I had loved The Godfather when I read it two years ago, so my curiosity was piqued when I got an ARC of “Vendetta,” a mafia-themed YA romance, which I had especially reserved for a session at a nail salon (I swear, one of the best places to get reading done!)

The debut novel of Catherine Doyle, “Vendetta” (the first in the Blood for Blood series) is set in the small town of Cedar Hill, where Sophie Gracewell’s life takes an exciting turn when a family of five Italian boys move into the abandoned mansion in her neighborhood.

vendettaSophie is drawn to the youngest, Nicoli, but his elder brother, the arrogant and rude Luca, warns her to stay away from their family. As their paths continue to cross, Sophie’s own family secrets rise to the surface, and it appears her connection to the brothers runs deeper than she ever imagined.

“Vendetta” is an engrossing read that I was able to finish in a couple of hours — I was halfway through by the time my mani-pedi was done, and went on to finish the second half of the novel as soon as I got home.

“Vendetta” is a contemporary novel that ties in with the mafia (a la Godfather) — something that we haven’t seen much of yet in YA — and I like how it fits in with what we know of the mafia underworld. Though it blends the Sicilian and Italian-American mafia cultures, the novel adopts the same family systems, and the organizational chart (boss, underboss, consigliere, that sort of thing) and certain mafia tenets: omerta, blood for blood, and protection racketeering. It’s fascinating stuff, especially if you’ve read (or seen) The Godfather, and count organized crime and secret societies within your, erm, special (haha!) interests.

The author neatly slots this mafia family within the underground organization (Chicago happens to be one of the hotbeds of the Italian-American mafia), and gives them their own identity consistent with the mafia culture: the Falcones are symbolized by a crimson falcon emblem, and go by the words La Famiglia Prima di Tutto, or “Family Before Everything,” which ties in with the main conflict in the story.

Sophie Gracewell makes a sympathetic and likeable protagonist, effectively taking the reader through the transition of a small-town teen drama to the heart of organized crime. Sophie has more problems than the average teen, and makes some wrong decisions along the way (e.g. prowling about in the dark, ingesting strange substances, visiting non-neutral territory, etc.) but I think she deals with them quite admirably and shows a lot of potential for a series heroine. By the end of the novel, she definitely had me looking forward to what the author has planned out for her in the next installments of the series.

While we’re on the subject of characters, of course, it’s impossible to sidestep the fact that there are five hot brothers in this novel (and several others in the background), which makes me wonder why we all aren’t living in Cedar Hill (ha!). I’ve never been particularly drawn to bad boys, but what’s a girl to do when they come in packs like these (I can’t believe I just typed that out)?

As the current OTP, the knife-wielding, lock-picking Nicoli (with all his ‘caramel-eyed’ goodness and avowals of devotion) is the stuff girls’ dreams are made of, but I’ve actually got my money on Luca, who talks tough and acts tough but shows a lot more complexity. The three other brothers are wild cards (I won’t say more: SPOILERS!) and I can’t wait to see how the drama unfolds after the events in this first book.

Oh, the drama: I like how this first installment is paced, and I hope that augurs well for the next books. On the one hand, ‘Vendetta’ commits that common YA pitfall: incompetent adults, despite the fact that we’re dealing with the mafia and other criminal elements, but I like how the mystery takes root insidiously, with some well-placed twists, and I appreciated how all the pieces of the puzzle were woven into the story and not conveniently laid out for the reader to follow. The prose is spare but fluid, and it does have its moments — that chapter where Sophie writes a letter to her father is quite moving, and I’d love to see more of this later on.

Cheesy cover aside (really, even the mafia won’t live down the profusion of stock elements and the title encased in a heart), Catherine Doyle is a fresh author to follow, and Blood for Blood a great new YA series to explore.


Vendetta, ARC provided by Scholastic, 4/5 stars

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