Sorry I've been a bit absent. I've been getting ready for a 4-country, 12ish day trip to Europe and had to get through a variety of events and writing ordeals in the last few weeks. But I'm back and have a plan for resuming the 100 books review thing. I also hope to have my normal site back up very soon, but have had issues with hosting and with domain. So here I am for the meanwhile, with a debut novel.
Now, to give you a bit of background, Nikki first ran into me at Life, the Universe and Everything Symposium. I'd been on some Facebook writing support groups and she kept saying that if we saw her, we should take a picture with her. So on the first night of the symposium, I was standing at the elevators when I saw a blonde person cosplaying the cover of It Came From the Great Salt Lake. I immediately turned to her and said, "You're Nikki and I'm supposed to take a picture with you and your anthology." We did just that and ran into each other a few times over the next days. In other contexts, she's the person who throws a dance party for LDStorymaker's Conference (This year's theme was the Never-Ending Story...maker's Party). She's having a dance-off and carnival for her book launch this Friday and I wish I were able to go.
So, here's her murder mystery! Salem Jefferson is the survivor of a sister who died in a gas explosion and is also the daughter of a grower in orchard country of California. She's on her mock trial team, runs cross-country and is, it seems, the only person who doesn't believe that Carrie's death was accidental. This is complicated further when a Hispanic worker is found buried on her family property with a gang symbol carved into his shoe and hard evidence of foul play.
The various threads of this book are the best thing about it. I cared passionately about the murder mystery as much as the outcome of the mock trial competition. The entire mystery hinged around a union strike that was hitting its crisis point and I think it's the only YA book I've seen that has dealt fairly with both sides of a tough issue without asking the reader to pick one of those sides. I did find a typo in Spanish in the book, but that's just my preternatural ability to nitpick any translations.
The characters were dynamic as well, though some of the minor characters felt like they should have been consolidated into one because they were indistinguishable from each other. While Cordero was the most prominent secondary character, I was dying for more information on Slate and his sister Anna. A character named Envy (what was WRONG with her parents? Were they Puritans?) played an important role, but I felt that she hadn't been given sufficient development for it to have the right impact.
Nevertheless, the story was interesting. The dynamics were credible. It made me very homesick for my own section of California, where we had ghettos instead of orchards, but I knew people who resembled every character in the book.
Now for the semi-annoyed perspective. As I said, this is a debut novel of someone who's been in anthologies. I recently read one that Nikki was in called Under A New York Skyline. I'll be reviewing that later, but I had a fundamental period of eye-rolling about the story that first came from the title, "Crosstrain My Heart and Hope to Die." It's about a hip-hop teacher facing off with the hunky meathead of a crossfit instructor from next door and of course they have a love-hate romance. Very '80s movie plot and one of those "Well, that's cute, but when does that actually happen?" examples that I often find when reading. Going from that fluff to this gave me the same feeling that I experienced when, after having read every book in the Twilight series, I read The Host by Stephenie Meyer. Or how Natalie Portman dragged me through Attack of the Clones before stunning me in V for Vendetta.
It's good to find a writer who can write multiple genres and Nikki definitely has a passion for each of her stories, but I wish the tones were more consistently gripping. I'll be rereading Shatter a lot and have recommended it to friends and family already, but I won't say the same about the ode to hip-hop.