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March 23, 2021

3 Books for Kids

by MK French

Are you looking for something fun to put in your kids' Easter baskets that's not full of sugar? Or perhaps you would like for them to take a break from screens this spring break. Well, today I have 3 books that should entertain your kids.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by Stuart Gibbs

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City
March 2021;  Simon & Schuster; 978-1534443815
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); adventure
Charlie Thorne had saved the world and planned to relax on the Galapagos Islands. Esmeralda Castle tempts her with a code that will reveal the secret of the treasure Charles Darwin found two hundred years ago that terrified his crew. She's not the only one after the treasure, and she has to get there first to protect it from those who would abuse it.

This is a sequel to Charlie Thorne and the Lost Equation. All you really need to know is that she's a brilliant teenage fugitive, excellent at codebreaking and math. I hadn't read that book first, and I didn't miss anything diving headfirst into this one. She doesn't trust anyone, so she constantly is on the alert for danger and has contingency plans to escape. That's not only a sign of a girl on the run, she's traumatized as well. With the resiliency of childhood, she doesn't see it the same way that I do. When she meets up with her half-brother Dante, she doesn't trust him, either. That's just sad, because the average twelve-year-old should be hanging out with friends, watching music videos, and playing video games, not going on the run internationally. Then again, if she was an ordinary twelve-year-old girl, we wouldn't have a book series.

Charlie is one of those geniuses that knows everything, has a nearly photographic memory, and spends her free time reading and learning about random things. This means she pulls out facts left and right as she's presented with new things, and her skill as a codebreaker is kind of what got her into the mess of this book. She also can't help but want to know things, which is why she doesn't cut and run when it gets hard. Esmeralda isn't who she said she was, Russians are after her, and the CIA would rather see her protected in their custody. In the middle of this chase are thrilling scenes that would be fantastic in a thriller movie. We have car/bicycle chases, speedboats, shooting from airplanes, massive explosions, and a lost city containing the secret that Darwin hid from the world.

I really enjoyed this book and devoured it in a single day. While there were times I thought Charlie was a big smug and irritating, she's also a twelve-year-old girl. They naturally have their moments where they think they know everything. In this case, Charlie really does. But she's also outnumbered, outmanned, and has to think on her feet. I really like that about her, and that she learns from the mistakes that she makes. I look forward to seeing more of her adventures!

Kingdom of Ink and Paper by Matthew Newman

Kingdom of Ink and Paper
March 2021; Sandcrest Publishing; 978-1735851402
ebook, print (331 pages); fantasy
High school student Will Morgan witnesses the murder of novelist Arthur O’Neill during a school trip in Boston. Afterward, he receives a copy of one of the author’s novel and passes out when reading it. He meets Tam Desmond, the protagonist of the book, upon waking and is told that every word ever written lives on in the World of the Written. Something was targeting O’Neill, and it’s now after Will. Armed with a sword and powers, Will sets out to solve the murder and prevent something more sinister from being released.

Kingdom of Ink and Paper is Book One of the Betwixt and Between Chronicles, a series taking place in the World of the Written. Tam is Will’s guide through that world, explaining the difference between Readers and Writers, Characters and Shades, the embodiment of all negativity in novels, plays, or movies that takes on a vague form to attack people or Characters. I do like how Tam is protective of Will, to the point he snarks that he has a second father, and that the Real World isn’t ignored to dive into the World of the Written. There is discussion regarding having compassion for others, as well as the drive to do the right thing; this is often difficult for a group of teenagers navigating the world we know, let alone a world where there is a Great Evil lurking. They’re still attending classes, doing homework, and have to navigate family life and friendships, so we feel their frustration with getting stymied by Real World concerns as well as the fictional ones.

We begin the book with just Will being a Writer and able to see Characters. Gradually, most of his friends also are activated and able to see the Characters and the world of the book that O’Neill wrote. There are not only Shades for them to fight, but someone able to control the Shades and use magic to affect the minds of ordinary people. Will and his friends fight off this enemy and try to figure out the origins when they hide; everything feels far too convenient that a friend with the hacking skill happens to overhear them when they need it, and they’re attacked so that he can join them. The bad guy also has the Evil Overlord Monologuing trait in spades, so that there’s a lot of boasting and info-dumping toward the end of the book. Even after that, there’s more to the story until we get to the end. It’s something like a cliffhanger, as this book launches the rest of the series. I would’ve liked a tighter ending with obvious threads to start another book, but this book would still appeal to a tween or young teen audience.

Friends to the End, and Here’s the End by Bobby Miller

Friends to the End, and Here’s the End
February 2021; Indie; 979-8588132817
ebook, print (393 pages); middle grades
Cathleen is left out when her best friend Mackenzie is getting boy crazy. Mackenzie wants help getting her ex-boyfriend back, so Cathleen writes a fake love letter as a jealousy ploy that peers think she wrote for real. When Mackenzie denies the plan about the letter, rumors fly about Cathleen, and other friends seem to side with Mackenzie. How is she supposed to win over the boy she likes when everyone thinks she’s a lesbian?

Middle school can be a hotbed of rumors and bigotry, and Cathleen finds out the hard way. She is harassed by people spreading rumors that she’s a lesbian, to the point where they talk about her, create throwaway emails to harass her, and paper her locker when she’s not there. It doesn’t help to tell the truth, because it’s interpreted as a sob story or being jealous of Mackenzie rebuffing her attention. The friends they had in common want her to make up with Mackenzie to keep the peace, but instead, the situation continues to escalate. There are still times when the group will get together and have fun, but they’re all caught between the two girls. The drama in the halls between everyone is real and had me cringing at times as if I was right there along with them. It’s so painfully middle school, Bobby Miller absolutely got it right.

In addition to the middle school and friendship drama, there is actual discussion about homosexuality and bisexuality, and the pain that many of those children endure. Sexting and dating also are discussed in the novel as well as the bullying. It’s something Cathleen and her friends discuss, and the school administration takes a hands-off approach to. Most of the teachers in Cathleen’s orbit don’t seem to know what’s going on with the rumors and will gossip about students themselves. She and her friends don’t always make the right decisions when it has to do with the bullying, and don’t always reach out when problems arise. I hope that middle-grade readers and younger teens read this book and learn from the characters, and find a safe person to reach out to. It’s a rough age period to start with, then the social pressures magnify them.

Questions in the back of the book are helpful for readers if this is part of a book club offering or even as a way for them to figure out how they feel about the story. Characters change over the course of the book, and the reader will as well. Hopefully, kids can apply what they’ve learned to their Real Life and have better outcomes.

(The ebook is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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