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!

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!


The Queen of the Tearling

This review is going to be a bit different because Phoebe has not read the book. The premise of the book was interesting to both of us, but I read a lot of reviews that claimed the story was not appropriate for young adult readers, so I decided to read it on my own first. I struggled with the negatives of this book all the way through, but, in the end, I have to agree–this is not a book for younger teen readers. Potential spoilers ahead!

Let me start with the positives. I enjoyed the book–the plot and characters are interesting and compelling. Kelsea, as a heroine, is admirable. She is brave and smart. Raised in obscurity, she is brought home when she is nineteen to be Queen. But her life is constantly in danger, and she must learn how to survive as well as how to serve her people. She is a princess, but she is not a Disney-style, passive princess. She is not breathtakingly beautiful, and she is conscious of this. Many people have criticized this aspect of her personality–that she is too down on herself; that she wishes she was prettier. Well, who doesn’t? For me, this made her more real. She doesn’t mope and moan about it, but she sees truly gorgeous women and the power that gives them–and she envies that a bit. Most women–young and old–deal with this in their lives. That we envy beauty isn’t a problem–it is how we handle that envy, and Kelsea handles it just fine. In the end, her intelligence, her determination,  and her compassion define her, not her looks.

There is some swearing in the book, but it is not really any more than some other books we have read together recently. There is also some romance, but that is not the main focus of the story. There is also loss, death, and violence, but most of that is also on a par with other things we have read.

But this is where I begin to have a problem with the book as a “young adult” novel. Some of the references to sex are too explicit. I am by no means a prude, but there are some things younger teens don’t need to read or imagine. One character refers to a sexual encounter as “a quick f**k.” Granted, this character is evil, but still. Rape is threatened and described. Oral sex is coerced from characters, and some of the terminology used for body parts, female ones in particular, is unacceptable–to me anyway. Now, there are maybe a total of six of these instances in the whole book, so it is definitely a fraction of the content. And the intent, I believe, is to show how truly horrible and vile the characters behind these acts are. None of it is glorified or glamorized. Which is why I struggled with it as far as age appropriateness goes. But, in the end, I had to put this in the “older teen” column. Sixteen, maybe, but not thirteen.

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.

Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus/Kane Chronicles

Obviously, my daughter and I are both big readers, but neither one of us will read just anything. Pleasure reading needs to be fun, to have exciting plots, and have cool characters. Luckily, Rick Riordan’s series have all those things, plus they are good ways to introduce kids to Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. There are some spoilers ahead, so read with caution!

We started with The Lightning Thief, the first Percy Jackson book, many years ago. These were “read together” books, so we read them simultaneously, out loud. This summer, we finished The Blood of Olympus, the final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, and, in between, we read the Kane Chronicles.

I enjoyed the books on my own–they weren’t a chore to read. And there have been choices that were! Percy Jackson, who is the focus of the first series, is an interesting character with interesting problems. There is drama, mystery, suspense, and humor. There were many times when we would literally laugh out loud. As a parent, I also liked the mythological connections, and we would often stop to talk about the original story that is being referenced in the book. I picked up a couple of reference books for Phoebe to refer to for more information, and she enjoyed learning more about the ancient Greek characters Percy and Co. encountered.

The Heroes of Olympus, which is a sequel series–you really need to read the first series to get all the allusions–is written for kids who have grown up with Percy–the characters are older, there are dating couples, and the stories are a bit more intense and mature–similar to the way the Harry Potter books mature with the readers. There still isn’t any “real” swearing or any intimacy beyond kissing, but HO is definitely for a slightly older reader. There were a few awkward moments when we started reading The Lost Hero and realized it was more mature. But once we accepted that, it was fine. Phoebe would still hide her face occasionally, but she never wanted to stop reading.

The later books of The Heroes of Olympus did experience some controversy when it was revealed that Nico is gay. One of the things I like about the series is that there are kids from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and social classes. Nico is just another type of kid. There is nothing explicit. It is revealed at one point that he has a crush on another male character, and those feelings are not reciprocated. At the end of the final book, there are hints that Nico may find love after all. That is really it. When we got to that part, we talked about it. I wanted to make sure Phoebe understood what was going on, and I wanted to ask how she felt about it. We even looked at some of the negative things people said about the character and the series as a whole. Kids are often refreshingly open-minded, and mine is no exception. She just kind of shrugged it off as another aspect of diversity, and that was it.

Phoebe did enjoy that the second series incorporated more girls and shifted point of view. She loves girls who can take care of themselves and don’t need to be rescued any more than the boys do, and this series is full of them–Piper and Annabeth were her favorites. She liked Leo because he was funny and Frank because he could turn into animals. She also liked many of the non-human characters, Blackjack the Pegasus in particular. I try to do voices for the different characters, so that often made it more fun for her.

The Kane Chronicles is a shorter series–only three books–and the focus is Egyptian mythology and a mixed-race brother-sister team. There is also a lot of humor and a lot of suspense–and also ample diversity. The narration is like a found-footage movie: Carter and Sadie take turns narrating their adventures into a tape recorder that is later found and transcribed for the reader. Because they are narrating, there is the assumption that they will be OK at the end, but since they switch off, there is a bit of suspense that one of them will not return to finish their story. There are a couple of romantic story threads, but the unavailabilty of the object of affection makes that more of a secondary plot.

I asked Phoebe for some thoughts on the three series, and she said that The Heroes of Olympus was her favorite of the three. Although girls get their share of the spotlight in all three series, she thought they had more “screen time” in HO, and there are chapters told from their perspectives, which is a change from the first Percy Jackson series. She also likes that there is more to the girls than just being pretty, and that they often have to save the boys. They are smart as well as good fighters. There is also a Hunter named Phoebe, so I am sure that helped!

We were both hoping that the new series, which focuses on Norse myth, would have a female lead, but as the main character is named “Magnus,” that doesn’t seem to be the case. However, there are some badass women in Norse mythology, so I am confident there will be someone for her to root for!


I love books. My daughter, who is currently 12, loves books. We also love reading together. Even though she has outgrown the need for it, we still read together almost every evening.

Last weekend, her best friend’s mom asked me for some book ideas to give her daughter some new reading material. We were hosting a book swap that day, so she took a few books with her, and I said I would follow up with more ideas in an e-mail. I did keep my promise and sent her a lengthy e-mail on Monday with lots of possible additions to her daughter’s To Read pile, and which prompted the reply, “you are passionate about books.” As I was writing that e-mail, I thought that it would make a good blog post. Rather than adding it to my current blog, I thought it maybe needed space of its own. So here we are.

My goal is to post reviews of books and series that my daughter reads on her own, and that we read together. In doing so, I hope I can help others find great reads for their own kids. Since I have a daughter, finding books for her that have strong heroines, great messages, and a fun story is my primary goal, but that doesn’t mean that the books won’t be great for boys as well. After all, they need to admire smart, strong, and self-sufficient girls too.

I hope you will join us!