Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and Mina

Posted July 13, 2022 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Reviews / 6 Comments

Today, I’m reviewing a YA contemporary fantasy, a MG historical fiction, a MG fantasy, and a picture book! I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!

Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and MinaBallad & Dagger by Daniel José Older
Series: Outlaw Saints #1
Published by Rick Riordan Presents on May 3, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Source: NetGalley
Cover Artist: Irvin Rodriguez
My rating:
4 Stars

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Daniel José Older's music-and-magic-filled YA urban fantasy about two teens who discover each other and their powers during a political battle within a unique diaspora community.

Almost sixteen years ago, Mateo Matisse's island homeland disappeared into the sea. Weary and hopeless, the survivors of San Madrigal's sinking escaped to New York.

While the rest of his tight-knit Brooklyn diaspora community dreams of someday finding a way back home, Mateo--now a high school junior and piano prodigy living with his two aunts (one who's alive, the other not so much)--is focused on one thing: getting the attention of locally-grown musical legend Gerval. Mateo finally gets his chance on the night of the Grand Fete, an annual party celebrating the blended culture of pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews that created San Madrigal all those centuries ago.

But the evil that sank their island has finally caught up with them, and on the night of the celebration, Mateo's life is forever changed when he witnesses a brutal murder by a person he thought he knew.

Suddenly Mateo is thrust into an ancient battle that spans years and oceans. Deadly secrets are unraveled and Mateo awakens a power within himself--a power that not only links him to the killer but could also hold the key to unlocking the dark mystery behind his lost homeland.

From the author of the award-winning Shadowshaper Cypher series comes the first novel in the Outlaw Saints duology--a brilliant story that will transport readers to a world where magic, myth, and gods reign over the streets of Brooklyn.


Ballad & Dagger lends a fantastical twist to the immigrant experience. It’s set in Brooklyn, but in a diaspora community from a fictional island that sank into the sea. The island’s population was a blend of pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews, and it had its own unique culture—and magic! The world-building in this book is top-notch and there are lush descriptions of the culture’s music, which is especially important to the MC, Mateo. Most of the story revolves around the political machinations of the community’s leaders and secrets that have been kept from the people for centuries (so it does start out a bit low on action and heavy on world-building, but eventually the plot picks up). The book tackles the topic of colonialism head-on, and it also talks about issues of racism and classism. All of this is tied into a magical story about a teenage boy with powers he didn’t know he had. The fate of his community just might lie in his hands, but he isn’t sure if the community is ready for what they might learn in the process. If you’re a fan of contemporary fantasy with intricate world-building, this book is for you!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley so I could provide an honest review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and MinaSpineless by Samantha San Miguel
Published by Union Square Kids on June 7, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 256
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Jamie Green
My rating:
4 Stars

This exciting middle-grade adventure is Hoot for the Gilded Age—with scientific discoveries, secret plots, and surprisingly enormous fauna.              

When his asthma lands him at a health resort in the wilds of Gilded Age South Florida, twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth is over the moon. The scientific treasure trove of unexplored swamps may launch his dream career as a naturalist. But even Algie is startled when he happens upon a brand-new species and her brood in the karst springs surrounding the resort. Algie quickly realizes he must keep his discovery a secret: a famous collector of exotic animals is also staying at the hotel, and the new species is threatened by his very presence. An apparent curse has also descended upon the hotel, bringing with it a deadly red tide. But when the pool starts filling with ink and guests start getting mysterious, sucker-shaped wounds, Algie must pluck up his courage to find the truth about the goings-on at the Grand Hotel—and save the new species from destruction.


An intriguing middle grade historical fantasy set in the Gilded Age, this book has a unique environmental spin! Algie has always wanted to be a naturalist and explore the many wonders of the world yet to be discovered. And he isn’t going to let his asthma prevent him from accomplishing everything he’s hoped for. Since the book takes place in the late 1800s, medical interventions for asthma are less advanced, and Algie has to be careful, but I love that he doesn’t let this prevent him from pursuing his dreams. When his family heads to Florida, he’s excited at the idea of making a name for himself exploring the swamplands, and he’s also delighted to meet a naturalist he idolizes. But when Algie and his new friends Frankie and Lulu discover a new species of octopus, they realize that their idol might not be everything they imagined. They end up on a quest to protect their new sea creature friend from the world instead of exposing her. The book has a touch of a steampunk feel to it, and I would say the fantasy elements are subtle. Algie’s friendship with Lulu and Frankie is a highlight of the book (and these characters add a bit of diversity as well). His connection with his brother is also well-developed and believable, featuring both the love and the frustration that can come from a relationship with an older sibling. This book will appeal to kids who love nature or who’ve always wanted to explore the unknown!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher so I could provide an honest review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and MinaLia Park and the Missing Jewel by Jenna Yoon
Published by Aladdin on May 3, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 352
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Hyuna Lee
My rating:
4 Stars

This middle grade fantasy follows a young girl who must venture to the undersea kingdom of the Dragon King in Korea to save her parents from an evil diviner spirit.

Twelve-year old Lia Park just wants to fit in. Her parents work with a mysterious organization that makes them ridiculously overprotective. Lia’s every move has been scrutinized since she was born, and she’d love to have the option of doing something exciting for once. So when she gets invited to the biggest birthday party of the year—and her parents say she can’t go—Lia sneaks out.

But her first act of rebellion not only breaks her parents’ rules, but also an ancient protection spell, allowing an evil diviner spirit to kidnap and ransom her parents for a powerful jewel that her family has guarded for years. With just the clothes on her back and some very rusty magical skills, Lia finds herself chasing mysterious clues that take her to her grandmother’s home in Korea.

From there, she has to make their way to the undersea kingdom of the Dragon King, the only person who knows where the powerful jewel might be. Along with her friend, Joon, Lia must dig deep and find courage to stand up for those who are weak—and become the hero her parents need.


A middle grade Korean fantasy adventure! This fun book sort of has a Spy Kids feel to it. Lia has always known that her parents are part of a secret Korean magical organization, but she thought they were desk workers and that their “powers” were boring, at best. And she’s even more disappointed when it doesn’t appear that she has any powers at all. But that all changes one day when magical beings attack her home and Lia discovers that her parents were shielding her magic to keep it hidden—and preparing her throughout her life for a scavenger hunt of sorts without her even knowing about it! Lia is plunged into a world of secrets and clues that she has to solve in order to escape an ancient enemy and save her parents. Much of the book takes place in South Korea (when Lia and her best friend are magically transported there), so kids will get glimpses into that setting and culture. Magic blends with high-tech, including secret spy rooms and plans to blow up their house if the worst happens (which it does!). Kids who are drawn to magic, Asian mythology, or spy stories will love this book!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher so I could provide an honest review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and MinaMina by Matthew Forsythe
Illustrator: Matthew Forsythe
Published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books on February 15, 2022
Genres: Picture Book, Special Needs
Pages: 68
Source: The Publisher
My rating:
4.5 Stars

From the creator of the acclaimed and beloved Pokko and the Drum comes an emotionally resonant, “richly imagined” (The Horn Book, starred review)​ picture book about trust, worry, and loyalty between a father and daughter.

Mina and her father live in a hollowed-out tree stump on the edge of a pond on the edge of a forest. Nothing ever bothers Mina, until one day, her father brings home a suspicious surprise from the woods.
Should Mina trust her father—or listen to her own instincts?


A delightful story about a little mouse named Mina whose father often comes home with unusual objects … and sometimes unusual friends. Everything is fine until one day when he arrives home with a friend who makes Mina more than a little suspicious. This humorous tale is utterly endearing and highlights the special relationship between father and daughter. The soft-focused illustration style and pastel hues give the book a dreamy quality, and each picture holds so many fun details. This book is a real treat! Perfect for any little one who wonders if father always knows best. 🙂

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher so I could provide an honest review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think?
I wanna know!


6 responses to “Bite-Sized Reviews of Ballad & Dagger, Spineless, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, and Mina

  1. Thanks for sharing your reviews. I really like contemporary fantasy and am going to add Lia Park and Ballad & Dagger to my TBR list. Now if I can just get to them.

  2. I haven’t read any of these, but the first one will probably be one I buy for my school library! I might have to reach out to you to help give me some ideas for my 10 year old niece, getting ready for 5th grade, who is looking for a good historical fiction series. She’s read Alan Gratz, so I’m struggling to find too many. Anyway, great reviews!

    Lisa Mandina (Lisa Loves Literature) recently posted: E-galley Review: Love You Again (Love You, Maine #2) by Julia Kent

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.