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)

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)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Title: Into the Tall, Tall Grass
Author: Loriel Ryon
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: April 7th 2020

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

      “A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.
      Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?
      When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.”

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  • Yolanda – I found so many things about Into the Tall, Tall Grass‘s MC relatable. This twelve year old is bright, opinionated, and struggles to express her feelings. Life hasn’t felt right ever since Yolanda’s grandfather past away. Her grandmother has fallen ill, her best friend dumped her for her twin sister, Sonja, and she’s still waiting for her family gift to appear. Yolanda is prone to jealousy, is desperate for someone to truly understand her, and just wants everything to go back to the way it was before.
  • Friendships tested – Yolanda and her best friend, Ghita, had a falling out and the former isn’t sure she wants to be mend this friendship. There is so much heartache on both sides of this relationship. I loved that both girls are allowed to feel resentful and angry, but also must learn where the other person is coming from before their friendship can be restored.
  • Grandparent-grandchild relationships – These were my favorite relationships in the novel to read about. From Yolanda’s special bond with her grandfather, who has been the only one to truly understand her, to Sonja’s relationship with her grandmother that has taken on a mentor-mentee dynamic, these bonds run so deep and have so many different layers.
  • Sister relationship – Yolanda and Sonja are at odds for much of the story, but it was so touching to see them find each other again. Much like Yolanda’s relationship with Ghita, this bond has been severed for all the wrong reasons, but at the end of the day, these two sisters will need each other going forward.
  • First crushes – Yolanda has an incredibly sweet first crush on Ghita’s brother Hasik. He’s very sweet and sees Yolanda as remarkable even when she doesn’t always see it herself. I was so happy to see a sapphic first crush explored in this middle grade. Sonja and Ghita have become more than friends, but there are still plenty of issues they have to work though.
  • Discussions on grief – This middle grade novel is hard hitting in the grief department. Yolanda is still grieving over her grandfather’s death and now her grandmother’s illness.
  • Multi-generational story – I really appreciated that this wasn’t just Yolanda’s story, but hers was just one piece of a very long, wearsome and yet hopeful story of the entire Rodríguez clan. Also appreciated that the adult characters were not perfect and that the author did not shy away from revealing their flaws to the younger characters.
  • The writing – The story felt magical from the very beginning. Not only does Ryon capture the tumulteous feelings of adolescence, but her descriptions of the pecan orchard of the past and the mysterious grassland that springs forth and which Yolander and her friends must journey through were so well illustrated that it was easy to fall both into the story.

  • Nothing to note.

Weaving together stories of the past and the present, Loriel Ryon’s Into the Tall, Tall Grass is an unforgettable tale of a young girl faced with the reality of loss and grief; bittersweet at its center but written with honesty and compassion.

★ ★ ★ ★
(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)