe says:

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor, by Rick Riordan, is a great book. I have read all of his books, and I always love them. What I like about his books is that his characters reflect real world people. In this book, we have Sam, a Valkyrie who is also Muslim—she was in the first Magnus Chase book, but we learn more about being a Muslim, and how her two lives collide, in this book. We meet Alex, a gender-fluid girl. We also have Hearthstone, who was also in the first book, who is deaf.

I am always sure that I will love Rick Riordan’s books before I even read them. I like how he makes them funny, but he also makes them interesting and suspenseful. I don’t think that I could pick a favorite character because they all have their awesome moments. Although he isn’t a true character, I love Jack. Jack is the name Magnus gives to his sword. Jack can also talk, so when he is in sword form (he turns into a pendant when he is not being used) it is funny to see what he is going to say

Another cool thing that Rick Riordan does, is that he brings in characters from his other series and adds them into the story. In this series, Rick Riordan brings in Annabeth Chase from his Percy Jackson series, and I thought that was awesome, because she is one of my all-time favorite characters.

I would recommend this book, and all of Rick Riordan’s, to almost anyone.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, was the first pick for a tween/teen book club I am moderating at our local homeschool co-op. I remembered reading a lot about it when it first came out, and now there is the play, of course, but I had not yet gotten around to reading it. Necessity prevailed though!

The book is not a young adult book, though it has a teen narrator–it is full-on adult fiction. However, other than language and some “adult situations,” there isn’t really anything that should steer teens, or even mature tweens, away from the novel.

One of the reasons to recommend the book is the narrator, Christopher, who is autistic. Many of the reviews praise Haddon’s insight and the honesty with which he portrays Christopher. This might provide valuable insight for a classmate, sibling, or companion–or a parent, teacher, or other care-giver. Being able to see the world through Christopher’s eyes is revealing and educational.

There is swearing–quite a bit of it–though little, if any, of it originates with Christopher. Because he looks at the world literally, and he has no filter, what he hears, we read–completely unvarnished. So if characters swear in his hearing or at him, then we get it exactly as he hears it. It is perhaps telling that these other characters don’t filter themselves in his presence–maybe they think he doesn’t understand as much as he does, or they assume that because he doesn’t process emotions the way other people do, that he can’t be hurt or offended.

Dark themes are also present. It isn’t spoiling anything to state that the catalyst for the events of the story is the murder of a neighborhood dog, which Christopher is determined to solve, just like Sherlock Holmes, a favorite character of his. It is in the process of unravelling the crime that Christopher’s life also unravels, and he uncovers all sorts of sordid family secrets. The dog, Wellington, is killed off-stage, but it is described–Christopher finds the body–and he refers back to it over the course of the story. There are also other adult issues which I won’t go into because that would be too much of a spoiler. In the end, there are plenty of opportunities for discussion regarding this story.

From Phoebe:

I really enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I would probably never pick up this book just on my own, but I am really glad I read it. Seeing things from Christopher’s perspective was interesing, and he has quite an amazing journey in this story.

There was nothing that I didn’t like about the book, but there was a lot of swearing. However, as I get older, I understand that the books I read are going to potentially have swearing in them, so that is something that I just have to accept!