Cherry Pickers by Bonnie Milani

Don’t be put off by the crude sexual pun in the title. If anything, this book focuses on the way in which a young woman comes of age in terms of power, ability, maturity – it’s not really about sexuality. Nor is our heroine here a wussy fainting debutante. To the contrary, this is how she describes her own inability to walk suggestively: “Mah wouldn’t swish even if she could unlimber her spine enough to wiggle. And she’d raised me to survive on Sisyphus. So I could out-march, out-fight, or out-climb anything with fewer than eight legs. But I swished with all the grace of a drunken bug.”

If anything, the sexual exploitation here is of the men. At least the ones with 8 legs….

To set the stage without leaving spoilers, this is a coming of age story about a girl living at a prison for female Terrans on a planet controlled by sentient spider like aliens. The girl, Nikki, is the daughter of the Prison Director. The aliens have a strict matriarchal society ruled by a colony queen and a social construct in which males are used once and eaten. Literally. Ironically, since the planet is named Sisyphus, the spider-like aliens are called Sissies. But trust me – none of the women in this book are sissies!  Consider Nikki’s reaction to her potential cherry picker:  “Jake never moved. Angry as I was, a reluctant part of me admired his courage. The rest of me just wanted to kick his head in.” Had that chapter gone on longer, I suspect she would have!

This is a great story based on strong, pro-active young women.

The Mysterious Package by Christa Nardi and Cassidy Salem

One of the nice things about reading teen/tween books as an adult is getting to BE twelve years old again. This book really did that for me. Clearly, there’s an effort here to recreate an earlier style. One of the characters, cousin Janine, even comments, “So Hannah, all this interest in criminology? Do you see yourself playing Nancy Drew?”  Truthfully, I saw this as less Nancy Drew and more Bobbsey Twins. The sisters, although not twins – darn close. The balanced pair of boy “friends” Dylan and Matt.  Very much in the style of the classic Bobbsey Twins, but with the hipper attitude and willingness to take risks of Trixie Belden.

Christa and Cassidy do an outstanding job of accurately portraying the sibling dynamic. Edgy but not bickering. Supportive but with enough nudges and eye rolling to keep you from reaching for the Pepto:

Hannah: “Now I remember why it’s no fun shopping with you. You take forever to decide.”

Tamar: “And you grab the first thing you see.”

Speaking of eye rolling, there were two scenes where I thought that more eye rolling was actually called for.  Both involved sexist comments made cluelessly by Gramps. When the girls meet the mystery package holder and Gramps shows up late, he comments: “I planned to be here, but got delayed. Grands told me you girls came on your own. I guess it’s a good thing you boys were here, just in case.”  Really? Every teen in that scene should have been rolling their eyes at that comment.  Later on, Gramps comments on the aunt who’s missing the holiday dinner: “I think she works so hard because she’s alone. She needs to get out and find someone new.” Both of these comments made sense for the character. Older men do often believe the outdated stereotypes that girls need boys to protect them, or that a working woman really needs a man. But in contemporary teen lit, those assumptions really need to be challenged by at least a three-character eye roll!

Other than those two off-hand comments by Gramps, this book does a great job of presenting young women as thoughtful and capable. In fact, Gramps even redeems himself toward the end having this insightful conversation with the girls’ dad about Hannah’s interest in solving crimes:

Gramps: “Hannah has natural curiosity and likes to solve puzzles. Criminology might be a good fit for her.”

Dad: “She needs to do something safe.”

Gramps: “No, she needs to do what will make her happy, and be safe doing it. There’s a difference, you know.”

GO GRAMPS!  I think this series has great potential.  Interesting but age appropriate. Clean but not preachy.  Maybe Nancy should start looking over her shoulder?

 

Revenge of Zeeka by Brenda Mohammed

The Revenge of Zeeka was an interesting story. The premise is quite original. The consequences of the Zika virus can indeed be catastrophic. The slide from microcephaly to zombie is believable in an especially sad correlation. So 5 stars for originality and creativity.

The writing was crisp and grammatically clean, although a tad limited in terms of vocabulary. I wondered at several points if this was intended for a teen/pre-teen audience. Still, it was clearly written and free of typos and formatting errors, so 5 stars again for presentation.

Where the work fell short for me was in its claim as a medical thriller. There just wasn’t any science to support the science fiction, nor were there significant details on the medical aspects. If you’re looking for a creative and original zombie fable, you’ll really enjoy this. If you’re expecting a realistic medical thriller a la Robin Cook or Michael Crichton, you probably won’t. I was hoping for a medical thriller so I’m giving this 3 stars for implementation, leaving the book with an overall rating of 4. I’m also giving it the benefit of the doubt and going on to read the next in the series. Maybe the medical details are still to come?

 

Unveiled by A.D. Trosper

This is a fantastic book! If you like fantasy with an afterworld/alternate universe vibe, you’re going to love this.  The main character is saucy and snarky without being rude – a great attitude to pull off.  Her dialogue is entertaining and believable, with comments like “It’s a hospital, Victoria. I think it’s required for their cafeteria workers to go to an anti-culinary school or something.” Or “Honestly, who goes to speak to a strange, black-cloaked man in a cemetery? Yeah I had suggested it, but I didn’t completely lack a sense of self-preservation.”  The male lead is haunted without being sulky and the developing relationship is sweet when it isn’t being snarky. No silly gushy ramblings, and no grossly explicit sex scenes. At the same time, it’s “clean” without being high and mighty. The alternative universe draws from multiple mythologies, combining the concepts of angels and demons with an afterworld in which veils separate various mythological beings into separate spheres of influence, and departed souls are escorted to the ferryman to cross the River Styx.  A really great read that you’ll find hard to put down!