Author Guest Post with R. M. Romero, MG Historical Fantasy Author of The Dollmaker of Kraków, on “Remembrance and Return”

Hi guys! Last Saturday–October 6th–marked the end of the Invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, who divided and annexed the nation under the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. The Invasion of Poland also marked the beginning of World War II and the catalyzation of the atrocities conducted by both the Nazis in the Holocaust and the Soviets in the mass deportations. A few weeks ago, I won a copy of The Dollmaker of Krakow in a giveaway hosted by author R. M. Romero, who agreed to do this guest post on the blog! I am very excited to share this post with y’all, and I hope you enjoy it!


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

In the land of dolls, there is magic.
In the land of humans, there is war.
Everywhere there is pain.
But together there is hope.

Karolina is a living doll whose king and queen have been overthrown. But when a strange wind spirits her away from the Land of the Dolls, she finds herself in Krakow, Poland, in the company of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power and a marked past.

The Dollmaker has learned to keep to himself, but Karolina’s courageous and compassionate manner lead him to smile and to even befriend a violin-playing father and his daughter–that is, once the Dollmaker gets over the shock of realizing a doll is speaking to him.

But their newfound happiness is dashed when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. Karolina and the Dollmaker quickly realize that their Jewish friends are in grave danger, and they are determined to help save them, no matter what the risks.

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

I am not of Polish descent and I was not born Jewish; I converted as an adult. But when I was eighteen, I traveled to Poland, driven by a desire to learn about the history there. I visited Kraków, a city seeped in legends and KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau, where over a million people–mostly Jews–were murdered.

A part of me never left.

I circled back to Kraków, that beautiful fairy tale city, and the darkness of Auschwitz-Birkenau time and time again. I was haunted by them and by all those who had lost their lives in the Holocaust, but I could only write stories around them. For many years, I never quite dared to return to those places–even in my imagination.

Until I finally did.

One summer night in 2014, I wrote a scene in which a doll comes to life in a magic toyshop. It was a simple scene, yet the characters interested me enough to go on. Before long, I realized where the story took place: Kraków. Shortly after, I realized when the story began: 1939, months before the German invasion and subsequent occupation of Poland. And finally, I realized how the story would end.

Once I knew that, I seriously considered abandoning the book. But ultimately, I pressed on; I felt as if I had to finish it. I had been unable to speak about what I’d seen for Auschwitz for almost a decade, and my dark fairy tale about a doll named Karolina and a toymaker was finally allowing to do just that.

Some thought that choosing to write a book that incorporated fantasy elements into real world history was odd, but if Guillermo del Toro is correct and fairy tales are born in troubled times, it was the only way I could tell the story.

I hoped that through The Dollmaker of Kraków, I could make others see what I had, and that they might come to fully understand the horrors that racism, antisemitism and xenophobia can create. I thought the book could help children see that they will always have the choice to help others…or to give into fear and anger.

Unfortunately, that is a message that has become more and more relevant since 2016. We live in a world where Nazis marched openly in a college town that I lived in for nearly two years, where children are once again being put in cages, where hateful speech is considered acceptable and even admirable by the President of the United States. History is repeating itself in alarming ways…but as I have seen over the last two years, we are fighting back against it.

I don’t know if The Dollmaker of Kraków can be a candle in that darkness and a way to honor those who died in the Holocaust because of vicious hatred. But I continue to hope. And I continue to remember.


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

R. M. Romero is a Jewish Cuban-American author. While afflicted with a terrible cast of wanderlust, she currently lives in Miami Beach with her witchy black cat. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program.

When she is not writing, R. M. Romero occupies her time reading fairy tales, taking care of a feral cat colony, and studying Polish.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Even in darkness, it is possible to create light.” — Elie Wiesel

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Author Interview with Mark Falkin, Literary Agent and YA Apocalyptic Author of The Late Bloomer

Hi guys! Today, I’m celebrating my school’s homecoming! Roll Red Roll! Man, it’s pretty sad that this is my senior year homecoming–and my last homecoming as a high school student. I’m going to be celebrating as I cheer on my school at tonight’s football game. Roll Red Roll! Mark Falkin is here on the blog to talk about his latest book The Late Bloomer, which releases on October 16th from California Coldblood. It sounds really chilling and intriguing, so I hope you enjoy this interview and check out Mark’s book!


About the BookThe Late Bloomer

Imagine THE STAND told with the intimacy of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

A keening wail heralded the end of the world.

It came from everywhere. After it passed, most of the world’s population was gone—either taken by a bizarre affliction or their own hand—leaving behind a stunned and altered race controlled by a shadowy superintelligence.

Opposing this threat are the late bloomers—teens for whom puberty was delayed.

Within these pages lies the transcript of a recording made by one of those late bloomers. His name’s Kevin March. When the apocalypse hit, he was about to get kicked out of his high school marching band for smoking pot. Kevin’s bright, wise beyond his years, and he just might be meant for something big in the new world order—if he can survive it.

Going on the run to find his little brother, Kevin teams up with his biggest crush, Kodie, and his best friend, Bass. The trio strike out across Texas in search of food, shelter, and answers.

Mark Falkin, bestselling author of Contract City, returns with a young adult thriller that combines shades of Lovecraft, Salinger, and Twain, all of it told in Kevin’s unforgettable voice.

The Late Bloomer releases from California Coldblood on October 16th. Pre-order it today!

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Mark Falkin Interview.png

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

What Bernard Malamud said: I’d be too moved to say. But to try to say: It’s a compulsion. Naively, I think maybe it’s an attempt to explain life to myself. I don’t get any real solid answers, but sometimes I feel maybe I’ve got it cornered, this explanation.

In third and fourth grade I would make these holiday themed puzzle books for my classmates. I’d create this hand drawn book and ask my Dad to run off copies at work which he dutifully did, having his secretary do it. She stapled them too. The teacher was flummoxed and thrilled at my self-aggrandizing precociousness, helping me hand them out at home room around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. They were mini versions of those Highlights kids’ magazines and they uniformly contained a word search, a crossword, a maze you solved with your finger or pencil, hidden pictures, and flash fiction. Really flash—“I saw Santa in my living room on Christmas Eve and he’s sure fat alright.” The looks on my classmates’ faces trying to solve my puzzles, read my little story… oh, I was hooked then. Orwell wrote of the sheer egoism of the writer. I felt that glory in Third Grade.

Skip to high school and I found myself doodling epigrams in the margins of whatever we were doing in AP English class. These later bloomed into bad poetry. I did the bad poetry thing off and on through college and law school. In law school I thought I could do what Grisham did and write a novel my first year, that blistering 1L year. Um, no, I didn’t pull that off, but I did start a novel that I published ten years later.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I can longlist some writers who combined form my lodestar: Stewart O’Nan, Daniel Woodrell, Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Karen Russell, Barker, Palahniuk, Lethem, DFW, Ellis, Proulx, McCarthy, McGuane, William Gibson, Bradbury, Updike, Capote, Oates, TC Boyle, Sedaris. Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes. Oh and Vonnegut, Kerouac, and the insufferable personality that is Hunter S. Thompson.

I cannot say who’s the most impactful, per se. I just know that these writers formed me.

Lately: Tommy Orange inspires me. Merritt Tierce inspires me. Emil Ferris inspires me. Billy Collins inspires me. Joan Didion inspires me. Kate Tempest inspires me.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I’m a literary agent and erstwhile/recovering music and IP attorney. I wish writing was full-time, but then I’d miss out on my clients’, and clients-to-be, exciting new work.

4. Your upcoming YA dystopian novel The Late Bloomer chronicles one teen’s journey when a cataclysm strikes Earth, but it’s unlike any apocalypse seen in fiction. What inspired this end-of-the-world scenario? In your opinion, how does your novel stand out from other books in the apocalyptic/dystopian genre?

The Late BloomerIt’s an apocalyptic/postapocalyptic novel, not dystopian, and it’s not straight YA either. It’s a crossover novel. That’s not me saying that; that’s pro readers and other writers saying that, so.

Ultimately, I love the genre. What inspired me was that I wanted to write a horror novel that was unlike anything else out there and that was the scariest thing I could think of and what makes it scary isn’t just a set piece here, a set piece there, but something that holistically makes you shudder, making you feel something deeper than just simple fear but rather a resonating poignancy through the pathos. What makes this story unique is that it avoids the well-worn tropes. There are no zombies, viruses or virals, no doomsday asteroid, no aliens, no environmental cataclysm, no nuclear holocaust.

As far as direct inspiration, the three simultaneous sparks were these: There’s a line in Lord of the Flies that goes You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are? and a little supernova exploded in my mind and I probably said behind clenched teeth in public “that’s it!” The book’s working title was No Go for a long time and was even initially pitched with that title. There’s that and there’s a certain work of fiction that I can’t disclose for spoilage reasons; the way it made, still makes, me feel . . . I approached this book at the outset from the standpoint of wanting to make the reader feel like I did reading that work. And then there’s this: a few people reading might remember these emails I used to send out during October years ago, I think 1998 through 2003. They were these epistolary little stories that came in bi-weekly installments that I called the Chronicles of Spooky Month which over the years got longer, less funny and more scary. In maybe 2012 I attempted to take a run at it again for fun and as a palette cleanser. I wrote a couple thousand words and put it away, never sending anything out. This was the impetus for The Late Bloomer. This book really is an all-grows-up, exploded version of that. Pure fun. Labor of love.

Continue reading “Author Interview with Mark Falkin, Literary Agent and YA Apocalyptic Author of The Late Bloomer”

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito by Shelley Johannes Blog Tour — Spotlight Post

Hi guys! Happy October!! Today is the first day of October, and that means Fall is in the air! Woo hoo! Today I am kicking off the blog tour for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito, an MG contemporary novel about a 3rd grader who loves all things spy-related. I’ve seen a lot of great things about it in the MG community, so I am very excited to share with y’all this a little more about the book!

Beatrice Zinker Incognito Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookBeatrice Zinker Incognito

Title: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito

Author: Shelley Johannes

Pub. Date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 224

Synopsis: In book two of the Beatrice Zinker series, Operation Upside is finally in full swing! But when Beatrice’s over-enthusiasm lands Mrs. Tamarack with a Strictest Certificate, the team has to scale back a bit.

Lying low is not exactly Beatrice’s strong suit, especially when she sees someone who desperately needs to be recognized. But when the certificate meant for him falls into the wrong hands, Beatrice and Lenny have to find a way to widen their circle once again to save Operation Upside, and themselves, from trouble.

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About the AuthorShelley Johannes

Before becoming an author-illustrator, Shelley began her creative career with ten years in architecture—where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. She currently lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan with her husband and two sons.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book she’s written. She looks forward to more upside down adventures with Beatrice.

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

3 winners will win a finished copy of BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER: INCOGNITO, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Link to Tour Schedule

Week One:

10/1/2018- LILbooKloversSpotlight Post (Excerpt will be added once I receive it)

10/2/2018- A Fictional Bookworm– Review

10/3/2018- Beagles & Books– Review

10/4/2018- Oh Hey! Books.– Excerpt

10/5/2018- Patriotic Bookaholic– Review

Week Two:

10/8/2018- Rhythmicbooktrovert– Review

10/9/2018- Christen Krumm Review

10/10/2018- For the Love of KidLit– Spotlight

10/11/2018- BookHounds YA– Review

10/12/2018- Two Points of Interest– Review


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable

Hi guys! Today’s review is on The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the long-awaited sophomore standalone novel of Jake Burt, who wrote the heartwarming debut Greetings from Witness Protection! I definitely enjoyed his first novel, so I was really excited to be able to have the opportunity to read his next one! If you had missed it, Jake was recently on my blog with Rebecca Donnelly in August’s LILbooKtalk on “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students.” Don’t miss it–it was an amazing discussion! I hope you enjoy this review!


About The Right Hook of Devin VelmaThe Right Hook of Devin Velma

From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game–one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma releases from Feiwel & Friends on October 2nd! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way. Please note that this review is based off an uncorrected galley, so changes could have been made in the published draft.

When I first started The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the story did not click with me at first, and I had to set it down since I wanted to read another book at the time. Weeks later, I decided to restart and pick it back up, and I did not ever want to put it down. I finished most of it in one sitting. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a charming story about two young boys attempting to preserve their friendship and their families as they formulate a plan to gain fame and fortune. Throughout the story, I laughed and I cried. I cringed and I celebrated. I loved and I understood. Ultimately, it made me feel grateful that I have a tremendous outpouring of support from my three best friends and my caring family.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable”

Cover Reveal for Romanov by Nadine Brandes (with a Mini History Lesson about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution)

Hi guys! If you don’t know, Nadine Brandes is one of my favorite authors! She’s one of the kindest and sweetest people you’ll ever meet, and her books are so amazing and inspirational. I love her YA Christian speculative fiction Out of Time series along with her latest YA historical fantasy standalone Fawkes. Now, she’s back with another YA historical fantasy standalone featuring the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia! I’m super excited for her latest novel, and she’s releasing the cover TODAY! Check it out below!


Are you ready for the cover?

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I’m going to give you a tiny history lesson as part of the reveal!

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Here’s a picture of Anastasia Romanov (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Anastasia Romanov

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Anastasia Romanov was the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last monarch of Russia. The Russian Empire has been ruled by the Romanovs/the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanovs for nearly two centuries.

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World War I broke out in 1914, and Russia as part of the Triple Entente joined the fight as it allied with Serbia against Austria-Hungary.

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Hardships and downturns soon crippled the Russian economy, and this led to bread riots breaking out in the streets.

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With the Bolsheviks, an anti-monarchial Marxist party led by Vladimir Lenin, rising to power, the February Revolution of 1917 led to the forced abdication of the throne by Tsar Nicholas II.

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The Russian Revolution was well underway, and the royal family was captured and later executed.

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Russia became a Communist nation, which would last until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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Many conspiracy theories later arose regarding the possible survival of some of the members of the Romanovs, especially Alexei and Anastasia.

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Did Anastasia live? Modern science and DNA testing proves that all family members were executed, but many people still like to believe otherwise.

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In Romanov, Nadine Brandes explores the possibility of Anastasia surviving in this YA historical fantasy standalone brimming with magic.

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Check out the beautiful cover below!

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Romanov

It’s so gorgeous, isn’t it? Nadine’s books always have some of the most beautiful covers!


About the BookRomanov

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Romanov will release from Thomas Nelson on May 7th, 2019! Pre-order it today!

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About the AuthorNadine

I am an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. I never received my Hogwarts letter, but rest assured I’m no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family-size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. I write about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. My dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged me to pursue shalom, which is now my favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When I’m not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, me and my knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Goodbye. Don’t forget me. Many kisses from us all to you.” — Anastasia Romanov

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus

Hi guys! Today, Lauren Gibaldi is here to talk about Autofocus, a book that I won in a giveaway and really enjoyed. I met Lauren back at the SE-YA Book Festival in March, and she was super nice and sweet! I’m so glad to have her on the blog, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


About the BookAutofocus

From the author of The Night We Said Yes comes a fun and heartfelt YA contemporary tale. When Maude decides to search for information about her birth mother, she finds out more than she expected. Perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Susane Colasanti.

Family. It’s always been a loaded word for Maude, whose birth mother died after giving her up for adoption. With her best friend, Treena, in college in the same town where her birth mother grew up, Maude decides to visit and explore her past. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena doesn’t seem to have time for her—or for helping with her search. Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude, she starts to realize that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

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Lauren Gibaldi Interview.png

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because it transports me. It’s the same reason I love reading, too. It’s an experience, even when it’s hard. I started writing young, in a diary, with zero pressure. And I think that’s what made it great for me- those early years when I was just given a dairy and able to write whatever I wanted without fear of it being bad.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Along with being an author, I’m a librarian, so it’s pretty impossible for me to choose favorites! I read a lot of YA, obviously, and a lot of picture books due to having young children. I listen to adult fiction audio books because I like being inspired on my way to work. And I mostly read graphic novels whenever I’m writing. (I don’t like reading novels when writing.) I think three books influenced my writing the most – Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read them all in college, and they helped me understand what I wanted to write.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I’m a full-time librarian!

Autofocus4. I really enjoyed your sophomore YA romance novel Autofocus, which follows high school senior Maude, who was adopted as a child, as she explores deeper into her mother’s past and discovers the true meaning of family. How do you explore adoption throughout your novel? For readers were or are adopted, how do you want them to be impacted as they read Autofocus?

Thank you! The main idea behind Autofocus is wondering if who we are is determined by birth (nature), or if we can change as we grow (nurture). Maude has no clue who her mother was, so she’s not sure if this person she’s becoming as she finishes up high school is inspired by her birth mother, or by her mom/dad/friends. (She differentiates mother vs. mom.) I think, even though it’s an experience very specific to adopted teens, the feeling is pretty common for any teen–figuring out who you are, apart from influences. As for readers, I’m just happy they’re seeing themselves in a book. To see that their experience, though unique, can also be universal.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus”

Book Review: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan (Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie) — A Masterpiece Full of Captivating Imagery, Elegant Prose, Hidden History, and Powerful Inspiration

Hi guys! It’s been years since I last read a picture book. But when I was approached by author Alice Faye Duncan to review and promote her upcoming picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, I jumped at the opportunity. I saw one of my author friends Linda Williams Jackson raving about Alice’s book on Facebook, so I knew I was in for something very special. Today’s review shows how picture books aren’t just for children–they can be enjoyed by children, teens, and adults alike. Certainly, they hold such immense power to change lives, especially since these are the first few books that children will be exposed to in their lives as readers. I hope you enjoy this review and check out Alice’s amazing book on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968.


About Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

This historical fiction picture book for children ages 9-12 presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from the author and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

When I went to Washington, D.C., I visit the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Being a history nerd and a story collector, I stood on the very steps that Dr. King stood on himself and became instantly mesmerized. As I gazed upon the Washington Monument—a beacon of hope, persistence, and freedom throughout the centuries for Americans—I imagined myself as if I were there on that very day. I pondered upon the massive size of the crowds, thousands and thousands of blacks and whites united for a single cause, spanning for miles and miles. History was made in that very spot, and this realization took away my breath. Had I been by myself, I would have stayed on those steps for ages, transporting myself to that day 50 years ago.

Most people know that Dr. King was assassinated on April 3rd, 1968, on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. While I’ve never been to the motel that houses the National Civil Rights Museum, I have passed by it a few times when visiting the city. What I didn’t know—a piece of history that is unknown to most people—is the Sanitation Strike that led up to that fateful day. It is a critical event in not only the history of Memphis and Tennessee but also the history of this nation that shouldn’t be kept unknown to the general populace. In the form of a children’s picture book, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the perfect history lesson for children and adults of all ages as it depicts Dr. King’s final stand for respect, human dignity, and equality. This is truly one of those few rare books that must be placed into the hands of as many children and students possible.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is a masterpiece full of hidden history, elegant prose, and captivating imagery. Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie captures the Sanitation Strike of 1968 so vividly that readers will feel transported back 50 years ago, when blacks across Memphis united together to bring about improved labor conditions for sanitation workers. Even as a teen who hasn’t read a picture book in years, I found myself mesmerized by this story of full of sorrow and triumph, hardships and hope. This is the perfect book not only to read by yourself but to read to children—the poetic yet reflective style reminisces of the past. It’s simple yet effective, and it made me feel all the tension, anticipation, and even dread that was bursting throughout the city and even the nation at the time.

In addition, the illustrations made the words truly come to life. I truly wanted to get lost in R. Gregory Christie’s art as it depicted Lorraine’s story both accurately and vividly. They were simply beautiful. I fell in love with every single one of them from the first few pages to the last. The illustrations make the atmosphere full of sorrow, joy, triumph, persistence, anguish, bleakness, and despair. They will make readers just go “Wow.”

I am truly blessed and honored to have this opportunity to read and review Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. It might be a very short story, but it’s one that I would want to revisit every once in a while. I feel changed by this book, and I’ve learned more not only about my state’s local history but also about myself. It has instilled in me a greater fighting sense to “march on” throughout life despite all of the difficulties I will encounter. I have been moved greatly to tears as I endured this strike with Lorraine and her family. It surely is one that I will never ever forget. As it has enlightened me so greatly, in the words of Alice Faye Duncan, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop will surely inspire readers to “climb up the mountaintop!”


About the AuthorAlice Faye Duncan

Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. Her most popular picture book for infants is HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD. It is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

Alice’s book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) will debut August 2018. It is a poetic paean for school age students that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a clunky mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” This book will debut in October–2018. The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

Finally, in celebration of words, the splendor of alliteration and the power of a poetic life–A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This picture book biography is the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. Miss Brooks was the very first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1950.

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About the IllustratorR. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie won a Coretta Scott King Honor (Illustration) for his first book, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, was selected as a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame won the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Claudia Lewis Award for poetry (given by Bank Street College of Education), and was a BCCB Blue Ribbon Winner. His latest book is The Lost Boys of Sudan.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop? What are some of your favorite picture books?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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ARC Review: The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee — An Ode to Autumn Full of Mystery and Spookiness

Hi guys! Fall is almost here, so today I am reviewing The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee, an MG fantasy set in a small Tennessee town (go Tennessee!) in the fall. With Halloween coming up, I think this murder mystery is perfect for those who need a good spook. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe House in Poplar Wood

For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.

But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.

Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.

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3 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

I’ve never read one of K. E. Ormsbee’s MG novels, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to review her latest novel The House in Poplar Wood. I was really excited to read about all of the magic regarding Death, Memory, and Passion. Magical realism and contemporary fantasy fascinate me very much. Unfortunately, The House in Poplar Wood fell short of my expectations. I did not feel any emotional connection to the story at all until the very end. To me, it wasn’t bad but it just wasn’t very good. I wish I could have enjoyed it a lot more, but I felt as if I was reading words off of a page rather than being transported into a story.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee — An Ode to Autumn Full of Mystery and Spookiness”

September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Hi guys! I am really really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to read Legends of the Lost Causes, which was an epic MG western novel full of magic, action, and adventure! Today, the authors of the series, Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, are here on the blog to talk about what it was like collaborating on their books. I hope you enjoy it!


About Legends of the Lost CausesLegends of the Lost Causes

A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.

This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.

With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.

But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.

Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.

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About The Fang of Bonfire CrossingThe Fang of Bonfire Crossing

The Brotherband Chronicles meets the Wild West in this rip-roaring middle-grade adventure series filled with dark magic, scrappy heroes, and diabolical villains.

Keech Blackwood and his band of fellow orphans demand justice for their fallen families. But the road to retribution is a long and hard-fought journey.

After defeating Bad Whiskey Nelson, the man who burned Keech’s home to the ground, the Lost Causes have a new mission: find Bonfire Crossing, the mysterious land that holds clues to the whereabouts of the all-powerful Char Stone. Along the way they’ll have to fend off a shapeshifting beast, a swarm of river monsters, and a fearsome desperado named Big Ben Loving who conjures tornadoes out of thin air. It’s an epic standoff between the Lost Causes and the outlaw Reverend Rose, a powerful sorcerer who would be unstoppable with the Stone in his possession.

With the world—and vengeance—hanging in the balance, the Lost Causes are ready for battle.

The Fang of Bonfire Crossing releases on February 19th, 2019, from Henry Holt! Pre-order it today!

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September LILbooKtalk.png

Questions are in bold

Legends of the Lost CausesKester: Today, we have Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, the two talented authors of Legends of the Lost Causes, an MG fantasy adventure novel set in the Wild West and of which released earlier this year. Would both of you like to tell us a little bit about each of yourselves and your novel?

Brad: Sure thing! Well, I’m an Arkansas native, but I moved to Oklahoma in 2008 to attend grad school at Oklahoma State University — where I met Louis in a creative writing program. I’ve been in OK ever since, and now I have a wonderful wife, Alisha, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe.

Louis: I’m an English professor at Lewis-Clark State College in northern Idaho. I earned my PhD at Oklahoma State University where I met Brad. I also have a wife and two dogs. The dogs are named Cake and Muse.

Brad McLelland
Brad McLelland

Brad: Louis and I got to know each other through casual hangouts, really. A mutual friend of ours would host fun get-togethers, where we would all play Werewolf and other games, and mine and Louis’s friendship just naturally occurred at these get-togethers. And of course, I saw Louis from time to time in the halls of the OSU English Department. But he was WAY too popular for me to hang out with there. 😉

Louis: Right before I left for Idaho, we decided to write a book series together.

Brad: Yep, we started outlining the series in–what was it, Louis?–Spring of 2010, I believe.

Louis: Yep. We planned out the basic plot points and then I left town.

Brad: Yes you did! I was devastated. (Kidding.)

Louis: From then on, we had to work with each other online or by phone.

Brad: By that time, we already had a pretty good amount of work done on Book 1–which at that time was this kind of monstrosity of a YA Western. In other words, we didn’t quite know what sort of book we wanted to write at the time.

Kester: So what inspired you to write Legends of the Lost Causes together?

Brad: Well, I really loved my discussions with Louis at these get-togethers. I knew he enjoyed reading (and writing) genre books, as did I, so those discussions turned into deeper conversations about collaborating on an old idea I had.

Louis Sylvester
Louis Sylvester

Louis: As I recall, we were at a birthday party, chatting about writing and our future goals. Brad and I both declared our desire to write a rip-roaring adventure.

Brad: Yep! It was June 3, 2010. Our friend’s birthday. That was the “birth” of Keech Blackwood.

Louis: As we got into our ideas, we realized that we could come up with an exciting tale that would surprise us both if we worked together. And I moved at the end of July.

Brad: After Louis took his professorship in Idaho, we talked on the phone extensively, and just agreed to keep going. As I mentioned before, we had a lot on the page for Book 1 and a lot already outlined for the whole series, we just needed to continue on.

Louis: That’s true. We had a massive outline built by the time I split.

Brad: Yes we did! Eventually, in September 2011, as I recall, we finished the draft of Book 1.

Louis: Yep. For that first draft, we would pass the book back and forth through email. We would write a chapter, then pass it back.

Brad: I’ve always liked to call our process a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting — because we never really stop the process between the two of us. We’re constantly honing sentences.

And then came the LONNNNNNG haul of getting it in front of an agent.

Louis: Once we were happy with the story, Brad started the work of finding our agent. He deserves full credit for that.

Brad: Thanks, L.

Continue reading “September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester”

ARC Review: The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth — A Highly Relevant Story that Will Melt, Break, and Re-Piece Your Heart Over and Over Again

Hi guys! One of the biggest reasons I love Middle Grade is that it tackles such big issues in such simple yet beautiful ways. The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth is one of the books. I had the awesome pleasure to host Alyssa on the blog a few months ago as part of the June LILbooKtalk on “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” and I was able to get an ARC of her debut novel and read it. It definitely did not disappoint! The Eleventh Trade just released a few days, and you definitely need to go get it!


About The Eleventh TradeThe Eleventh Trade

From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

From the very first chapter—in fact, page—of The Eleventh Trade, I knew I was in for something very special. It’s very rare for me to have that feeling super early on in the story, and my hunch was right. The Eleventh Trade is one of the most heart-warming and inspirational books I have ever read. The ending made me tear up, and I have not cried from reading a story in such a long time. I can’t even remember the last time I ever did that from a book. The Eleventh Trade will break and re-piece your heart over and over again. Readers will rejoice with Sami during his triumphs and become saddened by his failures.

Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut novel helped changed my perspective on the refugee crisis today. It is a vivid and real portrayal of the struggles that Afghan refugees endure as they adjust to life in the United States. Sami had to face so many trials during his quest to gain back his grandfather’s rebab, such as raising money from virtually nothing, dealing with an impending deadline, being forced to lie to his only remaining relative, enduring vile racism from one of his classmates, and coping with trauma from a horrific experience in Afghanistan. You don’t really think about the struggles that these people have and had to go through during their search for a better life. It’s shocking to think how many refugees such as Sami are being labeled as terrorists out of racism and prejudice in their new countries while terrorist groups oppressed them and their family members out of pure evil in their home countries. It’s very rattling to think about this. This is the reason why I love contemporary Middle Grade so much—novels such as The Eleventh Trade cover such important issues in a way that wrenches your heart, changes your viewpoint, and makes you love the goodness in humanity even more.

Sami’s story of perseverance is truly inspiring. His quest to raise $700 to buy back his grandfather’s rebab is full of new friends, moments of triumph, bouts of trouble, and ultimately love and sacrifice. I fell in love with Sami from the very first page, and I rooted for him to succeed every step of the way. His deep affection for his grandfather and for the music of his mother nation is very contagious—I truly could feel the passion he had for soccer, for his family and friends, and for the rebab. I loved how this tragedy turned out to be a blessing in disguise: He not only found new friends but also a newfound hope for a better future.

The Eleventh Trade is truly one of the most memorable and touching novels I have ever read. From having his grandfather’s rebab stolen to dealing with trauma and racism on his quest to regain it back, Sami is a character that readers will fall in love with and cheer on. Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut will melt, break, and wrench your heart over and over and over again. Her writing truly emanates the pains, joys, sufferings, and trials of being a refugee from a war-torn nation. I would definitely recommend this book to students, teachers, parents—virtually everyone—in a heartbeat. The Eleventh Trade is a much needed and relevant story in today’s world full of uncertainty, grief, hate, and hope.


About AlyssaAlyssa Hollingsworth

Alyssa was born in small-town Milton, Florida, but life as a roving military kid soon mellowed her (unintelligibly strong) Southern accent. Wanderlust is in her blood, and she’s always waiting for the wind to change. Stories remain her constant. Alyssa received her BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Berry College and her MA with honors in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. In 2013, she won a prize from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity for her creative non-fiction essay, Naan in the Afghan Village. She is represented by Amber Caraveo at Skylark Literary. Her debut THE ELEVENTH TRADE will launch Fall 2018 with Macmillan (U.S.) and HotKey (U.K.).

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Eleventh Trade? What are some of your favorite books that tackle the refugee crisis?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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