Six of Crows

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, is the next pick from our book club. It is a beefy tome, but the story is engrossing. It overlaps genres, having elements of fantasy, heist, and a little bit of a steampunk vibe.

The story follows a group of teens who are part of a street gang. They each have unique skills, and they are commissioned to break into an impenetrable fortress and steal something. The leader, Kaz, agrees to take the job because they are being offered an immense sum of money, and they each have a pressing need for their share of the funds. They believe the money will give them power, freedom, or agency.

The story is violent. These teens are part of a gang, and they fight other gangs and get involved in other physical situations. There are two young women in the group, and they have both spent time in a brothel, though what goes on behind closed doors is not explicitly decribed that I recall. It is all implied, but it is not that difficult to connect the dots. What does stand out is that both girls are able to get out and, to some extent, choose their own path. Characters are also beaten up and shot. The world that they live in is not sugar-coated; characters kill and are killed.

As the adventure unfolds, readers learn a lot about the backstory of each character–what brought them to this place and time. Their childhoods are not easy; Kaz, in particular, goes through some serious trauma as a child that affects his ability to connect with other people. Characters are kidnapped and trafficked. There is bias and prejudice. In that sense, it isn’t that different from our own world–just much more gritty.

But the story rises above all of that. There are some slow spots, but when the action is high, it moves along really well, and you have to keep reading to see how it unfolds. It is definitely a young adult book, given some of the content, but adults can enjoy it too.

And now for Phoebe’s review!

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, was an amazing book. It had been recommended to me before, and I had seen it several times in the bookstore, but I only just got around to reading it when it was selected for my book club. The story follows six characters, Kaz, Nina, Inej, Jesper, Matthias, and Wylan, through their journey to the Ice Court to commit a seemingly impossible crime.

The one thing that might be difficult for some readers is that each chapter is narrated by one of the characters. So, it is always switching point of view. I was familiar with the style from Rick Riordan’s series, so it wasn’t as hard to follow, but at times I did get a little lost.

I really enjoyed the girl power in this story. There are only two female characters, Nina and Inej, but they are very important to the story. Nina is a healer. She heals her friends when they are wounded, but she could also do the opposite, give people wounds. For example, at one point in the story, she snaps someone’s ribs. She is more trained in doing damage than healing, but she does heal at times in the story. Inej was probably my favorite character. She was known as “the Wraith.” She is Kaz’s (the leader of the group) secret gatherer. She is also stealthy, making her important during attacks.

The only negative thing that I have to say is that a good portion of the book is spent on a boat, the Ferolind. They are traveling to the Ice Court, and they spend a little too much time on the boat. I got a little bored with the story then because they couldn’t do much on the boat, and I just wanted them to get to their destination!

Overall, this was a really great book, and I am happy that I finally got to read it. This book doesn’t fall into one genre, it’s a little bit of steam-punk, a little bit of fantasy, and even a little bit of mystery. I think I will definitely read the sequel, and the author’s other books.

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The Last Unicorn

It has been awhile since we posted because we moved from New York to Virginia last Fall, and it took us awhile to get settled and back into our groove. But here we are again!

We have tried to find a new, in-person, teen book club locally with little success, so we asked the members of our previous book group in NY if they were interested in having a virtual book club, and, luckily, they were. The dynamic is a bit different since we meet in Google Hangouts, but Phoebe is happy to be able to chat about books with her peers once again.

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, was our second book club pick and Phoebe’s choice. Unfortunately, no one really enjoyed the novel, myself included. It was written in 1968, and that might have been part of the problem. Fantasy has come a long way in that time, and fantasy for children and teens in particular. The genre is a lot more sophisticated now than it was fifty years ago.

The premise was interesting–a unicorn who believes she is the last of her kind, so she sets out on a quest to find out once and for all if she is. She has adventures and misadventures along the way. Some know what she is, but many others do not and see her merely as a horse. She makes friends and enemies, and she eventually discovers the truth regarding what happened to her kind.

That is the core story, and that was the best part. However, much of the other plot is kind of silly. There are anachronisms that don’t make sense–like tacos in a medieval world. That kind of humorous fantasy has never really been my thing, but I can see that it would appeal to some. Many of the other characters are simply unlikeable–except for a talking cat who makes a brief appearance and steals that part of the book.

Sadly, everyone in the chat felt the same way about the novel, though we did have a good discussion anyway. An important lesson that I have tried to impart is that one is not going to enjoy everything one reads, but that doesn’t make the book irrelevant. Phoebe opted to not write a review for this one.

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!

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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.

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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.