Book Review of A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood

A Dash of Magic is the second book in the Bliss series by Kathryn Littlewood. You can find my review of the first book here: Bliss.

A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood Book Review by What My Kids Read
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In A Dash of Magic: A Bliss Novel, we are once again focused on Rosemary, or Rose (now 12 years old), saving the day. This time, her parents are with her, but somehow they are never around to make any worthwhile decisions. It is up to Rose to get the magic Bliss Cookery Booke back from her evil Aunt Lily. Lily has used the Booke to achieve fame and power by selling a “magic ingredient” along with her recipes. That ingredient causes anyone who eats it to think that Lily is wonderful. Rose is determined to stop her, but I was honestly disappointed. Rose resorts to cheating to fight the cheater. Even though most of Rose’s schemes fall through, she does not emerge at the end as an admirable heroine. Although there is an emphasis on the family working together, it really seems to be mostly Rose’s quest. The solution in this fight against evil is to fight magic with magic – rather than with character.

The message of this book is that cheating and magic can get you far, but passion and love will win in the end.

Parents should be advised that this entire series deals with magic, and there is clearly “good magic” and “bad magic.” There is a scary looking small man with “glowing green eyes” that helps Lily. Rose’s 4 year old sister accidentally eats an entire cake made with Lily’s “magic ingredient,” and is obnoxiously rude for almost the entire book. Rose’s brother Ty flirts a lot in this book. There are some scary scenes. A boy nearly floats away into the sky (knowing that he will plummet to the ground when the magic wears off). The children are threatened by gargoyles in the Notre Dame cathedral around midnight.  There is some gross humor. Please click on my ratings below for more thorough details.

A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood Book Review by What My Kids Read

My Mom-Meter gives A Dash of Magic an overall safety rating of 2 (moderately safe) for ages 9 and up.

The Lexile rating for A Dash of Magic is 810L.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Click here for Liam’s Review

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Disrespectful AttitudesSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gambling: Safe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorSafe - no actual four-letter words

LanguageModerately Safe

Magic/SupernaturalCaution

MoralityCaution

Romance/SexSafe - no actual four-letter words

Scary ThemesCaution

ViolenceModerately Safe

A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood Book Review by What My Kids Read

Plot summary of A Dash of Magic: ***Contains Spoilers***

After the Bliss family’s magic cookbook was stolen, the town seems to have lost its sparkle. Bliss Bakery still makes great (non-magical) baked goods, but everyone seems to be missing that extra spark. In the meantime, it only took Aunt Lily 9 months to launch her career as a famous cook. She has a cooking show on television, and her own line of products in the grocery stores. It’s all very suspicious. Rose and her mother, Purdy, decide to test a cake recipe to see what s really going on. When they add the “magic ingredient” included in the kit, the batter in the bowl says “Lily.” After the cake is done, Rose’s 4 year old sister, Leigh, comes in asking for food and ends up eating the cake. She starts talking in complete sentences with an advanced vocabulary, singing the praises of Lily and complaining about everything that is not like Lily. Purdy and Rose conclude that Lily is using the secret ingredient to control everyone.

The family brainstorms how to stop Lily, deciding on Rose and Ty wearing disguises to be guests at a taping of Lily’s cooking show. When Lily invites questions, Rose stands up and challenges her to a cook-off at a prestigious international baking contest in Paris. Because she was challenged publicly, Lily accepts Rosemary’s challenge. The PR for Lil’s television show loves the idea of a 12 year old challenging Lily, and they plan to televise the contest. Privately, Lily and Rose agree that the winner keeps the Booke. Rose and her family then quickly fly to Mexico to visit her great-great-grandfather Balthazar who owns the only other copy of the Booke. It is written in another language, and he is the last person on earth that speaks that language. He has been translating the recipes by hand, but he is very slow. They convince him to come along to the baking competition in Paris where he can continue translating whatever recipes Rose will need to win. Balthazar brings along a cat, Gus, that ate Chattering Cheddar Biscuits and now can talk.

The baking competition is world-renown, and there are many excellent bakers competing. Lily generously offered to supply all of the bakers with some of her “magic ingredient” in their pantrys. Rose is horrified and intimidated. She doesn’t think she can possibly beat Lily. Rose gets an idea to spy on Lily by feeding a mouse some of the Chattering Cheddar Biscuits so that he can tell them what he sees. The mouse, Jaques, describes each dish that Lily practices making for the potential categories. Rose then uses that information to plan dishes that will rival the ones Lily planned to make.

Balthazar begins translating the planned recipes and Rose with the rest of her family divide up and collect the magical ingredients that each recipe requires (Mona Lisa’s secret is one of them, the blush of a queen is another). Rosemary’s parents are gone collecting half the ingredients through most of the story, while Rose and her brothers collect the other half with help from Gus (the cat) and Jacque (the mouse). They have many adventures, and Rose seems to always squeak by in the competition with dishes that do not look impressive, but taste good. Lily’s dishes, on the other hand, are always beautiful and taste wonderful.

A few times, Rosemary decides to try to break into Lily’s hotel suite and just steal the book, but she never succeeds. After one such attempt, the mysterious small man with “glowing green eyes” steals the suitcase full of Rose’s magical ingredients. By the last challenge, it is down to Lily and Rose. Rose does not have magical ingredients. Balthazar tells Rose to make his magical polenta recipe, and what he does not tell her is that the magical ingredient is “tears of the pure at heart.” As Rose cries, knowing that she has lost, her tears turn the polenta into a magical tasting dish that wins the competition – and the Booke.

Rose cooks up a recipe to cure Leigh of her Lily-obsession, and she turns back into a loveable 4 year old. The green-eyed man attempts to steal the Booke, but Rose had switched out books, so the Bliss family (with Balthazar, Gus, and Jacque) leave for home with the Booke in their possession.

A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood Book Review by What My Kids Read

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in A Dash of Magic:

  • Rose blames herself for losing the Booke and for almost leaving with Lily. She doesn’t tell her family that she almost left them. Do you think that keeping her secret is helping the family? How do you think her family would respond if they knew the truth?
  • Rose decides to turn an ordinary mouse into a talking mouse to use as a spy. He goes into Lily’s room, and then describes all the recipes Lily practices for the competition. Rose uses that information to decide what dishes to cook. Do you think that using Jacque as a spy was cheating? Why or why not?
  • Ty is looking at a portrait of the back of a naked woman, and he asks her about the man who painted her. “He said people thought he was a terrible artist and no one would ever see it. But here we are will over a century later, and a thousand different people stare at my butt every day. You among them.” You might want to talk with your kids about how seemingly small decisions can have a big and lasting impact on their lives.
  • Marie Antoinette’s beheading and the French Revolution are referenced. You might want to have a conversation about what happened during the French Revolution.
  • There are “non-magical” bakers in the competition that Rose and Lily have to beat. Do you think that Rosemary using magical recipes is fair to the other bakers?

Alcohol/Drugs: 

  • A portrait of Napoleon asks for “a carafe of my finest wine.”
  • A ghost tells the ghost of Marie Antoinette “All seven of my sisters died while you were hosting wine-and-cheese receptions!”

Bullying:

Disrespectful Attitudes: 

  • Several characters roll their eyes. Rose’s mom, Purdy, even rolls her eyes.

Gambling: 

Gross Behavior:

  • Helium Hot Chocolate is made from the gas of a certain kind of beetle. “‘…it expels [the gas] from both ends’… ‘Oh man! Beetle gas!’ Sage had chuckled.”
  • Sage wants to get the helium out of him. “‘I feel like I have gas. Wait! I do have gas! All I need to do is -‘ ‘Eew, Sage, no!’ Rose said, fanning her hand in front of her face. there has to be another way.’ ‘How about belching instead… You’re a champion burper!’… Sage could not only burp the alphabet on cue, but all of the state capitals as well.” Sage has “belcher’s block,” then he drinks some ginger ale and “his jaws were forced open by a hot blast as loud as a rifle salute on Memorial Day… Then his mouth opened as wide as the end of a tuba, and he let loose a series of long, reverberating blasts that rustled his lips, blew back Rose’s hair, and seemed to shake the very foundation of the Eiffel Tower… ‘I’m not sure that smells any better than the other option.’… Sage let loose with his biggest belch yet, which was so powerful that it caught the rain and blew it the other way.”
  • Sage tries to make the ghost of Marie Antoinette blush by making a sound with his hand and his armpit. “It was so loud and disturbing a sound that it sent a flock of pigeons squawking up in the air.” Marie Antoinette says “Sorry… I’ve farted before major heads of state. It doesn’t even make me laugh anymore.”
  • Ty burps after dinner.

Language:

  • “Stupid” is used a few times.
  • Mona Lisa “said things Rose had never heard an adult woman say before in her life… Ty gasped. ‘You have a dirty mouth! No wonder you keep it closed!'”
  • Sage thinks Rose was “boneheaded.”
  • Balthazar calls Jeremius “that hateful little turd.”

Magic/Supernatural: 

  • There is a “magic ingredient” in Lily’s baking mixes. When it is added to the mix, the batter says “Lily.”
  • Leigh eats the pound cake from Lily’s mix, and begins talking in long words and complex sentences.
  •  There is a talking cat that gained his abilities by eating some Chattering Cheddar Biscuits. Later, Rose uses the same recipe to make a mouse talk.
  • There is a small man with “glowing green eyes” that helps Lily. His name is Jeremius, but the children call him “The Shrunken Man.”
  • The children eat some of a “Portrait Pop-Tart,” so that they can hear what people in paintings are saying.
  • The children have to collect a “ghostly gust,” which is the wish of a ghost. They go visit a real ghost in a graveyard.
  • “‘A ghost?’ Rose gasped. ‘Wait. Ghosts are real?’ ‘Oh, certainly!’ Gus replied.”
  • Gus says he has seen a ghost several times. “Ghosts often come to Mexico to unwind.” He also tells the children “My second wife, Reiko, is a ghost, but she currently resides in Japan.”
  • “A ghost chooses whether he or she wants to be seen. You’ve got to know where a ghost lives, pay a visit, ring the bell, bring a gift. It’s like going to someone’s apartment….”
  • Ty assumes “a kung fu pose.”
  • Sage drinks “Helium Hot Chocolate” to float in the air.
  • Purdy and Albert have trouble getting “a magician’s secret.” “‘You know how magicians are,’ said Albert. ‘Greedy.'”
  • The children visit the ghost again, and ask where to find the ghost of Marie Antoinette. They visit the ghost of Marie Antoinette and talk with her.
  • Miriam and Muriel, the French girls, call the children witches. “You’re witches! You have a talking cat! You probably ride on brooms as well!” “‘We’re not witches!’ Ty squealed… ‘We’re kitchen magicians… We make magic with food. Magical cakes, pies, cookies… you know, things to eat. All very harmless. Fascinating, of course, but ultimately harmless. We’re from a long line of kitchen magicians.'”
  • The children have a long conversation with some gargoyles in the Notre Dame cathedral.
  • Rose’s tears make the polenta magical.
  • The French girls call Lily a witch.
  • When Leigh is finally turned back into the sweet child she is, Gus says “Wait… this child is not a demon sprite? She was merely under the spell of a witch?”

Morality: 

  • Rose decides to turn an ordinary mouse into a talking mouse to use as a spy. He goes into Lily’s room, and then describes all the recipes Lily practices for the competition. Rose uses that information to decide what dishes to cook.
  • Rose and her brother try on three different occasions to sneak into Lily’s room and just steal the Booke. They are always thwarted from finding the Booke.
  • Rose and Ty are nearly caught in Lily’s room, trying to steal the book. Leigh is caught. “Lie, little sister! Rose wanted to scream. Lie your head off!” Leigh pretends that she is much older than she is (because of her advance vocabulary), and that she is “waiting here for a rendezvous with the smallest man in the world.”
  • Rose lies to her parents. Purdy asks Rose is Leigh went into Lily’s room, and Rose laughs and tells her no.
  • Sage lies to the Notre Dame guard that tells the children no pets. Sage says that Gus is a toy.
  • One of the French girls, referring to the gargoyles, asks “We’re really asking the monsters to dance?”
  • Sage asks Jeremius, “What group home for homicidal dwarves did Lily rescue you from?”

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • Rose says she’s in the middle of a nervous breakdown.
  • It is mentioned that Ty’s favorite film is Pet Semetary (which is a Stephen King horror novel and movie).

Romance/Sex:

  • Rosemary “wanted to reach out and touch [Devin’s] sullen cheek.”
  • Ty spends several scenes trying to get two French girls’ attention. By the end of the book, he earns that they view him as a little brother.
  • Ty has several poses to make him appear attractive: “The Manly Man,” “The Album Cover,” “The Surprised Hair-Swipe,” “The Young Yatchsman,” etc.
  • Ty is looking at a portrait of the back of a naked woman, and he asks her about the man who painted her. “He said people thought he was a terrible artist and no one would ever see it. But here we are will over a century later, and a thousand different people stare at my butt every day. You among them.”
  • Leigh pretends that she is much older than she is (because of her advance vocabulary), and that she is “waiting here for a rendezvous with the smallest man in the world.” She calls him her “paramour.”
  • The ghost of Marie Antoinette apologizes to a peasant ghost that died under her reign. She calls him “you handsome, brutish, devastatingly handsome young man.” The ghost tells her that she may not have deserved to have her head cut off, and he calls her beautiful.
  • Ty and Sage flirt with the girl gargoyles to distract them, and Rose dances with the boy gargoyle so that they can trick them and catch the bell chimes.
  • The french girls both kiss Ty on the cheek in excitement when Rose wins. Later that night, Ty clearly expects “one last glorious moment of romance.” “Ty hurriedly popes a piece of peppermint gun in his mouth, then stared, starry-eyes, at the twins.” They tell him that he reminds them of their brother, “Thank you for letting us be your big sisters this week.” They both give him “exaggerated, sisterly kisses on both of his cheeks.”

Scary Themes:

  • The children visit a graveyard under the streets of Paris “the walls were made entirely of bones. Long, musty thigh bones stacked on top of one another formed a honeycomb pattern, with countless human skulls dotted throughout. On the other side of the room, another corridor, also lined with human bones, led deeper into the Catacombs.”
  • The Shrunken Man threatens Rose. “He smiled, then mimed a knife with his finger and dragged it across his tanned neck.”
  • After drinking the Helium Hot Chocolate, Sage floats up to a raincloud to capture “unspoiled rainfall.” He nearly floats away, but Gus the cat uses his claws and catches the rope and helps bring Sage back down.
  • “Lily looked like a movie star and smelled like a queen, but she sounded like a murderer.”
  • When the children sneak into Lily’s room, Ty says “any moment now Lily’s creepy little boyfriend is going to run in here and shoot us in the neck with a poison dart gun or something.”
  • Sage asks Jeremius, “What group home for homicidal dwarves did Lily rescue you from?”

Violence:

  • A guillotine is mentioned in passing.
  • Leigh asks Rose if she is going to be like Van Gogh. “Are you going to cut your ear off over a few burned cookies?”
  • Gus the cat asks for a “small rifle or crossbow” to hunt a mouse.
  • A ghost says that Marie Antoinette “is incapable of blushing… She didn’t blush when she presided over the starvation of thousands while her wretched husband grew fatter and fatter….”
  • There are a few references that Marie Antoinette had been beheaded. When the children are talking to her ghost, her head falls off.
  • When the children are trying to get a bell chime from Notre Dame, some gargoyles stop them. A gargoyle tells them to leave right away. “Bob bounced up in the air and landed with a CRACK, breaking one of the marble tiles on the floor and dislodging one of the posts in the railing. It rolled over the edge of the balcony and tumbles hundreds of feet through the air to smash to pieces on the walkway below.”

From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I liked A Dash of Magic as much as the first book, Bliss, because it filled in some of the background you wondered about in Bliss, such as where the Booke came from. It did get a little boring in some parts, but A Dash of Magic was as good as the first book in this series. It ended at a good spot, so I don’t know what will happen in the third book. I give it 7 out of 10 stars.”

A Dash of Magic by Kathryn Littlewood Book Review by What My Kids Read

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