Series Review: CJ's Notebooks by Sherwood Smith
It will come as no surprise to anyone when I say that Sherwood Smith is one of my all-time favorite authors (I certainly should about Inda a lot on our Twitter) but what might surprise you is the fact that up until a few weeks ago, I actually had only read a handful of books in her long bibliography. Luckily, that meant I had a lot of new (to me) books to keep me occupied when I caught Covid in early July.
I didn't have the brain fog preventing reading that some people experience, but I wasn't feeling up to reading anything too complex so I decided to read Smith's young adult Sartorias-deles books, starting with the series CJ's Notebooks. For those of you unfamiliar with the works of Sherwood Smith, most of her novels take place in a world called Sartorias-deles. CJ's Notebooks (of which 1, 2, 4, and 6 are published and available through Amazon or Book View Cafe) follow CJ, a girl from 1960s Earth who is brought to Sartorias-deles by the girl queen Clair, and the adventures she shares with Clair and the gang of girls she befriends in the small countrie of Mearsies Heili.
These books were all first written when Sherwood was a teen, and it does show. The girls spend a lot of time slinging insults (in a very particular format they call "pocalubes") at the villains and saving the day by throwing gross pies at them. It was the kind of thing that I probably would have really loved to read about as an early teen, but I sometimes found it a little tiresome as an adult. I also found it hard to keep track of who was who in the group of girls that CJ joins (with the exception of the queen Clair and CJ herself) but for the most part it didn't really matter if I got Dhana mixed up with Diana or forgot what distinguished Faline from Irenne.
One thing that did genuinely confuse me (and I spent a lot of time texting Lilly about): one of the villains is named one way (Shnit Sonscarna) in the books to start, is suddenly is called Wan-Edhe throughout another book, and then goes back to being Shnit Sonscarna in a later book. It took me a while (and reading more Sartorias-deles books outside of CJ's Notebooks) to figure out that Wan-Edhe is a title that everyone uses because they're too afraid to call him by his name. Lilly got a lot of updates from me going: "okay, he's Shnit in this book!" and then "no wait, in this next book he's back to being called Wan-Edhe!"
The first two "notebooks" have much lower stakes, but as the series progresses CJ finds herself in high-stakes situations where she is in serious danger and her actions have real consequences. Overall, although these aren't my favorite of Smith's books (that's still the Inda series!) I really enjoyed reading these notebooks. CJ does eventually start maturing (a little bit) and the pocalubes stop taking up so much of the word count. While you don't have to read CJ's Notebooks to enjoy Smith's more mature writing set in Sartorias-deles, they do give you background and context for characters you meet in later books in that world. I'm genuinely bummed that we're missing books 3 and 5 (they remain unpublished at this time) because I want to know more about the adventures that CJ and the gang get up to and the people they meet in them.
If you're in the mood for light-hearted young adult adventure set in a larger world and series, CJ's Notebooks are worth checking out.
Over the Sea: CJ's First Notebook
Mearsies Heili Bounces Back: CJ's Second Notebook
Poor World: CJ's Fourth Notebook
Hunt Across Worlds: CJ's Sixth Notebook