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.

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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!

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!

 

The Hunger Games Series

Although I read The Hunger Games series quite some time ago, it was only recently that Phoebe was allowed to read it. I remember some of her classmates reading it when she was in 3rd/4th grade, and that, I felt, was way too young. Common Sense Media rates it at age twelve and up, and that seems to be right. It is really no more violent than the later Harry Potter books, but the violence is more realistic since this is not a magical world, so that needs to be taken into consideration by parents. It is also helpful when the parent can vet the book in advance. Since this was Phoebe’s first foray into dystopian fiction, I decided that we would read the first book together, and then she could read the other two (Catching Fire and Mockingjay) on her own. This way, we could talk about what was happening as we went. Potential spoilers ahead!

So, the negatives first. This series is violent–the whole premise centers on kids between 12-18 being forced to kill each other. Although the violence is not graphically described, people do die–twenty-two of the twenty-four Tributes perish in the first book, and most of them do not die easily or well. Even Katniss and Peeta experience grave injuries and suffer pain, thirst, and hunger in addition to the loss of allies and friends. It is intense.

In addition to the violence, people also lie, plot, and break the law. Regardless of the necessity of it, Katniss and Gale knowingly break the law when they hunt outside the fence. Katniss pretends to love Peeta to give herself an advantage in the Games. That her feelings get complicated doesn’t change the fact that she thinks it is largely an act on everyone’s part. Haymitch is a drunk, which raises other concerns and questions. The people who live in the Capitol are shallow and narcissistic. And most of these concepts continue through the other two books.

However, these exact things are what make the series worthwhile. There are countless conversations to be had based on the things that happen. Katniss and Gale breaking the law to hunt can begin a discussion of ethics. What is one supposed to do when faced with an unjust law? When one might have to do something wrong in order to survive? This can lead to a conversation about places in our world where women are denied education, where people are denied clean water or proper healthcare. It can also lead to global awareness, which is often lacking with young adults, and activism. A series like this is a perfect opportunity to connect the fictional world and the real world, and to explore how to avoid a world like the one Collins describes becoming our reality.

Katniss is also an effective role model. Is she perfect? No. But she is skilled, smart, and tough. She and Gale are a team–she is not dependent on him. She takes care of her family when no one else is there to do so. She is willing to put her life on the line for her sister, literally. She defies the Capitol by publicly mourning Rue and by gambling that the Gamemakers will let her and Peeta live rather than have no Victor at all. Does her defiance get her into trouble? Sure, but that serves to make her more human. People mess up.

Phoebe says: I loved the Hunger Games series. I liked how although Katniss wanted to win the games for Prim, she also didn’t want to kill any of the other tributes. When her sister Prim was chosen at the Reaping, Katniss volunteered as District 12’s tribute. It wasn’t a small thing for her to volunteer; she was risking her life for her sister. When she was in the arena, she created an alliance with Rue, who reminded Katniss of her sister. They created a plan to blow up the Career’s food. In the process Rue was killed. Katniss
covered Rue’s body with flowers and truly mourned her. Rue was her friend, and Katniss wanted to be honest about that.

Katniss was also very smart. She was able to get her own food and when she almost dead, found water. Near the end of the first book, when there were only a few of them left, the Gamemakers put a backpack for each of the remaining districts in the front of the arena. Each of the backpacks had what each district needed most. Peeta had blood poisoning and was dying. Katniss knew that the bag for District 12 had medicine for Peeta. Peeta didn’t want her to go, but Katniss felt she had to, so she drugged him and went anyway–and that saved his life. Katniss risked her life once again and got the backpack for Peeta.

When Katniss and Peeta were the only ones left, they were told that there could only be one victor, but then Katniss remembered that they had to have at least one victor. She got poisonous berries, and she and Peeta threatened to eat them. The Gamemakers immediately stopped them and crowned them both the victors.

In the next two books, Katniss continues to risk her life for her friends and for the people she loves. She does her best to stay true to herself and not play the games everyone else is playing, but she doesn’t always have a choice. She has to step forward or nothing will change or get better. She is a fighter, and I like that about her.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This is a book I had wanted to read for some time, and when it appeared on Phoebe’s list of optional Summer Reading choices, I thought it would be  good choice for us to read together. I knew it was a little bit creepy, but I have long enjoyed Gothic stories, and I thought this might be a good way to introduce Phoebe to the genre. She is not usually into books that are scary in and of themselves. While MPHPC is not frightening, it is sinister and there is a definite creepy vibe–and the odd pictures that are included add to this. Minor spoilers ahead!

The story itself is fairly routine. A young man trying to find his place in the world, dealing with those who refuse to believe him and finding allies and enemies along the way. Many of the reviews I have read compare the premise to the other mutant/meta-human texts out there, and there is a sense of familiarity. However, the fact that the peculiars are children–even if they are technically adults trapped in children’s bodies–does make this unique.

Although this is a tween novel, it may not be appropriate for all kids. There is violence, and there is a lot of swearing. No uses of the f-word, but pretty much everything else–although it is not constant and not on every page. The main character is a teenager, and he talks like a teenager. When we ran across the first curse word, I was actually pretty surprised–especially considering that this was recommended for seventh graders by a school. When they kept coming, I had to decide what to do. Do we keep going or do we stop? I decided to keep going, but sometimes I changed the swear word to something milder. Yes, the word was still there in black and white, and yes, Phoebe could easily read it as she was reading along with me, but it made me feel better to not say them all. Phoebe preferred it as well.

The pictures that accompany the text are delightfully creepy. Since we were reading right before bedtime, I would typically peek at the picture first to gauge the creepiness–we were reading on a Kindle, so there was always a break before a picture, and there are textual clues to let you know when one is coming. There were only a couple that Phoebe refused a close-up look at.

In the end, we both enjoyed the story, and we are eager to read the next two.

Phoebe says: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a great book about Jacob Portman’s adventure to find the peculiar children. Being only twelve, I was a little taken aback by the use of swear words, but, other than that, it was a great book. I love mysteries and solving historical puzzles, so when Jacob found the bombed house and was looking through the wreckage, I was really interested. I also like how Ransom Riggs created pictures. I loved looking at them and their descriptions. I recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries.