A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Number of pages: 320
Published: January 2nd, 2018
Opening Line: "Leo sprinted to the hallway bathroom, slammed the door, and locked herself in, just in time."
Leonora "Leo" Logroño and her four sisters live in Rose Hill Texas, where their family runs the local bakery, Love and Sugar. Eleven-year-old Leo is the youngest of the Logroño girls and feeling left out this year because her siblings get the day off from school to help their mother prepare at the bakery for the annual Dia de los Muertos festival. Leo desperately wants to be given a chance to show she's not too young to help but is quickly denied and sent off to school. As she reluctantly heads to school, Leo runs into Caroline and Brent. Caroline and Leo were best friends in the third grade but Caroline moved away after her mom died, and is just now starting back at school. Brent is Caroline's next door neighbor and was a good friend to her while she was dealing with her mother's death, he's also her secret crush. While at school, Leo enlists Caroline's help as cover while she sneaks to the bakery to spy on her family, Leo overhears her mother, aunt, and sisters performing a ritual in Spanish around a table. Leo is so confused by the events and wishes she understood Spanish but does recognize the word magia or magic. Is Leo's family keeping a secret from her? Later at the de Los Muertos festival, Leo witnesses two of her sister's performing what she thinks is magic and upon investigating the bakery further finds a secret cookbook filled with recipes for spells. Leo experiments with the magical cookbook and eventually is caught by her oldest sister, Isabel. Isabel explains that the woman in their family are brujas or witches that can infuse some of their magic into the baked goods they make, she teaches Leo one her own special spells but also cautions her to be patient because girls in their family don't start practicing magic until they're fifteen. Leo is impatient to learn, so she tries more and more difficult spells, drawing the attention of her other sisters who also give her advice on the families magic, and further caution her about going too far and having their mom find out. Yet Leo doesn't heed their advice and after she tries to help Caroline by making a "love bite cookie" things start to go horribly wrong. The only way out now is for Leo to go to her sister's and ask for help.
Being the youngest, Leo wants to grow up so fast and do all the same things that her older sisters do, feel like she's able to contribute at the bakery, a feeling a younger or middle child could easily identify with. Leo so reminded me of all the things that I love about Matilda, she's mischievous and sneaky but also kind and caring to her friends. She may feel awkward and be looking for her place at school, but her family radiates with warmth, caring, and love. There's a lovely sense of togetherness, everyone contributes in the family, not only at the bakery but at home. The relationships between the sisters were sweet and realistically portrayed, they bicker and tease but also stuck together despite knowing mama would be so mad if she found out that Leo was practicing magic. Leo's impatient and didn't always think her actions through but wasn't deterred by not being able to speak Spanish, she grabs her English to Spanish dictionary when she can't read the recipes in the magical cookbook and sets out to translate them herself. She does struggle with feeling guilty about keeping her own secrets from her mother and sisters but also really wants to learn more about magic. There is a lovely scene in the story where Leo and her mother are talking about Leo's feelings about being the youngest girl in the family and her mother gives her a role in helping make the cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I also really enjoyed learning more about the Dia de los Muertos festival and brujas. There are so many fun touches added like the illustrations at the top of each chapter, Spanish recipes which are even translated into English at the end of the book. Even Brent's scientific reasoning when he is the recipient of one of Leo's magical mishaps and says that "some reactions are irreversible, you can't unburn toast by putting it in the freezer." But my absolute favorite piece happens at the very end of the story when mama finally finds out the truth and tells Leo that she is sad that she felt like she had to be so secretive and warns Leo that if she ever keeps a secret from her she has a creative way to deal with it, I'll let you read the story to find that one out for yourself. Such a fun humorous story of family, friendship, and tradition which is quickly turning into my favorite book of the year.