[Book Review] Dead Djinn Universe Series (0.5 & 0.7)

Book Covers for A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Titles: 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo & 0.7 — The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Author: P Djèlí Clark

Genre: fantasy; short stories; steam punk; mystery; historical fiction; novella; sci fi

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

Entries in this series can be read as standalones in any order.

Review: 4 Stars

Around the end of 2020 I was looking for shorter texts to reach my goodreads challenge for the year and I stumbled on P. Djèlí Clark’s work and started reading it all as quick as I could. I am INTO it. In this series, he’s created this very realistic version of 1910’s Cairo with a twist… it’s kinda magical.

In 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, he goes into the background a little, there or magical beings of all sorts in the world, both good and bad, and a group meant to help sort one from the other. This group is the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. In both 0.5 and 0.7, the main characters are investigators in the Ministry and have a mystery to solve that is more than meets the eye.

In 0.5, the lead investigator is a woman, a badass woman who wears trousers and sleek coat and takes no shit from men who are still afraid of women with a brain.

In 0.7, the investigators are men, and work to solve the mystery together (but need help from women all along the way). Along the way, a women’s liberation movement is going on, fighting for women’s rights. It’s pretty cool.

My favorite parts of these stories are how seamless the integration of magic is in the mundane. Every single element has been thought of, but it all feels authentic. I think that’s a major credit to the fact that the author is a historian and does ample research before writing.

There are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to getting into both!

[Book Review] Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover image

Title: Mary Poppins

Author: P. L. Travers

Genre: classics; middle grade; fantasy; fiction; adventure

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

Review: 3 stars

I grew up with this movie but hadn’t read this book until now. Honestly, I was overall pretty disappointed when I finished the book. I legit cried. But then, you ask, why three stars? Because it still had all of the magic and heart of the film.

I wholeheartedly believe the film is better than the source material in this case — I don’t want to start a fight with any purists, but like, Michael’s character alone… and like? Bert! they did my boy DIRTY.

I loved reading about the additional adventures in the book and getting more depth into the Banks family on Cherry-Tree Lane, but overall, I had 25 years of the movie to compare it to, and that won out. (Which I suppose isn’t quite fair.)

Mary is downright mean and not at all caring and loving, except to the twins.

Michael is a spoiled brat in much of the book, and while that could be said for both children in the movie, they learn and grow— in the book, the characters are static. All of them. And then poof, Mary leaves.

My love for the movie will never fade, but I won’t be reading book 2.

[Book Review] The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Authors: Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

Genre: YA; fiction; mystery; horror/ thriller; paranormal fantasy

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Review: 4 stars

As far as mysteries go, this one had me until the end. I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that came about and I was genuinely surprised at some of the more paranormal elements that McLaughlin and Neal incorporated into their storytelling.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery and storytelling overall but some of the writing was clunky. Pieces of the story could have gotten a little more developed (Janine for instance, considering she’s part of the storytelling instrument), but for a debut into YA and into this genre, it was fun.

Rex and Leif are really cute characters. They’re boys going through the heat of summer, puppy love and also a paranormal mystery in an ultra conservative small town where everyone knows everyone. What could go wrong? I love the way the friendship builds and grows over the course of the book too. Their boundaries are tested but in the end, they know they can rely on each other.

As I was reading this, honestly, the townsfolk just gave me the creeps. No small towns for me… thanks Bleak Creek.

[Book Review] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary cover image

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Genre: fiction; historical fiction; mystery; fantasy; contemporary

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Review: 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Sarah Penner’s multi-POV novel even though this is something that usually turns me off when reading. Traditionally, I find them to be annoying and I get lost in the story because I’m trying to keep track of too many plot points. I thought that would be especially true in this because I was going to have to navigate multiple points of view that spanned multiple centuries. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily these perspectives overlapped.

This book was multiple things; a mystery, a woman’s journey to find herself — a few actually, a coming of age, an Indiana Jones-esque quest for the historical truth that is also a Holmesy crime solving novel.

There are three perspectives 1. Nella the 18th century apothecary, 2. Twelve-year-old maid servant Eliza Fanning, and 3. Caroline, a woman alone in London in the 21st century. The way these three perspectives weave together is straight up magical. Where Nella and Eliza come together makes sense — same time line, but the way Penner fits Caroline (200 years later) into the narrative is brilliant.

Each chapter alternates perspective, but the story connects and picks up like they’re all together. London becomes the fourth major character in a way that is so interesting and fantastic. The power of the history, the past, and preservation is a huge component to this story.

All of this story feels like a love letter to the power of women. Their power to persevere. Their power to create. Their power to find, discover, help, save, come together, and their power to destroy. In all story lines, Penner reminds us time and time again that Nella, Eliza, and Caroline have all of these and more in so many ways.

This was my Book of the Month selection, it had a beautiful cover and an interesting tag line, and I’m very glad I selected it.

Love in the Time of Global Warming

Image result for love in the time of global warmingTitle: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling; ya; hero’s journey; adventure; dystopian; lgbt; mythology
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation.  While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.

In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….