51b30x5tsyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_DRAGONS OF DESERT AND DUST by Susan Brown / Create Space / December 2015

Blurb: A boy with the Heart of a Dragon… Fourteen-year-old Angel Cerillos is stuck living with foster parents at a second-rate desert motel while his mother is in the hospital. Despite threats from a local rancher and his greedy foster father, Angel is determined to scour the harsh desert for turquoise nuggets that could pay for his mom’s care. Without them, all he has of value is a carved, two-headed turquoise serpent, left to him by his mysterious father. It’s a hard life. But the desert spirits are awakening, and the mythic power of his dragon talisman spins Angel into terrifying danger.

Review: Fourteen-year-old, foster child, Angel Cerillos lives at the local motel where he cleans rooms and scrubs toilets as part of his daily chores. The nearby desert calls to him and he escapes into it whenever possible determined to understand its mysteries. The call of the desert helps him come to terms with an ailing mother stuck in a hospital and an absentee father. His foster parents don’t make up for Angel’s emotional loss. His foster mother, Treece, is an enabler who teaches Angel how to steal sodas from the motel office. His foster father, Gary, physically and emotionally abuses Treece and Angel. It makes one wonder how this obviously dysfunctional couple managed to meet the state requirements for taking in a needy child or if there are any such laws in Arizona.

Like many children of single parents, Angel is older than his years. Celsa Reyna, one of his classmates tells him how valuable turquoise stones are and he decides that if he finds enough, he’ll be able to have sufficient money for his mother’s medical bills. With plenty of funds, she could even be cured. This provides more motivation to flee to the desert whenever possible. Warned to be careful of the neighboring rancher and his cowhands, Angel attempts to be discreet. He has to look out for more than two-legged dangers; there are other predators in the desert.

Physical dangers aren’t all Angel worries about – he also confronts psychological ones and his dreams intensify, apparently teaching him new skills or has he always had them? Dream-walking? Talking to snakes? Visions? Why is his amulet so important? Why does his mother ask if he’s turning blue when he finally has an opportunity to visit her? What is going on?

Angel’s drive to save his mother propels the story forward. He and Celsa are two of most clearly drawn, well-developed characters which makes the disparity between them and the adults even more glaring. Angel’s caseworker doesn’t “notice” what is directly in front of her, i.e. the abuse the boy suffers and doesn’t talk to him alone even when she thinks there might be a problem with Gary. Local rancher, John Hydemann accepts all of Gary’s stories far too easily. This guy has a kid who appeared out of nowhere – didn’t the caseworker interview the neighbors before placing Angel at the local motel?

What is wrong with these adults? Shouldn’t they be more discerning? How will the kids in the story and readers of the book learn not to judge by appearances if every adult suffers from the same character defect? Still, as Angel grows throughout the story, he does learn a few life lessons even if the adults in his world remain static. Ms. Brown has a gift for creating a believable world where shapeshifting dragons fly and a boy becoming a man discovers there is more than one kind of talent when he faces maturity. The choices he makes today will guide him down more than one kind of path, but he still needs stronger mentors to lead him.

While this is a companion to Ms. Brown’s Dragons of Frost and Fire, these are single title releases. Hopefully, the next book will link these characters as well as the dragons, hint, hint, hint!

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