Book Review: Sparrowhawk, Stage Dreams, The Avant-Guards and Sweet Valley High

Whew. This is going to be a monster review of four different upcoming graphic novels/comic books since I didn’t feel like bombarding everyone with multiple posts!

I read all of these in one day because I was feeling particularly called out by NetGalley’s Reviewathon.

Yes, I have 63 books outstanding on NetGalley.

Shame, shame, yes, yes, I know, I know.

I’m working on it. 37 of the 63 aren’t published yet, so I’m not super behind, thanks to a mass purge I did to clear off some of the books I realized that I wasn’t going to read (damn mood reader self) (also, I feel like another mass purge is coming because there are a couple books that I don’t think I’ll end up reviewing after all—I know, I know, I’ll hit myself with my horsehair whip tonight*).

All of these graphic novels/comics were graciously given to me by the publishers via NetGalley for an honest review.

Sparrowhawk by Delilah S. Dawson


Artemisia belongs nowhere. As the bastard daughter of a naval officer and an enslaved woman, she grew up in England under her hateful stepmother’s wing…neglected, disliked, mistreated. Until her older sister dies and Artemisia finds herself needed again—the only chance to save her father’s reputation. That is, until she reaches out towards a mirror—and is pulled into faerie. Now Artemisia must kill to survive, and to save her world from the Unseelie Queen’s destruction.

This is Alice in Wonderland meets Fight Club, with a biracial Victorian heroine who must kill to survive in fairy, all while trusting a rather untrustworthy guide.

The illustrations are excellent, and I liked the story. It was fast and clean and never super easy for Artemisia, and there were enough twists and turns that it felt predictable but not too predictable.

The world of faerie was weird and bloody, and I liked the correlation between killing in faerie and killing in the real world. Colonization is a theme that is explored to an extent in this book, with white Europeans coming to the Americas without understanding and murdering those they didn’t understand without trying to know their supposed enemy—and also bringing along slaves to do their bidding for them. There is a power imbalance, which is mirrored in faeries as Artemisia gains power and is corrupted by that same power.

I wonder if there’s an issue 6 or not, and where that will go. Will it be a cycle of violence and revenge? Or will mercy somehow win?

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman


New Mexico Territory, 1961. The Ghost Hawk is robbing stage coaches up and down the territory. Half-woman, half-hawk, pure terror. Runaway Grace is escaping conscription into the Confederate Army by fleeing to California when she’s kidnapped by the Ghost Hawk. But the two put their heads together and come up with a plan to steal information from the Confederates to help the Union Army and earn enough cash to buy their dream futures.

This was a delightful and super queer graphic novel!

Grace is a trans woman and Flor is a queer Latinx woman, and both are trying to make their way as best they can. I loved the inclusion of Luis as well, and the illustrations, which reminded me of a children’s picture book (again I need to have better recall on this).

Regardless, it’s super cute and very short. Despite the length, a lot is packed in—fashion, goat ranching, railroads, war, conscription, slavery, a party, riding into the sunset and much more!

Here’s hoping we get a sequel, because I want to know if Flor gets her goats and if Grace gets her chance on the big stage.

If you’re looking for a queer Western, this is the one.

BONUS: historical tidbits on trans history!

The Avant-Guards Vol 1 by Carly Usdin


A group of weirdos forms a basketball team—the first ever NCAA Division IV League—comprised of girls from various arts schools, and tries to recruit Charlie into their midst.

Oh be still my heart!

This was damn adorable. So cute. Much queerness.

Charlie was awesome (although I wished that the army-green jacket and dog tags had meant she was a recently discharged soldier—that would have added some much needed for me nuance because I want to see women vets in everything!). Heartbroken, suffering from anxiety and struggling to get back on her feet after a brutal year at her old school, yet still hopeful for a second chance on the court. Even if she resists. A lot.

Liv was hilarious. A hyper-active Type A driven to excel at everything and I loved her so much. She’s that person who goes big or goes home. The grand gestures and everything were awesome and just so bubbly.

Everyone else on the team was bursting with life, particularly as they stalked Charlie and tried to get her onto the team.

I also loved that this is a graphic novel about women in college sports—queer women and women of color and women of varying religions—and how they come together and are truly nice when competing (although that halftime show was an adorably low blow).

Fans of Check Please! are sure to enjoy this series, too!

Sweet Valley High: Academic All Star by Francine Pascal and Katy Rex


Sweet Valley High is given a modern graphic novel make-over with booksmart Elizabeth and boy crazy Jessica.

Ehhh….so this wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.

Granted, I’m a couple years younger than the Sweet Valley High audience. While I did read the books, I want to say that I read them in fourth grade? Fifth grade? So I was a little younger than the target audience…and I haven’t read them since.

It’s summer and Elizabeth is juggling her volunteer work (so many!) and lifeguarding job and boyfriend, while said boyfriend is getting jealous over the little amount of time Elizabeth has reserved for him.

Meanwhile, Jessica is stuck in summer school at the local college, but is playing it up by pretending to be dating her hot TA. While this has been updated from the original (I can’t remember if she actually dated him or was just pretending), it was still really cringe-worthy in this year of Beyoncé 2019 for a 16-year-old to be dating her adult TA, even if Elizabeth calls out the attraction/potential dating for what it was—super creepy.

In addition to the dating the professor trope, I wasn’t bowled over by the illustrations. It felt very…80s. Which was nostalgic, but was a sharp contrast when they start talking about instagram and snapchat and there are these super dated illustrations. I dunno.

Finally, the nail in the coffin of my dislike were several blatant Mean Girls quotes that weren’t even credited back to Mean Girls!

Mean Girls aside, this entire conversation was eeeek
long sigh in Mean Girls (also, why so pixelated??)

Ultimately, I was not impressed by this—and I had been super excited to see Sweet Valley High updated!

*Kudos to you if you caught that The Scarlet Letter allusion—you read the book!

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Sparrowhawk, Stage Dreams, The Avant-Guards and Sweet Valley High

  1. *jumps up and down* Sweet Valley High was my THING in sixth (ish) grade as well! *does a jig* Man, I never knew it released as a graphic novel version. But you’re right, if I had read it now, it would seem… well not so interesting.

    I LOVED Jess’s steady boyfriend whose name now I can’t remember.

    Loved your review ❤️


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