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Newsletter #113 March May, 2016

Recommendations
by Elizabeth LaVelle

        Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is definitely NOT your average summer camp, as teens Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley learn in Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy ($14.99 trade pb, ages 10 and up, full color graphic novel). One night, when they spot a woman who turns into a bear, they sneak out of their cabin and follow her into the woods, only to find themselves doing battle with a pack of 3-eyed foxes. Their counselor Jen catches them on their way back into camp, but the disciplinary meeting with camp director Rosie takes an odd turn: instead of calling their parents, she listens to their story, then tells the girls they'll see stuff they might not understand this summer, but that they're tough enough, and they should stick together no matter what. Good advice, because the next day finds them facing a river monster, navigating the traps in a hidden cave by solving a series of puzzles, and more. But can they elude the over-protective Jen long enough to accomplish what they need to? The fun continues in Lumberjanes Volume 2: Friendship to the Max ($14.99), as they deal with more mysterious goings-on and supernatural hijinks. Whether they're following a plan or dealing with unexpected events on the fly, the girls stick together. It's fun to see how their different skills - math, verbal, feats of strength and athleticism, and sheer derring-do - all come into play as they face each new challenge. Fortunately for Jen's peace of mind, when she expresses her uncertainty about her work at the camp, Rosie assures her that the girls don't need Jen to punch a bear - they handle that just fine on their own - they need someone smart and practical to keep them from getting in over their heads. (When Jen says that's OK, but sounds dull, Rosie suggests studying martial arts.) From that point on, Jen is in on the action, and finds her own particular ways to contribute. These graphic novels are packed with action, surprises, humor, and smart, strong women, and I'm really looking forward to Lumberjanes Volume 3 ($14.99, expected in early April).

        Amy Stewart's Girl Waits with Gun ($27.00 hc, $14.95 trade pb expected in May) is fiction based on historical events. New Jersey, 1914: The Kopp women - 35-year-old Constance, tall and formidable, 31-year-old Norma, short, stocky and sour-tempered, and 16-year-old Fleurette, petite, sheltered, and excitable - are headed into town to run errands when their buggy is smashed by a motor car. With plenty of witnesses and no doubt as to blame (although the driver and his ruffian friends claim the Kopp's horse was responsible), Constance demands the man's name and address so she can send him an invoice for the repairs. The driver, Henry Kaufman, runs his family's silk-dyeing factory in town, so when she receives no reply to her letter requesting repayment, Constance heads to the factory to confront him. He refuses to pay, and threatens to come by their farmhouse, specifically asking which room is Fleurette's, at which point Constance slams him against the wall and flees. When a brick wrapped in a threatening note comes crashing through the farmhouse window, she goes to the police. Sheriff Robert Heath has had trouble with Kaufman before - in fact, Kaufman is a well-to-do ne'er-do-well, whose position as factory owner has insulated him from punishment for his crimes. As the harassment continues, Constance is frightened, but willing to help get this troublemaker put away, and Heath is determined to protect the Kopps and get evidence of Kaufman's misdeeds that will stand up in court. Interspersed with the main storyline are details of the Kopp's home life, flashbacks about Constance's background, and subplots about the power factory owners had over their employees and the abuses that occurred as a result. Not only is Constance tough and protective of her family, but she's willing to undertake a side investigation to right a wrong for a factory girl. In real life, Constance became one of the first female deputy sheriffs, and I'm happy to report that her fictional adventures will continue in Lady Cop Makes Trouble in fall 2016.

        I love elephants, so when I read about The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan ($15.99 trade pb), in which a retiring police inspector finds himself in charge of a baby elephant, I had to check it out. Ashwin Chopra grew up in a poor Indian village, joined the police force, and now calls Mumbai home. After 30 years on the force, heart trouble is pushing him unwillingly into early retirement. On his last day on the job, he arrives at the police station to find a woman wailing that her son Santosh's death will never be properly investigated because their family is poor. Inspector Chopra tries to order an autopsy, but his superior insists it's an open and shut case, and in any case no longer Chopra's concern. Then Chopra arrives back home to find a baby elephant in the courtyard of his apartment complex, much to the displeasure of Mrs. Subramanium, who heads the complex's Managing Committee. Luckily, Chopra's wife Poppy is more than happy to thwart Mrs. Subramanium's attempts to make trouble. But why would his eccentric Uncle Bansi send him a young elephant? The next day, when he learns that his successor has no intention of looking into Santosh's death, Chopra decides to pull a few strings with some of his former colleagues. An autopsy reveals that Santosh's death was deliberate, not accidental, and provides a few clues about the murderer, and Chopra decides to do some poking around on his own to get to the truth. At the same time, little Ganesha the elephant is unhappy and won't eat, and Chopra has to seek advice on how to care for him. Chopra's investigation into Santosh's death leads to a lot of unpleasant surprises, as well as the discovery that, when you're outnumbered by armed thugs, even a small elephant can be a big help. Chopra is an entertaining sleuth, honest to the core and determined to fight the injustice and corruption he finds, if occasionally nonplussed by the situations he winds up in while searching for answers. I'm looking forward to the arrival of the next book, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, in late summer 2016.
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