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.

★ ★ ★ ★

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Title: Let’s Talk About Love
Author: Claire Kann
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: January 23rd 2018

      “Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
    But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
      When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.”

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“Love shouldn’t hinge solely on exposing your physical body to another person. Love was intangible. Universal. It was whatever someone wanted it to be and should be respected as such.”

Claire Kann’s debut, Let’s Talk About Love is as delightful as its protagonist. When Alice’s girlfriend breaks it off with her after finding out she’s asexual, Alice isn’t sure if she ever wants to try love again. She has enough on her plate with feeling like the third wheel yet again in her trio of friends and pressure from her family to go to law school. When Alice’s new coworker catches her eye, she begins to question if keeping herself cut off from romantic connections is the best thing. But her track record guarantees that Takumi is not likely to understand her sexual orientation, so it’s best that they remain friends, right?

Alice is truly the star of this novel. She’s Black, biromantic, and asexual. While she is comfortable with her sexual identity, Alice has kept it kind of a secret because of how people have reacted in the past. Most people do not take the time to understand that Alice, while experiencing romantic attraction, doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Alice is an incredibly soft person who develops deep connections with people and when these people let her down, it hurts her so much more than it ought to. I am full of affection for this young woman and felt so protective of her. I loved how thoughtful she could be and all her quirky niche interests.

The progression of Alice’s relationship with Takumi was so rewarding to read. She’s very flustered around him at first because she isn’t quite sure what to make of her attraction to him. It makes for some fun and awkward moments between the two. Takumi is sweet, caring, and patient. One of my favorite things about their relationship is their conversations. They are never perfunctory, but always full of depth and openness between the two that made me like them more both as individual characters and as a potential couple. There is such ease and rapport between the two that made me smile.

Alice’s is also navigating her relationship with her family and particularly with her mother and sister, who both insist that Alice pursue a career in law. As a college student, Alice is just beginning to learn what freedom is like and isn’t so sure that this is the path she wants to take. She is also part of a tight-knit trio of friends. Feenie and Ryan have been one of the most important parts of her life. They’ve done everything together, but recently Alice has felt left out. Feenie and Ryan have been serious for a while and ultimately plan to get married. I loved how complex these relationships were and sometimes they were great and sometimes they were messy. I felt that the novel was touching on the toxicity of co-dependent relationships, but wasn’t quite sure because of the way the conflict between Feenie and Alice was handled in the end. I’m still not convinced that Feenie was the best person for Alice to have in her life and more than once wished she had dumped her.

Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love oozes charm with its endearing protagonist and a love story that will make you squee.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

ARC Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Title: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 21st 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.
      Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.
    Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.
      All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.
      As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.”

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Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is just as delightful as its title implies. Pepper Evans is drowning under the weight of school work, her swim captain responsibilities, and pressure from her mother to help with Big League Burger’s Twitter account, their once-small family business. Pepper’s only solace has been her correspondence with “Wolf” a classmate she’s been messaging on an anonymous app for students at her prep school. Unbeknownst to anyone, Jack is the creator of said app and is Pepper’s mysterious penpal, a fact that he himself doesn’t even know. When Big League Burger tweets about a new sandwich that’s way too similar to one that’s been on Jack’s family’s deli menu for years, a Twitter war starts between the two company accounts. When Pepper and Jack end up striking up an unlikely friendship in real life, it’s only a matter of time before truth about their online personas comes out.

Pepper is the very definition of an overachiever. She’s spent the last few years of her life trying to fit into this new world her mother brought her to after the company’s franchise expansion. Her father is still back in Nashville, running the first Big League Burger. Her home life hasn’t been the best; though her parents had an amicable divorce, her older sister, who is off at college, has a rocky relationship with their mom. Pepper has always played peacemaker between the two and as a result hasn’t been able to stand up to her mother herself because she is afraid of ruining their relationship. She’s never developed any lasting relationships in this new place because she’s always felt out of place and fitting in in a superficial kind of way felt easier than finding out where she actually belonged.

Jack has always been the guy who goofs around too much, the guy who doesn’t have a lot of ambition. The truth is he’s been living in his twin’s shadow for so long, it’s always seemed easier to embrace the narrative than counteract it. Even his parents seem to believe that Ethan is meant for bigger and better things. On the other hand, Jack is already stuck behind the family’s deli counter, making him the perfect person to stay behind and take over when the time comes. Jack’s been keeping his passion for app development a secret because why reveal this side of himself when everyone has already made up their minds about who he is? One of the bright spots in his life is his relationship with his grandma, who started Girl Cheesing. She is one of the only people he can really open up to and one that sees him for who he is and not just a less impressive version of his twin.

I love how organic Jack and Pepper’s friendship developed in this one. They are very different people and at first glance, you can’t see how the two would work but they do. Jack breaks through that very small bubble Pepper has made for herself and Pepper is one of the few people that not only sees Jack for who he is, but sees through all the things he’s pretending to be. The storyline, while familiar, never felt like it was too predictable. I expected to get to know both characters more through their online interactions, but was happy to see that the novel focused more on how their relationship developed in real life. I love when contemporaries give us multiple POVs and even more when it’s well done. Tweet Cute‘s dual POV is well-done. The author does a wonderful job of dividing chapters and giving both characters their own worlds and hang ups that it didn’t feel like it was more Pepper or Jack’s story. They each had their own journeys that just happened to converge. Both perspectives and characters were equally engaging and I loved that both had their own lessons to learn apart from each other.

Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is an adorable, sweet, satisfying contemporary with characters with undeniable likeability and chemistry.

★ ★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes

Title: Analee in Real Life
Author: Janelle Milanes
Series: N/A
Pages: 416
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 18th 2018

TW: scene of sexual assault (forced/unwanted kissing)

      “Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.
      Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner-in-crime, Xolkar—aka a teen boy named Harris whom Analee has never actually met in person.
      So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.
      But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?”

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      “Slowly, unexpectedly, Seb links his hand with mine.
      There’s no turning back now. I don’t have to look at anyone to realize the enormity of Seb’s move. There are literally gasps that echo through the hall. I hear his name repeated in whispers, so frequently that they blend together into one long hiss.”

  • Analee – There was so much about Analee that I found relatable. She’s an introvert who finds it easier to share her feelings in a journal than out loud. She’s still dealing with the loss of her mother and how that loss reshaped so many of her other relationships. She has social anxiety and is not comfortable being the center of attention. Analee never refers to herself as fat (which might leave something to be desired when it comes to fat rep), but she calls herself chubby and has self-esteem issues, but I loved her entire journey throughout the novel which focuses on self-love.
  • Analee and Seb – These two are very different from one another, but I loved their dynamic all throughout the novel. I loved that Milanes shows them becoming friends first before exploring anything romantic between the two.
  • Familial relationships – I always love when contemporaries have such a family-focused story and Analee in Real Life is so good at navigating the MC’s relationship with her father, his fiancée, and her soon-to-be stepsister Avery. I loved that none of these relationships remain stagnant, but grow as a result of the MC’s growth.
  • Positive stepmother-stepdaughter relationship – Analee’s evolving relationship with her soon-to-be stepmother, Harlow, was my favorite to read about. Harlow is the complete opposite of Analee’s mother and has changed her dad as a result. And Analee can’t help but resent her for it. For example, Analee can’t help compare Harlow’s vegan meals to her mother’s Cuban cuisines. In the end, the two come to understand each other more.
  • Realistic romantic arcs – The fake dating trope is one of my favorites and although it can be predictable, I just love the tension that seems to underscore these relationships. I don’t want to give too much away, but I love that Milanes writes both Analee and Seb in such a way that they feel flawed and real. They make mistakes and hold themselves back. The ending of the novel felt truly empowering from Analee’s POV because it prioritized where she was in her journey and not necessarily where they were in their relationship.

  • Seb in the beginning – While I ended up really enjoying Seb as a character, the beginning made me pause. I was immediately put off by his dynamic with his ex-girlfriend where he didn’t seem to get the message that she wanted space.
  • Analee and Lily – One of the reasons Analee agrees to fake date Seb is her desire to win back her ex-best friend, Lily. I was disappointed that there were not more scenes between the two of them.

Janelle Milanes’s Analee in Real Life will delight fans of the fake dating trope, but shines brightest with the MC’s personal arc that’s rooted in self-love, bravery, and personal growth.

★ ★ ★ ★