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Wonderful story about teenagers and their belief they can make a difference

This is a story about a young New Zealand girl Heidi, who has a passion for photography and a yearning desire to be a photographer of the rich and famous one day. However her path crosses with Meke, a homestay student from the Cook Islands. He brings her attention to the plight of the rainforests and the importation of palm oil kernels (PKE) as stock feed on NZ farms. This is because grass production can no longer match the size of the herds on farms. Through this friendship Heidi joins a group of teenagers who are passionate about saving the world’s orangutans.
The group devises a daring plan to create a children’s picture book, Molly’s Story, which outlines in blatant detail the plight of baby orangutans orphaned and clinging to their dead mothers’ bodies. Carefully they leave copies in as many public libraries as possible in order to create public awareness. They plan to hit social media and the regular media with letters about this terrible story as though they are horrified parents or librarians. Anything to raise awareness. Their book gains publicity and Heidi makes a film to tell the orangutans’ story.
As if the book isn’t enough, the group proceeds to impersonate a renowned Dr Diego at a conference centre where Heidi’s film is shown. The police become involved at the school trying to locate the impersonators.
All in all this is a wonderful story about teenagers and their belief that they can make a difference to the world. The author wrote it for readers aged 11-18 year-olds.

Jacky Armstrong, 14 June 2017
Tui Motu Book Review: Bad Oil and Animals (2016)

As a teenage girl, I can relate

I learnt a lot about the importance of knowing my own gifts and finding my place in the world. I recommend this book particularly to girls aged 12-18, who will appreciate its story of resisting the pressure to conform, finding your own passion and creating your own future.

Gloryah Melville
Click here for the full review

Dawn Sanders ONZM QSM, CEO and Trustee, Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ

Dawn Sanders ONZM QSM, CEO and Trustee, Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ & Member of the Shakespeare Globe Council, London: ‘Linda Hansen creates a compelling read and a strong endorsement to encourage girls into theatre and the arts. Through Samantha’s cleverly contrived plans, exceptional women facilitate this with their life-changing stories.’

Alexia Hilbertidou

Alexia Hilbertidou, Founder and CEO, GirlBoss NZ: ‘The Fire Keeper’s Girls is a coming-of-age story to enlighten and inspire the next generation of GirlBosses. This realistic tribute to modern feminism shows that while the path to female empowerment may be fraught, the rewards are infinite. It is the book every woman wishes she had read as a teenager.’

Alexia Hilbertidou, Founder and CEO, GirlBoss NZ, and 2018 Westpac Women of Influence: Young Leader Award Winner

Chris Duggan, Founder and National CEO, House of Science, NZ

Chris Duggan, Founder and National CEO, House of Science, NZ: ‘The Fire Keeper’s Girls is a story full of hope and light, a fast-paced adventure involving deep emotional trials that many teenage girls will identify with. Girls are empowered to be curious, follow their dreams and stand up for their beliefs. The characters gain insight and courage from influential women they meet, real women described in the feature pages. The author encourages girls into confident self-knowledge and raises the profile of women in the sciences.’

Sue Kedgley, politician, animal welfare campaigner and author

Sue Kedgley, politician, animal welfare campaigner and author: ‘An absorbing and exciting book about teenagers who decide to investigate the way palm oil plantations are destroying the habitat of orangutans. Interwoven into this action-packed novel is the use of palm kernel extract as stock feed plus an expose of factory farming. It is a fascinating tale that teenagers will love. I can highly recommend it.’

Dr. Michael Morris, Director Environmental Education Ltd, zoologist

Dr. Michael Morris, Director Environmental Education Ltd, zoologist, author and animal welfare advocate: ‘Transmits a profound and disturbing message in an informative yet entertaining tale of teenage self-discovery.’

Ben Dowdle, Founder and Campaign Director of Unmask Palm Oil

Ben Dowdle, Founder and Campaign Director of Unmask Palm Oil, The Australasian campaign for mandatory labelling of palm oil: ‘A fast paced and exhilarating read on an important issue. Well researched and well written, it puts a spotlight on activism, encouraging any young person into action.’

David Hill, author of ‘My Brother’s War’

David Hill, author of ‘My Brother’s War’, winner of both the Junior Fiction and the Children’s Choice Junior Fiction: NZ Post Awards, 2013 NZ: ‘Linda Hansen’s novel An Unexpected Hero is a mischievous, affectionate story of a very likeable, very credible young boy, who startles everyone, including himself, by what he proves himself able to do.’

Ruth Paul, author/illustrator of many award-winning books

Ruth Paul, author/illustrator of many award-winning books including ‘The King’s Bubbles’ which won the NZ Post Children’s Choice Picture Book Award 2008: ‘In An Unexpected Hero Linda Hansen cleverly exposes a hidden tale of wartime New Zealand exposed within a gripping contemporary story. Great reading!’

Barbara Murison worked with children, people and books from 1950

Barbara Murison worked with children, people and books from 1950. Member New Zealand Association of Manuscript Assessors: ‘‘An Unexpected Hero’ is one of those books where you only have to read one page and you are hooked. The story is set in the present but the reader ends up knowing a great deal about what happened to so many New Zealanders one hundred years ago.’

Michele A’Court, writer, social commentator, comedian

This is a terrific read, delightful not just for young adults but for the older adults in their lives. It gives a bigger picture of how we humans can – as historically proven – live equably together. The Quest to find the world’s missing women and girls offers challenges – and then hope.

Eleanor Parkes, Director, Child Alert (ECPAT) NZ

I’m very excited about this book which makes urgent issues real and accessible while leaving young readers feeling empowered. I’m hooked!

An adventure with hints of humour and romance. Right from the start I was hooked.

15 April 2021, review by Savarna Yang.*

“Why is the human female valued so low that many women see themselves and others as not fit to live?”

Around the world, mysterious emails arrive at schools asking teenagers to “help missing women” by researching the subject and coming up with a proposal. The writers of the twenty most effective sounding plans will be invited to present them at an unnamed place in Europe, all expenses paid. The sender, styling herself Countess X, is met with suspicion in most instances – how can it not be a hoax? It sounds too good to be true. But a few students and teachers check it out and decide to give it a go.

The story focuses on four teams: India, South Africa, the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

When I chose The Dark Quest of Countess X from the book list, this was not what I expected. But that doesn’t mean the unexpected was a disappointment! Right from the start I was hooked. I stayed up so late reading, my eyes felt like they were only half open the next day (which was no good for trying to read the end of the book).

Discussing current serious issues, this book is educational but in a story form which I really liked. It’s so much easier to get interested in these problems than if you read about the same thing in, say, a newspaper article.

I loved the story. With hints of humour and romance making the plot and characters easier to relate to, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the issue. Probably suited to ages 12+ (the topic is more for mature readers.)

Thank you for a really interesting read, L P Hansen!


* Savarna is 12 years old and lives outside Dunedin.

Beautifully crafted YA-fiction, so current that it has a reference to Greta Thunberg by page five! 

The Dark Quest of Countess X draws on the work of Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist, and follows four groups of teenage students from Cook Islands, South Africa, New Zealand and India as they respond to a challenge related to his research. Their challenge is to design interventions to help the poorest, dispossessed and most vulnerable women and girls in the world. As these young people research and analyse their chosen topics, the reader is kept constantly informed and inspired. A great read.

Bridget Pidford

Dark Quest: inspiring and stirring tale of feminism and awareness

This inspiring and stirring tale of feminism and awareness comes with hints of humour and romance and will provide readers with a slew of new knowledge to take into their daily lives without the sometimes-tediousness of standard non-fiction texts. Kiwi based author L P Hansen does an excellent job of highlighting misogyny in current societies around the world in a way which is comprehensible for a young adult audience.

The novel follows four groups of young people from the Cook Islands, South Africa, New Zealand and India as they learn about the prevalence of human rights abuses in contemporary societies and form solutions to it. They’re brought together by Countess X, one of Europe’s richest people, who has invited the world’s youth to take up a modern-day quest and help her to challenge colossal human rights’ abuses around the globe.

Readers are confronted with the reality of human trafficking, arranged marriage, slavery and other events which affect real women all around the current world. Not only does Hansen outline the harmful actions and subconscious beliefs within modern patriarchal society, she also provides options to help solve the distinct issues specific to the varying cultures. She does this through the groups of each country with each one asked to formulate an original plan for a country other than their own which, when brought to fruition, will be a large step towards solving issues.

The interactions between the teams, and the different perspectives of varying cultures is thought-provoking, as personal connection and outside opinions influence the participants’ perspectives of each other and their ideas. Through friendship, romance, tensions and hurt, the young participants are changed forever at the conclusion of the Quest. The challenges brought by the new adventure lead to growth and the realistic experiences of the budding students are easily and personally relatable to the audience.

Hansen takes on heavy topics well with her fast-paced writing style, making the text suitable for a slightly older young adult audience. The language can be complex at times and the confronting subject matter will weigh heavily on many young reader’s consciousness. Nonetheless, readers are inspired to find, and confront issues, as the upcoming generations are already involved in change, much like the young protagonists depicted in the story.

Facts are incorporated into fiction well, making the story interesting and educational without ever being dull. However, the novel does get repetitive as each group goes through the identical process of receiving the invitation, gathering information and then creating and presenting ideas. Yet it’s clearly well-researched; the inclusion of helpful resources at the conclusion of the book provides the option for readers to act upon the new information, as the novel inspires significant thought about the reader’s own actions and involvement.

L P Hansen is an educational author who has previously written about palm oil, animal welfare and World War I with the aim of increasing and inspiring awareness within younger generations. Personally, I learnt a lot from this novel and I am intrigued to see what other issues Hansen will cover in books to come.

Reviewed by: Link Pickering for KETE BOOKS ( Newsletter 20 May 2021

Fluid interchange between points of view, giving readers the ability to understand the girl’s differing personalities, opinions and experiences.

I loved how at the end, the author includes brief biographies of all the women Gemma and Alice researched for The Game. I learnt an immense amount about many incredible women, and I especially loved the stories of Margaret Hamilton and Helen Sharman. Another thing I noticed is Hansen’s ability to fluidly interchange between points of view, giving readers the ability to understand the girl’s differing personalities, opinions and experiences. Altogether, The Fire Keeper’s Girls is an inspiring novel that exposed me to new ideas and issues this world is currently facing.

Tessa Sitjes. Click here to read Tessa’s full review: ‘A Game Like No Other‘.

Bad Oil and the Animals is an astounding novel/novella with themes of global warming, the environment and self-discovery.

Centred around sixteen-year-old Heidi and her new-found friends, it explores the horrific effects of palm oil.  Palm oil is something that sure has a bad reputation now, with everyone now alert and aware of global warming. Harvested mostly from the African Oil Palm, palm oil is in everything, food, cosmetics and even chocolate!

Although we might not see the effects of palm oil first-hand in New Zealand, we can still educate ourselves on the topic. Palm oil harvesting hurts orangutans by destroying their habitats, often leaving baby orangutans orphaned and in sanctuaries in Thailand and Indonesia when poachers kill their mothers to sell the babies as pets. But one of the most eye-opening parts of this book was that palm oil does harm animals… right here in New Zealand.

PKE. Does that sound familiar to you? Probably not. Most New Zealanders (even myself, until I read this book) believe that all farming in New Zealand is 100% clean and green, but plot twist… it is not! Now I am not saying that all farms in New Zealand are like what I am about to describe, because many farmers do an excellent job of caring for their animals. Back to PKE: it stands for Palm Oil Extract. According to research, PKE is a palm oil by-product which is a dry, gritty meal, which cows do not like at first. And New Zealand imports a huge amount of it from South-East Asia.  Nearly all the information above I learnt from reading Bad Oil and the Animals. The rest I learned from doing some research of my own, because the book had me so intrigued on the topic.

While being a short book (126 pages) that can be read in a sitting or two, it sure packs a punch. A mighty one. This book begins with Heidi attending an Amnesty International meeting at her school, where she meets one of her friends who will be part of their undercover protest group. As Heidi learns more about the orangutans and meets people with the same views as her, their protest group comes into the picture.

Another reason this book is so beautifully written and realistic is the diverse culture of the protest group. Meke is a scholarship student from the Pacific Islands, Severn is from Canada, Kim has rich Chinese parents, then there is Heidi and Andy, her next-door neighbour, from New Zealand. This careful detail about so many ethnic groups is what makes this book so real; New Zealand is a bubbling hotpot full of diverse cultures, swirling, mixing, and learning from each other.

As the book goes on, Heidi and her friends get deeper and deeper into their protests. Authoring a book about the grotesque way animals are treated, creating a film about orangutans, their diminishing habitat and more. There are disguises, cover-ups and pure thrills. Bad Oil and the Animals reminds me, in some ways, of George Orwell’s novels. Full of trouble and controversy, they say what needs to be said, and open people’s eyes to the real world. Because of this, I believe that this book will be ever popular, or at least, should be.

I promise you this book should not take long to read – the language is also simple, the book has one, clear plot. I promise you will enjoy this book, and I promise you will have your views on palm oil and deforestation spun right around.

Reviewed by Sasha Maclean, 12 year old reviewer for Hooked on NZ books Te Ao Ano, 21 Oct. 2020. Sasha is a student at Sacred Heart Girl’s College, New Plymouth.

Photo credit: Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

Inviting springboard for research – Tui Motu Magazine

Review in Tui Motu Magazine, by Catharina van Bohemen — August 31, 2021

New Zealander L P Hansen writes about “real kids in real adventures” which include current universal crises such as bullying, climate change and consumerism. The Dark Quest of Countess X, her fourth novel, summons the world’s youth to help our “missing women”. This phrase was first used in 1990 by economist-philosopher Amartya Sen who observed that in parts of the world – particularly China and India – the ratio of women to men was suspiciously low. He estimated that there were 100,000,000 vanished women; by 2015 researchers suggested the number had risen to more than 200,000,000.

The Dark Quest of Countess X is a heart-warming tale about teenagers from many countries, including Aotearoa, who fly to Liechtenstein to present their research and strategies to help today’s oppressed or invisible women and girls, to the benevolent Countess X in her fairy-tale chateau.

Themes such as the value of collaboration, a reappraisal of world mythologies, history and culture, and the joy of learning – books and the internet – underpin the thrills of the quest.

The story’s easy style and pace, its likeable lightly-sketched characters, and its helpful links to websites and organisations on this contemporary global horror, make The Dark Quest of Countess X an inviting springboard for research in our schools.

Whanganui Library recommends Linda Hansen as an experienced researcher and storyteller

Whanganui Library recommends Linda Hansen as an experienced researcher and storyteller offering a comprehensive presentation on peacemakers in Aotearoa New Zealand in a wide sweep across history: “Linda guided us through centuries of peacemaking right up to the present day. It’s accessible, riveting material that’s relevant to all ages. It’s also valuable to hear and understand how the universal peace principle extends across time and cultures,” said Learning and Discovery Librarian Esther Newrick.
The Library was seeking a public event to attract back audiences post-Covid-19. Written feedback after Linda’s session, held in the Alexander Heritage & Research Library | Te Rerenga Mai o Te Kāuru, confirms “it was very well received and a worthwhile event. Listeners learned a great deal about New Zealand’s lesser-known peace history and enjoyed a lively question and answer session at the end.”