Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck; Splinter, 416 pages ($17.95) Ages 12 and up.

Debut novelist Colleen Houck takes the fairy tale convention of prince-turned-beast and aims squarely at romance-starved "Twilight" fans in this entertaining if overwrought first book in a "multibook fantasy romance saga." This inter-species romance begins in the Pacific Northwest, although in Oregon rather than the "Twilight" town of Forks, Wash., but most of the nonstop action occurs in exotic India. In the first chapter, a 17th century Indian prince and the brother who betrayed him are cursed by an evil raja. Fast-forward to the present, and 17-year-old orphan Kelsey Hayes getting a summer temp job feeding the animals (including the bewitched prince, as the blue-eyed, white performing tiger) at a traveling circus in Oregon. Her affinity for the tiger (reading him "Romeo and Juliet" during breaks) helps Prince Ren appear again in human form, an irresistible hunk who seems equally at home in the pages of GQ as 17th century India. Kelsey agrees to try to break the curse, traveling with Ren to India where they experience all manner of death-defying challenges with the help of Fanindra, a venomous snake-turned-jewelry accessory. The intrepid Kelsey is more Buffy than Bella, and Houck's nonstop action, deft use of the Indian landscape and mythology, and imaginative use of sinister opponents, make this a page-turner despite numerous silly passages ("I'm acting twitterpated!"). Fans will be happy to hear there won't be a long wait for a sequel. The second book, "Tiger's Quest," is due in June and "Tiger's Voyage" in November.

-- Jean Westmoore



Breach of Trust by David Ellis; Putnam, 432 pages ($25.95)

"Breach of Trust," David Ellis' seventh novel, has the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines plot that made a hit of the TV series "Law & Order" and its endless progeny: a corrupt governor. A brewing scandal involving greedy bureaucrats and government contracts doled out to campaign contributors. It's fertile territory -- especially in Illinois, home of impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If anybody could exploit those sad shenanigans for literary gain, it would be Ellis, who was lead prosecutor in Blagojevich's impeachment trial.

Yet "Breach of Trust" is much more than a thinly disguised version of reality. It is a rich, entertaining novel about modern crime and punishment, about the shades of gray with which so many aspects of our legal and political systems and the people who administer them are infused.

Jason Kolarich is a terrific protagonist. Still reeling from the death of his wife and child, Kolarich signs up to help federal authorities nab a crooked governor and his slimy staff.

"Breach of Trust" is both an expertly plotted thriller and a morality tale, bleak and brutal and tender, about a broken man's hunt for justice.

-- McClatchy Newspapers



For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart by Elizabeth Rusch, paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher; Random House ($16.99).

Fanny Mendelssohn came out from the shadow of her brother, Felix -- and if Gustav Mahler's day has come, so has that of his wife, Alma. Now it is Maria Anna Mozart's turn.

The sister of titan Wolfgang, Maria Anna -- famously nicknamed "Nannerl" -- played piano, too. She and Wolfgang toured together as children, playing at royal courts, before he sped ahead and she dropped back into a quiet life, eventually marrying a widower magnificently named Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg. This is the story told in "For the Love of Music," a picture book for kids by Elizabeth Rusch. Well, they leave out the part about the widower.

They leave out other things, too. Even for a children's book, the story is oversimplified, and it has a feminist slant that I am afraid will make little girls go away mad. "Maria and Wolfgang were equals," we are told, more than once. That is just not true. Nannerl did not have anywhere near Wolfgang's talent. Still, the exotic adventure of these two remarkable children makes a good story in itself. The book paints a picture of life in Germany in the late 1700s, and the misty artwork is lovely.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman