Lailu Loganberry (Mystic Cooking Chronicles) has been one of my favorite Middle Grade series ever since I featured it here, along with Heidi Lang’s book, RULES OF THE RUFF. A PINCH OF PHOENIX offers a high-stakes conclusion to the series, and it’s a world I’ll be sorry to see the back of:
Lailu is in hot water. After the events of the Week of Masks, Wren keeps sending insect-like automatons to attack Lailu. However, they’re more irritating than dangerous, and Lailu is more worried about the elves, who have been quiet so far. Too quiet.
When Lailu heads out of the city on a hunt with Greg, the elves finally strike. They put up a magical shield separating the Velvet Forest from the rest of the city. Now no human can enter…and unfortunately for Lailu and Greg, no human can leave, either. Ryon shows up to save them both, claiming they were caught unintentionally, but Lailu isn’t sure she believes him.
Tensions between the elves and the scientists are reaching a boiling point, and the question is which side will snap first. And in the middle of it all is Lailu. Trusted by both sides, she’s selected to deliver messages and help negotiate a truce between the parties before war becomes inevitable.
Easy as pie, right? Not so much. Lailu’s new role as mediator may be one recipe that’s headed for disaster!
Book 1: A Dash of Dragon
A thirteen-year-old master chef has a lot to prove as she tries to run a five-star restaurant, cook the perfect dragon cuisine, repay a greedy loan shark, and outsmart the Elven mafia.
Lailu Loganberry is an expert at hunting dangerous beasts. And she’s even better at cooking them.
For years Lailu has trained to be the best chef in the city. Her specialty? Monster cuisine. When her mentor agrees to open a new restaurant with Lailu as the head chef, she’s never been more excited. But her celebration is cut short when she discovers that her mentor borrowed money from Mr. Boss, a vicious loan shark. If they can’t pay him back, Lailu will not only lose her restaurant—she’ll have to cook for Mr. Boss for the rest of her life.
As Lailu scrambles to raise the money in time, she becomes trapped in a deadly conflict between the king’s cold-blooded assassin, the terrifying elf mafia, and Mr. Boss’ ruthless crew. Worst of all, her only hope in outsmarting Mr. Boss lies with the one person she hates—Greg, the most obnoxious boy in school and her rival in the restaurant business.
But like Lailu always says, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And she’s determined to succeed, no matter the cost!
Book 2: A Hint of Hydra
Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu Loganberry must stop a war between the elves and scientists in this follow-up to A Dash of Dragon, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a recipe for success.”
It’s the Week of Masks, a festival held to chase away evil spirits. But Lailu doesn’t have time to worry about demons. She has bigger fish to fry—or rather, griffons, now that she’s been asked to prepare a mystical feast for the king’s executioner, Lord Elister.
Unfortunately Lailu’s meal is overshadowed by the scientists’ latest invention: automatons, human-shaped machines that will respond to their masters’ every order. Most people are excited by the possibilities, but the mechanical men leave Lailu with a bad taste in her mouth.
Even worse, the elves still blame the scientists for the attacks on them weeks ago, and Lailu worries that the elves might be cooking up revenge. So when she and her sorta-rival-turned-almost-friend Greg stumble across the body of a scientist, the elves are the prime suspects. With help from Greg, her best friend Hannah, and the sneaky, winking spy Ryon, Lailu has to discover the truth behind the murder, and soon—because hostilities between the elves and the scientists are about to boil over faster than hydra stew.
And just ask any chef: war is bad for business.
What do you enjoy most about collaborating together?
KATI: Besides having someone to share ideas with, I like that when I’m struggling to write a scene I can pass it to Heidi and she might have an idea on how to write it.
HEIDI: I like that about collaborating, too. Also whenever I write, I have this terrible mixture of pride and also extreme self doubt. So I’ll write something, feel like it’s good, and then immediately worry it’s actually terrible. Knowing Kati will be reading through and revising helps me feel better about it – I know if it really is terrible, she’ll tell me, and then we can fix it.
Sounds like a great way to keep perspective. A PINCH OF PHOENIX is the final installment in Lailu Loganberry’s story. What about this world will be hardest to leave?
KATI: Definitely the characters. While I loved writing some of the action scenes and the jokes, the characters for me are what made the story so fun.
HEIDI: Same here. We started writing the first book back in 2011, so we’ve been with these same characters for a long time. I’m really going to miss them.
Me too! What do you think is the most common misconception about Middle Grade novels?
KATI: People think middle grade novels are just for young kids, but they aren’t. Middle Grade novels are for anyone who loves a good story.
HEIDI: Also, there is such a thing as upper middle grade, which fits in between middle grade and young adult. It’s hard to find, since all middle grade is lumped together, but it’s there. And it’s the space that I most enjoy writing in, generally geared toward kids ages 12-14ish.
I love writing for that age group also! If you each could pick three books that your readers would appreciate, what would they be and why?
KATI: MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner, because the concept is just so over the top and fun, I couldn’t put the book down. MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS by Beth McMullen (also featured here) has strong girl characters and non-stop action. And THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani had a such a unique idea and world. 🙂
HEIDI: Ooh, good choices. I would add Anna Meriano’s LOVE SUGAR MAGIC because it’s excellent, and it also combines magic and cooking, although in a very different way. PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW by Ruth Lauren, because it’s set in a unique fantasy world and also features a heroine who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. And coming in early October, Sarah Jean Horwitz’s THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, because it is also full of characters who are in that gray area between good and bad.