Five Midnights Review

Book: Five Midnights
Author: Ann Dávila Cardinal
Publisher: Tor Teen
Year: 2019
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping through Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there — murderer, or monster?”

Review: Five Midnights is the forthcoming debut YA novel from Dávila Cardinal, a Puerto Rican who currently lives in Vermont. What Dávila Cardinal has created is a riveting story of a 16-year-old girl, Lupe, coming of age while visiting a country she has allegiance to, being half Puerto Rican by descent. Over the backdrop of a YA fantasy novel, Lupe struggles with her own heritage as a half Puerto Rican, half Irish girl hailing from the mainland United States (Dávila Cardinal’s own Vermont) who doesn’t feel that either location is quite “home”. As she struggles with the idea of being light skinned and light haired, a trait she inherited from a mother who left several years ago, she tries to move into her role as a Puerto Rican but finds to her dismay that she is identified as “other” to native Puerto Ricans.
Dávila Cardinal’s novel is an engrossing tale of cultural heritage, Island myths, and young teenage love. Lupe, spending the summer in PR with her extended family, shares a love for true crime with her Tío who happens to be the local police chief. When she arrives on the island she quickly finds her way into the middle of his investigation into the strange deaths of two young men who died on the eve of their 18th birthdays. The following story is quick moving, enjoyable, and peppered with just enough mythology to spark interest without overwhelming the story with fantastic beasts or creatures.
As someone who has a vague knowledge of the Spanish language, I found this book to be fun to read as it’s filled with Puerto Rican jargon and often challenged my understanding of the context in which it was written. The dialogue is quick and believable, the characters are relatable, and while the story errs on the fantasy side, it is grounded in reality. I had a hard time putting the book down and ended up plowing through it in just under 48 hours – the mark of a quality novel.

My Advice: Do you enjoy the YA genre? If you said yes, this is the book for you. It’s a quick read, perfect for summer with a release date in early June of 2019, and it introduces the reader to an interesting Latin American myth that proves just spooky enough without giving nightmares. Other reviews call this novel “unputdownable” (Paul Tremblay) and they’re correct. It’s a great dive back into YA fiction and with the personal and profession knowledge possessed by Dávila Cardinal being both Puerto Rican and VCFA’s leader of a Puerto Rican residency, it reads with an air of authenticity that can’t be beat.

The Westing Game Review

Book: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1978
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing the game!”

Review: I found The Westing Game on the clearance shelf of my local Half Price Books store for $1. The book is in near perfect condition with the exception of a final page that has come lose and threatens to spoil the ending for the next unsuspecting reader. All of these things made my heart beat faster: I had found a childhood favorite I’d long since forgotten about.
The Westing Game is a young adult book, though when I read it I was about 8 years old so young adult could be a bit of a stretch there. It centers around 6 families who have received anonymous invitations to tour and rent Sunset Towers, a luxury apartment complex with a view of the Westing estate – a mansion with an owner who disappeared years before in the wake of a tragic car crash that left his friend crippled and battered Westing. Not long after the 6 families have moved into Sunset Towers, they are summoned to a reading of the will of Mr. Sam Westing, having each been named as his living heirs following the discovery of his dead body within the Westing mansion. As a man who loved games of all sorts, Westing chose to give his guests clues that must be unscrambled to solve the mystery of his death and discover the alleged murderer or murderess. The winner will receive Westing’s vast fortune: $2 million. What follows is a fun, imaginative Clue type murder mystery complete with explosions, deaths, and secret identities.

My Advice: As a kid, I read this book with great interest, marveling at the clues as they played out and attempting to solve the mystery before it was revealed at the finale. I read it again a few years later, again trying to work out the answer to a puzzling book I love but couldn’t unravel. As an adult, it has been over a decade since I last read The Westing Game and I had no recollection of the result. Reading it again, I found myself once again racing to solve the mystery before the end, only this time I finally solved it..well, mostly.
What I found was a book that moves quickly, keeps the reader captivated, and stuns with a surprise ending and more than a few twists and turns along the way. If you have any interest in children’s lit or young adult lit, I’d suggest going to your nearest library and checking this one out for a light read. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprise.