Showing posts with label strong female character. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strong female character. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a huge tome of a graphic novel - over five hundred pages, and at that size, probably too long, but in some ways I saw the whole thing as an integrated work - we were meant to suffer through those long years of trying to overcome multiple eating disorders and body image problems, and a significantly shorter graphic novel would have trivialized this.

While I would still argue for something less than five hundred, I wouldn't argue for something dramatically shorter, because it really helps to bond with and empathize with the author as she tells what is a very personal and painful story of desperately trying to cope with a negative body image and the sheer effort required to set things right. We all, as a society, share the responsibility as we should also share the guilt for making women feel ugly and sexually incompetent and for forcing them into doing things no sane person would do were they not constantly bombarded by negative views of the female body.

Everyone who has ever been through a supermarket checkout with their eyes open cannot fail to have seen that on one side women are told via endless trashy magazines that they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed, while on the other side of that confining aisle - the very width of which would make anyone feel corpulent, they are offered glorious candy and sugar-laden sodas to comfort them and help them cope with the negative feelings with which the other side of the aisle has imbued them. This is worse than pornography because it is out there in public, in the face of women and children, every day, every TV show, every commercial, every music video, every trip to the store, every movie you watch, every book you read.

It can come as a surprise to no-one that far too many women end-up in a position like the one Katie Green found herself in: not slim enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Guess what? It's our screwed up misplaced-priority society which is not good enough, and that's why we need stories like this in our face to ensure we never forget what we're doing to women. This and many stories like it need to be required reading. I recommend it unreservedly.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Water Memory by Valérie Vernay, Mathieu Reynès


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

From writer Mathieu Reynès and artist Valérie Vernay, this beautifully illustrated and well-written story of a family curse and how it affects a younger generation is a delight. It begins with a single mom, Caroline, and young daughter, Marion, arriving at a gorgeous clifftop home overlooking the Atlantic off the coast of Brittany in northern France. The home has not been lived in for years, but the two of them soon have it shipshape, and Maron is off exploring.

Marion is a little too adventurous for her own good, and almost drowns when an incoming tide takes her by surprise, but her restless spirit also takes her to the clifftops, where strange carvings exist, and to the lighthouse, just off the coast, which can be visited at low tide, but which is not a welcoming place at all. From her trips and questions she learns of local legends, one of which is very ominous indeed. Something vague and malign, something from the sea, hit the town with a severe storm in 1904, and now it looks like that storm is returning.

The story explores the gorgeous Brittany coast, sea legends, and a curious old lighthouse keeper who seems to be shunned by the entire village. Except for Marion who despite warnings from her mom, senses that this old man is the key to the mystery. Marion is a strong female character, well worth reading of.

Despite being static drawings on paper (or on my screen in this case!) the story is nonetheless creepy, insinuating itself into you like a crawling fog, chilling bones and driving you to follow Marion as she learns the truth about this curse that follows all descendants of this one family name, which must do penance for an ancient evil it perpetrated. The drawings are colorful, beautiful and as captivating as they are varied. I recommend this.


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm in process of moving titles from my 'Novel series' page, which will be retired eventually, to the regular blog page. Here's another trilogy. I'm not normally a fan of YA trilogies, but this one was one of the rare and delightful exceptions I've encountered.

This novel - indeed this entire phenomenon - really needs no introduction, since it's been so immensely successful. The only reason I have it here is that I wanted my own review where I can reference it and know it's here and know what it contains!

Thirteen colonies surround the nation's capital in the country of Panem (read: USA). At some point in the past there was a disaster of some sort, which remains unexplained and somehow these colonies (harking back to the original 13 US colonies) were the result of it. At a point after that, some three-quarters of a century ago, the colonies rebelled against the capital, and were brutally put down, one of them (District 13) being destroyed completely, so we're told.

As a punishment for this rebellion, every year since that war, each district has been required to send two young people between the ages of 12 and 18, as a 'tribute' to the capital, where they compete against each other in a vicious survival game, the last one remaining alive being declared victor and being showered with fame and honors, except of course the 'honor' of remaining in the capital where citizens are spoiled rotten, leading lives of frivolity, extravagance, and hedonism.

If you really look at it, none of this makes any real sense, but if you’re willing to put that behind you then the story gets better! The only thing you can really blame this for is that it lamentably spawned a shit-ton of clones, none of which have ever come close to the standing this one has, and some of which (Veronica Roth I'm looking at you) are closer to a joke than to an intelligent and thoughtful adventure.

Our interest in this story begins in District 12, a coal mining district, where Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who illegally hunts for food with a bow (why is it illegal?), and lives in squalor, poverty and endless hunger with her mother and younger sister Primrose. Her father died in a mining explosion. She often hunts with her close friend Gale, a slightly older guy. This year is the 74th Hunger Games, and each young person is required to put their name in either the boy box or the girl box, so that one of each gender will be selected. At least it’s an equal opportunity system, right? No glass ceilings here!

Candidates can put in extra copies of their name; this garners extra food for their family, but also a greater chance of being selected. A representative from the capital arrives to draw the names, and Katniss is horrified when Primrose's name is pulled out. Katniss, knowing that Prim wouldn’t survive the first five minutes of the contest quickly volunteers in place of her sister. She expects to die, and before she leaves, she begs Gale to take care of her mom and Prim. Given how close Gale and Katniss are supposed to be, and given that Gale has been putting his name into the draw extra times, you would think that he'd immediately volunteer to be her partner, but he does not. I found this rather revealing about what would happen later.

However, we also learn that Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who tossed some bread to a starving Katniss some time before, is all but in love with her, yet he doesn't volunteer either; however, he does get picked as the male candidate, which is an amazing coincidence. Given the potential result of the games that year, it’s also amazing that there never has been a year when all candidates died!

After an all-too-brief goodbye, Katniss and Peeta are forced to board the express train to the capital. Before then, Katniss rails on her mother, who went into shock when her husband died, forcing mothering duties onto Katniss. Now her daughter gets in her face and yells at her, ordering her not to tune out if Katniss dies, because Prim needs her. On the train, the tributes meet Haymitch Abernathy, the victor of the 50th Hunger Games, who is now a professional layabout and a drunk, but he's supposed to be their coach! Katniss is still in a state of shock, but Peeta seems to be 'getting it' and playing the part of a candidate, trying to ingratiate himself with Abernathy and then with the capital populace.

They arrive in the city, overwhelmed by it all. They have a 'style' team assigned individually to each of them, and Katniss bonds quite closely with her team. Her style coach is Cinna who takes her under his wing and tries a very daring approach to their appearance at the opening night - a public exhibition of the twelve teams, viewed by a massive audience, not only in the capital, but also in the districts via public TV screens set up especially for the event.

On a show devoted to the games, each candidate is interviewed by popular TV personality Caesar Flickerman. This is their one big chance to win over the public in the hope of garnering sponsors who can help them during the games by sending in helpful gifts to aid their chosen tribute. These gifts can be food, medicine, or anything else the tribute might need to help them survive and win. The gifts are sent floating down to the tribute on a parachute. Katniss has a hard time adapting to this showmanship, but when Peeta is interviewed, last of all the tributes, he confesses his love for Katniss, and this immediately sets them apart and makes them memorable and popular, as "star-crossed" (and yes that is so overused in novels these days it's nauseating) tragic lovers, one of whom must die, although Katniss thinks he simply said it as a ploy to win sponsors.

Eventually, the games begin. The twelve candidates are arrayed around a giant cornucopia containing supplies and weapons to help the tributes in their respective killing sprees Abernathy has advised Katniss and Peeta to get away from the initial carnage - to not even try to grab anything, but to flee from it and hide. He advised Katniss to play to her strengths, living off the land, staying out of the way as the other tributes whittle each other down. The slaughter is horrific, with almost fifty percent of the tributes dying right there at the start.

Katniss follows Abernathy's advice, but she manages to snag a backpack with some useful things in it, and she gets away and hides out in trees. She uses her hunting skills, and desperately tries to find water to slake her terrible thirst in the hot and dry forest in those first few days. After a day or two, she runs into Rue, a diminutive tribute from District 11, who reminds Katniss of Prim. She takes Rue under her wing, forming an alliance, which would seem to be of benefit only to Rue, yet Katniss learns some useful things from her little partner.

She's disturbed to find that Peeta appears to have formed his own alliance, with a group of tributes from the richer districts, which can afford to specially train their best people for the games, and whose tributes frequently win. But Peeta is playing on Katniss's team, and he gives Katniss and desperately needed break when he actually does have a chance to kill her.

To Katniss's horror, despair, and anger, her little friend Rue is killed with a spear, a death for which Katniss immediately exacts revenge with a knee-jerk loosing of an arrow at Rue's attacker. Things really start to get out of hand as Katniss sings an old nursery rhyme to Rue as she dies, before collecting flowers, and placing them on her chest, laying Rue's hands gently over them. She raises her hand in a signal of respect to District 11, and this signal becomes a rallying call.

As Katniss is beginning to fall into despair over Rue's death, an announcement comes over the speakers which are all over the artificial games arena: there has been a change of rules which now permits any two tributes from the same district to win as a pair. This fires Katniss up to seek out Peeta, and she eventually discovers him badly wounded, and hiding beneath one of his amazingly-painted disguises.

Katniss nurses him back to health, playing the part a girl in love to curry favor with sponsors, and it works. Peeta recovers and they manage to kill the last tribute, remaining as the sole two game winners, but the organizers cruelly change the rule again, trying to force the two of them to battle it out to the bitter end. Katniss rebels against this and she and Peeta agree to swallow the poisonous berries, but the organizers chicken out at this, not daring to have a game with no winner. Katniss and Peeta are declared to be the first joint winners of the games.

Abernathy warns Katniss that she has now painted a target on her back by defying the game organizers in front of the entire Hunger Games audience. So the author achieved a satisfying ending to the first volume, without leaving an unnatural cliff-hanger, and without making the first volume nothing more than a prologue. YA authors could learn a lot from Suzanne_Collins, but she's also now in the unenviable 'Rowling' position of having reached her peak with her first real effort, and seemingly having nowhere to go, but downhill from here! You can't win in this game, can you?!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Last Firewall by William Hertling


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel with some similarities to Brian Falkner's Brain Jack which I reviewed positively in January 2017. Like that novel, it's set in a future where neural implants allow people to access the Internet without a computer in front of them. They can also hook-up directly with others who have implants for everything from business meetings to sexual liaisons.

In this story, there are robots and AIs galore and there is also, predictably, an anti-AI movement which is, predictably knowing humans, becoming violent and polarized. Instead of intelligently addressing the issues, the mob is going after the two young men, Leon and Mike, who have done most to design safety into the systems, but these systems are also policed and designed by the AIs themselves. There;s even at one point a battle bot named Helena, about which I couldn't help but wonder if it was named in honor of the assassin clone in the TV show Orphan Black!

The AIs are now several generations advanced, and the most recent models are considerably smarter than humans. There are flies in this electronic ointment though. Leon and Mike are informed that there have been a significant number of deaths which may or may not be accidental, wherein the victim's brain has overloaded with data and those affected have died. In addition to this, one of the main characters, named Cat, who was an early implant adopter, has found she can control the implants of others.

This shouldn't be possible, but Cat got her experimental implant as a young child, much younger than people typically get them now, and something in her connection works differently. She is unable to have neural net sex like other people are, but she is able to control things which other people cannot. Naturally, she keeps this ability as secret as she can, and initially uses it in a very limited manner, but later she finds herself forced to not only explore, but also to push the envelope of her abilities.

Because AIs and robots do all the work, there is a huge amount of idle time. The author, perhaps wisely, doesn't go into any details as to how this economy is supposed to work, but because of the productivity of the AIs and the robots, we're told, everyone gets a free living. There seems to me to be a flaw in that economy somewhere, but I can't immediately put my finger on it! That aside, in this world, most people simply idle away their days playing games, or watching vids in their brain, or having sex. They can increase their subsistence level income not by doing a job of work, but by pursuing higher education, which is what Cat is doing - or was doing before she had to go on the run for accidentally killing some guys who were beating up on a little sentient robot.

So in this world, no one works, which makes it completely odd later when Cat meets a guy and assesses him as a construction worker, or a robot mechanic. If no one works, how would he be a worker? This part made no sense. Neither did it make sense that she would immediately want to take him to bed. Yes, there can be non-contact sex, but she can't indulge in it. Yet she picks up a complete stranger at a bar for physical sex, and when he tells her he wants to tie her up, she says bring it on? Sorry but no!

He's not talking about virtual tying-up, and there's not a word written here about venereal disease. Perhaps it's perfectly safe in a world which has health nanites (a word which Microsoft Moron wants to turn into 'nannies' LOL!), but not a word is written about that, so in the way this is presented, Cat is depicted as a complete moron. At this point she plummeted from being quite high in my esteem! I can't help but wonder if a female author might have written this differently, but given the shamefully lousy state of YA "literature" these days, maybe she would not.

Fortunately, Cat redeemed herself later in other ways, but this one spot left a sour taste. However, overall the story was very well done - descriptive, but not overly so, revealing, but without info-dumping, entertaining, realistic with its context, and compelling. I had some issues with it and did not appreciate the part at the end where it inexplicably slipped into first person voice. I also had an issue with how the AIs were depicted: essentially they were just like humans which, given what the author had told us, made no sense at all!

Also the author makes the same mistake we see in The Matrix movie and other stories where people "upload" their consciousness onto a network. This is Sole Copy Syndrome or SCS, where a writer seems to think that there can only be one copy, and if a person uploads their consciousness into a system, then it can't also simultaneously reside in their mind! Bullshit! Does the author also think their novel, when they're working on it on the screen, doesn't also exist on the hard drive? Do they think there can be only one copy of the novel so if I'm reading it, then no one else can be reading it because it's been uploaded to my phone? I'm sorry but this is thoughtlessly ignorant.

However, overall, I did like this story and found it to be compelling reading, so with the above caveats in mind, I'm rating it as a worthy read. That said, I will not be pursing this series. I had thought this author might be worth following, but there was a "sneak preview" (so called) of the next volume in the series, and Helena had been so neutered that it was pathetic. The story was far too cute and domesticated to be remotely appealing to me! It felt more like a family sit-com version of the story than an actual sequel. This is why I'm not a fan of series unless they're exceptionally well-done, and they so rarely are. You have my word that I will never write one (unless it's a children's series!). This one volume, though, was worthy!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lise Meitner Pioneer of Nuclear Fission by Janet Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book for young readers. It's clear, concise, informative, and pulls no punches. Lise Meitner was an Austrian who made amazing strides as a woman through a man's world of science and education. She earned herself a doctorate, became a professor, and importantly, was key to understanding the process of nuclear fission in uranium caused by the absorption of a neutron.

Born in Austria, Lise moved to Berlin in Germany to pursue a physics education, and she worked there for thirty years on the forefront of nuclear physics, fighting sexism by means of leading by example, rarely getting the distinction and recognition she earned, sometimes betrayed by those she worked with and trusted, and because she was Jewish, falling afoul of the brain-dead and psychotic Nazis who were destroying their own world-domination plans by chasing-off and killing the very Jewish scientists who could have won the war for them had they been enabled and inclined to do so! Morons.

Lise barely escaped Germany with her life and had to kiss goodbye not only her lab and equipment, but also pretty much everything she owned. First Holland and then Sweden took her in. Of all her calculations, her biggest miscalculation was her failure to move to Britain when she had the chance. World War Two broke out and she was trapped in Sweden for the duration, but she continued her work, her blind pursuit of science inexplicably helping her former colleague Otto Hahn who remained in Germany.

During World War One she had worked as an X-ray technician (pioneering the medical science with her own physics knowledge!), and as a nurse, and was so disturbed by the horrors she experienced there, that in the Second World War, she refused to contribute her expertise to developing the atomic bomb because she hated war so much.

In her later years she finally did receive much of the recognition she had been denied for much of her life, and led a quiet life in science, teaching and continuing her research. She died in 1968 at the ripe old age of nearly ninety! This is a great book for young girls to learn how much they could contribute if they decided to pursue a life in science as Lise Meitner had done.


East of the Sun by Julia Gregson


Rating: WORTHY!

Having just reviewed East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris and liked it, I thought it would be fun to review this one alongside it. Now I've anchored East of the Sun in India, maybe I can read West of the Moon, either by Margi Preus or by Barbara Bickmore, and find where that's set, which would then pinpoint the location of the troll queen's castle in the first novel! LOL!

Well, they said I don't have the stamina for a long novel any more! Pshaw! They laughed at me, but I showed them; then they laughed even harder! Oh well! This one was 587 pages, and for the first 487 it was really quite engrossing and pretty good. It was well-written and told an engaging story. The last one hundred pages though, felt like the author had lost interest and just wanted to get it wrapped up, and so did I somewhat, at that juncture.

This is one reason I'm not a huge fan of long novels or series: it's far too much valuable time invested if the novel goes south! As it happens I'm quite willing to give this particular one a worthy rating because it did entertain me for so long, and the ending wasn't a disaster, it was just dissatisfying and highly predictable.

Viva is a twenty-something girl living in the early inter-war years in England, who decides to return to India, a place she knew vaguely as a child, so she can recover a trunk which her deceased parents left there for her. Why she didn't simply pay to have it shipped is a mystery, especially since she's not well-off enough to pay for her trip! She has to agree to play the role of chaperone in order to have her passage paid. She's to look after two teens: Victoria, who goes by Tor and who was an interesting character for all her flightiness, immaturity and insecurity, and a guy named...Guy, who is a young sociopath.

On the ship Viva and Tor form a little klatch with another young woman named Rose, a rather disappointing character who is going to India to marry her soldier - a man she's met only a couple of times, and who frankly turns out to be a bit of a jerk. The weird thing about him is that he seems like a different character when we first meet him, so his resolving into your typical spoiled, regimented, chauvinistic Edwardian soldier as we read on was something of a shock to me. It's not as much of one though as realizing what women and so-called minorities had to go through back then (and sadly still do).

The truly depressing thing about the "minority" here is that this is their nation and they're actually in the overwhelming majority! The author pulls no punches; we get India, warts and all: the stunning beauty, the scary, the over-heated barren plains and deadly mountains, the ignorance of both the people and of the ruling Brits about this people and their beliefs and realities, the nauseating poverty and sickness, and the huge clash of cultures.

The story follows these three over the next few months as Rose gets married and becomes pregnant, as Tor finally meets a guy and marries him in order to avoid having to return to England, and as Viva inevitably marries the guy we knew she would almost from the moment she met him. The story took rather too long to tell and not have better resolution at the end than it did. I would have liked to have seen Viva do something unusual rather than predictable. I would have liked to have seen Rose take charge, and I would have liked to have seen Guy get his just deserts. None of these things really happened, so in some ways it felt like a long build-up to a finale we never got, but overall I think this is a worthy read. Maybe other readers will find more satisfaction in the ending than I did.


East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really good print book I found in a used bookstore. On the one hand you have to be a bit cynical in this age of writers (YA authors, I'm looking at you!) taking fairy-tales wholesale and rewriting them shoddily for profit, but that said, this author at least chose a fairy-tale that's not been done to death, and is lesser-known than many others. Plus it's illustrated by the author, very nicely, and decently written. This one is based on a Norwegian story of a polar bear who visits an exiled family and tells them it's important that their daughter comes with him for a year and a day (there's always a day isn't there?!). The girl somehow knew the bear had come for her and that she must go. She didn't like the idea, but she knew in her heart it was her duty. We never learn why it is that the bear selects her, though.

The bear takes her miles away to an underground lair where she has every comfort - except for not being with her family, of course. He's kind and attentive and sees that she wants for nothing. Here's where it departs from your usual juvenile fairytale: that first night, and every night thereafter, in her dark room, someone enters, climbs into bed with her and goes to sleep. It's too dark to see who is it and she isn't allowed lights at night. In the morning, the visitor leaves.

After a few months, the girl asks if she can visit her family just for a short while, and the bear agrees, but warns her never to let her mother get her alone and give her advice about her time with the bear. He doesn't explain why this is so, and there's no reason at all that he shouldn't, so this is poorly done, even though it is trope for such tales. The girl visits her family, and of course her mom meets with her alone, and once she learns of the nightly visitor, far from being shocked and lecturing her wayward daughter, she offers her matches and candles so she can light up the night, and identify this visitor. This the girl does, and she discovers it's a handsome prince, of course. He's been cursed by the troll queen, and if he cannot spend a year and a day with a girl, without her discovering his real identity, the he has to marry the troll daughter.

The problem is that now she's discovered his true self, he has fallen afoul of the enchantment, and he's whisked away to the troll princess. Why this is a problem, I don't know, because troll princesses are hot according to Amanda Hocking! The girl refuses to give up on the guy though, and she makes it her mission to find and free him. He's held in a castle that's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but she has no idea how to get there. She makes inquiries and is eventually led to three sisters, each of whom passes her on to the next with a gift which she will need to use at the right time in order to save the guy.

Of course she eventually finds him and frees him, and this is where the story, while predictable in some ways, takes a ninety-degree turn away from trope and cliché which is one of the major reasons why I found this a worthy read. The ending is one I liked precisely because the author (or the original fairy-tale) had the courage to side-step the tedious and go somewhere different. I liked, for the most part, the way this was written. It's very well done except for one or two oddities - such as given how long it takes the girl to find her quarry, how come the troll princes hasn't already married the guy?! But I liked the ending and the overall tone of the novel, so for me it was a worthy read.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know her, but in my opinion, Kate Beasley is a mischievous-looking author, so it was hardly surprising to me that that this came from her keyboard! It's a nicely-written middle-grade novel and is of course about Gertie, who is planning on being the best fifth-grader ever this year. She's well-on-track to kick-start it with her zombie frog, until Mary Sue Spivey shows up as a transfer student. Mary Sue is smart and her father is a movie director who happens to direct movies featuring Jessica Walsh, who is a hero of fifth graders everywhere, so Gertie's plans have to hop-it.

Her phase two decision to become a genius student and thereby overshadow Mary Sue also gets a D. It seems like every plan Gertie comes up with is effortlessly derailed by Mary Sue and now, looming on the horizon, is career day, wherein Mary Sue gets to have her movie director father show up maybe, and Gertie can't even bring her own father because he's gone for two weeks working on an oil-rig out in the ocean. Gertie decides she can handle this alone. She's a big girl now. The problem is that career day doesn't go anything like Gertie planned or even imagined it would, and now Mary Sue is more popular than ever and Gertie is looking more and more like the villain in this little drama they have going. Talking of which, the school play is auditioning next....

The story was a bit of a roller-coaster, and Gertie was in many ways her own worst enemy, but this state of affairs wasn't random. For reasons which go unexplained, Gertie's mom abandoned her and her dad, and married another guy, and Gertie has never come to terms with it. She grew up with her dad, who was absent periodically, and her great Aunt Rae, and an annoying little kid named Audrey who was often parked with Rae when her folks wanted a date night or day (both of which seem to be very often). Gertie doesn't suspect that her 'perfect' nemesis also has personal issues with which she wrestles, too.

Names of characters in my stories are important to me and (as they used to in years gone by) tend to carry a meaning behind the façade, which relates something of the character who carries them. In that context, I have to observe here that the popularity of the name Gertrude - which I personally don't like - fell steadily throughout the twentieth century, becoming very effectively non-existent since the mid-sixties, so why this name was chosen for this character, who I think deserved better, is a mystery explicable it seems to me, only as a rather forlorn attempt at alliteration, but I decided not to fret too much over that any more than I wondered why it was Kate Beasley and not Kat Beasley which to me is a kick-ass name! Not that Kate is awful; I have several nieces named in some variation on 'Kate'.

But I digress! I had some technical issues reading this in Adobe Digital Editions reader. The chapters were slow to load, taking about eighteen seconds for the screen to appear when turning the page to a chapter header, whereas pages with images on them (which often do load slowly in ADE) popped up right away! I don't know what that was all about. The only problem with the images was that some of them were truncated so it was impossible to see all of the image. In contrast, on the Kindle app on my phone, I had no problem with slow screen loading or with seeing the images (although the images were understandably small). The best of all, though, was on the Bluefire Reader app on my iPad, where it was picture (and text) perfect.

I had some minor issues with the writing, too. I felt the story ended a little too abruptly. There never did seem to be any resolution. It felt like it was left hanging a bit. Although the very brief epilogue (which I typically don't read since the epilogue ought to be the last chapter, not some appendix), was unexpectedly interesting, and peculiar in that it didn't wrap-up the story at all. In fact, it seemed like it was actually the prologue (which I don't read either) to another story! I felt that Mary Sue was portrayed as much more of a villain than she actually was, which was misleading given later revelations), but perhaps middle-graders won't be so picky.

Those gripes aside, I really liked the story and the general way in which it was unveiled. I liked the tone and the chapter headers and the excellent gray scale illustrations by Jillian Tamaki (now there's another great name to play with!), and taken overall, I recommend it as a worthy read for its intended age range and perhaps, beyond, too! Go read it if you don't believe me!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel, which I was thrilled to receive as an advance review copy and for which I thank the publisher and author, was very entertaining, despite being told in worst person voice, aka first-person, which is a voice I normally detest. The voice is one of the family patriarch's daughters, a fifteen year old, and it turned out to be a rare case where the author does it well. There are three sisters and three brothers in this strict religious family, under the thumb of the overbearing - some would argue totally psycho - master, aka father, who has written his own addendum to the Bible from which the kids are forced to read each night. Like some deluded Noah, this Dad has convinced his family that they are the only righteous family, perhaps in the world, and that they will all go to Heaven if they follow his teachings. Each sister will become the bride of one of the brothers: Castley will marry Caspar, Delvive will marry one of her triplet siblings named Hannan, and Jerusalem will marry the rather rebellious Mortimer.

Yes dad is sick. So is mom, but in her case it's physical, and she also has deformed legs, because when she fell (or was she pushed?) downstairs, family practice was to avoid doctors and let their god fix broken legs. Predictably, the god failed. Now she can barely move on her own. The kids are hardly any better. At least they can move around freely, and they are forced to attend public school (where they're considered freaks) after an intervention, but other than that, at home they are kept as virtual prisoners - and sometimes literal prisoners. If they misbehave, there is always the drainage ditch with a lockable grill over it, in the woods behind the house. Nearly all of them are intimately familiar with it.

It's predictably Castley who begins to rebel, and the disturbing question becomes: will these kids get out of this alive? Or will they end up 'in Heaven' sooner than they expected? The story is disturbing as we see the children struggle to make sense of life after being thoroughly warped by the very person - their father - whom they ought to be able to trust for guidance and protection.

There are many questions here, not least of which is why the authorities, knowing these kids are at risk having intervened once, do not intervene more. The kids routinely show up at school with bruises and the Cresswell's neighbor (and what's his story? It might surprise you) is keeping a very close eye on them. It beggars belief that things could have become so bad and continued in this way for so long unchecked. It's also a mystery where the kid's names came from given how strict and Biblical this family's patriarch is. Castley? Delvive? Those names are not Biblical! But that aside, Castley's story is moving and worth listening to. She's a smart and strong female character and I enjoyed her story even as it made me cringe and squirm. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel is different! Four women who are going through menopause discover that they've developed super powers! Is it the menopause, or is it the alternative medication they've been taking - all of which comes from the same source? Or is it a combination of both? Or neither?!

This novel was original, gorgeous, and a true joy to read. It's the kind of novel which makes you comfortable with going through all the crappy novels that Amazon unloads cheaply, because you know that if you persevere, you'll find one like this once in a while - a diamond in the rough as they say - and it makes it worth reading the crap just to get to it.

Patricia O'Neill, who is a lifelong friend of the herbalist, Cindy Liu, seems to be growing scales on her skin. Jessica Roark discovers that she can fly - or at least float. Helen Braeburn learns, uncomfortably, that she can create fire - and survive it. Linda Alvarez changes, rather abruptly, into a man - although how that's considered a super-power is a mystery This man does have unusual strength, but what kind of message is this sending - you can only be strong if you're a man?

That's about the only negative thing I have to say about this novel. That should have been re-thought. Aside from that, and other than that it needed a final spell-checker run through before letting it loose on Amazon, I have no complaints at all. Waiting is not spelled "waitign" and every spell-checker knows that! And it should have been "while the early birds were still sleeping", not "before the early birds were still sleeping," but those are all I noticed and they're relatively minor quibbles.

Some might find the build-up a little slow, but for me, the story moved intelligently and at a fair clip - not too fast, not too slow. People behaved like people - not super-heroes(!) and not like dumb movie action "heroes". These girls grew into their powers as you might expect someone would and as we grew to know them. The whole story was smartly plotted and written. I'm fully behind it! If the author wants a beta reader for volume two, I'm right here and available! I recommend this story for originality, freshness, good writing, and realistic female characters (within the super hero context!), who live and breathe. I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while one comes along and I can say, honestly, that it's great work, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan


Title: Strong Female Protagonist
Author: Brennan Lee Mulligan
Publisher: Top Shelf
Rating: WORTHY!

Gorgeously illustrated by Molly Ostertag.

With all I've been saying about strong female protagonists, how could I not want to read this?! It turned out to be everything I hoped for. This is what I'm talking about when I say I want a strong female protagonist. Alison is freaking awesome and it has nothing to do with the fact that she can pretty much kick anyone's ass whom she wants to. Here we have a superhero comic that simultaneously parodies superhero comics and tells an amazingly good superhero story of its own.

Alison Elizabeth Green is MegaGirl in a world where young teens have become superheroes and supervillains. Alison's power is super strength and invulnerability, but she's not even remotely invulnerable to self-doubt and to questioning the whole superhero-supervillain trope, and fretting over her place and power in such a world, nor is she to questioning whether, in the final analysis she, as a hero is really any better or even any different to a villain.

The satire and comedy meld perfectly with the harsh reality of the story told here, and it all combines to make a remarkably good superhero story. I particularly liked the sly comments at bottom of each page which have some trenchant or amusing observation to impart. It’s like the writer is reviewing his own work! On page 52, for example, there's an amusing aside about trashcans. On page 111, there's one about two side characters who appear in just the one panel. Later there's a bizarre one about a soldier trying to get his commanding officer to read his poetry. It goes on for every page and they're hilarious.

We follow Alison through her life - mostly her regular life, but with heroic interludes sprinkled in. Alison came out as a super hero, so she has no secret identity. Everything is out in the open, even her past, which frequently comes back to haunt her. Her relationship with the villains is unusual, too. She's actually friends with one who has given-up his villainy, and with another who has found a rather scary way to make up for her past. That character is known as Feral, and I loved her almost as much as I loved Ali.

I was a bit sorry that they didn’t develop an intimate relationship, but that was another strong point of this novel: she didn't need a relationship precisely because she was a strong character who didn't have to have some partner around to validate her.

And that was another amazing thing about his comic: it didn’t present women as objects to be ogled. All of the characters were ordinary people. There were no pneumatic breasts, no improbably toy-like legs. There was no ridiculously juvenile smart-mouthing and clunky one-liners during fights. The whole thing seemed perfectly real, even as it was obviously fictional.

Little bits here and there didn’t work. For example, the reversed text (white lettering on black background on page 127) doesn't function at all well. It's all but illegible. Curiously, the comment typeface used in this way on page 142 works fine. I think it’s that the 'hand-written' font used for the panels just doesn’t work well in the negative.

Also I don’t get that the coach is talking about a 4th quarter in a soccer game on page 181. Soccer doesn't have quarters unless they really wimp out in high school girls soccer. Who knows, maybe they do. I never played high school girls soccer. I found this - if true - to be a truly sad commentary, though. Here I'm reading about a strong female protagonist and learning that girls might be considered such wimps that they can’t play for 30 or even the regular 45 minutes of soccer each half without taking a break! How ironic is that?

I've recently begin reading a sci-fi novel which features, at one point, a planet which is still undergoing a meteorite bombardment similar to that which Earth underwent in its early history (known as the late heavy bombardment - something for which the young-Earth creationists cannot account!). This is why I think that when I read on page 198 of a meteorological forecast, my brain immediately went to meteors instead of weather! That was a weird moment. I began wondering if the meteor bombardment was what caused the superpowers. Very confusing - and totally wrong!

That weirdness aside, I loved this comic from start to finish in its entirety. It was beautifully written, refreshingly illustrated (props to Molly Ostertag), it was realistic within its framework, even as it poked fun at not only superhero conventions, but also at itself. I highly recommend this comic. You can get a look at some of this story on the website: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier






Title: Magic or Madness
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Razorbill
Rating: WORTHY!

I fell in love with this novel right from the off, which is always a good sign as long as nothing goes south later, and it did not in this case. This is the second of Larbalestier's novels that I've read. The first was How to Ditch Your Fairy, and I rated that one a worthy read also. Is this the start of a relationship?! I have to say that this one was a bit annoying at first because the author/publisher chose to start each chapter with four or five words in a different and largely unintelligible font. There's no reason to annoy your readers like that, especially when you have so many other ways available to annoy and irritate them, but that's Big Publishing™ for you: a law unto itself.

The other thing is that there's this text divider symbol - like a sun with a smiley face in its center - employed in the text which is fine, except that it seems to appear randomly. Normally you'd use something like this to separate text in the same chapter which takes place at a somewhat later time, but in this case, these things seem to appear inexplicably at some indecipherable whim of the author's. Larbalestier seems intent in this novel upon randomly split text with these symbols, and with new chapters without much regard for the flow of what she's writing. I didn't experience this in How to Ditch Your Fairy. So this is slightly odd and somewhat frustrating, but it's not a deal buster for me.

This novel, which is the first in a trilogy (Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, Magic’s Child), is set in Australia, so some of the lingo might be obscure. If you're a Brit, especially one like me with an interest in the Land of Oz, you can understand the bulk of it, but there's a glossary at the end of the novel for anything which proves too odd to guess at. Why the glossary is there rather than at the start is a bit of a mystery, but on to the story. Reason ("Ree") is a young Caucasian/aboriginal girl who has spent nearly all her life on the run with her mother Sarafina.

This precipitates the start of this story where Ree is forced to live with her actual legal guardian (her grandmother) because Sarafina is confined to a psychiatric facility. For her entire life, Ree's had it inculcated in her that her grandmother is an evil witch (not figuratively, but quite literally) who sacrifices animals. Ree is fearful of even talking to or looking at her grandmother Esmeralda (Mere) much less accepting anything from her in the way of food or drink. I didn't buy into this characterization at all. It seemed pretty obvious from the outset that Mere is not the "bad guy" here, and that Sarafina has been less than completely honest with her daughter. Plus: nut-job! (And there's a good reason for that, as Larbalestier reveals towards the end).

As Ree is planning escape routes from the house, much in the same way her mother did at an early age many years before, she encounters her next door neighbor, Tom, who has dreams of becoming a dress designer. Kudos to Larbalestier for not only breaking molds here, but for also not making Tom gay. The two bond quickly, because much in the same way that Ree can read people and situations, and has amazing counting skills, Tom is also gifted in evaluating his surroundings and picturing where people are in them. Whereas Ree sees things in numbers, particularly the Fibonacci numbers (a sequence you may recall from its use in The Da Vinci Code) or even your math class, Tom sees them in geometric shapes, pretty much like the designers of video games do. He pretty much tracks Ree climbing his favorite tree without even opening his eyes. He's really surprised to discover that Ree is much like himself. Yes, it would seem that Tom and Ree are going to be an item, but Larbalestier is smarter than that. At least I think she is!

Larbalestier dug herself into somewhat of a slippery hole by writing this in standard trope YA girl novel format. What’s up with that? Is it illegal to write a novel about a young girl unless it's told from first person PoV? I know it pretty much is in the US, but in Australia, too, they will clap you in irons and put you in the public stocks if you try to tell your story from third person?! No wonder they exported so many convicts to Australia from England. I’ll bet every one of them was a first person perspective novelist! Seriously, because she did this, Larbalestier has to awkwardly step out from that mode of narration into third person to describe Tom's perspective.

This problem is encountered repeatedly throughout this novel, and it's both really annoying and somewhat confusing. It's testimony to how much I liked the novel and especially Ree's strong character that I was willing to put up with this really ham-fisted way of telling this story. It screeched (yes, screeched) at me that I was reading a novel. Buh-bye suspension of disbelief; I think I can see it waving to me from that last bus out of town. Why can authors not divorce themselves from 1PoV for goodness sakes? Every novel does not have to be written that way, not even if it’s a YA novel about a girl, and not even if it’s dystopian! No, honestly! Get a grip authors for goodness sakes! Having got that out of my system, Larbalestier writes pretty well in general, if you can ignore the clunky changes in voice, and there's a lot of much-appreciated humor.

Tom's observation that "Reason did not climb like a girl" is a rather insulting and condescending claim - especially coming via a female writer. I've never know girls to be any different from boys in that regard, especially when they're Ree's age and younger. OTOH, it was Tom observing this, so perhaps we can excuse Larbalestier this time. Again, this is a problem with changing the narration voice repeatedly. That aside, Ree continues to defy not only expectations, but also her grandmother by hardly saying a word to her and by refusing to eat anything in the house. She also builds on her relationship with Tom. They visit a cemetery nearby and she discovers a disturbing trend in her family - the graves are mostly for women, and nearly all of them died young. Those who didn’t die young died in their early forties. Whatever she has, magical or not, it’s apparently some sort of curse! This is important for the ending of the novel.

Ree visits her mom in the hospital, and acting on her rather drugged-addled description finds what appears to be some confirmation, under the floor in the basement, that maybe her mom wasn't telling stretchers about grandma's witching activities and her evil mien. Pursuing her plan to escape, Ree finds a strange-looking key which apparently unlocks the back door, thereby opening up alternate escape routes. Not that she's exactly a prisoner! The problem with this key is that when she finally opens the door, she's not in Kansas, er Sydney, any more. Nope. Inside, looking out the window, it’s a hot Australian day, but using the key to pass through the doorway turns that into a freezing night in New York City! Ree has never seen snow and is at first oblivious to the chilling effect, finding everything odd and fascinating, particularly the snowflakes. It's nothing like the now familiar surroundings of Sydney.

The problem is that very soon, Ree realizes that she's wandered so far from the back door that she can no longer identify her grandmother's house amongst the cookie-cutter residences here. One would think her footprints in the snow would lead her right back there, especially if she's as smart as I’d been led to hope she is, but just as she realizes she's lost, we learn that there's someone in this new world watching her. Someone who's been waiting for Ree, expecting her to show up any time now….

The new character is Julietta, who goes by Jay-Tee, and who "works for" another person with the same abilities as Esmeralda. Even though Jay-Tee isn;t honest with Ree, the two bond, and when Jay-Tee's brother Danny shows up with some interesting news, it looks like Ree has found someone else to bond with, and maybe Tom has, in Jay-Tee. Just when you think this novel is over, with Ree safely home, she discovers something in her bedroom that shakes the delicate foundation she mistakenly thought she had under her feet at last.

I loved this story. I loved finding a resourceful, realistic, interesting, and strong female main character, and especially one who wasn't restricted to being white! I loved that naiveté is not confused with stupidity here. I loved that the novel was not forcibly set in the USA, because you know we can't possibly have an entertaining novel which isn't! I recommend this novel and I look forward to reading the two sequels.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer by Janni Lee Simner





Title: Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer
Author: Janni Lee Simner
Publisher: Cholla Bear Press (website unavaiable)
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This review will be shorter than my usual ones because this is a very short novel, and it's new, so I don't want to give out too many spoilers here. Let's talk about the importance of names and titles! This novel is a classical example of picking the right name for your novel in my opinion. It was originally titled Secret of the Three Treasures, which is very tame. It's almost hard to believe what a quick switcheroo can do, but now we have the magnificent title Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer - can you believe that? I think that's leagues ahead of the original and really catchy. I probably never would have read this had it retained its original name. I'm not one for going on much about covers (unless they really tick me off), because authors typically have little to do with their cover (and all-too-often little to do with their title!), but this cover is also wonderful. It amplifies the title perfectly.

This is yet another novel where I fell so in love with the title that I couldn't not read it! Of course, as I've discovered with other novels, a great title doesn’t guarantee a great read, but I'm always optimistic that a writer who can come up with a title like that can also write a novel like that, and unlike my previous experience with such a title, this novel kept me on-board to the very end.

I did get tripped up by the very first sentence. The author amusingly writes a short paragraph at the start of each chapter in italics, as though Tiernay truly is an adventurer. I loved this, but the very first one confused me. At first I thought it was written badly, but after I’d run it through my mind about four times employing different emphasis, pauses, and speeds, I realized it’s perfectly fine. Maybe it was just me, but I’d be a wee bit worried having a novel, even one with a brilliant title, starting out with a sentence that it takes a reader three or four passes through it before he gets it! Here's the sentence in case you're interested in seeing if you're sharper than I am!

Tiernay west stalked through the forest, silent as the great cats of the African plains, deadly as the fabled Royal Assassins of Arakistan.

Now when I read it, it seems perfectly fine to me. I think it was the juxtaposition of 'forest' and 'plains' which tripped me up initially; then my mind was so focused on that, that I couldn’t grasp the rest of the sentence!

I am so in love with Tiernay Markowitz (from which you know it’s only a short hop to 'West'). She's an admirably feisty and determined young woman. She wants to be an adventurer, and to take after the hero in the novels her dad writes. Not that she sees dad much these days, since he and mom have split up. Now she has to deal with the new man in her mom's life, Greg, who seems like a nice guy, but who doesn’t seem even remotely interested in adventuring; nor does his young son Kevin - at least, not at first. I loved Tiernay's long-suffering mom, too. She was the perfect combination of feistiness herself, and of face-palming patience in the face of her daughter's aggressive self-confidence

Acting on information received (by eavesdropping on a nearby table at the restaurant where they ate lunch), Tiernay learns of treasure! This treasure could even be in her home town. Admirably, she heads to the library and discovers a really interesting book about her ancestors, and what should drop out of the book but a short, handwritten note, which mentions not one, but three treasures! Tiernay is on the job, and next she does some Internet research. Yes! She uses the library and the Internet! She researches. She doesn't have things miraculously drop into her lap (apart from that one note!). She doesn't have magical powers. She isn't 'the chosen one'. She's not part angel, part demon or whatever, she's just a regular ordinary child who refuses to be hobbled by others' perceptions of her age and gender and so becomes extraordinary. In short, she's how every main female character should be. How hard is that? Why can more authors - especially female ones who write about females - not get what Jannie Lee Simner has grasped so firmly in both hands?

Tiernay is the kind of daughter I would have chosen, had I had one to choose. She's smart, fearless, indomitable, and completely adorable. She's not afraid to go out on a limb, even under the derision of others. She's always optimistic, she sticks to her guns (even though she carries none!), and she selflessly plays it out to the end. There's rather more than a handful of YA novelists I could name who could learn how to craft a strong female main character by reading this novel, let me tell you! I recommend this novel without reservation not just for the appropriate age group reader but for anyone who likes a good yarn, and for any writer who wants to know how it should be done.

I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while there comes along a character who has earned the right to be in a trilogy or series, and Tiernay "West" is definitely such a character. I'd like to see more of her. I'd also like to see an adult fiction about the grown-up Tiernay, perhaps where her life didn't quite turn out to be the adventuring existence she had envisioned as a child, where she's in an interesting but relatively mundane job (maybe she's a tour guide, so at least she gets to travel) and then, quite by chance, something pops up on her radar and leads to a rollicking adventure. Yeah. I want to be a beta reader for those stories!