Mini Reviews: A Dash of Trouble + Pitch Dark

MiniToday I have two immensely different mini-reviews for you, but both are by Latina authors, so it kind of makes sense that I’ve paired them together? Yeah, let’s go with that. Anna Meriano’s A Dash of Trouble was so charming that I already have plans to purchase it for my niece come Christmas and I enjoyed Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark so much, I might have to buy for myself soon. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: A Dash of Trouble
Author: Anna Meriano
Series: Love Sugar Magic, #1
Pages: 320
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: January 2nd 2018 

      “Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.
      Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

      Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.
      And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?”

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“They all had sticky smiles on their faces. Leo licked cinnamon sugar off her fingers and smiled too, but her thoughts kept wandering to the recipe book under her bed. She didn’t know what was worse, the guilty feeling of a secret or the impatience of wanting to try her next spell.”

Anna Meriano’s debut middle grade novel A Dash of Trouble is sweet, magical, and an utter delight. Eleven-year-old Leonora “Leo” Lograño just wants to be treated like her older sisters. But as the youngest of five daughters, Leo is often kept out of the loop. She also struggles to feel included when she grew up without speaking Spanish and everyone else in her family is either fluent or learning. As this year’s Día de Muertos celebration is approaching, Leo is determined more than ever to not be left out, but her curiosity leads her to a family secret that changes everything. The women on her mother’s side of the family are all brujas, witches with individual gifts from conjuring objects out of thin air to communicating with the dead. Leo is ecstatic, but she must keep her new knowledge a secret because like everything else, her family thinks she’s too young to learn about magic. In secret, Leo begins working spells to help her best friend Caroline, but it all starts to fall apart when her spells don’t go quite as planned. Now Leo must figure out how to fix her out of control magic without anyone in her family finding out. Leo is such an earnest character who I could not help but love. She wants more than anything to not be treated as a child and while her decisions aren’t always wise, her motivation comes from a good place. I loved all the different dynamics between Leo and her sisters and could picture each so clearly. Meriano includes real recipes in her novel (minus the magic) that are perfect for young readers to follow (with adult supervision) and hopefully helps bring this heartfelt and funny novel to life.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Pitch Dark
Author: Courtney Alameda
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.
      Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.
      Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.
      In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.”

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“He groans, and the weight of his voice hits my temple, physical as a fist. Pain explodes from the crown of my head to my cheekbone. My nose cracks. Blood faucets from my left nostril, splattering over my mouth and chin.”

Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark takes the intricacies of science-fiction and combines it with all the thrills of a horror story in a novel that grabs readers from page one and doesn’t let go. Alameda’s two leads, Laura Cruz and Tuck Morgan, are both capable characters on their own, but they also make an excellent team and I loved the fact that they both had room to shine despite this fact. I was really impressed by the amount of detail that went into this novel from the descriptions of spaceships like the John Muir to the world-building. One of the novel’s drawbacks, however, is the time-frame. The events of the novel occur very quickly making the development of a connection between characters feel a little hasty. Still, it was hard not to fall in love with Pitch Dark‘s characters and feel the excitement of the story. I also loved the fact that Pitch Dark is a multi-layered novel that also addresses humane nature, racism, and the politics of written history. I also want to say that if you get a chance, read Alameda’s Author’s Note at the end as it really resonated with me.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteTitle: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Series: Fairyland, #1
Pages: 247
Publisher: Square Fish
Release Date: May 10th 2011

      “Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

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“But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of the most enchanting middle grade novels I’ve ever read. When young September finds herself whisked off to the unusual and magical Fairyland, she isn’t sure what to think, only that surely a great adventure awaits her. I was absolutely tickled by the challenging vocabulary in this middle grade book as it shows that the author does not wish to talk down to her readers and expects much from them. Valente’s beautiful and iridescent descriptions are a delight and with each page, her world grows larger and more lush. It is novels like this, with so much heart and vivid world building, that reminds one that perhaps the most important stories aren’t written for adult but for children.

From witches to wyverns and the occasional talking leopard, Fairyland is a place of mystery and delight. September crosses paths with a number of different creatures, most notably the kind and protective wyvern named A-Through-L. September’s good-nature and unwillingness to allow others to suffer endears her to all those she meets. The friendship that grows between September and A-Through-L (affectionately shortened to Ell) is sweet and lovely. September also meets the imprisoned Saturday, whom I am excited to learn more about in the next books. The Marquess, the pugnacious child-ruler of Fairyland, makes a worthy adversary. Her strict rules and unfair restrictions on the friends September has made immediately puts her at odds with the protagonist. The Marquess is a sly character, unyielding and manipulative. Unwilling to give up the autocracy she has built and desperate to hold on to her power, the Marquess will do anything to get what she wants, including threatening September.

With quirks reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and characters as memorable as those in The Wizard of Oz, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making begs you join September on her adventure.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

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Mini Reviews: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society + ARC Review: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart

MiniIt is by no plan on my part that this month’s set of mini reviews features two middle grade reads. Middle grade novels are always such a delight and it’s a bit disappointing that I haven’t been able to get to more this year. A little off topic, but why is it that so many MG books have long titles? I confess that I secretly love when titles are long-winded though. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society
Author: Janet Sumner Johnson
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Release Date: April 1st 2016
*I received a copy of this book through a giveaway hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl which does not influence my review*

      “Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason’s home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It’s worth a shot!). Face the evil bankers herself. (She’s one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY.

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“The elephant crashed on top of me, smushing me like a two-liter on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn’t believe. Even from a distance, the words on the sign were clear: For Sale.

In The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, Janet Sumner Johnson masterfully captures the voice of ten-year-old Annie whose whole world goes topsy-turvy when she finds out her best friend, Jason, may have to move out of state. In a series of well-meaning, but overly-ambitious schemes, Annie and Jason try their best to figure out a way for his family to stay. Annie is the kind of girl with big ideas who can’t quite understand why the adults in her life don’t jump on board immediately. Her personality is nicely balanced with Jason’s, who is much more skeptical and hesitant to go along with Annie’s crazy plans, but does so anyway because that’s what best friends do. Full of amazing friendships, fun adventures, unexpected mysteries, and perfect PB&J sandwiches (yes, you will be craving a PB&J at least once while reading this), this debut middle grade read will both delight and move you.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: September 13th 2016
*I received an eARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn’t much like to be around other people. He’d rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.
      Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn’t need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she’s kind to everyone at the orphanage . . . Lionel most of all.
      Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth—and starts to take control—they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.”

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You might recognize Lauren DeStefano’s name from her YA book series, but she’s recently dipped her toe in the Middle Grade genre. Her newest book The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, follows nine-year-old best friends Marybeth and Lionel. The two main characters are very well-developed with their own personalities and ways of looking at the world. Marybeth is the more practical of the two, she is well-behaved and never causes trouble for Mrs. Mannerd, who runs the orphanage where the children live. Lionel on the other hand is quite the handful, always disappearing and rarely willing to interact with other people. Marybeth and Lionel’s relationship is the strongest element in the novel, each is just as devoted to the other, despite their differences. For Lionel, who feels more at home in nature and among animals, Marybeth is his link to the human world. Likewise, Marybeth understands that Lionel belongs to a different kind of world, a world she only catches glimpses of through their friendship. The story itself is rather dark, but DeStefano’s charming writing makes the story accessible for all ages.

Rating: 3/5

★★★