Here are several YA novels, most of which were pretty good (Pulp was GREAT) if anyone needs to fill a Youths square!
(4 stars) A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1) by Brittany Cavallaro
I was going to wait and review these for the Sherlock Retelling discussion, but then I realized I’ll be out of town for that and I’m terrible about participating in those discussion anyway so instead I’m going to review it now so y’all can read it and discuss it in my place.
“Truth be told, I liked that blurriness. That line where reality and fiction jutted up against each other.”
So this is a Sherlock Holmes retelling set in modern times, where our main character (Charlotte) is a descendant of Sherlock, and is thrown together at prep school with a descendant of Watson (Jamie). Charlotte has many of the same characteristics as Sherlock Holmes, despite being a 17 year old girl in Connecticut — volatile, snarky, drug-addicted and smart as hell. Jamie, despite not growing up with Charlotte, slides easily into her role as number two — well, he’s good at following her around and making excuses for her anyway. His massive crush on her and total inability to get her to listen to him causes complications.
“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was ok with that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart.”
Charlotte and Jamie team up to solve a murder at their prep school — a murder that seems torn directly from a Sherlock Holmes novel. Their banter is fun, even when the stakes are high. Jamie develops a pretty intense crush on Charlotte, but he also cares about her like a true friend. When I finished this one, I was very eager to pick the next one up.
(2 stars) The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes, #2) by Brittany Cavallaro
Unfortunately, the next one was kind of disappointing. In The Last of August, Charlotte and Jamie are at her family home in London. Her uncle has gone missing, although no one will admit that he really is missing. Only Charlotte’s refusal to believe that he would have left her a message using a nickname that she hated gives them a clue something is wrong. That, and Charlotte’s mother is suddenly VERY ill.
In this book, we get a lot more involved with Charlotte’s family and their history with the Moriartys. Not going to go into that too much, because it would spoil some of the plot from the first book. I didn’t like this book as much as the first. Maybe because I don’t have a ton of familiarity with Sherlock Holmes, beyond a few short stories I read for a Victorian lit class 15 years ago, and a lot of reruns of House. But the relationship between Charlotte and her parents and her brother and the Moriartys just sort of wore me out after a while.
“I’m a teenage girl. He is my boy best friend. We would be everything to each other until we couldn’t.”
In addition to a lackluster plot, Jamie is much more lovesick and forlorn in this novel as well, which got old quickly. This book felt much more like fan-fiction than the first one. And I know that really, all of these remixes are fan-fiction . But this particular installment felt a lot more like someone trying to work out tension they perceived Sherlock Holmes and Watson rather than trying to tell an updated story. I didn’t hate it, it was just a little disappointing after the first one. I believe there are two or three more in the series, so hopefully they will pick up after this.
(4 stars) Pulp by Robin Talley
This is another book I read months ago and haven’t gotten around to reviewing, but it was so good!
Pulp tells two stories, alternating between viewpoints and time periods. In 1955, Janet Jones is an 18 year old girl living in Washington, DC during McCarthyism. Surrounded by government employees, including her father, Janet knows she must keep her romantic relationship with her best friend Marie a secret. Sixty years later, Abby Zimet has discovered a genre she never knew existed — 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. With titles like The Third Sex, these books tell the story of women falling in love with other women — although due to era they were written in, they’re usually presented as evil or something terrible happens to them in the end. Abby becomes obsessed with one particular writer, and decides to find out more about her for a school project.
Abby’s story in modern day was very — busy. She has a friend group that’s having trouble, a messed up relationship with an ex, tension with her blended family and more than she can handle at school. So, typical teenager really. What I really loved about this book, though, was the 1950s scenes. Janet Jones is smart and ballsy while also very aware of what the discovery of her sexuality could do to her family. I was on the edge of my seat watching her try to navigate that terrifying world, and eager to see how her story ended up connecting to Abby’s.
(3 stars) The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes
This was a fun read, if a little predictable. It’s definitely a nice little bit of wish fulfillment. Who would not want to team up with a bunch of other badass women and put evil men in their place?
“When a trauma comes from a human hand, it marks you forever. There is a long black road between the assault, revenge, and recovery, and unfortunately, you will walk it alone.”
Thea’s cousin Natalie was murdered, and while Thea knows who did it, the murder got off scot-free. While struggling to move on with her life, Thea receives an invitation from a secret group called the Black Coats — an organization of women who train and fight together to get justice for victims. They call these acts “Balancings”. Thea’s all for it at first, until she starts to get an inkling that something might not be quite right in how targets are being selected, and justice meted out.
“I’ve begun to think that scars can’t be erased with more scars.”
This book reminded me of that Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy movie Wanted — a group taps someone to train them and teach them to exact revenge, and then it turns out said group is using their assassins for their own purposes. The Black Coats is more feminist, and features fewer magic looms, but the main lesson is similar: vigilantism sounds good, but doesn’t necessarily bring justice to those who deserve it, or help those who are suffering.
(4 stars) The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con #2) by Ashley Poston
This book is super cute, just like the first one (Geekerella). It’s a fun follow up, even though bits of it seem a little rehashed. Still, it’s a fun read and if you liked the first book, you’ll likely enjoy this one as well.
“I think sometimes the stories we need are the ones about taking the hobbits to Isengard and dog-human dudes with space heelies and trashy King Arthurs and gay ice-skating animes and Zuko redemption arcs and space princesses with found families and galaxies far, far away. We need those stories, too. Stories that tell us that we can be bold and brash and make mistakes and still come out better on the other side.”
This twist on The Prince and the Pauper introduces us to Imogen Lovelace, fan-girl extraordinaire determined to save her favorite character from being killed off, and Jessica Stone, who plays that character and is SICK OF IT. They, of course, get mistaken for each other. A script gets leaked, and they have to work together to find it while — getting a new perspective on fandom from the other’s point of view.
This is definitely a book about fandom — both the wonderful parts (like the quote above), and the horribly toxic parts (online trolls, people telling Jessica she’s “ruining” their favorite character). Poston does a decent job of showing us both the good side and the bad side, and the story itself is fun to read.