Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean”

Hi guys! Yesterday I just got back from Washington, D.C., and I definitely had a really great trip! Man, April’s almost over, and that means this entire school year is quickly coming to an end. In just a few weeks, it will be AP exams time, so I will be cramming as much studying as I can before then. Today I have another interview with the wonderful Melissa Roske, MG debut author of Kat Greene Comes Clean! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookKat Greene Comes Clean

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.

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1. Your MG debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean follows a young girl as she manages through a turbulent time in her life, including dealing with her cleaning-obsessed mom, her parents’ divorce, the school play, and many friendships. How do you want readers to be impacted from Kat trying to be the “parent” when her mom is unable to? Why do you believe it is important to show how young children overcome these struggles in their everyday lives?

Although I was never thrust into a parental role the way Kat was with her mom, I can certainly relate to being an eleven-year-old with familial and social struggles. I mean, who doesn’t struggle as a preteen? My struggle was primarily with my physical development. At Kat’s age, I was extremely small and underdeveloped, and I used to get teased for it all the time. I was always picked last for sports teams too. One boy in particular—who shall remain nameless—called me “Flatsy,” because, well, you know… and it was humiliating. I was teased for being flat-chested at summer camp, too. I know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but the scars left by all the teasing and name-calling never fully healed. That’s what I tapped into when I wrote my book. I wanted kids to know that life’s struggles are incredibly difficult—but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

2. How has your personal experiences and those of others helped shape Kat Greene Comes Clean? What aspects of Kat’s life and personality are based off your life?Kat Greene Comes Clean

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but my book based on my own experience with OCD—or, to be more accurate, my dad’s OCD. His compulsions are the polar opposite of Kat’s mom’s, though, because my dad is extremely messy and keeps everything. (I recently found a datebook in his apartment from 1973!) He’s also a checker, which means he must check the front-door locks, and the gas jets on the stove, multiple times a day. I too have obsessive-compulsions tendencies, including the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, but I wouldn’t say they impede my life. They’re just extremely distracting—to my family, and to myself.

3. What about Middle Grade Contemporary drew you as an author and a reader? What inspired you to write for kids and from a child’s point of view, and what were some of the challenges that you faced writing your debut?

I’m not sure if I should admit this, but in many ways I still feel like an eleven-year-old girl. That’s why I’m drawn to MG. It focuses on a phase in one’s life when feelings and thoughts and creativity—even love—are bubbling at the surface, ready to come up for air. I also love the openness, and the receptiveness to new things, that tweens exhibit and express. They say want they mean, and they mean what they say. Who doesn’t love that?

In terms of challenges as a debut novelist, I’d say it’s learning how to manage my expectations. As author, you hope your book will be enthusiastically received, and that it will sell well. But that is not always the case. Some things are beyond your control, as it’s important to realize this and manage your expectations accordingly.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean””

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ARC Review: Fighting Fate by Shaila Patel — Full of Heartbreak, Betrayal, Love, and Secrets!

Hi guys! Man, April has flown by so fast. When testing season is almost here and there’s so much end-of-the-year stuff going on, time literally is thrown out the window. I am currently in Washington, D.C., right now with my choir, and we are going to be singing and having the time of our lives (pun not intended, haha). Because of this (and since exams are literally just a couple of weeks away) I will be less active, but please do contact me if you need anything and I will do my best to get to you. Today I have for you a review of Fighting Fate by Shaila Patel, who is a very great author friend of mine. I hope you enjoy.


About Fighting FateFighting Fate

Empath Liam Whelan is determined to protect Laxshmi “Lucky” Kapadia, the girl he loves, at all costs–even if it means breaking her heart to keep her alive. Stopping the joining cold means Liam’s life is in danger from the Soul Seekers and the ruthless Minister Gagliardi who now has designs on Lucky. Liam has no choice but to find the strength to fight his desires, fight the joining, and fight fate.

After the unthinkable happened, Lucky’s “hallucinations” have been working double-time. Heartbroken and plagued by doubts, she meets a man who gives her a mind-blowing explanation for her predicament. Her apparent savior provides her with an escape from her hell: run away with him or return to her drab existence and watch Liam move on with her heart in his hands. All Lucky ever craved was to be in control of her own fate, but when her only choices fight against her heart, can she find the strength to battle for what she wants?

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3 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the author for providing me a free electronic ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Soulmated was one of my favorite romantic reads last year, and I was very eagerly awaiting the sequel these past few weeks. I was very ecstatic to have the opportunity to finally read Fighting Fate after that crazy cliffhanger the author left me at in her debut. Fighting Fate takes readers to the next level from Soulmated, adding more heartbreak, betrayal, revelations, and shocking secrets that will get readers hooked. Unfortunately for me, this sequel disappointed me a bit in the sense that it just did not suck me as much as I had wished to. With such high expectations from Soulmated, I was hoping for a stunning sequel, but it fell short.

I have got to say that all the action and conflict was upped in book two. There was so much more tension between basically everybody! You could literally feel it as you stepped through the story. I fell in love with Lucky and the Whelans so much that I just kept on rooting for them (along with Lucky and Liam’s relationship–just get together already, haha) no matter what happened. The Empath world and system was also very fascinating, too. As Lucky learns more about what being an Empath is like, readers see not only more Empath abilities but also escalated action and tension throughout the plot. There are Empaths fighting each other mentally! It’s very awesome, and I kind of wish I had that power. It was a very interesting mix of fantasy and romance in a contemporary setting.

However, I just did not get into Fighting Fate as much as I did with Soulmated. I really tried to become immersed in the book, but it did not happen. I did have to set it down for a bit because I had to finish other books and things, but I expected myself to be immersed in the writing. While the first half was really well-written, and there were so many times where I just wanted Lucky and Liam to finally get together again, by the halfway point my interest waned. I didn’t like all the deeply romantic sections very much (since I prefer reading clean novels without a lot of profanity or obscenities), and they dominated the middle chunk of the book. By then, I didn’t feel very connected to the story and the plot didn’t move too much for me (as a reader who likes faster-paced plots). The ending (after the 80% marker) did pick up and had many surprises that I did not expect, but overall, my reading experience was not at where I had hoped to be.

Even though I did not like Fighting Fate as much as I had wanted, I will still be on the lookout for book three. Liam and Lucky’s story is not done in this installment, and once you get to the end, you will know why I really want to complete the series. Soulmated and Fighting Fate are perfect for readers whose hearts get warmed from YA romance, whose imaginations soar from magic and fantasy, and whose sense of thrill craves action and intrigue. Certainly do pick up both books! Lucky and Liam is a couple that you do not want to miss.

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the Authora-shaila

As an unabashed lover of all things happily-ever-after, Shaila Patel’s younger self would finish reading her copy of Cinderella and chuck it across the room because it didn’t mention what happened next. Now she writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of stories with epilogues. A member of the Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she’s a pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night. SOULMATED, her debut novel and the first book in the Joining of Souls Series, was the winner of the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews Paranormal Awards for Young Adult. Book 2, FIGHTING FATE releases April 2018. She loves craft beer, tea, and reading in cozy window seats—but she’ll read anywhere. You might find her sneaking in a few paragraphs at a red light or gushing about her favorite books online.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Fighting Fate or Soulmated? Do you like YA contemporary romance?

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

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“Love Songs & Other Lies” Street Team Blog Tour: Exclusive Interview with YA Debut Author Jessica Pennington + Giveaway!

Hi everybody! Today starts the first ever blog tour that I organized! I am very honored to be hosting this blog tour for Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington, and I am super excited to see everybody’s posts. In just a few days, I will be in our nation’s capital (so looking forward to it) and this blog tour is the perfect way to start off the week. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will keep up with all our tour stops. There is also a giveaway for a finished copy of Love Songs & Other Lies and a swag bag, so don’t miss out on that!

Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner


About the BookLove Songs & Other Lies Cover

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Synopsis: Two years after rock-song-worthy heartbreak, Virginia Miller is looking forward to a fun, carefree summer. Her friends just landed a spot on a battling bands reality show, and Vee is joining them for her dream internship on tour. Three months with future rockstars seems like an epic summer plan. Until she learns she’ll also be sharing the bus with Cam. Her first love, and her first heartbreak. Now Vee has more than just cameras to dodge, and Cam’s determination to win her forgiveness is causing TMZ-worthy problems for both of them. With cameras rolling, she’ll have to decide if her favorite breakup anthem deserves a new ending. And if she’s brave enough to expose her own secrets to keep Cam’s under wraps.

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1. It is so great to be kicking off the Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour with you, Jess! Your debut YA contemporary romance novel is set to release on April 24th from Tor Teen, and it follows the romance between Vee Miller and Cam Fuller, two teens who fell in love two years ago but split after a stunning heartbreak. Since the main characters are a part of a band called Your Future X, have you yourself ever been in a band before? If you could be in one, what part or instrumental would you play, and what genre of music would you perform?

One of my friends in high school was in a band, so that’s the closest I’ve ever come! But I love music, so if I had the talent (which I don’t) I would definitely be a singer and guitarist. I have the heart of a musician, but I definitely don’t have the talent!

2. Love Songs & Other Lies is set in two alternating points of view between Vee and Cam and two alternating time periods called Then and Now. What was the biggest challenge of writing in this format, switching between two characters and between two years ago and the present? Why did you decide to build up to the heartbreak and the ultimate resolution at the same time, and what effect does this create for readers?

The hardest part was staying in the voice between characters, and keeping in the emotional arc of each timeline. For the characters, I tended to write scenes in chunks, staying in the same POV for as long as possible. And between timelines it was a little easier, because I didn’t set out to write a dual timeline novel. I had written most of the THEN timeline before realizing that the story was going to continue! So I wrote the two timelines separately for the most part, but then I had to make lots of changes to make sure that it wasn’t jarring for readers to switch from one to the other, and to make sure the plot points all weaved together so that each timeline was supporting the other. Making all of that work was actually a ton of fun for someone like me who is very Type-A and loves organization; it was like a giant puzzle.

3. Music is a prominent aspect of the entire novel. How big is music in your life? What are some of your favorite songs?

If I’m awake, I’m usually listening to music. And I especially love lyrics—lyrics are usually what will pull me to a new genre of music. I love all sorts of music: The Avett Brothers, The Chainsmokers, Taylor Swift, Train, Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons. Pop and folk are my two biggest these days!Love Songs & Other Lies

4. What is the ideal time and place to read Love Songs & Other Lies?

I personally love reading at night, because everything feels more emotional!

5. Would you consider yourself to be more like Vee or Cam? What personality traits and personal experiences do you share with each protagonist?

I’m definitely most like Vee. She had a lot more of my characteristics when I started the book, but as I figured out who she was and what made up her story, most of that was stripped away. But her tendency to cry easily is definitely a leftover trait of mine. I can cry just seeing someone else cry, and especially if I see someone achieving their dream or accomplishing something.

Continue reading ““Love Songs & Other Lies” Street Team Blog Tour: Exclusive Interview with YA Debut Author Jessica Pennington + Giveaway!”

ARC Review: Circle of Ashes by Elise Kova and Lynn Larsh — The Stakes are Raised in This Sequel

Hi guys! In exactly one week I will be in Washington, D.C., with my choir!!! I am super excited, and I cannot wait to tour around our nation’s capital. It’s going to be so much fun! This “mini-vacation” is going to be full of singing and sightseeing! Today I am posting my review of Circle of Ashes by Elise Kova and Lynn Larsh, the anticipated sequel to Society of Wishes. I hope you enjoy it!


About the BookCircle of Ashes

EVERY WISH HAS A COST BUT WILL THE SOCIETY BE WILLING TO PAY IT?

Once a hacker-for-hire living in the shadows, Josephina “Jo” Espinosa is the newest member of a magical Society. Their mandate? To grant the wishes of mortals. A simple enough task until Jo is faced with an impossible wish – and her inability to grant it might spell disaster for her entire team, if not the Society itself.

Jo is used to high-pressure situations, but after a string of disasters, the last thing she needs is stakes of this magnitude. Especially given that neither she nor the Society know quite what the consequences of failing to grant a wish might be.

The only person with answers is the Society’s aloof and cryptic leader, Snow. Yet while Jo is enigmatically drawn to the man, all their clandestine encounters leave her with only more questions about the true nature of the Society, her magic, and her own history.

Time is running out for the Society, and an executioner will rise from among them to exact the price of failure.

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3 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the author for providing me an electronic ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

I really liked the first book in the Wish Quartet, and the premise of a secret yet eternal society that grants wishes that alter history intrigued me from the start. I jumped at the opportunity to read and review the second book in the series, Circle of Ashes, since book one left me at a stunning cliffhanger. I wanted to know more what would happen to Jo and Snow’s relationship and to the Society. While I did like certain parts of this book, overall I was not as into the story. I ended up wanting to finish the book more than I wanted to savor it. I was a bit disappointed as I continued throughout the novel.

However, the stakes were definitely raised in Circle of Ashes. You could feel the clock ticking and tension rising as the desperation to complete the wish before the deadline soared. The plot does fasten the pace of your heart and puts you on the edge of your seat. You can’t help but find out what happens next. In addition, as I learned more about the characters, I fell in love with them even more. I loved Samson’s shyness and kindess and Nico’s charm and passion. I enjoyed Eslar’s hidden heart and Takako’s love for her family and country. As revelations came into light, gasps and shock escaped from my body. The authors threw many surprises at me, many I did not expect. The plot did heighten very much in this sequel.

I did not enjoy Circle of Ashes as much as I had hoped to, though. I ended up having to skip over a lot of gratuitous sex scenes, which I should have expected from a New Adult novel. For me, they really did not add much to the story and made me a bit more confused about whether Jo wanted to get with Wayne or Snow. As much as the plot had more twists and turns, I felt very disconnected at times even though I tried to escape into the lines of each page. I’m personally not sure if I will be continuing this series, but I hope those who decide to pick it up will enjoy it more than I did.

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of the Wish Quartet books? Do you like fantasy?

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

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Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son

Hi guys! To be honest, I have not read that many horror novels in my lifetime. The most recent one was The Lairdbalor by Kathleen Kaufman, and although I wish I had enjoyed that book much more than I actually did, I am really excited for The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody. I am actually ready to be scared to my bones! Today, I have the wonderful opportunity to interview the book’s amazing author, and I’ve certainly enjoyed writing his questions and reading his answers. I hope you have the chance to check out his novel!


About the BookThe Gravedigger's Son

“A Digger must not refuse a request from the Dead.” —Rule Five of the Gravedigger’s Code

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

Equal parts spooky and melancholy, funny and heartfelt, The Gravedigger’s Son is a gorgeous debut that will long sit beside Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

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Patrick Moody Header.png

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

First, thanks so much for hosting me, Kester!

I love writing because I’ve always been a daydreamer. I’ve always had stories in my head, or at least little snippets of stories, thinking up fantastical places and people, heroes and villains, dangerous quests and spooky castles. Growing up, my mind was filled with “what ifs”. I think, in all honesty, that I never really grew out of playing make believe. I love writing because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be fulfilled creatively.

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

My favorite genres are fantasy and horror. Science Fiction is up there as well, and a bit of magical realism, too. I think the most impactful writer in my childhood was Robert Jordan. My father was a fan of his, and had his entire Wheel of Time series. I remember climbing up onto the bookshelves and staring at those incredible covers, completely spellbound. Aside from Goosebumps and Lloyd Alexander, I never really read for my age group. I jumped right into epic fantasy. Terry Brooks came next, followed by Peter S. Beagle and Ursula K. Leguinn.

Beagle has influenced me more than any other writer. I think The Innkeeper’s Song is the most beautiful fantasy ever written.

As for favorite books, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King & Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury have always been close to my heart. Recent favorites include The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe. I’ve also really enjoyed a few short story collections by Kelly Link.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. It seems my TBR pile gets bigger every time I turn around. I think it’s growing on its own! Maybe that’ll be my next book?

For me, writing isn’t really a job. It’s a passion. A need. I do have a full time job as a middle school custodian. It’s really great for my writing. Nice and quiet, with plenty of time to think. I write for one hour a day, on my lunch break. I feel that setting a time limit really helps. On my days off, I always tell myself, “Okay, lets get writing. You’ll get so much done!”…Until I turn on the tv or crack open a book. Having the structure of writing at work really helps. Otherwise, I get way too distracted.

4. Your MG debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son tells the tale of Ian Fossor, who feels conflicted between his desire to become a Healer and his family’s lineage as Gravediggers. As he is Called to help the soul of a young boy, he finds himself fighting against a group of witches bent on seeking revenge and power. Would you be a Gravedigger or a Healer? How do you explore the themes of life and death, good and evil, and following your dreams versus your family’s expectations in your novel?

The Gravedigger's SonThat’s a tough one! Gravediggers and Healers both help people, but one helps the Living while the other helps the Dead. I think I’d like to be a Gravedigger, since they deal with a certain amount of magic and mysticism. Healing is noble, but I’d be too worried about messing something up. I was never too good in biology or anatomy class!

Exploring the concept of death can be tricky, especially when writing for a MG audience. In terms of religion, I kept everything utterly vague and set it in a fantasy realm. I also had to do it in a way that wasn’t too bleak (I hope), so I knew that I needed a lot of comic relief. That came in the form of Bertrum, Ian’s grumpy but loving undead tutor. And it comes later with Thatcher Moore, the skeleton who refuses to stay dead. One of the main struggles in Ian’s life is the fact that he lost his mother at a young age, and though he’s growing up in a family that has the power to speak to the Dead, he knows he’ll never be able to reach her…or so he thinks. I liked the idea of having something so important being just out of his reach. It makes for a melancholy character, but a sympathetic one. Ian knows that death is a serious business. There’s a big part of him that really despises the whole notion of it (which is probably true for most of us), but as the story progresses, he discovers that death is far from the end.

Good and evil was also something I wanted to explore, but I knew that I didn’t want to make it so black and white. In the story, Ian comes across a coven of Weavers, or dark magic witches. At first, they seem to be completely evil. Yet as the conflict reaches its climax, Ian realizes that their evil deeds are coming from a place of great pain, and in the case of the younger Weavers, a place of learned ignorance. I never like stories of completely flawless heroes vs. completely evil villains. That’s been done before, and I think it’s (thankfully) becoming a dying trope. Everyone has the capacity to be good and bad. There are a thousand shades of gray. You never know what might drive a good person to do something bad, or a bad person to do something good. We all handle things differently. I wanted to write about characters who struggle with righting past wrongs. Naturally, they all have a lot of emotional distress, their morality is clouded, and that heavy baggage can lead to some pretty drastic action.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son”

Announcing the Love Songs & Other Lies Street Team Blog Tour, Hosted by LILbooKlovers

Hi everybody! Today I am announcing the Love Songs & Other Lies Street Team Blog Tour, which starts this Monday! Although there is another blog tour going on, hosted by the amazing JeanBookNerd (who is very great–I was on her blog tour for The Queens of Innis Lear), all the stops in this blog tour are members of Jessica’s epic Street Team, which I am a part of myself! In addition, this is the first ever blog tour that I am organizing myself, so I am super excited to see how this all turns out!


About the BookLove Songs & Other Lies Cover

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Synopsis: Two years after rock-song-worthy heartbreak, Virginia Miller is looking forward to a fun, carefree summer. Her friends just landed a spot on a battling bands reality show, and Vee is joining them for her dream internship on tour. Three months with future rockstars seems like an epic summer plan. Until she learns she’ll also be sharing the bus with Cam. Her first love, and her first heartbreak. Now Vee has more than just cameras to dodge, and Cam’s determination to win her forgiveness is causing TMZ-worthy problems for both of them. With cameras rolling, she’ll have to decide if her favorite breakup anthem deserves a new ending. And if she’s brave enough to expose her own secrets to keep Cam’s under wraps.

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Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner

Monday 16th

LILbooKlovers – Interview

Ashleigh’s Bookshelf – Review

Tuesday 17th

The Clever Reader – Dream Cast

Tale Out Loud – Review

Wednesday 18th

Smada’s Book Smack – Top 10 Quotes

BookCrushin – Review

Thursday 19th

My Fangirl Chronicles – Excerpt

A Blunt Book Blog – Review

Friday 20th

BookishBitsBlog – Guest Post

Books. Life. and Everything Else. – Review

Monday 30th

The Candid Cover – Interview

Belle’s Archive – Review

Tuesday 1st

The Cursed Books – Playlist

The Heart of a Book Blogger – Aesthetic

Wednesday 2nd

Portrait of a Book – Aesthetic

 Vicky Who Reads – Review

Thursday 3rd

The Mind of a Book Dragon – Interview

Boundless Bookaholic – Review

Friday 4th

Claerie’s Tales – Fanfiction

Librarian Laura – Interview and Excerpt


About the AuthorJessica Pennington

Jessica Pennington is no stranger to the combination of love and drama. She’s a wedding planner, after all. A writer since the age of ten—when she sought publication for her poem about a tree—Jessica likes the challenge of finding the humor in a sad situation or highlighting the awkwardness in a romantic one. She lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her books, where she’s currently finishing her second novel, WHEN SUMMER ENDS, out April 2019.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Love Songs & Other Lies? Do you like YA contemporary romances?

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

 

Isle of Blood and Stone Blog Tour: Top 10 Favorite Quotes & ARC Review — A Dazzling Historical Fantasy that Fuels the Adventurer Inside You

Hi guys! I hope you are having a marvelous first week of April! Today I am on the blog tour for one of my most anticipated YA releases of the Spring, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, and it did not disappoint! This book releases this Tuesday, April 10th, and you do NOT want to miss this epic fantasy adventure!

Isle of Blood and Stone Blog Tour


About the BookIsle of Blood and Stone

Title: Isle of Blood and Stone

Author: Makiia Lucier

Publisher: HMH

Release Date: April 10th, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Synopsis: Ulises asked, “How can I look at these maps, see this riddle, and do nothing? They are my brothers.”

Elias reached across the table and flicked aside two shells with a fingertip. The map curled into itself. “It’s bound to be a goose chase. You know that?”

“Or a treasure hunt,” Ulises countered, “and you’ve always been good at those.”

Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to HMH for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

I love adventure novels. They take you on wild quests into some of the most dangerous places as the protagonists search for something they long for, only to face evil along the way. A great adventure novel sucks you into the heart of the story, making you forget about your surroundings and feel danger and death lurking around the corner, all while you are on the edge of your seat. Isle of Blood and Stone can be placed into that group. Lucier’s latest novel combines the thrill of exploration with a fantasy world that is full of magic, betrayal, love, and mapmaking. As Elias, Ulises, and Mercedes solve the mystery of what happened to his father and two half-brothers, readers are left guessing until the last page.

Continue reading “Isle of Blood and Stone Blog Tour: Top 10 Favorite Quotes & ARC Review — A Dazzling Historical Fantasy that Fuels the Adventurer Inside You”

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Assassination with April’s LILbooKtalk: “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement” with Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss

Hi guys! Today is the 50th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, which took place in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was one of the greatest figures in American history, and to honor his legacy, this month’s LILbooKtalk is dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss, two local Tennessee authors, are here today to discuss “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.” I hope you find this panel insightful.


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.

Martin, Memphis, and the Mountaintop releases on August 28, 2018!

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About Strong Inside: Young Reader’s EditionStrong Inside

The inspirational true story of the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference–a powerful moment in Black history.

Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.

The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition just released a paperback edition!

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LILbooKtalk 5

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Alice Faye Duncan, a Memphis-based author whose upcoming children’s picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is releasing in August! Would you like to describe a bit about your book and yourself?

Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopAlice: I am a school librarian who writes books for young readers. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the story of the 1968 Sanitation Strike that is told through the eyes of a 9 year old girl, Lorraine Jackson. It is also the story of Dr. King’s last stand for justice and his assassination.

Kester: I’m super excited to read your book, Alice! I can’t wait until it comes out! Alongside Alice, we have Andrew Maraniss, a Nashville-based author whose New York Times bestselling biography Strong Inside has been adapted into a Young Reader’s Edition just last year! Could you tell us a bit about your latest biography and your background?

Andrew: Thanks, Kester! I am really excited for Alice’s book, too. I was just in Memphis a few weeks ago and visited the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. It’s a very important topic for young readers, not just the assassination but the circumstances of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. As for Strong Inside, it’s a biography of Perry Wallace, who was the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. He is someone I first wrote about when I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt way back in 1989! I did a paper about him for a Black History class and his story stuck in my mind. Finally I decided to write a book about him. He is so much more than just a basketball player. He was a high school valedictorian, engineering major at Vandy, Columbia University law graduate, National Guard veteran, US Justice Department attorney, and law school professor. He is the most impressive person I ever met.Strong Inside

Alice: Awesome! I now must learn more about Perry Wallace. Great Work, Andrew! By the way, I am a big Lusia Harris Stewart fan. I am working on her biography for children. She is the first woman officially drafted into the NBA.

Andrew: Fantastic! I don’t know much about her. When was she drafted?

Alice: She was drafted in 1977 by the New Orleans Jazz! But she had the Mississippi Blues! She was from the Delta!

Andrew: That’s really cool. I am sitting outside my daughter’s first grade basketball team practice right now. Maybe she’ll be drafted someday, too!

Alice: I am writing my book for your daughter.

Kester: That’s so awesome to hear from the both of you! Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop revolves around the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in it while Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition follows Perry Wallace, the first African American athlete to play in the SEC, as he overcomes racism and prejudice throughout his life and his collegiate career. Alice and Andrew, how did you both discover, respectively, the strikes and Perry Wallace? What prompted you to write a book about these people and events?

Andrew: I first learned about Perry Wallace when I was a student at Vanderbilt. A student a year ahead of me wrote an article for a campus magazine about the time Perry first played a game in the state of Mississippi, at Mississippi State University in 1967. He was concerned that he might be shot out on the basketball court, just for being African American. I was a kid who was interested in sports and history and I was taking a Black History class. I asked my professor, Dr. Yollette Jones, if it was OK to write about sports in college. I thought she might say no, that it wasn’t a serious enough topic. Thankfully she said yes! So I called Perry and interviewed him for my paper. It remained the most interesting thing I had ever done. I couldn’t get Perry off my mind. So, 17 years later, I decided I wanted to write a book about him. I emailed him to see if he remembered me and my paper. He did! And he said he thought it would be great if I wrote about him. I didn’t need his permission, but I was happy to have his support.

Alice: Many of the participants in the 1968 strike lived on my street or attended my church, when I was a young child. It is a story that I grew up knowing all of my life.  As a school librarian, I found it odd that there were no picture books about the subject.  So, I set out to write the book, myself. This is my same reason for writing about Lusia Harris.  Not one picture book or adult book addresses her legendary place in American sports.

Andrew: There are so many “hidden figures” who did amazing things who simply haven’t had their stories told yet. Whenever I visit a classroom, I tell the students they can be the ones to uncover those stories.

Alice: Andrew, as I writer, I believe that the story I am seeking is also seeking me.  Perry Wallace was waiting on a “you.”

Andrew: We became very, very close friends and I always felt like it was a special,
“meant to be” kind of relationship. I was born a week before he played his last game in college. Our birthdays were 5 days apart. We both went to Vanderbilt. I arrived when he was first invited back to be honored. He ended up living in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is where I went to elementary school!

Alice: Uncanny, Andrew!

Kester: I definitely agree that there are so many “hidden figures” history that we need to uncover. When I read your book, Andrew, I found myself relating so much to Perry Wallace and loved both him and his story. He’s definitely inspiring and I wish more people knew about him.

Andrew: And your stories seem so tailor made for you too, Alice. I think the passion for your subject always shines through.

Kester: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is going to be awesome, I know that for sure!

Alice: Thank you, both. We shall see.  It required 10 years from writing it to publishing it.

Andrew: So glad you stuck with it! Strong Inside took me 8 years — I can relate!

Alice: Here is the new discovery that I made.  I have been researching and writing about the Civil Rights Movement as it took place in Memphis since 1993.  Never, once, did I ask thoughtful questions about Coretta Scott King and her specific role in the movement.  Then, two months ago, I picked up her autobiography.  I now suggest that academics and students spend the next 50 years studying her life and activism.  She was astute and able to build coalitions that have given us the Dr. King that children know and love today.

Kester: So what is it like writing for children and younger readers? What are some of the challenges of writing a picture book (for Alice) or adapting a larger biography into a middle school edition (for Andrew)?

Andrew MaranissAndrew: The biggest challenge for me was literally the editing — taking a nearly 200,000 word book and converting it to around 40,000 words. It was important to me that it not lose anything in the process, that the story not be “whitewashed” for young readers. I felt it only did justice to Perry if they learned the same story as adults and felt what Perry felt. That meant confronting young readers with the racism Perry encountered. Thankfully the publisher agreed.

I have loved visiting students and my next book will be for young readers, not adults. I want to try to write the kids of books I would have read as a middle and high schooler!

Alice: Writing picture books is like writing a song lyric. You have to pack a lot of information and emotion in a few words.  It is not a task that comes easily.

My greatest challenge with writing about Lusia Harris and Coretta Scott King is presenting the salient points in a way that is accessible and inviting to the young reader.  The challenge keeps me fighting and engaged.

Andrew: I think people underestimate that about children’s books, Alice! I’ve thought about doing a picture book about Perry and have had a hard time figuring out how to tell the story in so few words!

Alice: Toni Morrison says that she writes the kind of books that she wishes to read.

Andrew: Well, if she says it, then I think it’s a good idea!

Kester: Back in February, I posted a discussion post on why I believe MG has so much power, and that can be attributed to children’s books, too. There’s so much potential children’s and MG books have to change people’s lives, and that power should not be underestimated.

Andrew: I think that’s true, Kester. There is great power in books. I also think students already possess great power and possibilities, as we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in Florida. Sometimes books can remind them of that and encourage them to act.

Kester: I definitely agree! The best books are the ones that make a tremendous impact on you to where you’re driven to do something or change something.

Alice: Middle Grade books are also still in keeping with classic literature–books of old.  Nothing is really new fangled. For example, there is no foul language and no sex, and the focus is primarily emotional exploration and personal change.  That’s everything found in the classics!

Andrew: That’s a really interesting point and I hadn’t really thought of MG books in those terms before but you are so right!

Kester: My next question is this: Which pioneers and events of the Civil Rights Movement inspire you the most, and how do they impact you in your everyday lives?

Alice: If you had asked me this question two months ago, I would have answered, Rev. Henry Logan Starks, Fannie Lou Hamer or Dr. King.   As of today, they must take a seat behind my new hero–Coretta Scott King from Heiberger, Alabama.

Andrew: As for your question, Kester, Perry Wallace used to say that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Sometimes we think of civil rights figures as these larger than life heroes, but they were just regular people who stepped up in courageous ways. We all have that capability. We can choose to be bystanders or upstanders, standing up for what we believe in or people who are being treated unfairly. In terms of specific people, of course Perry Wallace is the person I have come to admire most, but I will also bring up a name that applies to both Alice’s book and mind: the Reverend James Lawson, who was one of the leading theorists on non-violence. He inspired Perry and the sanitation strike!Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: It was Mrs. King who said, “Struggle is a never ending process.  Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”  In other words, no generation will escape the need to press for equality and fairness.  For always, a struggle will continue.

Andrew: Perry Wallace had a chance to meet Fannie Lou Hamer when she came to speak at Vanderbilt while he was a student and he told me how inspired he was by her. A small woman (in comparison to him at 6′ 5″) who blew him away with her presence!

Alice: Speaking of Mrs. Hamer, it was Coretta Scott King who said, “Women, if the soul of this nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” Mrs. Hamer carried the soul of her people in every fiber of her being.  She was mighty.

Andrew:  We are seeing that again today.

Kester: Here’s the next question! Since the focus of your books hits very close to home here in Tennessee, why do you believe it is important for children to learn more about their local history?Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: As for young people and activism, since 1964, African Americans and other minorities have leaned on the laurels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  As a entire nation, those of us who love freedom and justice for all, are understanding that we must continue to be vigilant and work toward justice.  The struggle continues.

A child is bolstered and self-esteem is healthy when that child understands she comes from a legacy of resilience and goodness. Thus, it is necessary to know local history and family history, too.

Andrew: Well, I think the best stories have universal themes and can be enjoyed by readers anywhere, but it IS important for young people to understand their own local history. That’s where change begins, for one thing. For another, I think students simply just find it more interesting when they recognize certain names or places in a book they are reading. And if that sparks a greater interest in reading and studying history, then that can stick with them the rest of their lives.

Kester: Certainly! My AP US History teacher (who’s also our county historian) is always incorporating how things or people we’ve learned about relates to my hometown of Paris. There’s so much hidden history that it’s fascinating!

Alice: My book 12 Days of Christmas in Tennessee will be released in October 2018.  It is a travelogue/Christmas book that takes children on a journey to Tennessee historical sites and land formations.  Some of the places visited are the Lost Sea in Sweet Water and Tina Turner’s Flagg Grove School in West Tennessee.

Andrew: That sounds like a really fun book, and a great Christmas present!

Alice: Thank you. I bring it up because it addresses TN History. Like, Andrew Jackson and the Hermitage. We have to take the ugly with the good.

Kester: Both of you chose very different formats to write your stories. Could you describe to us the thought process as you decided to write a children’s picture book or a middle grade biography?

Andrew: Writing narrative non-fiction is the kind of writing I think I can do best. It’s my favorite way to tell a story. I love every part of it, from the interviews and library research to the outlining and writing. And at the most important parts of Perry’s life, he was a teenager. Whether someone cares about basketball or not is irrelevant — he was encountering challenges and trying to overcome them, something all middle schoolers can relate to.

Alice: I don’t really consider myself a poet, but I write in a lyrical style that is conducive to picture books.

My great ambition this year is to write a longer text.  I was excited about writing a YA Novel this year.  And then, I stumbled across the harrowing and courageous life of Coretta Scott King.  She has impeded my progress.  I am presently wrestling with a picture book text about her life.  OH. WELL.  Picture books have chosen me as my favorite genre.

Kester: Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers who are viewing this discussion?

Andrew: Keep reading! And keep writing! My dad used to say there’s no excuse for being bored – you can always read a book.

Alice: After researching the American Civil Rights Movement for 20 years, I have learned 4 important things from the life of Dr. King. In actualizing your hopes and dreams,

  1. Make a plan with the end in view
  2. With your plans, leave yourself open to miracles and chance encounters
  3. Add effective people to your team and cut team members, who hinder you.
  4. And finally, when you do succeed, be sure to help someone else.

Andrew: Great advice! Thank you Kester and Alice, this was a lot of fun! Kester, you are doing amazing work, I admire all that you do to encourage reading. Alice, it was a pleasure joining you for this chat. Hope to see you someday soon!

Alice: Andrew and Kester, this was fantastic! Keep shining your light! Write ON! Write ON! Until we meet in the Real World!!!

Kester: Thanks so much, both of you, for coming back onto the blog! It’s been my honor and pleasure to host this chat!


About AliceAlice 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 AndrewAndrew Maraniss

A New York Times bestseller, Strong Inside is the first book by Andrew Maraniss. Andrew studied history at Vanderbilt University as a recipient of the Fred Russell – Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, earning the school’s Alexander Award for excellence in journalism and graduating in 1992. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. In 1998, he served as the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays during the team’s inaugural season, and then returned to Nashville to join MP&F Public Relations. He is now a Visiting Author and Visiting Innovator at Vanderbilt and a contributor to ESPN’s TheUndefeated.com. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author David Maraniss and trailblazing environmentalist Linda Maraniss, Andrew was born in Madison, Wis., grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas and now lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife Alison, and their two young children. Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24 and visit his website at andrewmaraniss.com.

Strong Inside was the recipient of the 2015 Lillian Smith Book Award and the lone Special Recognition honor at the 2015 RFK Book Awards. The Young Reader edition was named one of the Top 10 Biographies and Top 10 Sports Books of 2017 by the American Library Association.

Andrew has appeared on several national media programs, including NPR’s All Things Considered and Only A Game, NBC’s Meet The Press, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann Show, ESPN Radio’s The Sporting Life, and the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of Andrew’s or Alice’s books? What are some of your favorite books that revolve around the Civil Rights Movement?

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

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Exclusive Guest Post by Bridget Hodder, MG Author of The Rat Prince, on “Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic”

Hi guys! For the next few months, most of the authors I am going to have on the blog are going to Middle Grade authors. Although I am still going to be very active in the YA community, my heart has lodged itself deeper in MG fiction. I have met so many wonderful MG authors since the New Year has started, and readers of all ages should pick up their books. Today, Bridget Hodder is here to answer the question, “Why are fairy tales so popular?” Her answer: magic.


About the BookThe Rat Prince

AN ILA CHILDREN’S CHOICE LIST STARRED SELECTION

So, you think you know the tale of Cinderella? Think again!

The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman on the night of the big ball. Together, they’re about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on their way to a most unexpected happy ending!

A sparkling debut full of magic and adventure, from a fresh new voice in fairytale fiction.

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Bridget Hodder Header

Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic

My debut novel, THE RAT PRINCE, is a re-imagining of the tale of Cinderella. When I appear at author festivals, give workshops, or visit schools, readers almost always ask me: Why are fairy tales still so popular?

It’s a great question!

What is the reason why people have loved this particular type of story for hundreds of years? Clearly, stories couldn’t stand the test of centuries unless they appealed to something universal inside us. So maybe the real question is: what’s universal about fairy tales?

Continue reading “Exclusive Guest Post by Bridget Hodder, MG Author of The Rat Prince, on “Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic””

March Reading Recap!

Hi guys! Happy Easter! May the glory of Christ’s resurrection provide you strength and bless you continually throughout your lives! I pray that God may guide each of you throughout your lives. Today, I am posting my March Reading Re-Cap, and surprisingly I managed to finish so many books regardless of my extremely busy schedule. My Spring Break is also about to end, but I’ve certainly recharged with a lot of rest, prayer, and reading these past few days. I hope you enjoy this post, and have a blessed day!


5 Stars

Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton

Open If You Dare

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Continue reading “March Reading Recap!”