Archive for February, 2020

Review of Frankly in Love, by David Yoon

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Frankly in Love

by David Yoon
read by Raymond J. Lee

Listening Library, 2019. 10 hours on 8 compact discs
Review written December 30, 2019, from a library audiobook
2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature Honor
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist

2020 Capitol Choices Selection

Frank Li is a senior in high school whose parents came to America from Korea before he was born. His parents want him to marry a nice Korean girl, and they have someone in mind. They’ve stopped talking to Frank’s older sister because she married an African American man. Frank’s best friend Q is African American, and they don’t mind that, but they want their children to marry someone Korean.

This audiobook explores the expectations and assumptions Frank and his friends have to endure. I like the way Frank, who’s telling the story, describes white folks as “European Americans” – because that seems only fair.

Frank has grown up going to “Gatherings” – where his parents and other friends who came to America from Korea get together with their families. The kids call themselves the “Limbos” – because they’re not quite seen as American and not quite seen as Korean.

When Frank falls in love with a European American girl, he works out a fake dating arrangement with Joy Song, one of the Limbos who his parents are pushing him to spend time with. Joy has had a Chinese American boyfriend for years, but hasn’t told her parents. If she and Frank pretend to go on dates with each other, they have a cover for spending time with their own beloved.

The scheme seems simple, but neither one can quite bring themselves to tell their real date. And things rapidly get more complex.

This is a fun story with lots of poignant moments. This book makes you think about relationships, and not only romantic ones, but also relationships with friends and family.

DavidYoon.com
ListeningLibrary.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Genesis Begins Again

by Alicia D. Williams

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum), 2019. 364 pages.
2020 Newbery Honor
2020 John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist
Review written February 1, 2020, from a library book

This book begins as thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson walks home with the popular girls – to see all her family’s possessions on the front lawn. They’ve been evicted from their apartment again.

But after dealing with that, her father takes them to a fancy new home in the suburbs. Genesis starts at a new school, and she wants things to go well there. She starts singing in the choir and even thinks about auditioning for the talent show. And has she finally made some real friends?

But her father isn’t exactly being honest about things. Her mother’s thinking about leaving, and Genesis isn’t ready to leave again. Time with Grandma confirms that everyone’s disappointed that Genesis ended up with dark skin like her father and not light skin like her mother. Genesis is willing to do anything to make her skin lighter. Then she’ll be beautiful and maybe her father can love her.

I’m going to be watching this author, because even in this debut novel she pulls us into Genesis’ world and all the different pressures surrounding her. It doesn’t all wrap up in a tidy bow, but Genesis is starting to learn to love herself, and the book ends with the reader reasonably hopeful that Genesis is going to deal with whatever the future holds.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Sonderling Sunday – Book of a Thousand Days – Memories

Monday, February 24th, 2020

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday – that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, sort of a Very Silly Phrasebook.

Tonight I’m looking at one of my favorite books in English, Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, Das Buch der Tausend Tage. Last time we were in this book, we left off on page 87 in the English edition, Day 684, and Seite 99 in the Deutsch edition, Tag 684.

Let’s begin with the first sentence of the section:

“Here’s something true about darkness — after enough time, you begin to see things that aren’t there.”
= Es ist wahr, dass man nach einiger Zeit in der Dunkelheit anfängt, Dinge zu sehen, die es gar nicht gibt.
(“It is true, that one after some time in the darkness begins, things to see, that are absolutely not there.”)

“fade away” = verblassen

I hope you won’t ever need to say this, but now you know how:
“Shiny gray dream rats” = Glänzende graue Traumratten

I like it on the rare occasions German is shorter:
“but don’t make a sound” = geräuschlos (“noiseless”)

“behind bricks” = eingemauert (“in-bricked”)

“thoughts and questions and memories” = Gedanken, Fragen und Erinnerungen

“surrounded” = umzingelt

“we were on our own” = waren wir auf uns gestellt

“Weedflower” = Grasblume

“hunched up” = verkrochen

“rags” = Lumpen

“We survived.” = Wir überlebten.

“healthy enough” = einigermaßer gesund

“mudfish” = Schlammfische

This one’s a lot longer in German:
“watered the milk gray”
= verlängerten die Milch mit Wasser, bis sie grau war
(“lengthened the milk with water, until it was gray”)

This is a lovely sentence:
“we laughed enough to shake the forest and ripple the rivers.”
= lachten wir auch so laut, dass der Wald erbebte und die Flüsse Wellen schlugen.

“parting songs” = Abschiedslieder

“Ancestors’ Realm” = Reich der Ahnen

I like this adjustment to the translation:
“with no shaman around for miles”
= weil meistens weit und breit kein Schamane in Sicht ist
(“because mostly far and wide no shaman in sight is”)

“haunting” = gespukt

“winter coverings” = Winterhülle

“aching work, longtime work”
= eine anstrengende langwierige Schufterei

“stagger” = taumelte

“summer pastures” = Sommerweiden

“ill-fated life” = Pech verfolgtes Dasein (“bad luck following existence”)

“purring” = schnurrend

“lap” = Schoß

“rodents” = Nagetiere

“a bowl of food” = Eine Schale Essen

Here’s a use of the prefix sonder-:
“Is that strange?” = Ist das sonderbar?
(It means “special,” but that’s not always good!)

“chiefs” = Häuptlinge

“I miss myself, how I used to be.”
= Ich vermisse auch mich selbst, mein früheres Ich.

I’ll finish with this sad sentence from the end of Day 780:
“Time is a wind that keeps blowing in my face and mumbling words that don’t make sense.”
= Die Zeit ist ein Wind, der mir ins Gesicht bläst und sinnlose Worte murmelt.

That’s it for tonight! Bis bald!

I still truly enjoy writing Sonderling Sunday when I have the chance. Ist das sonderbar?

Review of Infinite Hope, by Ashley Bryan

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

Infinite Hope

A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace

by Ashley Bryan

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), 2019. 108 pages.
Review written January 20, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
A 2020 Capitol Choices selection
2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor

Infinite Hope is visually stunning. The extra large pages are filled with sketches, copies of letters, and photographs, all from the author’s service during World War II.

I was relieved when I realized that all the handwritten letters are transcribed into print. There’s not a whole lot to read on each page, but there is so much to see.

Ashley Bryan is a distinguished Black writer and illustrator of children’s books. World War II came as he was getting started in art, having won a scholarship to art college. His art career was interrupted when he was drafted to serve in World War II, but he spent the whole war sketching what he saw. This book tells his story, illustrated by the actual sketches.

It’s a story of discrimination. Ashley Bryan wasn’t used to discrimination, having grown up in the Bronx, but that was how things worked in the U. S. Army. When they got to Europe, though, they found something different.

The Scottish people were warm and welcoming to all of us Black GIs. For some of the Southern men in our company, this was their very first experience of open, friendly encounters with white people. The Scots offered us unquestioned acceptance as equals, a level of immediate friendship that we rarely received at home.

This did not please our white company officers, who were determined to enforce the US Army policy of segregation. Their general attitude that Blacks were beneath them – that “we do not treat them like that!” prevailed. So they began to circulate terribly demeaning stories about Black people, saying that we would hurt them, that we had tails that would come out at night. Their goal was to make the Scottish people fearful so that they would avoid us.

To the officers’ great annoyance, their efforts did not change the way the people of Glasgow viewed us. The Scots did not have the institution of racism – they weren’t socialized against Blacks. Despite the officers’ attempts to sway them, the Scots trusted our actions and friendliness rather than the officers’ words.

Ashley Bryan even got permission to take classes at the Glasgow School of Art.

The fellows in my company never held it against me that I was free to leave camp to go to the art school, even when they were restricted. I had always shared my artwork with them and had helped some of them write letters to loved ones at home, so they were glad for me, glad that I had a chance to get better at something I loved. For while they were playing cards or dice, I was drawing, drawing, drawing. They also took it as my way of going over the head of our company officer, and cheered me on.

He tells about taking part in D-Day and its aftermath – and throughout it all, he kept on sketching. He stored all those sketches after the war (having regularly mailed batches back to his parents), and now was finally ready to pull them out. I like when he talks about preparing the sketches for an exhibit and turning some into paintings.

Fifty years ago, those paintings would have been dark – grays and blacks. But in really looking at those sketches now, I saw a beauty there – the beauty of the shared human experience. And I was able to face these sketches, face these memories and emotions, and turn them into the special world created by the men. I think of the men who were in the unit with me – I had such respect for what they could do, things I was so inept at. I remember their generosity toward me. I can never give them more than they gave me, so I would paint them in full color, filled with the vibrancy and life I had put into my garden paintings. I was ready.

I chose to paint from sketches of the soldiers playing cards or dice. This was a world they created, sheltered from the segregation and racism they endured. Sheltered from all sorts of war. I look now at the color, open form, and rhythm of those paintings. To me, they seem to have come out of my Islesford garden paintings rather than the drab colors of Omaha Beach! They have that surprise of discovery and invention that comes from seeing a well-known theme anew. They open the door to many other unexpected possibilities – because what is life, if not a voyage of endless discovery.

And so Ashley Bryan takes his sketches and inside story of World War II and makes it a thing of beauty and hope.

ashleybryancenter.org
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 314 pages.
Review written November 26, 2019, from a library book
2020 John Newbery Honor

This is a book of an old fox telling scary stories to a family of young foxes. One by one, the kits are too scared and leave the storytelling, until only one is left. The storyteller is correct – it’s worth staying to hear the end of the stories.

But these are truly scary stories – too scary for me! There’s an abusive fox-father in a really disturbing situation, and there’s the “yellow smell” that infects foxes so they go crazy and attack other foxes, spreading the “yellow smell.” We follow the stories of two young fox kits in particular who lose the protection of their mothers.

One story made me laugh, though – because the truly horrific villain of that story is – Beatrix Potter!

That’s right, it turns out that Beatrix liked to paint woodland creatures from life. We all knew that, right? Well, according to this author, after she’d finished her paintings for a story, she didn’t set the animal free. No, she’d kill it with ether, then skin it and eat the meat. She’d stuff the skin and keep the stuffed creature in her home. All that is truly horrific for a young fox trapped in a cage in her house who witnesses what happens to a rabbit she’s been painting. So when Beatrix begins painting the fox, she has reason to be afraid!

But I will never look at Beatrix Potter books the same way again!

This is a well-written book. And lots of kids love scary stories. I never happened to be one of them, but next time a kid asks me for a scary book, I have another option. And I was very glad I read all the way to the end.

Added note after learning this is a Newbery Honor book: I approve! The book really is well-crafted, and it’s distinctive and unusual. I still say it’s a better choice for kids who like scary stories than it would have been for me as a child. But I agree that it’s distinguished.

cmheidicker.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 27, 2020, from a library book

Where the Crawdads Sing came out in 2018, when I was busy reading for the Newbery committee and didn’t have any time for adult books. But the book is still tremendously popular and always on hold, so I decided to get on the list for it and see what all the fuss was about.

I was not disappointed. This is a book with a mystery and a dramatic courtroom scene. But it is mostly a poignant story of a girl who’s been abandoned over and over again, has had to figure out life on her own, but who lives a beautiful life understanding the natural world and all its wonders.

The Prologue of the book tells us about a dead body in a swamp in 1969. Then the main body of the book opens in 1952 when Kya is six years old and her mother walks away from their shack in the marsh and never comes back. One by one, her older sisters and brothers leave as well. She gets a few years with Pa before he starts drinking again and one day never returns. So Kya has to figure out how to survive in the marsh from ten years old.

She’s a resourceful little girl. And she knows the marsh like nobody else. She knows how to hide from people like truant officers – after trying exactly one day of school in the town. She figures out how to cook and how to get food and supplies. And she knows all the creatures and birds that share her home.

Meanwhile, interwoven with scenes of Kya growing up are stories of the investigation of the dead body in the swamp. The body was a popular young man in the town, a star football player when he was in high school. He fell from an old fire tower. But there are no footprints in the mud leading up to it, not even his own. Gossip starts to mention that he once spent time with the Marsh Girl.

This is also a story of the men Kya eventually meets. One is a beautiful love story – but like so many other people in her life, he lets her down. And then there’s the story of the young man she turned to out of loneliness.

All along the way there are beautiful descriptions of life – all sorts of life – in the marsh. There’s poetry about it and we come to understand Kya’s wild heart. It’s also a wonderful story of how she builds a beautiful life. Of course, that will all be threatened if she’s convicted of murder.

Here’s the first paragraph of the Prologue, giving a small taste of the nature writing woven throughout this book:

Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace – as though not built to fly – against the roar of a thousand snow geese.

deliaowens.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Other Words for Home

by Jasmine Warga

Balzer + Bray, 2019. 342 pages.
Review written January 13, 2020, from a library book.
2020 John Newbery Honor

Other Words for Home is the story of Jude, who lives in a tourist town on the coast of Syria, but leaves with her mother to go to America for the sake of safety.

Jude’s father and older brother stay in Syria, and her brother is active in the resistance, so Jude worries about him especially. She doesn’t want to go and leave her friends and home behind, but her family insists that it’s for her safety.

Jude and her mother stay with her Uncle Mazin and his family. Jude’s cousin Sarah is in seventh grade, just like Jude, but at school Sarah doesn’t have anything to do with Jude. Sarah doesn’t want to look like an outsider. Jude does make friends and learn about strange American customs in her ESL class.

When Jude tries out for the school musical, everyone thinks she’s crazy. How can someone get a part who isn’t even an American?

This novel is written in verse, so it reads very quickly. There are more issues than I’ve mentioned here, but it still tends to be a sweet and simple novel about an immigrant trying to fit in. Jude especially enjoys surprising Americans, who really don’t know that much about her home.

jasminewarga.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Orphaned Adult, by Alexander Levy

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

The Orphaned Adult

Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of Our Parents

by Alexander Levy

Perseus Books, 1999. 190 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book

My father died unexpectedly four months ago, from a blood clot two days after minor surgery that had gone well. Then my mother died expectedly two months ago, after more than a decade with Alzheimer’s.

There was a very foolish part of me that hadn’t thought my mother’s death would hit me as hard as it did, since it was expected. But it was all so wrapped up in the unexpected death of my father. And now I have no parents on earth at all. And yes, it’s hitting me very, very hard.

One of my sisters (I think Marcy?) recommended this book to the rest of us, I believe giving it to the shared Kindle account (which I don’t use). I found the book extremely helpful. For me, it was probably helpful to realize that yes, losing your parents shakes you up. Even if you didn’t see them very often, and even if one of their deaths was long expected.

The author acknowledges that this is something almost everyone goes through. And since everyone goes through it, somehow most people don’t realize what a big deal it is.

Now, he also talks about the difference between when your first parent dies and when your second parent dies – I think my siblings and I can expect feelings to be multiplied with our parents dying at what seems like almost the same time.

The book didn’t seem incredibly profound. But I can’t overemphasize what a big deal it was to be told that the death of both your parents is a big deal. That was so helpful to me.

The most personally helpful chapter to me (so far) was the one called “Just Exactly Who Do You Think You Are? The Impact of Parental Death on Personal Identity.” Yes, I had been questioning who I am and what I was doing on the East Coast when all my family is on the West Coast. But I hadn’t connected that with my parents deaths. Realizing it was connected helped me greatly with my grappling.

After parents die, for the first time in our lives – and for the rest of our lives – we no longer feel we are someone’s child because we no longer have living parents. Changing this one fact precipitates a change in identity that is disorienting and confusing. Many of us become a little lost, temporarily. How, after all, is one to navigate when the directional beacon goes out, regardless of whether we had been moving toward it or away from it? Who am I now that I am nobody’s child?

I’ve had a feeling of being less safe since my dad died. The author captures a little of that:

In adulthood, parents are like the rearview mirror of a car, making it safe to operate, as we head into the unknown, by providing a glimpse of where and who we have been so we can better understand where and who we are becoming.

When parents die, the experience is not as much like no longer finding a mirror in its accustomed location as it is like looking into the mirror and seeing nothing. How is one to navigate with the unknown ahead and nothing behind?

This book has a lot of anecdotes, exploring the different aspects of people’s experiences after their parents die. The author is a psychologist, so he does use examples from his practice as well as his own experience. Each chapter begins with a poem from different authors about the death of parents.

The introductory chapter points out that parents are the constant in our lives since birth. It should not surprise us when their absence affects us deeply. But it does.

It is a cultural fiction that parental death is an incidental experience of adult life. If one of the purposes of culture is to provide us with a map – navigational assistance as we move into each stage of life – then this particular bit of misinformation beguiles us. Imagine a map that failed to correctly show a huge turn in the road, beyond which lay a dramatically different terrain in which many road signs change meaning. Perhaps this cultural falsehood supports and promotes certain social and material values, but it does not serve us well since it so poorly equips us for the actual experience when it occurs.

The maps of antiquity were drawn with borders of dragons and serpents to differentiate the known terrain, with its explored forests and rivers, from the vast and yet unexplored territories beyond, filled with the fearsome dangers that always seem to lurk in the unknown. Our culture does not supply a map with a border of dragons to warn us that things will be different beyond a certain point. As a result, each of us is caught by surprise when we move beyond the limit of our parents’ lives.

The stories that fill this book do show us there’s not one particular way everyone is going to feel. But they do help you realize that being an orphan – even when you’re a fully grown adult – is something big to deal with.

I do recommend this book to any adult who’s lost both their parents. I found it helpful, truthful, and comforting.

perseusbooks.com

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Review of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, by Dan Gemeinhart

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

by Dan Gemeinhart

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 344 pages.
Review written January 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
Honor Selection of the City of Fairfax Regional Library 2020 Newbery Book Club
2019 Cybils Award Winner Middle Grade Fiction

I wish I’d read this book months ago when my coworker first told me how much she loved it! Instead, I read it in January 2020 because it was selected by my library’s Newbery Book Club members as one of their contenders – and I’m now a fan myself.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is about a twelve-year-old girl, Coyote Sunrise, and her father, Rodeo, who live in an old converted school bus traveling around the country. The story opens as Coyote adopts a cat, whom she names Ivan after her favorite book, The One and Only Ivan. (It’s always fun when a Newbery winner references another Newbery winner! I would be happy if this were such a case.)

Coyote has to manage Rodeo – she knows he won’t approve of her getting a pet. So she sneaks Ivan onto the bus, and then convinces Rodeo about a trial period of 500 miles. Sure enough, Ivan wins Rodeo over before the time is up.

But other things are trickier. Coyote has a weekly talk with her grandmother, and soon after adopting Ivan, she learns that a park in the town where she used to live is going to be demolished and replaced with housing. But five years ago, Coyote and her mother and two sisters buried a time capsule in that park and promised to return in ten years and dig it up. But a few days after they did that, Coyote’s mother and sisters were killed in a car crash. That was when Rodeo took Coyote on the school bus road trip, saying that it was too painful to look back.

So Coyote is determined to get to that park in one week. Trouble is, they are currently on the other side of the country. If she tells Rodeo, he’ll refuse – so she has to figure out another way to get him going that direction.

And so the journey begins. Along the way, they take on passengers, and those passengers get on board with Coyote’s quest. But the obstacles she faces get bigger and bigger. Coyote’s actions get more and more outrageous, but the reader still isn’t sure she’ll be able to pull this off.

This is a book with heart. The characters are wonderful, each one well-drawn and contributing to the story. The tension builds as Coyote’s deadline gets more and more impossible to meet and at the same time obstacles mount.

The back story is horribly tragic – Coyote’s mother and sisters dying – and yet this is a book full of humor and sheer joy. It walks the balance of dealing with a serious subject in a meaningful way without ending up with an unbearably sad book.

dangemeinhart.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Love Sugar Magic

A Sprinkle of Spirits

by Anna Meriano

Walden Pond Press, 2019. 309 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 11, 2019, from a library book
2019 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalist

This is the second book in the Love Sugar Magic series, and I liked it even better than the first one. Leo discovered in the first book that she’s from a family of brujas and their family magic is concentrated in the things they bake in their bakery. She’s been studying the principles of magic to try to keep any more disasters from happening.

But despite Leo’s efforts to do everything right, something huge happens – Her abuela comes back to life and shows up in Leo’s bedroom. And so do several other once-dead people from the whole town. What’s going on? And more important, how can Leo help these spirits in the flesh get back to the other side of the veil before it’s too late?

You’ve got to admit – that’s a big problem. I liked the way this book kept the action going and didn’t pause with too much soul-searching. We learned more about the family business, and I loved the way Leo was able to turn to her friends for help.

There was a big coincidence with Leo’s best friend Caroline, but that coincidence caused a lot of trouble. In books, coincidences that cause trouble are infinitely more palatable than coincidences that solve problems. All the characters gain some depth in this installment, and I am now more convinced that I want to keep reading the series.

Some on our Cybils panel hadn’t read the first book, but still enjoyed this one. It’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, though you might as well.

harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?