ARC Review: The Dream Weaver by Reina Luz Alegre

Title: The Dream Weaver
Author: Reina Luz Alegre
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 23rd 2020

**Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from the author which does not influence my review**

      “Twelve-year-old Zoey navigates the tricky waters of friendship while looking for a way to save her grandfather’s struggling business in this heartwarming, coming-of-age debut novel perfect for fans of Kristi Wientge, Donna Gephart, and Meg Medina.
    Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.
      So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!
      After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.”

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Reina Luz Alegre’s The Dream Weaver is a heartwarming middle grade novel about learning to find a voice for yourself. Zoey is used to being moved around. This summer her father is seeking out yet another one of his pipedreams and leaving her and her older brother with their grandfather in New Jersey. While there Zoey discovers that her Poppy’s bowling alley is in financial trouble. With the help of her new friends, Zoey sets off on a mission to save Gonzo’s Bowling Alley and maybe help heal some of her family’s wounds along the way.

Zoey is one of the sweetest and most earnest characters I’ve come across in a middle grade. I saw so much of my younger self in her. She has the biggest heart and just wants her family to be happy. The tension between her brother and father sometimes feels unbearable and she’s learned to be the peacemaker. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve issues between the two and Zoey is just beginning to understand that relationship are very complicated. Fixing one thing in a person life doesn’t fix everything, especially when they are reluctant to talk it out with the other person. Zoey has a very strong bond to her older brother José, but can’t help feeling a little resentful that he will be attending college in another state at the beginning of fall. She feels left behind by two of the strongest figures in her life and sometimes struggles to find the words to express her hurt.

It was very bittersweet to see Zoey reconnect to her heritage through her grandfather. On one hand, she is learning more about the Cuban part of herself, the one that ties her to her mother who passes away several years earlier; but on the other, these parts of her culture should never have been lost. Her father found it too painful to keep her mother’s things around, but they would have been invaluable to Zoey and her brother growing up without their mother. Poppy becomes her main link to both her mother and her abuela. Both were caring and a force to be reckoned with. Zoey doesn’t know just how much she is like both of them, but I loved seeing her finding that assertive part of herself; the part that tells her not to give up and the part that tells her she doesn’t just deserve to have dreams, but deserves to see them come true.

Besides family, The Dream Weaver also has an emphasis on friendship. Zoey isn’t always great at making friends because she moves so much, but she very much would like to feel like she belongs. She crosses paths with a middle school bowling team and while she doesn’t hit it off with everyone in the group right away, she does find her place among these peers. Isa is the first person to make her feel welcome and for Zoey, having a female presence in her life is both refreshing and a little intimidating. I loved that Zoey discovers that sometimes the first people to be in your corner are your friends and that they can be your biggest cheerleaders even if you are all very different from one another.

Reina Luz Alegre’s The Dream Weaver is perfect for readers looking for a middle grade that shows the power of determination and that being a sensitive and caring person can be your greatest strength.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Incendiary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Hollow Crown, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: April 28th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      “I am Renata Convida.
      I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
      Now I live my own.
      Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.
      Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.
      When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.
      But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.”

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  • Renata – I really enjoyed how unconventional a lead character Renata was. She isn’t the strongest, she isn’t the leader, and she isn’t even the bravest. Renata’s existence is a constant point of contention. The Whispers may have claimed her, but there is a lot of distrust, even amongst those closest to her. They have never forgotten the time she spent in the company of one of their greatest enemies, the Justice Méndez. For most of her life, Renata’s been used by others and never truly accepted. This is one of the reasons she is so drawn to characters like Dez, who believe in her when much of the time she doesn’t believe in herself.  Her wounds are often openly displayed, even when she wants to hide, she simply can’t. Renata’s magic has never been neat and she’s never been confident in her abilities. She learned early that her magic was dangerous and hasn’t had very many people tell her otherwise. She’s constantly been told who she is and has never been allowed to choose who she wants to be. I loved the beginning of her journey to discovering the answer.
  • World-Building – Córdova’s world is loosely based on the Spanish Inquisition. King Fernando is determined to rid his kingdom of the Moria, a people born with what he deems as unnaturally magic abilities. He and his predecessors have all but driven the Moria out of the land. Not only that, but they are determined to wiped out every trace of their cultural and religion. The Moria have done their best to maintain their ways, but they are slowly dwindling in number.
  • Magical System – The Moria are gifted with different magical abilties. Some are able to create illusions, while others are able to manipulate emotions. Renata is one of very few Robári, whose magic is tied to memory. As a child, she was manipulated into working with Justice Mendez, the right hand of the king, draining prisoners of their memories and turning them into Hollows.
  • Unpredictability – One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel is how multilayered so many of characters were which made the story incredibly unpredictable at times. Renata struggles to find who she is, especially when so many of her memories are distorted. This makes her point of view somewhat unreliable. She very much wants to believe certain people are just evil, but learns that isn’t always the case. Many of her preconceived ideas about people are proven false or incomplete and I am really looking forward to seeing where the story goes after some shocking revelations.

  • Pacing – The novel sometimes felt uneven. The first third of the novel could have been its own separate novel because of how much happened. Things then come to an abrupt halt and I spent so much time wishing the story could capture the excitement of the beginning portion. But then suddenly we are thrust into the latter part of the novel, going full speed and ironically, this is where I wanted things to slow down. Particularly because there is a lot of buildup to meeting a certain character who I wish we could have spent more time with.

With surprises at every turn, Zoraida Córdova’s Incendiary is a great introductory novel to a new fantasy series that will sweep readers away and whose ending will leave you begging for more.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Title: Ghost Squad
Author: Claribel A. Ortega
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: April 7th 2020
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.
      For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.
      Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.
      With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.”

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Claribel A. Ortega’s debut novel, Ghost Squad, is a delightful middle grade with lots of heart and a cast of character that is sure to charm readers of every age. Lucely Luna is just like any twelve-year girl, she likes hanging out with her best friend, Syd, and spending time with her family. Only most of her family are ghosts and she’s the only one who can see them. When Lucely discovers that her dad may not have the money to keep their house and something odd begins happening to her ghost family, she’s determined to help on both fronts. But her plans take a frightening turn when Lucely, along with her best friend Syd, stumble upon an evil plan by the mayor himself to take over St. Augustine and steal the townspeople’s souls! Now Lucely and Syd, along with a suspiciously shrewd cat named Chunk, must figure out a way to stop him before it’s too late.

Ghost Squad is a great reminder that middle grade novels are some of the most engaging and heartfelt reads you will ever pick up. The most important thing to Lucely is her family and it is this bond that drives the story. Her father is a single parent who works hard to provide a good home life for her. His ghost tours haven’t had the kind of buzz he was hoping for, but the last thing he wants is for Lucely to worry about their finances. The rest of Lucely’s family is a different kind of special. Inspired by Dominican folklore, family members who’ve passed appear as firelies, called cocuyos, and are tied to the magical willow tree on Lucely’s family property. They also appear as ghosts, but only to Lucely’s young eyes. From her grandmother, Mamá Teresa to her long line of cousins, Lucely’s family is unconventional but fierce and loving. When Lucely discovers that something is amiss and she may lose the connection she has with her family for good, she will stop at nothing to make sure they are safe. She’s brave and little reckless, but her heart is always in the right place. Syd is Lucely’s best friend and I immediately took a liking to her. Not only is she sassy, she is also willing to do anything for her friend. Her vast knowledge of all things paranormal ends up being a big help in their quest to defeat the nefarious spirits who plan to take over their town. It was hard not to love these two girls. I was delighted with their saucy conversations and inability to avoid getting into trouble.

My favorite character by far is Syd’s grandmother, Babette, who steals the show every moment she’s on the page. Owner of an eccentric occult shop, there have always been whispers about whether or not she could be a witch. Though the girls believe they can sneak out and wander cemeteries without any of the adults in their life noticing, Babette is much smarter than either of them realize. I love that she takes the girls under her wing and shows them you should never underestimate a grandmother. And, of course, one must not forget Chunk, one of Babette’s cats, who has some strong opinions even for a cat. She made the best reluctant animal companion.

With playful dialogue and fun characters, Claribel A. Ortega’s Ghost Squad is an unforgettable debut that will thrill and bewitch readers.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

ARC Review: Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Untamed Shore
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 472
Publisher: Agora Books
Release Date: February 11th 2020
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “Renowned author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s first thriller, UNTAMED SHORE, is a coming-of-age story set in Mexico which quickly turns dark when a young woman meets three enigmatic tourists.
      Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She’s bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children.
      Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners’ lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future.
      When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone’s asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.
      Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting voices in fiction, and with her first crime novel, UNTAMED SHORE, she crafts a blazing novel of suspense with an eerie seaside setting and a literary edge that proves her a master of the genre.”

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia first crime novel, Untamed Shore, takes readers on a harrowing journey in a small town in Baja California. Viridiana knows there isn’t much for her in Desengaño. The dilapidated town once paid host to fishermen looking to make it in the shark hunting business, but as that industry lost its luster so did the town’s appeal to outsiders. When three American tourists make their way to Viridiana’s corner of the world, she’s offered a temporary job as one of their personal assistants. A job that comes with more money she could ever dream of making during the meager tourist season or working behind the counter of her mom’s shop. But Viridiana gets more than she’d bargained for when one night one of the foreigners ends up dead and Viridiana finds herself caught in a web of lies she might not be able to find her way out of.

Untamed Shore takes its time getting started. Moreno-Garcia vividly captures the atmosphere of small-town living and the discontentment of those like Viridiana, who dream of something more than the hand she’s been dealt. There’s a sense of isolation and confinement to this setting. Viridiana feels like a character who’s outgrown her town, but isn’t sure if there are any outs for her. This is part of the appeal of the American tourists she meets. Viridiana experiences her town through their eyes.  Though Viridiana is extremely bright, having graduated early and is fluent in many languages, she is more or less wasting her time in this small town. Her talents have gone underappreciated, but she can’t see a way out when her mother insists she stay behind to help with her half siblings or worse, get married and settle down. I didn’t truly fall into the story until the second half when Viridiana is caught in an impossible situation. Her only way of escape is to lie and manipulate and in the end, there’s a good chance not even these things can save her.

When the glamorous Daisy and her husband and brother arrive, Viridiana cannot help but fall under their spell. The self-important Ambrose with money to burn may not be all that friendly, but he has the kind of freedom people in town can only dream of having. His much younger wife Daisy is friendly enough, even if her mood sours without warning, as likely to offer a gracious smile as a condescending retort. Gregory quickly draws Viridiana’s eye and it’s difficult to ignore his charms especially when his kisses are so thrilling. But underneath these masks, something dark lingers. Viridiana’s naivety gets her caught in a game where she doesn’t know the rules. She has more to lose because she doesn’t have the kind of resources these Americans have and one wrong move could leave her ruined forever while these tourists are free go back to their carefree lives. The town in which Viridiana lives, is appropriately called Desengaño, meaning disillusionment. This is the crux of the novel, it is a young woman’s journey discovering just how dangerous self-delusion can be.

Untamed Shore is slow-paced thriller but with deceptive faces at every corner and a surprisingly vicious ending, it’s hard to look away.

★ ★ ★

(3/5)