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.


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.

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.

Our Chemical Hearts

We received an ARC of this novel via an event at Barnes and Noble. Phoebe read this herself, so the review is all hers! If I feel the need to editorialize, I will add those comments in square brackets. I have edited the review for clarity. Potential spoilers ahead!

I read Our Chemical Hearts, by Krystal Sutherland, and liked it, but there were things I didn’t like about it as well. The story is about Henry Page and Grace Town. Henry Page is starting his senior year of high school, and he gets the job that he has wanted since before he started high school—editor of the school newspaper. Grace Town transfers one week into the school year, and she is different from anyone Henry has known before. She wears boy’s clothes; she doesn’t look like she bathes often, and she walks with a cane. She doesn’t talk to anyone, but she is offered the job of assistant editor, so she would be working alongside Henry. When she was first offered the job, she said that she wouldn’t do it, but Henry is able to talk her into it–he didn’t want anyone to turn down such an amazing opportunity. The book was about Henry and Grace falling in love with each other.

This book has a lot swearing, which sometimes made me uncomfortable when I was reading. [There were frequent F-bombs as well as other R-rated swear words] I also didn’t like that the characters in the book have sex. [Using condoms is also discussed] But besides those couple of things, the book sent a great message. Grace Town was in a car accident with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend died in the accident, and she severely injured her leg. She transferred because her old school reminded her too much of her old boyfriend. The great message in the book is that just because someone is different, that person shouldn’t be avoided. Henry made the effort to get to know her; he wanted to be friends with her, and he succeeded, and Grace Town didn’t seem so alone and unwanted anymore.


Since finishing it, Phoebe and I have talked about the explicit parts, and she doesn’t think that reading it was a bad choice–that she was too young (she is thirteen). She just might have preferred a warning about some of the things that are in there.

The Hollow City (Miss Peregrine 2)

I bought the Kindle version of this when it was on sale earlier this year, and with the movie version of the first book coming out at the end of next month, we decided that we should try to get it in before the end of the summer. So, after we finished Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer, The Hollow City was next on our list. Potential spoilers ahead!

The second book picks up almost immediately after the first one ends. The kids are on the run, and they need to find help for Miss Peregrine before she is stuck as a bird forever. They discover that only another ymbryne can help her, but they are being hunted by the wights and hollows and are laying low–no one knows if there are any still on the loose and, if there are, where they may be.

So, this novel has much more of a quest feel than the first one, which was more about world building and suspense as Jacob found out about the Peculiars and himself. There are still loads of surprises, but the tone is different. There are new enemies and new allies to be found–and new creatures and types of Peculiars.

Like the first book, this one is violent. Not only are there personal threats to and attacks on the children, but they are also in London during the Blitz, so there is wartime violence–and the collateral damage that results–as well. The children also take their gloves off, so to speak, and they commit violent actions themselves. Not without reason, but some may be bothered by that. At the very least, it is something to talk about.

However, I noticed that the language was toned down. I don’t know if there were complaints or if Riggs was trying to maintain the historical feel of the past, but after noticing how much swearing there was in the first book, it was equally noticeable how little there was this time. It will be interesting to see how the third book compares.

Phoebe complained about the romantic aspects of the story, and one subplot is the growing relationship between Jacob and Emma. However, there are only a couple of kisses, and the two do profess their love for each other. It might induce eye rolling, but it shouldn’t be offensive.

Phoebe says: I enjoyed The Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs, but not as much as the first book from the Miss Peregrine series. This book was mostly about the peculiar children’s escape from the hollows, wights, and the rescue of Miss Peregrine–whereas the first book was a lot more about the mystery of the peculiar children, how Jacob finds the children, and learning about the children. I personally like that kind of mystery story better. Also, this book was very “romancey” between Jacob and Emma, and sometimes I thought that took away from the story.

Although I didn’t like some parts of the book, I did like others. At one point, when the children are on their quest to get Miss Peregrine back in human form, they stop at a menagerie, knowing that it belongs to Miss Wren, one of the only free ymbrymes left, hoping that she was there. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there, but there were peculiar animals. I loved this part of the story because I am always making up stories about animals that can talk or do other unusual things. I look forward to reading the third book of the Miss Peregrine series!