I am particularly interested in books in the following categories:
- Extremely well-written YA fiction (no vampire romance or dystopia, please!)
- Diverse writers and characters portraying a range of authentic experiences
- Historical fiction
- Foodie lit or foodie memoir
- Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
If I request a specific title, I will do my best to review it in a timely manner. I will review books outside of the above criteria at my discretion.
Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books
A Study in Scarlet Women
I realize that there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, of varying quality out there. And that some of them are going to be really, really bad. So picking one up is going to be a risk. And I realize that, within just over a month, I had read a Holmes pastiche where Holmes was a girl named Charlotte, so I may have gone into this with unfairly high expectations.
I also realize, after the fact, that this is the start of a series, so, if I were being really charitable, I would have to excuse some throat-clearing, some hitches and some setup time before they get on with it. And they do get on with it, in about the last quarter of the book. So there’s that.
But… wow. Oof.
I’m not sure what made me the most mad about this book. The pages and pages of Girl-Holmes family life, where the timing and sequencing of events weren’t terribly clear. So I couldn’t tell whether the fact that Charlotte Holmes was writing to Scotland Yard care of a nobleman friend was happening before or after she’d been disowned by her wealthy family… Or was it the way the mystery seemed like it was wandering around under a compulsory need to have twists and secrets, rather than any concrete architecture of plot? There were almost too many suspects, churned through and investigated one by one, their plots untangled and their alibis found, and onto the next one. It was methodical, in a rote way, not in a careful way. I read along, impatient for the crime to be solved and the mystery to be over, hoping for maybe a two-case book, where the first one was working the kinks out and the second one worked better… No luck. Just tromping dutifully through the suspects, plod plod plod. I don’t feel like I could go back and reread and see the suspect from the reverse, to appreciate the mystery’s structure. Bah.
No, wait, I know what made me the most mad: the fact that, even though I’d really started to hate this…. I couldn’t put it down. Especially in about the last quarter, I got hooked. Ugh! I still think it was really poorly constructed, and I did not enjoy the throat-clearing and plodding of the first two thirds or so… but I got hooked. Argh!
In the interests of not completely trashing this book, and justifying the hours I spent reading it. some bits I liked. I like the idea of Charlotte Holmes being basically everything Basil Rathbone is not. She’s fair-haired and rosy cheeked, with a sweet tooth, and a tendency to dress in ruffles and fripperies to an extent that’s even at the far reaches of what Victorians like. Sort of aggressively performed femininity, calculated even. In the characterization of Charlotte, it seems like both a calculation to get people to underestimate her, and something she actually enjoys. I appreciate that. I also found myself enjoying the way Holmes and Watson find each other, and how Watson is constructed as an older woman, herself a flouter of conventions. They even work Afghanistan in. And it’s not a spoiler, I think, to say that Moriarty is a factor.
I sat down to write this to vent my ire at the book… but I find I’ve mellowed somewhat. It wasn’t the best book ever, and it was a badly plotted mystery, and I’m probably not going to continue reading the series. But… there were bits that I appreciated.
Have downgraded from ire to merely mildly peeved. Make of that what you will.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World
By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
I loved this even more than I was expecting to. And that’s saying something. I’ve been a fan of Doreen Green and Squirrel Girl since I started reading the collected comics.
And this was such a fun, warm, funny and action-packed adventure that I didn’t severely miss seeing Squirrel Girl in panels.
It’s safe to say that this might be the most charming superhero origin story ever created. Doreen Green was born with the powers, and the tail of a squirrel. Her parents love and support her squirrel nature, but caution her to keep it secret. Adding to that, she’s moved to a new town and is anxious to make new friends. (Also: her new town is in New Jersey. Heh.) She wants to be a superhero, ideally an Avenger. When she’s older. Meanwhile, there’s school, and babysitting like any other fourteen year old. And getting to know the neighborhood squirrels. Like a Squirrel Girl.
There are also mechanized robots. Lots of mechanized robots. And a supervillain. And high school cliques, like the popular kids, the tough kids, and the LARPers. Yes, there are LARPers. And, once Doreen starts to make friends, there are running jokes about socks. Because I needed a reason to love this novel even more.
Pretty sure the target audience is young teenagers but I think any lover of goofy adventures and comics, or even stories with upbeat characters, is going to love this one.
Really hoping there are more in the series.
I Am Princess X
By Cherie Priest, illustrated by Kali Ciesemeier
This story is somewhere between a comic and a YA novel, blending both genres into excellent, fun suspense. When they were little girls, May and Libby spent hours inventing the complex, imaginary world of Princess X. May wrote, and Libby drew the pictures. Princess X carried a katana and wore red chucks while she saved the day and trounced the bad guys… I was pretty prepared to love this book for that detail alone. But the twisty, suspenseful plot that happens afterward, and the friendships that emerge from it were even better.
Libby and her mother died in a car crash a few years after the two girls became friends. And now, at 16, May is returning to Seattle, where she and Libby grew up, living with her dad for the summer and trying to come to grips with her memories of her friend.
But she starts seeing Princess X stickers everywhere. And there’s a thriving webcomic by an unknown author… May sees references to the imaginary world she and her friend created, and starts to wonder if it could be Libby.
I loved the way the Princess X comics wove through the story, both for the imaginative mystery they set up, and just aesthetically. I like the bold, purple lines of the drawing style. And I like how they worked as a call-and-response with the plot of the mystery: showing pages as characters read them, pointing to symbolic clues that translated to real-world mystery solving. The pacing of the mystery was just right- fast enough through the twists and turns that there were some breathless, engrossing moments, but with enough humor and breaks into the comics that it wasn’t completely harrowing.
I would recommend this book equally to comics readers and prose fiction readers with a fondness for a good fantasy. And I think it would work equally well for teens and grownups. There’s a very strong chance I’m going to spend the next few weeks asking just about everyone I talk to whether they’ve read this. And then telling them they absolutely should read this book. Now. Immediately.
And that’s both because I enjoyed the puzzle mystery, and because I like the way the comics were put together. And the characters. While Libby and May are at the center, the people around them, and the comic characters themselves are pretty terrific.
I must remember that I have yet to find a pair of Converse sneakers that is comfy on my feet. And that I do not need red ones. Or a katana.
In addition to thoroughly enjoying Ms. Marvel and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I’ve been working on expanding my knowledge of graphic novels, superheroic and otherwise. I think my favorite part, even better than getting to revel in the lovely colors, is getting to discover adventurous, smart, heroines, and the adventures that unfold over collected issues. But the best part of all might be the fact that I’ve been checking these out of the library! And then getting to return them to the library where I work, and make them part of shelf displays. (It counts as collection development, not fangirling! I promise.)
I’m dividing these vaguely between All-Ages and Teen and Up, but it’s probably a much more fluid, malleable definition where handing these to actual teens and kids is concerned. There might be a bit more intensity of tempo and emotions in the teen-wards end of the scale? Your mileage, and etc.
All Ages Comics
Foiled by Jane Yolen (art by Mike Cavallaro). A high school fencer in New York, and she gets a magic blade that means that she can see faeries and goblins, and gain entry into a magical realm, to be given a quest as the Defender. Her combat skills, her problem-solving skills, and even her friendships are part of how she saves the day. And the art is terrific fun. I understand that Jane Yolen did not actually write this, and its sequel, Curses: Foiled Again! specifically for me. However, it is pretty much perfect.
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley (writer) and Mia Goodwin (illustrator) is the story of Princess Adrienne, who gets fed up with waiting around to be rescued from her tower. Not only does she rescue herself, she teams up with her guardian dragon, Sparky, and her new friend Bedelia, to try to save her other sisters. I love this series for the adventures and friendship, and for the well-developed folklore that goes on within the series. Started with Volume 1: Save Yourself, and it’s still good in subsequent volumes. Did I mention the dragon? There’s a dragon!
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFFs by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare (writers) and Natasha Bustos (illustrator.) Lunella Lafayette is a ferociously smart preteen girl, grappling with worries that she’s a mutant, as well as smart and still trying to have a semblance of a normal life. There is also a dinosaur, teleported from another time. Everything about this is charming, warm, adventurous, and completely magnificent. The second volume, which I haven’t read yet, is called Cosmic Cooties. I have it on my holds list, and I’m completely confident it will be just as good.
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittany Wilson doesn’t have any supernatural aspects. It’s historical fiction, set in the 50’s, in Palm Springs, where Goldie and her dad both work in a big, posh hotel. Goldie’s more than a little obsessed with the beautiful, fast cars she parks in the valet service. Goldie also works with a detective to solve the mysteries and inquiries of the hotel’s well-to-do guests. Some of the cover copy on this book references Nancy Drew- I can see that in the time period aesthetic, some of the cast of characters, and the kinds of mysteries on offer. But, for all the 50’s and early 60’s are meticulously created in art and characterization… I think there’s an excellent modern take going on here.
Teen and Up Comics
All right. I’m just going to own up to the fact that this is a Noelle Stephenson lovefest.
And that the designation of these as not-all-ages is basically artificial. But, monsters? And jokes about bears and feminist icons and the 24-hour-news cycle? So I don’t know.
Lumberjanes. How I love Lumberjanes. A goofy, ensemble cast of campers at an all-girls’ camp. Merit badges in feminist awesomeness. Everyone working to support and respect each other’s quirks and wonderfulness. Also possibly ancient curses, bears, ghosts, canoe trips, camping and vendettas from the past. And first kisses. If I’d gone to a camp even remotely like this, I would have learned to like camping.
And then there’s Nimona
The cover looks pretty much like a solid, imaginative fantasy adventure. Which this is: there’s a scientist mastermind, a corrupt government, some shapeshifting, some magic… But this set of panels is my litmus test for whether the combination of fantasy, snark, pop culture humor and weird, skewed warmth, will work for a potential reader.
If you are here for the shapeshifting shark and their developing friendship, you are about to be a huge fan of this entire comic. Trust me.
Looking over these comics, I’m trying to do librarian-style readers’ advisory on myself, and figure out what appeal factors these all have in common. Some commonalities: adventurous women and girls, a generally positive outlook, humor and puns, interesting problem-solving, some tensions and conflicts but nothing too harrowing. And it’s safe to say these will work in a similar sweet spot for fans of Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel.
Here’s what I read in January:
Books (paper and Kindle)
All The Rage by Courtney Summers
Court of Thorns and Roses by Sara J. Maas
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen (short stories)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
In The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Unscripted Joss Byrd by Lygia Day Peñaflor
The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Giant Days #1 by John Allison
Giant Days #2 by John Allison
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
Some number crunching:
Of the 15 books read, 14 were library books from various library systems. Including the audiobooks, which were also re-reads, in a sense. i’d read them, but never listened before. The Jane Yolen short stories were in a book I’d had on my shelf for a while. So the not-buying books is holding.
I read four graphic novels, with nary a superhero to be found. I’m learning that the field of graphic novels encompasses really interesting slice of life, ordinary day stories, told with art and frames, as well as the superhero stuff. Definitely want to keep exploring.
What reading does February hold? I’m not sure where my whims and my library holds queue will take me, but definitely back for more graphic novels.