Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

3 things that really tick me off:

  1. slow internet connections
  2. reality tv
  3. when life gets in the way of reading

Slow or spotty internet connections can send me into a rage and I can rant like a crazy person about how reality television might actually cause permanent brain damage to viewers, but I slip into a deep blue funk if I do not have enough time to read.

This is a busy time of year at work, so I’ve been taking work home with me.  Also, I have kids.  There are oodles of really great adventures in parenting blogs out there and this is not one of them, but suffice it to say they don’t raise themselves.  Lately I have been fortunate enough to be able to spend a little time with other real live adult human beings whom I love and respect, which is great, but this is also time not spent reading.  And then there’s sleep… You get the idea.  It’s been a slow reading week and it is starting to take a toll on me.  So, today was a dedicated reading day.

Dedicated reading days are hard to come by and the week ahead will probably be as busy as the one that just ended, so I didn’t want to start something too long or too intense or, frankly, anything that would require too much mental energy.  I wanted something engaging and funny and possibly able to be read in a day.  I figured a young adult detective novel would fit the bill.  I was not wrong.

If Zadie Smith and Elmore Leonard collaborated on a YA novel, they might have written Scarlett Undercover.  It is not quite a hardboiled detective story.  Over-medium, maybe?  Scarlett is tough and she’s seen a lot, but she’s not a cynical antihero.   She is both smart and a smart ass with a snappy comeback for almost everyone and she’s a badass martial artist to boot.  Latham rounds out her character with some more relatable attributes that keep her from being a caricature.  Scarlett is a Muslim teenager who misses her dead parents and is trying to decide what her religion means to her and whether she is ready for a serious boyfriend.  Despite these human touches, Scarlett stops short of feeling real.  There are times when she is afraid, but never insecure.  She lacks the flaws that would make her believable, but she is likable all the same.

The story is fun and well crafted.  It takes awhile to figure out who can be trusted and there are surprises throughout.  What starts as an investigation on behalf of a client turns into a mystery that is deeply personal to Scarlett.  And as it turns out, the fate of the world might depend on its outcome as well.  The mystery is steeped in mythology and conspiracies that span thousands of years (like The DaVinci Code, but not as boring).  There are suspenseful moments and funny moments and some heart-tugging moments as well (oh, Jones!).

All in all, this was not a bad way to spend the day.  Here’s hoping I don’t have to wait another whole week to get in some reading time again.


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