Review: Outlaws (Royal Academy Rebels #2)

Title: Outlaws (Royal Academy Rebels #2)
Author: Jen Calonita
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The second installment in a brand-new series from Jen Calonita, set in the world of Fairy Tale Reform School! Not everyone born royal is meant to rule… 

After being banished to the Hollow Woods following their discovery of Headmistress Olivina’s secret villainy, a note from an ally urges Devin and her friends to go in search of Red Riding Hood, who they believe can help them figure out what to do next.

Instead, they come across a troupe of fairytale vigilantes, including a former Royal Academy princess, Robin Hood, a pirate named Corden, and more. Alongside their new vigilante friends, Devin and her crew come up with a plan to expose the truth about Olivina to all of Enchantasia, or risk their homeland falling under villainous rule once and for all…

Review:

After Devin and her friends were banished from the Royal Academy after discovering that Headmistress Fairy Godmother Olivina is a villain, they escape to the Hollow Woods. They’re instructed to find Red Riding Hood, who will help them. They end up meeting some other vigilantes who eventually begin working with them to reveal the secrets of the Royal Academy. Devin and her friends have to figure out the smartest way to expose the truth of Olivina before their home of Enchantasia is destroyed.

This fairytale themed story was fast paced and concise. Though there are a lot of characters in the main cast, they’re each distinct and well developed. They all have a fairytale background, and some even have dark secrets that they’re hiding.

There was only one problem I had with this book, but I didn’t count against it in my rating though I thought I should mention it. I read a digital copy of this book from the library, and it had many typos and mistakes. I know there are often a couple of mistakes in a book, but there were many spelling and punctuation errors. It’s especially important for a children’s book to have correct spelling and punctuation, because they are just learning to read. A spelling error can completely change the meaning of a sentence, which even confused me a couple of times. Spelling errors are one of my biggest reading pet peeves, particularly in books for young readers.

Outlaws is a really good fairytale themed story.

What to read next:

Heroes by Jen Calonita

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Other books in the series:

Have you read Outlaws? What did you think of it?

Review: Witches of Brooklyn (Witches of Brooklyn #1)

Title: Witches of Brooklyn (Witches of Brooklyn #1)
Author: Sophie Escabasse
Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Contemporary
Publisher: Random House Graphic
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

There’s a new witch in town! Life in Brooklyn takes a strange turn when Effie discovers MAGIC runs in the family. 

A middle-grade graphic novel adventure filled with magical hjinks for fans of Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Making Friends

Effie lost her mom.

Lost her home.

And now she has to live with two strange aunts who she’s never met before.

Life in Brooklyn takes a strange twist for Effie as she learns more about her family and herself. With new friends who will do whatever they can to be there for her, a cursed pop-star, and her new magically-inclined family — Effie’s life is about to get interesting.

Review:

When Effie’s mother dies, she’s sent to live with her mom’s half sisters. None of them are happy with the situation, but they will have to learn to live with it. However, when Effie’s favourite pop star shows up at the house in desperate need of a cure for a curse, Effie learns that her aunts are witches. Then, Effie’s own magic begins to shine through. Her life takes an exciting and unexpected turn.

This story reminded me of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Effie was sent to live with her two aunts, just like Sabrina. Effie also didn’t know about her aunts’ magic or the powers she would develop, like Sabrina. Sabrina the Teenage Witch is one of my favourite characters so I loved this similarity.

Witches of Brooklyn was a fun middle grade graphic novel! I’m excited to read the next one.

What to read next:

Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?! by Sophie Escabasse

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Other books in the series:

  • Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?!

Have you read Witches of Brooklyn? What did you think of it?

Review: All Pets Allowed (Blackberry Farm #2)

Title: All Pets Allowed (Blackberry Farm #2)
Author: Adele Griffin, LeUyen Pham (illustrator)
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 31, 2021
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

More than anything else—even more than the best birthday party ever—Becket Branch wants a dog for her tenth birthday. But her twin brother, Nicholas, has secretly been wishing for a cat. Lucky for Becket and Nicholas, their animal-loving parents have an animal-loving surprise for them: they’re going to the local shelter and adopting both a cat and a dogIt should be the biggest BEAUTIFUL ALERT ever, but Becket’s dream dog, Dibs, turns out to be a super-shy scaredy-pooch who is going to need a lot of training. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s cat, Given, is more outgoing and attention-seeking than the just-for-him pet he was expecting.

Laugh along as Becket fishes mice out of Nicholas’s slippers, puts bullies in their place, and tries, and tries again, to train Dibs—all while learning new life lessons and keeping up with her other farm chores.

With black-and-white drawings throughout by award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham (Real Friends), this second volume of the Blackberry Farm series offers a gentle message about embracing new friends who may not match preconceived expectations.

Review:

Becket and her twin brother Nicholas are turning ten on their October 10th birthday. Becket wants them to make a joint birthday wish for a dog. However, Nicholas secretly wants a cat. When they’re taken to the animal shelter, their parents surprise them with both getting the pet they want. Becket’s dog is quiet and shy, like Nicholas, while his cat is outgoing like Becket. The twins discover that having pets isn’t as easy as they thought.

This was a fun story about getting a pet. Usually, children’s books show the part leading up to getting the pet, but not necessarily the challenges after the pet is brought home. Becket’s and Nicholas’s pets had personalities that were actually more like their twin. Becket’s dog would go off to have quiet time, just like Nicholas did, and Nicholas’s cat liked to be the life of the party like Becket. They had to adjust to these new lifestyles.

Becket and Nicholas also had to get used to new chores that went along with their pets. Becket had to train her dog, and get him fed in the morning so he would settle down. Nicholas had the shock of finding a dead mouse in his room, a gift from his cat. These are some challenges that come along with a new pet.

All Pets Allowed is a fun middle grade story!

Thank you Algonquin Young Readers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson

Other books in the series:

Have you read The Becket List? What did you think of it?

Review: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess

Title: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess
Author: Nancy Springer, Serena Blasco
Genre: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: November 27, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Enola Holmes is on the case! A graphic novel adaptation of Nancy Springer’s bestselling mystery series about Sherlock Holmes’ resourceful younger sister!

Raised by her mother on the family’s country manor, Enola wakes on her 14th birthday to discover that her mother has disappeared, leaving only a collection of flowers and a coded message book. With Sherlock and Mycroft determined to ship her off to a boarding school, Enola escapes, displaying a cleverness that even impresses the elder Holmes. But nothing prepares her for what lies ahead. Her journey quickly leads her into the dark and sordid neighborhoods of London where she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess. Will Enola evade her two brothers and succeed in her new independent life, even as she continues to follow her mother’s trail?

This delightfully drawn graphic novel adaptation also includes a portfolio of pages from Enola’s secret notebook.

Review:

Enola Holmes, younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, wakes up on her 14th birthday to find that her mother is missing. Her mother left without leaving a note, so Enola asks her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft to help search for her mother. However, her brothers want to send Enola off to boarding school because they think their mother has run away for good. Enola must escape the life her brothers have planned for her so that she can continue searching for her mother, and maybe solve a mystery or two along the way.

I love reading adaptations and retellings of Sherlock Holmes stories. This one was original because it was about Sherlock’s younger sister. However, it did not portray Sherlock in a positive light. Him and his brother Mycroft wanted to send Enola off to become a proper lady, when all she wanted was to find her mother.

Enola was a fun character. She was determined to find her mother, and was willing to do anything to complete her goal. She was also creative and great at problem solving. At the end of this graphic novel, there were some pages from Enola’s notebook, with her notes on the case and details about how she solved problems. This was some fun insight into her character.

The Case of the Missing Marquess was a fun mystery graphic novel!

What to read next:

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer, Serena Blasco

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Other books in the series:

  • The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
  • The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

Have you read The Case of the Missing Marquess? What did you think of it?

Review: The Great Bear (The Misewa Saga #2)

Title: The Great Bear (The Misewa Saga #2)
Author: David A. Robertson
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Puffin Books
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Eli and Morgan journey once more to Misewa, travelling back in time.

Back at home after their first adventure in the Barren Grounds, Eli and Morgan each struggle with personal issues: Eli is being bullied at school, and tries to hide it from Morgan, while Morgan has to make an important decision about her birth mother. They turn to the place where they know they can learn the most, and make the journey to Misewa to visit their animal friends. This time they travel back in time and meet a young fisher that might just be their lost friend. But they discover that the village is once again in peril, and they must dig deep within themselves to find the strength to protect their beloved friends. Can they carry this strength back home to face their own challenges?

Review:

Eli and Morgan have returned home from their first trip to the Misewa, a world that they can only enter through a picture in their attic. They both have to face some tough situations in their real world lives. Eli is being bullied by kids at school for having long hair. Morgan has to decide if she wants to contact her birth mother. To get some help with their problems, they want to return to Misewa and see their friend, Ochek. However, since he died at the end of their last journey, they go back in time to see him again. They find that the world is facing a new threat, so they have to work together to protect their friends.

This was a really good sequel to The Barren Grounds. Since one of Eli’s and Morgan’s friend died at the end of the previous book, they had to travel back in time to see him again. Things weren’t the same in the world as what they remembered, so they had to be careful not to change the future.

Eli and Morgan are both Indigenous foster children. They have to deal with the trauma of their past and figure out how to still honor their heritage while fitting in at school. Eli wore his hair in a braid, but the other children called him a girl. They didn’t understand that it was important to Eli to honor his culture by braiding his hair. Morgan had to make the tough decision of whether to contact her birth mother or not. She has some memories of her from when she was a toddler, but she still feels abandoned. These aspects of the plot will introduce young readers to some of the real problems that Indigenous youth may face today.

The Great Bear was a great sequel! It ended on a cliffhanger that left me with so many questions. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

Thank you Puffin Books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David A. Robertson, Scott B. Henderson (illustrator)

Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew

Other books in the series:

Have you read The Great Bear? What did you think of it?

Review: Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales

Title: Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Short Stories
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Purchased
Format: Hardcover
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

You think you know these stories, don’t you? 

You are wrong. 

You don’t know them at all. 

Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that capture hearts long kept tame and set them free, truths that explore life . . . and death.

A prince has a surprising awakening . . .                           

A beauty fights like a beast . . .

A boy refuses to become prey . . .

A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.

New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare.

Review:

These twelve tales are twisted to give a new perspective on the story. Some of the heroes become the villains, and the villains save the day. Men become witches and girls become beasts. These reimaginings of fairytales show a different side of the stories.

I loved these stories. By changing one character’s role, the entire meaning of the story changed. These were also diverse tales. The characters were from different countries around the world, such as Cinderella in Spain. Some of the stories had gender swapped characters, such as Rapunzel’s father who kept her locked in a tower rather than her mother. These twists to the stories made them unpredictable and exciting.

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales is a beautiful, modern collection of fairytales.

What to read next:

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Have you read Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales? What did you think of it?

Review: Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley and Jamila #1)

Title: Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley and Jamila #1)
Author: Gillian Goerz
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Mystery, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Dial Books
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

This middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Roller Girl and Smile introduces Jamila and Shirley, two unlikely friends who save each other’s summers while solving their neighborhood’s biggest mysteries.

Jamila Waheed is staring down a lonely summer in a new neighborhood–until she meets Shirley Bones. Sure, Shirley’s a little strange, but both girls need a new plan for the summer, and they might as well become friends.

Then this kid Oliver shows up begging for Shirley’s help. His pet gecko has disappeared, and he’s sure it was stolen! That’s when Jamila discovers Shirley’s secret: She’s the neighborhood’s best kid detective, and she’s on the case. When Jamila discovers she’s got some detective skills of her own, a crime-solving partnership is born.

The mystery of the missing gecko turns Shirley and Jamila’s summer upside down. And when their partnership hits a rough patch, they have to work together to solve the greatest mystery of all: What it means to be a friend.

Review:

Jamila was going to be sent to science camp for the summer, until she met Shirley. Shirley’s mom wanted her to go to dance camp, but the girls realized they could enjoy their summer more if they convinced their moms to let them spend time together. While Jamila plays basketball, Shirley meets with various kids in the neighbourhood at the basketball court. One day, a boy tells Shirley that someone stole his backpack while he was at the pool. Shirley is a secret detective, solving local crimes. Jamila joins in on solving the mystery, forming a classic detective duo with Shirley.

Shirley and Jamila were like a modern Sherlock and Watson. Shirley was able to figure out where a person worked just by looking at them walk down the street, in a similar way to Sherlock Holmes. Jamila was the main narrator, like Watson, and was able to assist Shirley in her investigation. I liked this subtle nod to the classic detective.

This story was set in Toronto, though it wasn’t mentioned very much. There was the Toronto skyline on the cover and Jamila came from the Thorncliffe neighbourhood. There were a few small details on the pages, such as the Raptors posters on Jamila’s bedroom walls and the CBC sign on a lawn. These were cute little details that showed the Toronto setting.

Shirley and Jamila Save the Summer is a fun graphic novel mystery!

What to read next:

Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Have you read Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer? What did you think of it?

Review: Hush-A-Bye

Title: Hush-A-Bye
Author: Jody Lee Mott
Genre: Middle Grade, Horror
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 24, 2021
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A delightfully creepy story perfect for the middle school set! Hush-a-Bye is an old, broken doll found by Lucy and her sister in the woods. It seems to possess extraordinary powers, but will it use them for good or evil?

Like most kids with younger siblings, Lucy loves her sister Antonia, but is all too frequently annoyed with her as well. The two spend most of their time together since their mother works so hard, but without friends Lucy can’t help but feel lonely anyway. She’s always tried to ignore the bullying and teasing at school about her family being poor—it’s always best to keep her head down and do nothing.

When the girls find an old, muddy doll head in the river, Antonia claims it as her newest treasure. At night Lucy hears her talking to Hush-a-Bye—and does she hear the doll talking back? Soon, Hush-a-Bye seems to be protecting Antonia by making bad things happen to others, and it isn’t long before Lucy asks for its help against her tormentors, too. Slowly Hush-a-Bye’s influence forms a wedge between the sisters, and Antonia’s dependence on it becomes frightening. The doll has a mind of its own, and soon it will have Antonia’s as well. Can Lucy solve the mystery of Hush-a-Bye to stop its evil plans?

Review:

While seventh grader Lucy and her younger sister Antonia are exploring a river next to their trailer, they find a dirty old doll’s head. Antonia insists on bringing it home, despite Lucy warning her that they’ll get in trouble for bringing home garbage. That night, they hide the doll in the closet and Antonia starts talking to it. Then, Lucy thinks she hears the doll speak back. They name the doll’s head Hush-a-Bye after a song their mother sang to them as children. Antonia brings Hush-a-Bye to school, where she believes the doll is protecting her and doing things she tells it to do. However, Antonia begins acting differently and becomes obsessed with the doll. Lucy has to figure out how to stop Hush-a-Bye before she becomes too powerful.

This story is perfect for the spooky fall season. A doll’s head without a body can be creepy enough, but when it starts to behave on its own and control a child, it becomes even scarier. The doll was able to communicate with Antonia and Lucy, and also caused conflict between the sisters. It was such a disturbing toy.

There were some serious subjects in this story. Lucy and Antonia had an abusive father, who was mentioned but didn’t appear in the novel. Their mother moved them away from him, but she had to work constantly to make enough money for them to live. This meant that Lucy and Antonia had to look after themselves a lot, which led to them finding the possessed doll’s head. Though Lucy and Antonia had faced many tough challenges in their young lives, the ending was hopeful.

Hush-a-Bye is a creepy middle grade novel!

Thank you Viking Books for Young Readers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

The Hiddenseek by Nate Cernosek

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Have you read Hush-A-Bye? What did you think of it?

Review: The Hiddenseek

Title: The Hiddenseek
Author: Nate Cernosek
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 24, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In this spine-chilling middle grade debut–perfect for fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series–a brother and sister are transported to a cursed world based on the game hide-and-seek, where they are pursued by a shape-shifting witch, the game never ends, and the only way to get home is to win. 

“You hid. But you were not found. You thought you were playing a harmless game. You were wrong.” 

After Holly and Hector Thorn are left behind during a simple game of hide-and-seek, they find themselves transported to a gloomy, magical world seemingly trapped in time–the Hiddenseek. There, It, a witch with the ability to transform into a raven and a wolf, stalks children day and night, turning any she can lay hands on into statues, frozen forever in their final moments of terror. 

Together with the other lost children they encounter, Holly and Hector will have to unravel the mysterious origins of the Hiddenseek and find a way to put a stop to the curse once and for all, before they get stuck there forever . . . Because in this twisted game of hide-and-seek, they are playing for their lives.

Review:

The only thing worse than being found while playing hide and seek is not being found at all. When Holly was playing hide and seek with her brother, Hector, and his friends, she wasn’t found. She came out of her hiding spot and saw a man, named Oliver, who told her he must take her to a place called The Hiddenseek since she lost the game. Hector also wasn’t found, so he was sent to The Hiddenseek with Holly. Now, they’re in an even more dangerous game, being chased by It, a witch who can turn them to stone if she catches them. Holly and Hector have to win the game to save their lives.

Most kids play hide and seek, but usually the stakes are not as high as they are in The Hiddenseek. It’s not fun to not be found, because, though it could mean that you found a great hiding place, it could also mean that the other players forgot about you. Holly and Hector, along with the other kids they meet, were all tricked while playing hide and seek and not found. This was the ultimate worst ending to a game of hide and seek.

This was a spooky story. The kids were transported to a forest with a deep history. They had to figure out why they had been brought there before they could find their way home. I would have loved this spooky horror story when I was a kid!

The Hiddenseek is a creepy middle grade story!

Thank you Penguin Teen for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Hush-A-Bye by Jody Lee Mott

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Have you read The Hiddenseek? What did you think of it?

Review: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears (Paola Santiago #1)

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.

Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .

Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.

Review:

Twelve-year-old Paola Santiago and her friends Dante and Emma have been told to stay away from the river after a classmate drowned a year ago. Pao’s mother is superstitious and has also told her to stay away from the river so that she doesn’t meet La Llorona, a ghost woman who roams the river searching for young people to drag into the water. Naturally, they make the river their regular meeting spot. After they make plans to meet there one evening, Emma doesn’t show up. Paola has always believed strictly in science and not her mother’s superstitions, but her search for Emma makes her realize that her mother’s stories may be closer to the truth than she ever guessed.

This story was rooted in Latinx folklore. Paola’s mother was superstitious and told Paola stories about terrifying legends. However, Paola was disconnected from her culture. She didn’t speak Spanish, and she was opposed to anything her mother liked. When Paola went on her search for her best friend, she found that the folktales that her mom would tell her were actually true.

There were many dream-like scenes in this story. Paola was called the Dreamer, and she would have vivid dreams about people she knew. It was ironic that she was a dreamer, because she was very logical and scientific. Paola had to embrace this dreamer side of her personality to find Emma.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a fun start to this series!

What to read next:

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

Other books in the series:

  • Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares

Have you read Paola Santiago and the River of Tears? What did you think of it?