Mini-Reviews: Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe (ARC Review) & A Sprinkle of Spirits

It’s been quite a long time since I did a series of mini-reviews, but you might see more of these as I am not having the easiest time writing reviews these days. Today I have a couple of middle grade reviews for you, both are sequels and both are by Latinx authors. If you haven’t checked out these series, I highly recommend them. They are a lot of fun and perfect for those looking for books that will uplift you.

Title: Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe
Author: Carlos Hernandez
Series: Sal & Gabi, #2
Pages: 432
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: May 5th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, a brilliant sci-fi romp with Cuban influence. Among many other challenges, Sal and Gabi have to try to make everything right with our world when there is a rogue Gabi from another universe running loose.
      Sal Vidón doesn’t want to live a Mami-free life. Pulling different versions of his mother from other universes is how he copes with missing his own, who died years ago. But Sal’s father, a calamity physicist, is trying to shut down all the wormholes Sal creates, because Papi thinks they are eroding the very fabric of our world. All of Papi’s efforts are in vain, however, because a Gabi from another universe has gone rogue and is popping up all over the place, seeking revenge for the fact that her world has been destroyed. While Sal and Gabi work together to keep both Papi and Rogue Gabi under control, they also have to solve the mystery of Yasmany, who has gone missing from school. Could it have something to do with the wormhole in the back of his locker?
      Readers who enjoyed Sal and Gabi Break the Universe will relish being back in the world of Culeco Academy and the Coral Castle along with such unforgettable characters as American Stepmom, the Gabi-Dads, Principal Torres, and the sassy entropy sweeper. With multiple Sals and Gabis in charge, it’s no wonder this sequel offers even more hilarious weirdness and love than the first book.”

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Carlos Hernandez once again delivers a hilarious and heartfelt story with Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe, sequel in his SFF Middle Grade Sal & Gabi series. These books provide a much needed sensitive boy protagonist in Sal Vidón. One of the reasons I’ve loved this series so much is because of how vulnerable this kid is allowed to be. He makes mistakes, learns to verbalize his grief, and also learns what it means to take personal responsibility for his actions. I wish all adults could be just as supportive as the ones written by Hernandez. They are always understanding, yet firm, helpful, but never overbearing. Gabi remains the most relatable to this reformed know-it-all child (slightly reformed?). I love how determined and ambitious she is. She is always in someone’s business with the very best intentions (mostly). I loved that Hernandez shows the value of found family and how these bonds can be just as powerful as the ones you are born into. Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe was just as much fun as its predessor while also expanding the Sal & Gabi multiverse. Please tell me there is a chance for more novels because I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: A Sprinkle of Spirits
Author: Anna Meriano
Series: Love Sugar Magic, #2
Pages: 309
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: February 5th 2019

      “Leonora Logroño has finally been introduced to her familys bakery bruja magicbut that doesnt mean everything is all sugar and spice. Her special power hasnt shown up yet, her family still wont let her perform her own spells, and they now act rude every time Caroline comes by to help Leo with her magic training.
    She knows that the family magic should be kept secret, but Caroline is her best friend, and she’s been feeling lonely ever since her mom passed away. Why should Leo have to choose between being a good bruja and a good friend?
      In the midst of her confusion, Leo wakes up one morning to a startling sight: her dead grandmother, standing in her room, looking as alive as she ever was. Both Leo and her abuela realize this might mean trouble—especially once they discover that Abuela isn’t the only person in town who has been pulled back to life from the other side.
      Spirits are popping up all over town, causing all sorts of trouble! Is this Leo’s fault? And can she reverse the spell before it’s too late?”

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Anna Meriano’s A Sprinkle of Spirits is charming from start to finish. In A Dash of Trouble, Leo discovers that the women in her family are brujas and magic is one of the secret ingredients they use in their family bakery. In this sequel, Leo learns how to balance friendship and responsibility. Her training has taken up a lot of her time and as a result her friendship with her best friend Caroline has suffered. She doesn’t want to choose between Caroline and becoming the best bruja she can be, but she isn’t sure if she really has a choice. Leo’s older sisters, Isabel and Marisol, have taken opposite views, giving Leo conflicting advice on how to balance being a brujas and a “normal” girl. This, of course, confuses Leo even further. I love that Leo isn’t the only Logroño daughter who learns valuable lessons as its important for younger kids to recognize that everyone is still learning how to move in the world. I listened to the audiobook of this one narrated by the talented Kyla Garcia. She brings every character to life, lending a different voice to each character and at times it felt like a full cast recording. The second novel in the Love Sugar Magic series solidifies this MG as a must read for those looking to celebrate friendship, family, and a little magical mischief.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Mini Reviews: The Fallen Kingdom + The Similars (ARC Review)

MiniI have two very different books and two very different ratings for this set of mini-reviews. You might not see another set of mini-reviews for a while. I am going to be trying a new kind of format for books I don’t want to write full reviews for. So stay tuned for that. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Fallen Kingdom
Author: Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer, #3
Pages: 389
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: June 13th 2017 

      “She’s on borrowed time…and she has only one chance to set things right.
      Find life.
      Deep in a forest, Aileana Kameron claws her way out of the earth. Back from the dead with no memory of who she is or what has happened to her, the Falconer now possesses even greater otherworldly powers and a ruthless instinct to kill—and the one piece of knowledge that can change everything.
      Find Kiaran.
      Two fae monarchs, Aithinne and Kadamach, stand on the brink of war, and according to an ancient curse, one must die at the hand of the other or all the worlds will perish. Once, Kadamach was known as Kiaran, and he was mentor, protector, and lover to Aileana. Now, under the grip of the curse, his better nature seems lost forever.
      Find the book.
      Aileana’s only hope lies in the legendary Book of Remembrance, a book of spells so powerful that it can break the fae curse and even turn back time. But the book has been lost for centuries, and many are looking for it, including its creator, the Morrigan—a faery of terrifying malevolence and cruelty.
      Sacrifice everything.
      To obtain the book and defeat the Morrigan, Aileana must form an unthinkable alliance, one that challenges every vow she has made to herself—even as the powers that brought her to life are slowly but surely killing her.

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“It wraps me in a cloak of darkness, thick and impenetrable. I am suddenly calm, my pulse a steady cadence. My mind slices right back into the instinct of a hunt. It’s so easy. My power assures me that I am perfect. I am untouchable.”

I have been putting off Elizabeth May’s final book in her Falconer Trilogy for over a year in fear of how the series would finally end. I finally picked up The Fallen Kingdom and absolutely adored the conclusion. This final book in the Falconer Trilogy pulls no punches as the characters we’ve come to know are met with even more impossible odds in their quest to save both the human and fae worlds. One of the things I really admire about May’s writing is she’s not afraid to have her characters lose. This has made the whole series a nail-biting journey. Each book has felt like an accomplishment in and of itself and I cannot choose which of the three would be considered the weakest. I’ve really enjoyed all the side characters from Aileana’s loyal faery friend Derrick, who always adds a dash of humor to even the direst of situations, to Kiaran’s sister Aithinne, who makes it easy to see the humanity in these otherworldly fae creatures who often feel untouchable. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that my favorite relationship has always been Aileana and Kiaran’s. I’ve loved all their interactions, from the first book when bickering was their favorite way of communicating to the second novel when they were just starting to discover what their feelings for one another meant to this final book when it feels that every interaction may be their last. The Falconer Trilogy is a underrated fantasy series in my opinion and May is a really gifted author we should all be paying attention to. 

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: The Similars
Author: Rebecca Hanover
Series: The Similars,#1
Pages: 352
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: January 1st 2019
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.
      The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn’t care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver’s exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.
      Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver’s face.”

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Rebecca Hanover’s The Similars has an interesting premise, but lacked that something extra that would take it from being mediocre to something truly unique. Emma Chance is still reeling from the death of her best friend Oliver who died by suicide. Going back as a junior to Darkwood Academy should help Emma feel normal again, but the elite boarding school just brings back memories of Oliver. When the academy enrolls the Similars, a group of clones, Emma’s entire world is turned upside down. Not only do the Similars bring controversy to campus, the U.S. and the rest of the world are wrestling with the ethics of cloning and clone rights, unbeknownst to Emma, one of the Similars is Oliver’s clone. Emma and Levi don’t get along from the get-go, but when Emma discovers there may be something more to Oliver’s death, she enlists his and the other Similars’ help. I wish I could point to more than the premise as being a positive element of this novel, but from the characters to the plot to the writing, I found this one to be incredibly lacking. Emma was not a character I liked or even respected. She was the kind of character who thought not caring made her stand out, making her come across as incredibly privileged. I was not a fan of her relationship with Levi for several reason, one of which being she literally physically attacks him the first time they meet. Secondly, she never fully deals with Oliver’s death, so starting a relationship with his clone left me feeling uncomfortable. There are twists and turns in this one that sometimes felt so disjointed, it felt like I was reading five different versions of the same story. The writing left me wanting more and while I did like exploring this world, I never felt immersed in this world.

Rating: 1/5

Mini Reviews: Down Among the Sticks and Bones + Not Even Bones

MiniWhoops, I meant to post this set of mini-reviews before the last, so these are very very late. I wrote this set of mini-reviews back in October, but ended up going on a little hiatus in November and so this post has been sitting in my drafts for several weeks. They were both stellar reads for me and I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to share my reviews of them sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking up either of these series, I say throw away all your doubts and dive in now. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2
Pages: 187
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: June 13th 2017 

      “Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
      This is the story of what happened first…
      Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
      Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
      They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
      They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.”

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“It was an uncomfortable thing, feeling like their parents weren’t doing what was best for them; like this house, this vast, perfectly organized house, with its clean, artfully decorated rooms, was pressing the life out of them one inch at a time. If they didn’t find a way out, they were going to become paper dolls, flat and faceless and ready to be dresses however their parents wanted them to be.”

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces readers to what happens to children after they step back into the real world after spending time on the other side of magical portals. Jack was instantly one of my favorite characters and after the ending of the first book, I was happy that this next book in the series covers what happened to Jack and her twin Jill when they found their magical door. The contrast between these to characters is so stark, but in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we discover that these two girls used to live very different lives. Jill was the tomboy, always running around wild, while Jack was always too afraid of getting dirty. But this says more about their upbringing than either child as their parents had quickly made up their mind about who their children were before letting them discover it for themselves. When Jack and Jill stumble into the Moors, they are given a chance to be who they’ve chosen to be for the first time. The Moors is not a bright, happy place and the two girls grow up to be reflections of their mentors. Seanan McGuire once again impresses with her storytelling ability. It isn’t hard to fall into the story, to become invested in the characters. I cheered when Jack was able to be herself and be valued for more than how she looked and even though things work out a little differently for Jill, she was still able to do many of the things that were once barred to her. The story is heartbreaking as both characters end up losing something precious to them, but is mesmerizing in its darkness and the tragedy of twins who were never able to come to fully love the other because the adults in their life always set one against the other. 

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Not Even Bones
Author: Rebecca Schaeffer
Series: Market of Monsters, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 4th 2018

      “Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.
      Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

Rebecca Schaeffer’s Not Even Bones is a bloody romp which explores morality in a world that has little room for things like mercy. Nita has spent years dissecting bodies and helping her mother sell various parts of “unnaturals”, humans with strange abilities that can be both deadly and odd, on the black market. Nita finds conversing with the dead far easier than with the living, but this way of life has kept her in part ignorant of the world outside. When her mother returns from a hunting expedition with a living, breathing young man as a prisoner, bent on selling his body parts one piece at a time, Nita must decide what kind of person she is going to be. If you’re easily squeamish when it comes to blood or severed body parts, Not Even Bones may not be the novel for you. But if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that Schaeffer takes her gloves off in this one, so to speak, embracing the gruesomeness of the story and testing her characters at every turn. There are no clear-cut good and bad characters in this one. Though you may root for someone like Nita, she isn’t without her flaws. But she like many of the other characters are very human. They show selective empathy, making good and bad decisions in equal measure. Sometimes they are forced to ignore other people’s pain and sometimes they even delight in it. In the end, they are just trying to survive in a world that decided they are less than human. Not Even Bones is the start of a unique and deliciously disturbing series that challenges both its characters and its readers.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini-Reviews: Listen to Your Heart + From Twinkle, with Love

MiniIt’s nearly the end of the year and I am never more grateful for mini-reviews. I’m feeling something akin to senioritis during these last couple of months of the year and find myself relying on the mini-review more than ever. I’m seriously contemplating only writing mini-reviews for the rest of 2018. On the other hand, I don’t want to get used to it and then struggle with full reviews when January comes around. This week I have two very fun contemporary reads to share with you. Both are from gifted storytellers that would both make my list of contemporary authors to reach for when you need a pick me up. Hope you enjoy. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Listen to Your Heart
Author: Kasie West
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Point
Release Date: May 29th 2018 

      “Talking to other people isn’t Kate Bailey’s favorite activity. She’d much rather be out on the lake, soaking up the solitude and sunshine. So when her best friend, Alana, convinces Kate to join their high school’s podcast, Kate is not expecting to be chosen as the host. Now she’ll have to answer calls and give advice on the air? Impossible.
      But to Kate’s surprise, she turns out to be pretty good at the hosting gig. Then the podcast gets in a call from an anonymous guy, asking for advice about his unnamed crush. Kate is pretty sure that the caller is gorgeous Diego Martinez, and even surer that the girl in question is Alana. Kate is excited for her friend … until Kate herself starts to develop feelings for Diego. Suddenly, Kate finds that while doling out wisdom to others may be easy, asking for help is tougher than it looks, and following your own advice is even harder.
      Kasie West’s adorable story of secrets, love, and friendship is sure to win over hearts everywhere.”

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“I put my hand on my forehead and groaned. Maybe the best thing to come out of this would be that I’d be fired.”

Listen to Your Heart is a great addition to Kasie West’s already impressive collection of YA contemporary novels. West is known for her lighthearted and fun books and Listen to Your Heart is no exception. Kate is the last person who would choose to be in the spotlight, but when an elective class lands her in one of the seats as cohost for her school’s advice podcast, that’s exactly where she ends up. Kate is forced out of her comfort zone, but discovers that she may have a knack for this kind of thing after all. I loved that this novel included a lot of different and unusual family dynamics. Kate and her family run a marina and as a result, she has cousins and aunts and uncles always in and out of her house at any given time. One of my criticisms of West’s novels has always been that I never felt like I got to know the love interests quite as much as the protagonists. But in Listen to Your Heart, West takes her time developing Kate’s love interest and aside from the protagonist, Diego felt like the most developed character. I really liked the chemistry between these two characters and aside from P.S. I Like You, this might be my favorite pairing of hers. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the relationship dynamics in this one (slight spoiler alert ahead: Kate ends up developing a crush on her best friend’s crush, but I think West does a good job of keeping Kate and Alana’s relationship intact while also allowing Kate to very organically develop feelings for Diego). Overall, I really enjoyed this latest West novel and it reminded me that a quick, laid-back read can be just as satisfying as a more dense novel.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: From Twinkle, with Love
Author: Sandhya Menon
Series: N/A
Pages: 330
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 22nd 2018

      “Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.
      When mystery man ‘N’ begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.
      Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?
      Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.”

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      “The more I think about it, the more I wonder if my mother and I are related at all. I bet I was dropped on her doorstep, like Harry Potter, and she just hasn’t figured out how to tell me yet.
      I walk off to my room to look for my lightning bolt scar. Because that is the only way any of this makes sense.”

With From Twinkle, with Love, Sandhya Menon delivers another laugh-out-loud YA contemporary with a protagonist that is sure to steal the hearts of readers. Twinkle Mehra dreams of becoming a filmmaker, of one day making a name for herself, of changing the world one film at a time. But the reality is Twinkle feels like a nobody at her high school, surrounded by more affluent kids and cast aside by her best friend, being overlooked is unfortunately what Twinkle is good at. But when Sahil Roy approaches her asking to collaborate on a film project, Twinkle is convinced this is a huge breakout opportunity and it might even mean getting Sahil’s twin brother Neil to notice her. Twinkle soon learns the ups and downs of being in charge of a large project and how that power can change even the best of people. I immediately fell in love with Twinkle’s voice. She’s youthful and optimistic and made me laugh almost at every turn. Her relationship with Sahil was delightful and not just because of all the awkwardness between them. These two characters were their best selves when they were around each other. I loved that we got those small glimpses into Sahil’s POV through texts and blog posts because it really helped to round out his character. As much as I adored the romance in this one, I was really invested in Twinkle’s strained relationship with her best friend Maddie. I don’t often see friendships-on-the-rocks in novels and really appreciated how well Menon conveyed that a broken friendship can be just as heartbreaking as a romantic relationship gone awry. If you’re looking for a novel that will make you smile and root for characters even when they make terrible decisions, From Twinkle, with Love is the book for you.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★