Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Rules For Breaking by Ashley Elston

For those who might not remember:
In the first novel we learned why Anna's family has been in the witness protection program and why they have moved so many times, including their last move from Scottsdale, Arizona to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Anna's family is in the program not because of her father but because of what she witnessed. Anna's father worked for Brandon Price's father in his accounting firm. Eduardo Sanchez whom Anna called Scar Face because of a nasty scar through his left eye, was a big client of their firm and Mr. Price was his CPA. For years the FBI had been monitoring Sanchez who appeared to have an import/export business. In fact, he worked for a Mexican drug cartel, smuggling drugs into the U.S and laundering the money through his fake business. Brandon Price's father was helping him launder the money. However, Mr. Price was in the process of making a deal with the Feds - "immunity for turning over all accounting records that could convict Sanchez of money laundering, and also showing them how the cartel moved drugs and money." Sanchez discovered what Price was up to and killed him. Price had arranged to turn over the evidence the next day but it never happened because he was murdered along with his son. Anna, hidden behind the couch in the Price home, heard the argument between Price and Sanchez about ledgers. When Sanchez killed Price, Anna's presence was discovered. In order to save her life she told him she knew where the ledgers were but he never had the time to collect them because the police arrived on the scene. Because of this Sanchez has been hunting for her and her family was been placed in the Witness Protection Program.

But Anna's memory eventually does return and she remembers where the ledgers are hidden. Before Sanchez entered Price's home office, she saw Price hide them in the stone wall behind his desk. With the help of her new boyfriend, Ethan Landry, who drives Anna from Louisiana to Scottsdale, and Anna's friends in Scottsdale, they return to the Price's home and locate the ledgers. Agent Thomas shows up telling them that Sanchez is dead and asks her to give him the ledgers. Anna tries to bluff him but when he tells her that her testimony will no longer be needed because of the ledgers, she gives them to him. However, they discover that Agent Thomas is a fake, and that Sanchez is alive. Anna tells Agent Williams how she came to know and trust whoever Agent Thomas is. Ethan placed a tracker in the bag with the ledgers and they soon learn that the tracker is found on the body of Sanchez. Williams says he doesn't know why Thomas didn't kill Anna and Ethan and he suspects that Thomas works for the cartel as a hitman. Anna and Ethan return to Natchitoches, Louisiana, just wanting to put all of this behind them. However, Anna receives one last visit from Thomas who returns her journal, leading Anna to suspect that this is not finished.

The Rules For Breaking picks up the story from the first novel. Anna's family has only been out of the Witness Protection Program a month. But Anna's obsessed with what happened after the Mardi Gras dance when the party moved to Ethan's best friend, Will's, house. She hasn't told anyone about how her journal was returned to her that night or the note left in it by Thomas. Why didn't Thomas kill her? When Will, his girlfriend, Catherine, Ethan, his sister, Emma, and Anna get together to plan a trip to the Gulf, Anna's journal falls out of her bag. Ethan is horrified and urges Anna to tell her father, which they do. Anna's father contacts the program and Agent Williams informs them that he will arrive in Natchitoches in a day or so. That changes when they discover later in the day that someone has broken into their home. Agent Williams, accompanied by Agent Parker, arrives quickly and based on what he learns tells them that he suspects that they have a mole in their program. Anna's journal is sent for testing and they learn that someone named Daniel Sanders was the one who returned the journal. They don't know why Sanders searched the house or why someone is still interested in Anna. All this results in Agent Williams arranging for Anna and her family along with Ethan and his father to travel to the Landry's hunting camp on a remote island in the Mississippi River in Arkansas.

However, the first day they are on the island, Anna, her younger sister Teeny and Ethan are kidnapped by Thomas and another man whom Anna nicknames Vader, and taken to the French Quarter in New Orleans although at first they don't know where they are. Thomas reveals to Anna that his boss was not happy that he did not fulfill his part of the contract and kill her. Now the cartel boss, Vega, has sent a replacement to finish the job, to kill Anna and Ethan as well as Thomas and his friend. That replacement is a man named Mateo and Thomas's plan is to use Anna as bait to lure him to the French Quarter so he can assassinate him.

Anna tries to find a way out of their prison, working away at the slats covering their window and confirming that they are in fact in the French Quarter of New Orleans in an old Ursuline convent. She also wants to know who Vader is because he seems familiar to her. When Anna confronts him, she manages to pull off Vader's mask and discovers he is Tyler Collins the boy she dated when she lived in Florida. Eventually Tyler tells Anna that he got close to her in Florida because Sanchez didn't believe that she had lost her memory and Thomas thought that if she had a boyfriend Anna might open up and reveal what she remembered. They wanted to get the ledgers back and when the boyfriend idea didn't work Thomas thought if they forced another relocation, Anna might talk.

With Thomas gone for the day, Thomas's plans begin to unravel. It turns out that Anna was seen hanging out of the third floor window of the convent, fueling the myth that the convent is haunted by the ghosts of the French girls brought there centuries earlier. Tyler now needs to get Anna, Teeny and Ethan away from the convent because Mateo has arrived and suspects that the ghost girl is Anna. Tyler reveals that Thomas was using Anna as bait to lure Mateo and Senor Vega and he is planning to kill both and take over the cartel. Tyler reveals to Anna his past and tells her he did not know that his brother was a hit man, but he made him promise in Florida that he would not kill Anna.

Tyler tells Anna that Thomas gave him the journal upon returning from Arizona, as a keepsake because it showed that Anna liked Tyler. But Tyler wanted to return the journal to her so he slipped it into her coat in Natchitoches. He never thought Anna would tell the Feds about it. When Thomas learned that they were going to test the journal for prints, he had to get it back because the prints would lead them to Tyler whose full name is Daniel Tyler Sanders and ultimately to Thomas, his brother. When Vega found out Anna was still alive and that they could trace the journal to Thomas he cut Thomas loose and hired Mateo as a replacement assassin. Thomas has taken Anna, Elena and Ethan to one of his safe houses - the old Ursuline convent in the French Quarter of New Orleans so he could set up his plan for revenge. With the convent no longer safe, Anna, Teeny, and Ethan must find a way out of New Orleans.

They ditch Tyler but end up in a very unpleasant and violent encounter with Mateo. With Ethan badly injured and in need of medical attention, Anna calls Tyler who brings them one of Thomas's safe houses in New Orleans. Anna tells Thomas that she will help him but only if he gets Teeny and Ethan to safety. Thomas tells her that the reason there is a contract out on her is because can identify him and that makes Vega at risk too. Thomas has invited Vega to New Orleans under the guise of making amends. Instead he intends to kill Vega and Mateo using Anna as bait. Tyler and Thomas will disappear and Anna will be free to go back to her life. But after getting Ethan and Teeny to safety, Anna makes a startling discovery about the real truth behind Thomas's plans. Can Anna save herself from a deadly situation that changes minute by minute?

Elston has written a suspenseful thriller that incorporates numerous twists into the storyline, keeping her readers guessing until the ultimate showdown between two assassins.Suspense is well maintained by revealing only bits and pieces of the puzzle and creating many unknowns regarding the storyline and the characters. The author also manages to retell some of the story from the first novel into her narrative without it being too noticeable to the reader, at the same time refreshing her readers memories about what has happened up to this point.

Although the storyline is complex, Elston manages to tie everything together at the end, with a satisfying, believable resolution. She manages to convey the depth to which the cartel penetrated and affected Anna's family, almost destroying them - all because Anna was in the wrong place at the wrong time. To avoid the story becoming too dark, the romantic element between Ethan and Anna tends to lighten things, drawing the focus at times to their concern and affection for one another.

Anna is a courageous, intelligent protagonist who in the end bargains her friend's passage to safety and faces the possibility that she might die at the hands of an assassin. She uses the knowledge she's obtained from Tyler to play the two assassins against one another.

Thomas, so likeable in the beginning of the first novel, is gradually revealed as the cold-blooded assassin he truly is. Through Tyler, we come to understand how Thomas came to be like this and how he manipulates everyone including his own brother.

Elston has indicated she got the idea for her duology from wondering what it would be like to move around and never be able to reveal one's true identity.

This is a well written, fast paced novel, made enjoyable because it's a bit different from the usual offerings in young adult literature. Well recommended for fans of thrillers.

Book Details:
The Rules For Breaking by Ashley Elston
New York: Hyperion Teens       2014
309 pp.

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