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 Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Title: This Is How You Lose the Time War
Author: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Series: N/A
Pages: 201
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: July 16th 2019

      “Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
      Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
      Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
      Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
      Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.”

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“Red wrote too much too fast. Her pen had a heart inside, and the nib was a wound in the vein. She stained the page with herself. She sometimes forgets what she wrote, save that it was true, and the writing hurt.”

  • The writing – El-Mohtar and Gladstone have weaved together a beautiful story that is both hopeful and somber. The imagery is gorgeous and I found myself pausing just to appreciate the language
  • The world-building – I don’t think I’ve ever come across a world quite like this one. Red and Blue are on different sides of a war that is waged across time. Their missions require them to travel to the past, to manipulate certain events or people in order to bring about futures that will benefit their sides.
  • The romance – The progression of Red and Blue’s relationship was perfect. I love the enemies to lovers trope and bought in so fast to these two characters finding an unlikely connection. I loved how they both challenged each other, teased one another and fell so hard when they began to realize how much their feelings for one another grew.
  • The letters – The letters exchanged between Red and Blue is my favorite portion of the novel. These two have in a sense met their match in one another. But it is when these letters grow more intimate, where, despite the danger, they lay out their whole selves, that this book drilled itself into this reader’s heart. These letters are vulnerable and moving and some of the most lovely pieces of writing I’ve read.

  • Sometimes hard to follow – The unusual setting and unfamiliar language made the story a little hard to follow at the beginning.

  • Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War is one of the most unique books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The f/f romance completely swept me off my feet and I will no doubt revisit this one.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Snapshot Review: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Title: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Author: Carlos Hernandez
Series: Sal and Gabi, #1
Pages: 382
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: March 5th 2019

      “How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?
      When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.
      Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.
      A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in this mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.”

“The entire back of the locker had become a portal into another world. I could see across dimensions into a whole new reality. Who knew what bizarre aliens lived there, what strange lived they led, what mind-blowing powers and technology they had?”

  • Sal – This kid had me laughing out loud for almost the entirety of the book. He’s mischievous, sometimes sarcastic, and has a knack for getting into trouble (then talking his way out of it). What I really loved about him was how open he was to being wrong. It was so refreshing to see a young male character not let pride get in the way when it came to apologizing.
  • Diabetes – I think this is the first time I’ve read a book about a character with diabetes and I’m so glad it was a middle grade novel. There is something about this age group that is so open that you know how important such a storyline will be for readers.
  • Gabi – Gabi is fierce and stubborn. She’s smart and unafraid to challenge things she doesn’t understand (like Sal). I definitely want her in my corner. Family is so important to her and I love how she embraces her judgmental side with regard to them. She will judge you based on whether you accept her family for who they are.
  • Light and heavy topics – The humor in the novel made me smile more times than I can count, but the emotional aspects are what kept me reading. Sal is still dealing with the death of his mother. His ability to pull things from other universes has intersected with his grief and sometimes he accidentally brings another version of his mother into his world. There is also Gabi’s storyline about her newborn baby brother being in the ICU. Both are handle with a lot of care and I really appreciated seeing the uncertainty and fierceness of these young characters when faced with issues that would make most adults crumble.
  • Different familial dynamics – There are some unconventional familial relationships in this one and some that defy stereotypes. One such relationship that really stood out to me was Sal’s relationship with his stepmother. I loved their interactions and how she was never a roadblock for Sal’s growth but just another adult in his life who was always in his corner.
  • The adults – I adored so many adult characters in this one. Loved that they didn’t hold the kid characters back, but were still ever-present. They didn’t talk down to child characters, but loved them and wanted what was best.

  • Conflict – As much as I adored this one, I do think it could have done with a little more conflict to drive the plot.

Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is a fun middle grade SFF novel with charming characters who always manage to get themselves in the best kind of trouble. I cannot wait to read the sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot Review: Blood of a Thousand Stars by Rhoda Belleza

Title: Blood of a Thousand Stars
Author: Rhoda Belleza
Series: Empress of a Thousand Skies, #2
Pages: 359
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “Empress
      With a revolution brewing, Rhee is faced with a choice: make a deal with her enemy, Nero, or denounce him and risk losing her crown.
      Fugitive
      Framed assassin Alyosha has one goal in mind: kill Nero. But to get his revenge, Aly may have to travel back to the very place he thought he’d left forever—home.
      Princess
      Kara knows that a single piece of technology located on the uninhabitable planet Wraeta may be the key to remembering—and erasing—the princess she once was.
      Madman
      Villainous media star Nero is out for blood, and he’ll go to any means necessary to control the galaxy.
      Vicious politics and high-stakes action culminate in an epic showdown that will determine the fate of the universe.”

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  • Accessible science-fiction novel – I always hesitate to pick up science-fiction novels. It’s just not my thing and my mind spaces out when things get to science-y. This duology is one of the few science-fiction novels I’d even recommend even to those who aren’t necessarily fans of the genre.
  • Rhee’s arc – In the first novel, Rhee is consumed by her quest for revenge. She’s reckless and her tunnel-vision makes her lose sight of what is important. In this sequel, Rhee is forced to pull back, to make difficult decisions in order to try to save the world from a dangerous man. She can’t be ruled be her emotions any longer, but must play smart, even if she has to make a deal with the devil himself.
  • Multi-layered world – One of the reasons I’m such a fan of this duology is how multi-layered and deliberate the world-building is. Belleza tackles everything from classism to racism (often in the form of prejudice against refugees) to making a commentary on imperialism. I finished this novel and sat there for a while wondering how this duology has gone under the radar.
  • Intersection of politics and technology – One of the main plot lines revolves around stopping a very power and charismatic political leader from gaining control over technology that would help the spread of propaganda, violate a person’s most private thoughts, and take away an entire population’s agency. I found it fascinating.

  • Missed opportunity for certain dynamics – I loved that Belleza often separated her characters because I think it made their individual arcs stronger. That being said, I really wish we had gotten more interaction between several of the characters. I’m torn between wanting certain characters to meet sooner and just wanting this to have been a longer series so I could see them interact more.


Rhoda Belleza’s Blood of a Thousand Stars is an exciting end to her criminally underrated Empress of a Thousand Skies duology that functions both as social commentary and an engaging science-fiction romp.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)