Serena’s Review: “Olivia Twist”

34817232Book: “Olivia Twist” by Lorie Langdon

Publishing Info: Blink/HarperCollins, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Review: I’ve only read the original “Oliver Twist” once and it was quite a while ago, so I was intrigued when I ran across this gender-swapped retelling of the classic tale. However, in the end, I felt a bit misled by the book description and had a few problems with the characterization of our leading lady.

Olivia grew up on the streets and it is only through a chance of luck that she now finds herself leading the life of a society lady. But even here, amidst the gossip and sparkle, she can’t escape her past. Especially when said pasts presents itself polished up in a dashing suit and shooting her wicked grins. Jack MacCarron is more than he seems, and his history with a younger “Oliver” is only the start of what will tie these two’s future together.

What I did enjoy about this book was the writing style and historical setting. I’m particularly prone to enjoying books featuring lords and ladies circulating around ball rooms and snarking wittily at each other. The story was also quite fast paced, jumping into the action mere pages into the story. Olivia and Jack are introduced to each other very quickly, and through some well-placed flashbacks, readers are able to begin putting together their history. What also makes this fun is Olivia’s extra knowledge of their shared past, as she was only known to Jack then as a young boy named Oliver. From what I can remember from the original book, the author also does a good job at tying together the two stories in creative and sometimes unexpected ways.

However, I had a lot of trouble with a few aspects of the book. My biggest problem was not being able to suspend my disbelief about the situation that our two main lead characters find themselves in. Somehow, magically almost, both are raised on the streets but then easily slip into lives as gentry after only a few years. What’s more, they are welcomed in with very little struggle or gossip. Part of my problem with this could be the same fast-paced-ness that I praised above. In the very first chapters we’re introduced to Olivia, a lady now living the life of a society woman. But then in some quick flashbacks, we see the abject poverty and limits of the world she grew up in until she was a pre-teen. And yet, there was no evidence of this in her current manner as a lady.

I don’t want to go all “My Fair Lady” on this, but…really? Not only would I have found Olivia’s story that much more compelling had her arc included more about the ongoing struggles she had to face living this life full of politics and rules, but it was frankly unbelievable to see her navigate the ins and outs of a society that was notorious for confusing and strict rules of conduct. Many other historical fiction works set in this time narrate on and on the challenges that even women who grew up to this life encountered when living life in public society. To simply buy that Olivia, a woman who grew up without an education, without parents, and, what’s more, as a boy, would be able to simply fall into this role was just too much to swallow. The same goes for Jack, to a certain extent, but as the rules are less strict for men of the time, I was able to let this go a bit more.

My second major criticism comes with the first line of the book description and the reality we are given. Right there, in the very first sentence of the summary, we’re told that we’ll be getting a character who is not a damsel in distress. The reality is exactly the opposite. In the first few pages, we get a very unfortunate reference to the “beauty leads to rape” myth when a man instructs a midwife to raise Olivia as a boy since if she turns out to have the looks of her mother, her life will be more rough. That alone is pretty bad. But as the story goes on, Olivia repeatedly makes terrible decisions, finds herself threatened with attack and assault, only to be saved by Jack. This happened repeatedly. Not only do I never appreciate repeated threats of sexual assault as a driving force in any story, but to combine that with the first chapter’s reference to it being at all affected by a woman’s beauty and the fact that we were promised the exact opposite of a damsel in distress in the book summary, makes the whole thing very upsetting.

This all added up to a fairly disappointing read for me. The romance and chemistry between the two leads was charming, and I still enjoyed many aspects of the historical setting. But I couldn’t get past the suspension of disbelief issue or my increasing dismay with regards to the use of assault as a plot point and Olivia’s role as a repeated victim in need of rescue. I do think this book will still appeal to many other readers, perhaps those looking for a bit more of a fluffy romance read, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating 5:  The intriguing concept and strong romantic chemistry weren’t enough to distract me from an unbelievable leading damsel who too often found herself in distress.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Olivia Twist” is a new title and so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “Olivia Twist” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Prince and the Dressmaker”

34506912Book: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang

Publishing Info: First Second, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review: I first want to extend a special thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day! While the hubby and I are pretty low key when it comes to the holiday, I do enjoy the little bits of romance that I see here and there. Given the holiday, it’s an appropriate time for me to talk about one of the cuter romances that I’ve read as of late! Before I saw it on NetGalley, I hadn’t heard of “The Prince and the Dressmaker”, and I requested it on a whim. I sat down one day thinking I’d at least start it, and then ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting.

Jen Wang has created a very gentle and quiet story about friendship and identity with “The Prince and the Dressmaker”. Within it’s pages we meet Frances, a quiet but ambitious dressmaker, and Sebastian, a Belgian Prince who also likes to dress in womens clothing and become Lady Crystallia. While Sebastian’s gender identity is kept vague, I am going to refer to them with they/them pronouns and as gender non-conforming/non-binary. I liked how Frances and Sebastian both interacted with each other and how they found a mutual understanding and respect within their Prince/Dressmaker relationship. Their friendship is sweet and simple, and I loved how it progressed as the story went on. While it did ultimately end in romance (Spoiler alert I guess?), I think that Wang approached it in a way that didn’t feel schmaltzy or in a way that negated the friendly, non romantic intimacy that had existed between the two of them at the start. I also feel that it’s important to have representation of more non-binary and gender non-conforming characters in stories, especially in positive, non-tragic ways, so Sebastian’s story arc was a story that I was happy to see. I will, however, say that as a cis straight woman the lens through which I approached this book and the story it tells is probably not the same as someone who would identify in other ways, and therefore I’m not sure that I can gauge whether or not it’s a good representation.

Frances’ story arc was the weaker of the two character progressions, but I still found it to be one that was engaging. She wants to become a designer, but as a woman (and a lower class one at that) she has very little agency and control over her life. She sees this arrangement with Sebastian as a way to get her work out there, and then finds herself in a place of power that she cannot speak of, lest it betray Sebastian’s secret. I also enjoyed her quiet but strong willed personality. Her strength may not be loud, but it is there nonetheless, and her moments of triumph were undoubtedly satisfying. And I don’t know why it struck me, but I loved that her hair is purple. Her entire character design just struck me as resonant for some reason. Possibly because I, too, like to wear my hair in a side braid and have thick eyebrows. Her expressions and facial designs really get her emotions across, so even though she was a bit more soft spoken I felt like I always knew what she was feeling.

The art, too, was fabulous. It fit the mood of the story well, simplistic and soft but popping off the page. There seemed to be some influence from manga and anime, but Wang also has made a mark of her own with the design. The imagery also harkens back to the time period of the regency (I think?) era. The fashion styles are absolutely gorgeous and delightful, with lots of colors used for Lady Crystallia’s dresses that just made me smile.


Overall, I found “The Prince and the Dressmaker” to be a calm and charming story with a complex and heartfelt relationship at the heart of it. If you are looking for something to read this Valentine’s Day, seek this one out.

Rating 8: A gentle and sweet graphic novel about identity and friendship. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the depiction of non-binary gender identity, the story had complex and likable characters and a lovely central relationship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Prince and the Dressmaker” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”.

Find “The Prince and the Dressmaker” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Conspiracy in Belgravia”

33835806Book: “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Penguin Group, September 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women”

Review:  So this is the book that I bought when I was only halfway through the first one. That’s how much I was loving what Thomas was laying down in her re-imaging of Sherlock Holmes as a young, “fallen” woman named Charlotte. With this method, I was able to put down the first book and immediately pick up the next, and I think this worked in the books’ favor, though, let’s be real, I would have loved it in whatever manner I had gotten to reading it in.

The story picks up almost immediately after the events of “A Study in Scarlet Women.” Charlotte Holmes is still very much just figuring out what her new life will be like living the charade of marketing her services through her fictionalized ailing brother, “Sherlock.” Of course, there are those who know the truth.

Mrs. Watson, Charlotte’s business partner and roommate. Livia, her sister who remains stuck in their unhappy childhood home and whom Charlotte dreams of rescuing one day through her own financial independence. Inspector Treadles, the police detective who worked with her on her first case, and is less than enthused by the fact that the “man” he had esteemed for so long turned out to be a woman, and that, through this revelation, he’s had to confront the reality that his own wife might also be more than she seems. And, of course, Lord Ingram, Charlotte’s childhood compatriot with whom she has a challenging relationship, due to his unfortunate marriage.

This story takes this already large cast of characters and blows it up even further. Most importantly, Lord Bankcroft, the Mycroft of this world and Lord Ingram’s brother, makes an appearance. In the first book we learned that he had made an offer of marriage to Charlotte in the past. And here, we see that he is just as determined, regardless of her role as “Sherlock.” In fact, as an incentive to her consideration, he provides her with several puzzles from his own work in the field of secrets and mysteries. And of course, one turns out to be more than it had seemed. On top of this, Charlotte has a new client: Lady Ingram.

I’m already halfway through a typical word count for these reviews, and I’ve just finished laying out the bare bones of all that goes on in this story. Not only is the mystery just as compelling and complicated as the first, requiring me to again page back and forth a few times to keep track of things, but the interweavings of all of the characters’ relationships and interactions became even more complicated.

I loved that we got to meet Bankcroft in this book and explore the role that he plays in this world. He also provides a legitimate temptation to Charlotte, offering her a doorway back into “acceptable society.” Even one that could offer her some of the same mental challenges that she enjoys in her current position. Through these interactions and her tackling of this case, Charlotte really has to confront what she expects and wants from her life. It’s not as simple as it could be, either, as Charlotte is not simply thinking of herself, but of her two sisters who are languishing in the unhappy and neglectful home of their parents, and who depend on her for any hope of future freedom.

I also enjoyed the continuing expansion of Charlotte’s skillset. As I said in the first review, I appreciated the fact that this version of Sherlock doesn’t come with all of his/her skills already in place. Too often versions of Sherlock seem so over-powered with their supreme abilities in literally everything that they become practically unbelievable. Charlotte is brilliant, but she still has much to learn. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of self-defense lessons taught by none other than Mrs. Watson herself, who, living a life as an actress in the more seedy parts of the world, has a firm foundation under her belt in this area. Charlotte also begins exploring the world of lock-picking and disguise, two other typical areas of expertise for a Sherlock character.

The mystery was also particularly intriguing. As I said, it was just as complicated as the first, something that I find incredibly satisfying. But because we are getting at these mysteries through more personal connections to Charlotte and those around her, I felt that it was even stronger. The mystery she stumbles upon through Mycroft’s work obviously ties into her interactions and future with him. And the mystery brought to her by Lady Ingram clearly affects her tenuous relationship with Lord Ingram. How can she maintain her friendship and loyalty to one while respecting the secrecy of a woman who has come to “Sherlock,” a man wholly unconnected with her husband?

Obviously this is further complicated by the underlying tremors of romantic feelings that exist between Lord Ingram and Charlotte. This aspect of the story is still gradually building, and as a fan of slow-burn relationships, I have loved this part of the story. The author doesn’t hand-wave away the fact that he is married and has children. He chose his wife completely on his own, and he loves his children, regardless of his failed marriage. The realities of these things are solid and not to be easily done away with simply due to his complicated feelings for Charlotte. I love how the author has handled this so far, and that gives me full faith to trust where she is leading readers in future books.

This is going to go down as yet another book that I’ve read recently that is even better than the first. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, particularly re-imaginings of the classic character, than this is a must for your next read! I’ve now become quite spoiled, reading both books back to back, so the wait for the next book, due to come out sometime this year, looks like it will be quite tortuous.

Rating 9: Fantastic! Both this, and the first one, are early runners for my “Best of 2018” list already!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Conspiracy in Belgravia” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “Regency and Victorian Mysteries.”

Find “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” at your library using WorldCat!



Serena’s Review: “A Study in Scarlet Women”

28588390Book: “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, October 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Christmas present from Kate!

Book Description: With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Review: While this has been on my TBR list for QUITE a while, I’ve also been incredibly nervous by the entire concept. I mean, let’s be honest, their is definitely “Sherlock exhaustion” in the air. I can think of several adaptations that came out in the last few years off the top of my head, all with “new” twists on the character. Many of these “new” twists are all very similar and have something to do with a female Sherlock, either a modern relation of him, or a modern relation of Watson who is a young woman, something! So, on the face of things, this book falls solidly in the same category. However, it has also been hugely popular and several reviewers whom I trust raved about it. But the credit in this case for me finally getting to reading it goes to Kate for getting it for me for Christmas. And man, suddenly all of my seemingly good reasons for being hesitant about this read went immediately out the window!

As stated, this is yet another re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. In this version, Charlotte Holmes takes on the role of the brilliant detective, and the surrounding classic characters all get a revamp too. We have a newly imagined Watson, a new take on Mrs. Hudson, and a few references to the Myrcroft of this world. What’s particularly brilliant about them all is how much license the author gave herself to completely re-think these characters, their histories, and their relationships to each other. All too often, “unique” retellings only switch one basic fact and then try to simply re-tell the same story. Like, let’s just make Sherlock a woman, but change nothing else about the character, regardless of the massive impact that this one change would have on everything else. In a case like this, that change makes all the difference, given the very different worlds that men and women inhabited at this time. Often, this leaves these retellings feeling not only hollow, but anachronistic.

But Thomas takes it a step further: not only is Charolette a woman, but she is a woman who, while just as brilliant as Sherlock, is also distinctly her own person. We would expect a female Sherlock (indeed, we’ve seen this play out many times before) to be described as a thin, willowy woman, not only in an attempt to mimic the original character’s height and thinness, but because when wasn’t the young female lead thin and willowy? (but of course she’s insecure about it…) Charlotte is none of these things. A large focus of her day is spent thinking about food, and she has a strict number of chins that she’s decided are allowable before she much cut back. She’s blonde, cherubic, and society regularly uses the word “darling” to describe her. So right off the bat, this is a welcome change! At one point in the story, one character says something along the lines that it is God’s little joke that the most brilliant mind is housed in a body least likely to be suspected of having it. It’s awesome.

Further, Charlotte is written as a believable young woman would be, brilliant mind aside. Her intelligence is on display at all times (particularly her insights into people’s minds based on their clothes choices, as garish fashion is another of her pet loves), but she’s also a young woman who has been raised as a member of the gentry. She’s not automatically amazing at everything (a trope that is far too common for almost all Sherlock iterations nowadays). There are people in her life whom she respects who share with her these skill sets. I loved this attention to realism, and it helped make Charlotte feel like a more believable young woman. And it’s great fun to watch her build towards the “woman of all trades” that she will ultimately become.

Beyond Charlotte, the other characters were exceptional. As I said, their relationships with her and their own personal histories are much changed from the original, but somehow Thomas manages to perfectly capture the essence of each and re-create the roles they play in Charlotte’s story. There are little clues scattered throughout that were immensely fun to put together with my knowledge of the originals.

Further, Thomas introduces new characters, most notably, a beloved sister for Charlotte, Livia. Through Livia, we get an insight into Charlotte’s childhood and family life. Livia, too, serves the purpose of humanizing Charlotte. This was another aspect of this take on Sherlock Holmes that I loved. All too often, because he is brilliant, he’s simply allowed to treat others terribly and it seems as if he truly doesn’t care for anyone around him. Livia impresses upon Charlotte how important it is to learn how to function socially, and we never question Charlotte’s humanity due to her unfailing love for her sisters, particularly Livia.

All of this and I haven’t even covered the mystery! I can barely even sum it up, because, man, it was complicated. And this is one of the biggest compliments I can give it! I love mysteries that are challenging for the reader, and I loved piecing it all together after the reveals towards the end. But I can also see how this might be a turnoff for readers who don’t particularly enjoy mysteries. As I said, this one is pretty complicated, and with the huge cast of characters/suspects, I had to page back and forth a few times to make sure I was keeping track of everything. I didn’t mind this, but it may prove frustrating for other readers.

Beyond all of this, I loved the exploration of what it meant to be a woman in this time, and the underlying feminism at the heart of the story. Never does it bash you over the head, but instead, meticulously, carefully, and graciously, it lays out the case that women are just people, people who have their own thoughts, desires, ambitions, and loves. None of this taking away from the men around them, but simply existing alongside them. There was one scene, in particular, between Inspector Treadles (Charlotte/Sherlock’s connection in the police force) and his wife that really strikes upon this fact. Mrs. Watson, too, was a lovely force of will in this way. And, obviously, Charlotte herself who was ever practical about the limitations of her sex and how best to manage them towards her own goals.

I really could just rave about this book forever, but I’ll cut myself off here. I literally stopped reading about halfway through and ordered the sequel, so expect to see a review for that up soon!

Rating 9: A pure delight! THIS is the Sherlock Holmes re-imagining that I’ve been waiting for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Study in Scarlet Women” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Victorian/Regency Female Sleuths/Mysteries” and “Reimagined.”

Find “A Study in Scarlet Women” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion”

34690764Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Bombshells battle new enemies showing up out of the woodwork… and a Bombshell we haven’t seen since the Battle of Berlin shows up to help!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 5. Collects #26-29 and the DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS ANNUAL #1.

Review: Ever since I discovered the “DC Bombshells” series, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Far too often do I find a comic series that I love, and inevitably have to have that moment of ‘oh, that was kind of lame’. It happens for most series and it’s by no means a bad thing! Sometimes there will be volumes that feel out of step with the others, and I’ve come to expect it and by no means hold it against the series as a whole. But for five volumes running, “DC Bombshells” hasn’t lost it’s step or it’s groove, and now we are at “The Death of Illusion” and I am STILL thrilled with almost everything about it as a whole.

We are now at the point where we can’t cover all of the characters in each volume, as there are too many and the cast is ever expanding. So while Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Renee Montoya, and the Gotham Batgirls sat this one out for the most part (more on that in a bit), we refocussed on a few familiar faces who had been away, some for a long time. Most importantly to me, we see the returns of Ivy and Harley, who are now an established lesbian power couple and leaving Atlantis to try and stop a famine in Russia, as Ivy plans to grow food for them. I already have to gush and geek out about this. I LOVE that in these stories, there is just as much creation as there is destruction. The women in this series are not only fighting to save the world, they are also trying to nurture the world back to life. It’s lovely and positive and a testament to the power of ladyfriends! With this plot line we get to see the less talked about ravages of war, specifically the starvation in Leningrad.

We also get the return of Supergirl, which was both excellent and bittersweet. Kara is still very much in mourning over her sister Stargirl, and she and Steve Trevor find themselves in the clutches of Doctor Hugo Strange. Supergirl teams up with Lois Lane, who has her own reasons for wanting to take revenge on Strange, and they both have to face their pasts and those that they are mourning if they hope to defeat this madman who has violated them both in various ways. I liked that Kara’s trauma regarding Kortni dying is still very present, as it shows that she is very much human as well as Kryptonian. With war comes loss and with loss comes grief, and I love that Bennett is showing that these costs take great tolls, even on the strongest of us all. And along with this plotline comes the first of the two debuts that made me freak out. I don’t really want to spoil it here, because it was a gasp worthy reveal, but…… OKAY FINE,


SUPERMAN IS HERE, GUYS!! SUPERMAN IS HERE!!! But worry not, because while he has made his debut, much like Arthur Curry he does not step on any toes while doing so. While I’m sure it’s tempting to make him the focus, as he is, after all, the iconic Superman, this is still very much more Kara’s story than his, and he is staying in his lane as of right now.

Our universe expands again in this volume, as we go back to see Amanda Waller, who is one of the leaders of the Bombshells. She is tracking down a reclusive figure, a French woman who was a flying ace during WWI, but then disappeared into the swamps of Louisiana after her lover Luc vanished and was presumed dead. She hires Frankie Charles to go and find this strange woman. And who, is this strange woman?

Guys. Batgirl has arrived.


And not only is she here, but her storyline opens up a whole new set of possibilities involving her, Waller, Frankie, and The Suicide Squad. That’s right, WE ARE GETTING THE SUICIDE SQUAD!!!!!! I was admittedly hoping a bit for Secret Six (if Scandal Savage ended up in these pages I would absolutely DIE), but this is also excellent.

So yes, the shoe has not dropped yet and “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death Illusion” has only upped the stakes when it comes to this series. It’s flying so high, and while I’m still terrified that it’s going to come crashing down, it has yet to do so. It oozes positivity and girl power, and it continues to be one of the most empowering and fun comics out there.

Rating 9: With the returns of Supergirl, Ivy, and Harley, along with the debuts of some familiar faces, “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” continues the streak of excellence.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” is fairly newish and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would be good on “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Hippopotamus Pool”

126730Book: “The Hippopotamus Pool” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, June 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: A masked stranger offers to reveal an Egyptian queen’s last tomb… and Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archaeologist husband are intrigued, to say the least. When the guide mysteriously disappears before he tells his secret, the Emersons sail to Thebes to follow his trail, helped – and hampered – by their teenaged son, Ramses, and beautiful ward, Nefret. Before the sands of time shift very far, all will be risking their lives foiling murderers, kidnappers, grave robbers, and ancient curses. And the Hippopotamus Pool? It’s a legend of war and wits that Amelia is translating, one that alerts her to a hippo of a different type – a nefarious, overweight art dealer who may become her next archenemy!

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.”

Review: This is the most privileged-person reading problem ever: how do I continue to find creative ways of praising these books and this author without just sinking into repetitive gushing?? It’s problem, people.

Let’s just say that the strengths of this series are just as present in this book as they have been in the many before it. Amelia is ever the entertaining heroine (I’ve been listening to the audiobook version for the past several books, and it’s almost impossible now to separate the Amelia of the page and the Amelia that is brought to life with Barbara Rosenblatt’s expert and canny reading of her). Emerson, an excellent romantic hero, foibles and all.  A mystery, complicated and full of new suspects. Villains, some old and some new.

But I will focus on a few of the newer bits of this story. For one, while there is comfort in the stability of Amelia, Emerson, and their relationship, it’s a nice balance to have it contrasted with the ever-evolving lives of their children. Ramses and Nefret are now teenagers, Ramses on the young teen side and Nefret right smack in the middle, an especially complicated age for a young woman of fortune.

For his part, Ramses is beginning to evolve his relationship from child-with-adults to putting out feelers establishing himself as an independent entity. His changing relationship with his parents is perfectly illustrated in small changes (calling them “mother and father” rather than “mama and papa”). But also comes into play in larger ways as he pushes for independence and respect. However, Ramses’s relationship with them is firmly bound in familial love and respect. So these struggles often present themselves instead in strained interactions with his “sister” Nefret.

The two are at a perfect point for frustration. Sixteen and fourteen are around the exact ages when two years represents a world of difference and both the older and younger sibling struggle. In this case, it is all the more challenging in the fact that while Nefret has been adopted by the Emersons, she is not their natural born daughter.

Peters strikes the perfect balance in this sibling relationship. They bicker and argue like all the best siblings, but there is also a clear underlying tension in the knowledge of their non-typical family relationship. Further, Nefret is still adjusting to life in British Society, with all of the ridiculous rules and impositions that come with it. Yes, she’s growing up with a “mother” who shirks much of this (lucky for Nefret!),  but society itself has a way of pushing back, this time in the form of “suitors.”

I particularly loved Amelia’s attempts to parent a young daughter. She went from having one child, a very non-typical boy, at that. To having a pre-teen daughter who came with the added complications of being smart, headstrong, beautiful, and an heiress. But like anything, Amelia is up to the task. Theirs is a very nice example of female relationships, both maternal and friendly.

As I said, most of these stories come with the addition of new characters and you never quite know which ones are “one offs” or which are there to stay. We had Nefret introduced recently, but Peters wasn’t done there! Here we have the addition of David, a young boy (around Ramses’s age) who is loosely related to Abdullah, but through various mishaps has lead a life estranged from his family and raised to a life of crime. This will not do, of course! Particularly since Ramses forms a close, brotherly bond with David throughout this book. I feel confident that David is a character that is here to stay, and I’m excited to see what role he falls into in this strange family.

Beyond characters, this story is one of the first in a while to truly delve into a major dig, this time with the discovery of a queen’s tomb. While Egyptology is always important to these stories, there are varying degrees in each. I very much enjoyed having another mystery focused so closely on a dig.

Lastly, this book tackles some difficult topics with the sudden death of Evelyn and Walter’s infant child. Through Amelia’s eyes we see Evelyn’s struggle with this loss, the strain that is put on her and Walter’s marriage, and the process of living through grief. This also leads to Evelyn and Walter playing a much larger role in this book than they have for quite a long time. While the reason was tragic, I loved having these two characters back in a book. Evelyn especially. Not only does Amelia’s relationship with her lead to a deeper exploration of loss and depression, but Evelyn also rises through it into a role that was surprising and fun to read. Walter, on the other hand, had moments where I wanted to slap him upside his head. I can’t quite remember whether he always had some of the tendencies he put on display in this book, or whether this is evidence of Peters evolving his character over time and through experience. Don’t get he wrong, however, I still finished the book enjoying his character.

Well, hopefully I managed to cover some new ground in my praise of this book! But really, I’ll take the challenge of tricky reviews for the assurance of enjoyable novels any day. For fans of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, this is yet another to check out!

Rating 8: Yet another excellent story. This one tackles some tough issues, but handles them well and introduces another (hopefully!) main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hippopotamus Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Archaeology Novels.”

Find “The Hippopotamus Pool” at your library using WorldCat.



Serena’s Review: “All the Crooked Saints”

30025336Book:  “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Review: I have been a fan of Stiefvater for a while now. I have  distinct memory of picking up “Shiver” like ten years ago before she was a big name in the YA community and very much enjoying it. But what makes her special, in opinion, is the way she has grown as an author in the year’s between. Every book I’ve read by her seems to be better than the last: the plotting more meticulous, the characters more fleshed out, and, most importantly, the lyrical, poetic style of her writing more beautiful and heartbreaking than ever before. All of this remains true for her latest novel “All the Crooked Saints.”

When Pete wanders into the Bicho Raro ranch, he’s only there to work off the price of a box truck that he hopes to use to start a moving business. He’s heard something about miracles, owls, and saints on his way, but not until he arrives does he fully understand. Now, surrounded by pilgrims whose miracles were not what they expected, Pete finds himself becoming entranced by the entire Soria family, but particularly the “emotionless” Beatriz.

While I have framed my summary around Pete, there is no one character who serves as a central point for the story, truly. Perhaps the Soria family as a whole? Throughout what is really a very small book, I found myself sinking down deeply into this strange family, their history, and the beautiful imagery and philosophy behind what constitutes a miracle. We learn bits about every one of the Soria family, their hopes, their fears, what has them, like the pilgrims around them, seemingly stuck with their first miracle, unsure how to move forward.

Stiefvater’s creativity is boundless. The entire concept is beautiful and terrifying, terrifyingly beautiful, just like the stark desert in which the story takes place. The miracles that the pilgrims experience are surprising and new: twin sisters caught in a tangle of snakes, a man who is growing moss, a woman covered in butterflies whose own personal cloud dumps rain on her head constantly. What makes this all the more special is that we can see how these miracles (lessons) connect to the darkness each of these characters are walking through, but none of them are too on the nose or expected. It would have been very easy for this idea to slip into the trite.

Beyond this, the characters are all gloriously complicated, damaged, and lovely. It’s a true testament of skill to not only work in a complicated magic system, fill the pages with beautiful prose that speaks to complicated philosophies and theologies, as well as create a large cast of characters that all have their own distinct story and appeal, all within such a short page count.

Pete, hard-working, but feeling betrayed by a heart to weak to allow him to serve his country in the military, like his family before him. Beatriz, too comfortable with her own lack of emotions. Joaguin, with dreams of being bigger than his little life on the ranch, feeling the judgement of a family who may deem him frivolous. And Daniel, the current Saint, whose parents died due to their darkness and by breaking the taboo to help the pilgrims who visit them. And while these are our “main” characters, the generation of Sorias before them, too, get their own snips of chapters and histories, loves and heartbreaks.

Throughout this all Stiefvater delves into the meaning of family, questions what makes up love, and explores the courage and fear that comes with recognizing what is dark within ourselves. And, importantly, how necessary this process is, for everyone.

I feel like this review may have been all over the place, but I truly don’t know how to best portray the beauty that was this story. Thinking back on it, I mostly see images: barren, but vivid landscapes of the desert, owls grouped on a porch, strange beings wandering among scattered out-buildings, and a family, gathered closely together, but somehow apart and drifting alone. If you’ve read any of Stiefvater’s work in the past, this will all make more sense to you, knowing her skill and particular style of writing. And if you haven’t, this is an excellent place to start, as a stand-alone book that perfectly illustrates all the gifts Stiefvater has to offer.

Rating 9: Vivid and gorgeously rendered, but challenging readers to look deeper within themselves and wonder “What would my miracle look like?”

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Crooked Saints” is fairly new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.”

Find “All the Crooked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!