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.

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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.

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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.