The Latest from Melissa de la Cruz, a "Peter Pan" Retelling, & More | May 2018 YA Xpress Reviews

A spy novel set during the Holocaust, a feminist Peter Pan, and more Alexander Hamilton.

Cole, Barry. The Conquistador’s Horse. 96p. Matador. Dec. 2017. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781788039734.

Gr 7 Up –A Cheyenne tribe travels into Pawnee hunting grounds in search of buffalo. A young man, Tall Bull, asks to join his uncle, Wooden Thigh, on a scouting expedition. The scouts run into a group of Pawnee and are attacked. Tall Bull is captured, and the Pawnee return to their village to see it under attack by the Conquistadors and rush to defend it. During the fight, Tall Bull escapes, as does one of the Conquistadors’ horses. Tall Bull encounters the horse later, and after several attempts rides it, but the horse disappears after throwing him. Tall Bull returns to camp and tells of the “wondrous” creature he rode. Years later, Tall Bull is married with a family, but still obsessed with the horse. When his tribe returns to the same area for buffalo, Tall Bull has strange dreams about the creature, and he sets out in search of it. He locates a stallion with a group of mares, and after some effort he mounts and rides it back to camp, followed by mares and colts. The writing is uneven, with redundancy in some areas and vivid descriptions in others, and the characters feel like one-note caricatures. The story is brief and moves along quickly. However the author’s familiarity with First Nations customs is very questionable. VERDICT Not recommended due to factual issues and stereotypes.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

de la Cruz, Melissa. Love & War: An Alex & Eliza Story. 384p. Putnam. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524739652.

Gr 8 Up –This fictionalized account of Alexander Hamilton and his bride, Elizabeth Schuyler, picks up where Alex & Eliza left off. Life is an uphill struggle for these two newlyweds as they face several challenges in their early months of marriage. Alexander is determined to make it as a lawyer in New York City, while Elizabeth tries to find her niche and her role as his wife. De la Cruz weaves a wonderful tale of the joys and heartaches of marriage among the events and figures that shaped U.S. history, with some historical accuracy. Teens will enjoy reading about the beginnings of the burgeoning nation through the hopes and dreams of this young couple. This book does not disappoint and is sure to entice history buffs as well as romantics. VERDICT An excellent addition for libraries looking to add historical romance to their general collection.–Ruth Stiles, Hammondsport Central School, NY

Gibsen, Cole. Risen. 304p. Entangled. Mar. 2018. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633758933.

Gr 9 Up –Romance, action, wit, and fangs abound in this fast-paced paranormal fiction that will delight vampire fans. Charlie has spent most of her life in a secluded cabin in the woods with her aunt, Rachel. Frustrated with the isolation, she dreams of escape and experiencing the world. Unfortunately, her wish comes true with the surprise arrival of a group of terrifying vampires who kidnap her aunt. Charlie is thrust into a world more dangerous than she could have imagined and embarks on a rescue mission alongside handsome, thoughtful vampire-hunk Sebastian. Gibsen manages to keep the genre fresh by introducing vampire clans with unique attributes and cleverly unveiling mystery after mystery to keep readers hooked. Every character seems to be hiding something, and Charlie can trust no one. One of the book’s strengths is its realistic and humorous dialogue, including some cracking one-liners. While the writing was mostly strong, some of the description did become repetitive. Fear was frequently described as a “ball of ice” in Charlie’s chest or stomach. The ending was abrupt, with unresolved plot threads left dangling for a sequel. This is very much a first book in a series—introducing a large cast of characters and mystery but few answers. Some readers may find this frustrating. VERDICT Purchase for libraries where a keen interest in paranormal/vampire fiction still persists.–Lauren Jones, Tauranga City Library, NZ

Greenwood, Arin. Your Robot Dog Will Die. 208p. Soho Teen. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616958398.

Gr 8 Up –After some DNA experimentation goes terribly wrong, dogs have become vicious, attacking any human they encounter. Most of them have been killed, and the few that remain are sheltered in “The Ruffuge” on Dog Island. Dogs are revered here. Meanwhile, real pet dogs, called “organics,” have been replaced by robot dogs. Seventeen-year-old Nano and her mother, wearing special outfits to avoid being attacked, go to the Ruffuge to feed the canines. Nano discovers a litter of puppies; she sees one of them wag its tail and decides it’s friendly and won’t hurt her. Rather than follow protocol and euthanize it, she plots to rescue it. Eventually she uncovers the truth behind Dog Island’s founding. This interesting premise is undermined by inconsistent world-building and a scattered narrative. The work is supposed to be set some time in the future, as indicated by certain technologies and environmental changes, but the world isn’t fully fleshed out. A few plot points, including a random romance, robot dog fights, and a suicide cultist’s real plans for Dog Island are tossed in for drama but don’t enhance the story. The characters lack depth, making it hard to stay engaged with them. VERDICT An additional purchase for very large libraries.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, Oakland

Killeen, Matt. Orphan Monster Spy. 432p. Viking. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780451478733.

Gr 9 Up –Sarah is a Jewish teen coming of age during World War II. Sarah has always looked up to her actress mother, who at times has been emotionally and physically unavailable. Her mother has taught her how to deceive others This acting talent leads Sarah into a deep, dark, and twisted plot in this great spy novel. The blonde, blue-eyed young woman infiltrates an elite boarding school for Nazi generals’ daughters. She is coerced into a life as a spy when she feels she has no other option left for survival. The complexities of leading a double life affect not only her but also the few friends she makes along the way. The protagonist’s inner monologues gives readers a deeper understanding of her motivations. Teens will have a difficult time putting down this page-turner. The even pacing, taut descriptions, and oppressive setting, make this thriller a must-read for period enthusiasts. Killeen’s immediate writing style adds a level of believability to the narrative. VERDICT Purchase where Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are popular.–Megan Honeycutt, University of West Georgia

Popoola, Olumide. When We Speak of Nothing. 256p. Cassava. Apr. 2018. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781911115458.

Gr 9 Up –Seventeen-year-old best friends Karl and Abu are inseparable in London’s King’s Cross district. Karl lives in Abu’s household during the hospitalization of his white mum, Rebecca, who has multiple sclerosis and depression. After Karl learns how she kept him a secret from his father, Adebanjo, he takes a trip to Nigeria to meet Adebanjo, but Karl is rejected by his father for being transgender. He is shown hospitality by Nakale, an environmentalist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls in love with Nakale’s cousin, Janoma. Meanwhile, Abu is experiencing institutional racism in London and harboring a crush on classmate Nalini. His world changes when riots spark from the fatal shooting of a black man by white police officers. He participates in some burning and looting and becomes a victim of a violent incident as a result. Karl’s Nigerian trip is cut short by Abu’s comatose condition, and he returns to comfort his best friend and deal with life-changing decisions. Popoola has a poetic voice and has crafted a powerful novel. It is narrated by Esu Elegbara, a figure in the Yoruba tradition. Readers may feel the slow pace in the beginning, but the novel picks up after the reveal of Karl’s parentage and transgender identity. Despite the widespread anti-LGBTQ laws in Nigeria, the central conflict doesn’t revolve around that tension. The characters speak with British and Nigerian slang and terminologies, and some words are defined within the novel’s context. This character-driven tale adeptly handles social issues like racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ecocide. VERDICT A refreshing coming-of-age tale for most collections.–Donald Peebles, Brooklyn Public Library

Sky, Erin Michelle & Steven Brown. The Wendy. 294p. (Tales of The Wendy: Bk. 1). Trash Dogs Media. Jan. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781946137050.

Gr 7 Up –In the late 1700s in England, Wendy Darling has grown up in an orphanage. She wants so badly to apprentice with a ship captain once she turns 16, but she knows this is not an acceptable choice for a woman. She does, however, secure a lower-ranking position with the British Home Office once she leaves the orphanage. Soon, she learns that her assigned station, the Fourteenth Platoon of the Nineteenth Light Dragoons in Dover, has a secret mission: to stop the deviant character known as Peter Pan, who is kidnapping British children to a mysterious place that the well-regarded Captain Hook cannot yet locate. Wendy has a direct encounter with Peter Pan, which Captain Hook does not take seriously at first, in part because of the descriptions of magic. And whose side will she eventually choose? Aided by her dear military service friends John and Michael, Wendy works hard to make a name for herself, both in her job and otherwise. This is a strong retelling of Peter Pan, with an empowered female protagonist who carves her own path. Wendy’s sharp wit is truly impressive. This novel is well plotted and fast-paced, which will appeal to teens. The reimagining of Wendy, John, and Michael as young adult characters who are moving into more grown-up roles gives the narrative new and interesting twists. VERDICT Give to fans of nuanced retellings.–Margaret A. Robbins, University of Georgia, Athens

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