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”

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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Book Review: Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver — A Creepy Ghost Story Perfect for the Summertime or around a Campfire

Hi guys! Today is the last day of August, and to celebrate, I am sharing with you all a review of a spooky summertime read. A month ago, I read Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver, a local author who not only lives in Tennessee but set her latest novel there as well. It’s definitely a quick and easy read, yet it will get your heart pounding! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookLost on the Water

One girl’s daring adventure turns into a long frightful night lost on the water.

Against her wishes, Dannie has to leave the California beach behind to spend the summer with her grandma in rural Tennessee. Things look up when a group of local boys invite her on an overnight kayaking trip. When her grandma refuses to let her go, Dannie finds an old rowboat hidden behind the shed and sneaks off to catch up to her new friends. It seems like a simple solution… until everything goes wrong.

Dannie soon discovers this lake is more than just vast. It’s full of danger, family secrets, and ghosts.

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4 StarsDisclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of horror and ghost stories. While I think they’re really interesting, sometimes I just get too creeped out by movie trailers or book synopses. I did love D. G. Driver’s The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, so when she reached out to me about her latest novel—a ghost set in my home state of Tennessee—I could not resist. Lost on the Water is a creepy and chilling tale filled with secrets, mystery, and intrigue. It is a very quick and easy read that will suck you in after just a few pages. The story might seem a bit innocent at first, but be warned, there’s more secrets and scares than meets the eye.

While I am not an expert in ghost stories, I can say with certainty that a good one must be able to spook you. Lost on the Water did send many chills down my spine as it creeped me out. It is one of those stories that is perfect to narrate around a campfire in the middle of the night or to read in your bed while staying up past your bedtime. I finished Lost on the Water in just a few sittings, and I found myself intrigued and mystified by the possibility of a ghost plaguing Dannie and Center Hill Lake from the start. This book will get your heart pounding, your blood pumping, and your senses prickling.

I think the part that I enjoyed the most was the whole setting. As much as I love reading books by local authors, what’s even better is reading books set in my beloved home state of Tennessee. Lost on the Water takes place in the quiet town of Smithville (which is real and I have passed by it), home to Center Hill Lake, which may or may not be haunted. To see all of the references to Tennessee life and culture made me so happy—small details like the freeway being referred to as an “interstate” and people drinking really really sweet tea filled me with joy. Certainly, the author got Tennessee life in a small town right. In addition, she truly transports her readers into nature, making them feel as if they were paddling on the vast lake or stumbling through a dark forest. Driver’s prose was very well-written, and I commend her greatly for that.

Lost on the Water is a great read for both the summer and the fall. It’s a spooky tale that is one thrill of a ride—a journey that will take on the waters of a lake that may seem serene but is haunted by the memory (or possibly more than that) of a terrible accident. Dannie’s adventure will have readers feeling goosebumps and wanting more after each chapter.


About the AuthorSAMSUNG

D. G. Driver is an optimist at heart, and that’s why she likes to write books about young people who strive to make a difference in the world. From her teen environmentalist in The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, a young girl teaching her friends autism acceptance and to stop bullying people with special needs in No One Needed to Know, a princess who desires to be more than a pampered prize for a prince in The Royal Deal, to a boy who learns that being genuine and chivalrous are the ways to win a girl’s heart in Passing Notes, Driver hopes to write characters that you’ll want to root for. When she’s not writing, she is a teacher in an inclusive child development center in Nashville, and she can often be found strutting the stage in a local musical theater production.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Lost on the Water? Do you like ghost stories?

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

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The Book of M by Peng Shepherd Blog Tour: Book Review — A Terrifying yet Fascinating Novel that is Unlike Anything I’ve Ever Read Before

Hi guys! Tomorrow is the last day of August, and man, this month has flown by! (Generic opening phrase used when scheduling a post in advance is written. Check!) Today I am a part of The Book of M Blog Tour, and I had the amazing opportunity to read what turned out to be a chilling, haunting, and baffling book set in a dystopian world. It’s truly nothing I’ve ever read. Enjoy!
The Book of M Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookThe Book of M

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

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4 Stars

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

From the moment I first heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Once I picked it up, I just couldn’t stop. The Book of M isn’t your average dystopia or futuristic fantasy—it’s much more than that. Peng Shepherd explores our memories and our subconscious as she turns the world upside down in her debut novel, a world in which a single forgotten memory can wreck havoc. While this book may not have been perfect, it certainly captured my imagination so much that I even flipped ahead a few pages just to know how did the world end up as it is. I’ve never read anything like The Book of M, and I can still feel it haunt me even after I finished the last page. Ooh, the chills!

The Book of M takes place in a near-future world where shadows can disappear at a moment’s notice, and with those shadows one’s memories. It was such a haunting and chilling concept that it terrified yet fascinated me. I wanted to know so much more about the events that led up to the Forgetting and how the loss of one’s shadows work. I was so amazed yet creeped out by how forgetting something can change the fabric of reality itself—imagine doors, stairs, objects, or even people disappearing once a shadowless forget about their existence. I became very entranced by this post- apocalyptic world, a world that I didn’t want to enter yet leave at the same time. Shepherd’s world-building is some of the most innovative and interesting I’ve ever read, combining Indian mythology, magic, and the subconscious all into one epic tale. It’s certainly one that I’ll never forget.

The Book of M also switches between the point of view of four characters—Ory, Max, Naz, and The One who Gathers. Through each POV, the past, present, and future intertwine together, with flashbacks and simultaneous events scattered throughout. It may not seem evident how all of these lives will come together, but when they do, it feels like an explosion of imagination, triumph, and even horror. I found myself dreading Max’s slow yet painstaking Forgetting, and I wanted to know more and more about the safety and status of every character. There were so many surprises that the book sent shockwaves through my body. Believe me, when you get to the very end of Part 4, you want to throw your book at the wall. Out of every plot twist I’ve read, it was one of the few ones that I really and truly did not ever see coming.

However, I do have to mention that The Book of M does have its flaws. There were some aspects of the world-building that were confusing and inconsistent. Did the world’s depopulation occur because someone forgot a person existed? Did they disappear the same way as objects? How far is the extent of someone’s Forgetting? How can person forget that something didn’t exist? The workings of the Forgetting had a few holes such as these that could cause some people to scratch their heads. I know that I had my questions that I really wanted to be answered. There were some things about this book that also did make me uncomfortable and that I didn’t like. And many times because I just wanted to know what happened to a certain character, it was very very tempting to skip one person’s POV to get to another’s (I even did it a few instances). While it did capture my attention and imagination very much, the book wasn’t 100% perfect in my eyes.

Regardless, The Book of M is nothing like I’ve ever read. It’s very innovative and imaginative as it combined elements from science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and dystopia into a concoction that is fascinating yet terrifying at the same time. I certainly won’t forget all the horror and chills I’ve had to go through, all of the triumphs and defeats. I cannot express how much The Book of M will blow your mind. The eerie atmosphere will suck you right in. I warn you, enter with no expectations at all. I didn’t know what I was walking in to, and you won’t either.


The Book of M GiveawayDid Someone Say… Giveaway?

10 Winners will receive a Copy of THE BOOK OF M by Peng Shepherd.

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About the AuthorPeng Shepherd

Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. The Book of M is her first novel.

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Follow the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule

WEEK ONE
AUGUST 20th MONDAY JeanBookNerd INTERVIEW
AUGUST 20th MONDAY TFAULC Book Reviews EXCERPT
AUGUST 21st TUESDAY Book Queen Reviews REVIEW
AUGUST 21st TUESDAY TMBA Corbett Tries to Write INTERVIEW
AUGUST 22nd WEDNESDAY Movies, Shows, & Books EXCERPT
AUGUST 23rd THURSDAY 100 Pages A Day REVIEW
AUGUST 23rd THURSDAY Insane About Books REVIEW
AUGUST 24th FRIDAY BookHounds REVIEW & INTERVIEW
WEEK TWO
AUGUST 27th MONDAY A Dream Within A Dream REVIEW
AUGUST 28th TUESDAY Wishful Endings TENS LIST
AUGUST 29th WEDNESDAY FUONLYKNEW REVIEW
AUGUST 29th WEDNESDAY Book Lovers Life EXCERPT
AUGUST 30th THURSDAY Book Briefs REVIEW
AUGUST 30th THURSDAY LILbooKlovers REVIEW 
AUGUST 31st FRIDAY Here’s to Happy Endings REVIEW

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Book of M? Do you like dystopian novels?

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

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ARC Review: The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb — An Ode to the Stories We Love and Cherish

Hi guys! The Tennessee writing community is full of amazing and talented storytellers, and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is one of them! I met her back at the SE-YA Book Fest earlier this year in March (although I saw but never actually talked to her in person twice before that), and I had the opportunity to read her latest novel The Story Collector, which definitely filled me with joy. I hope you enjoy this review and check out her wonderful book!


About the BookThe Story Collector

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Harriet the Spy in this middle-grade historical fiction novel inspired by the real life of Viviani Joffre Fedeler, born and raised in the New York Public Library.

Eleven-year-old Viviani Fedeler has spent her whole life in the New York Public Library. She knows every room by heart, except the ones her father keeps locked. When Viviani becomes convinced that the library is haunted, new girl Merit Mubarak makes fun of her. So Viviani decides to play a harmless little prank, roping her older brothers and best friend Eva to help out.

But what begins as a joke quickly gets out of hand, and soon Viviani and her friends have to solve two big mysteries: Is the Library truly haunted? And what happened to the expensive new stamp collection? It’s up to Viviani, Eva, and Merit (reluctantly) to find out.

The Story Collector releases from Henry Holt & Co. on August 28th!

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5 Stars

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

I have always been fascinated with history. I remember when I went to Washington, D.C., and visited the Lincoln Memorial, I stood near the very spot Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and imagined that very day–the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963–from his point of view. I could envision the massive crowds stretching across the National Mall and around the Reflecting Pool. I saw the Washington Monument, standing tall as a beacon of hope and freedom, as I became aware that these were the very steps where history was made, was changed, was altered forever. Reading The Story Collector made me realize that this love for history, along with my love of taking pictures or buying souvenirs to commemorate big moments in my life, is fueled because I love the stories behind them. It made me realize that I am a story collector myself, and I need to treasure the memories that make up who I am.

The Story Collector is the perfect reminder that stories are precious and that stories make up who we are. Viviani’s fascination with the tales behind every artifact and person, the tales that might not be 100% true but can excite the listeners’ imaginations, and the tales that are found in a person’s beloved books is very contagious. Her pursuit to get her new classmate Merit to see the value of stories, to find the ghost that is supposedly haunting the library, and to catch the stamp thief is an exhilarating escapade that readers will not want to put down. My heart was filled with joy as I journeyed through New York City in the Roaring Twenties. This was the book that I needed in a long time for it rekindledmy passion for reading.

The Story Collector was such a fun and exciting adventure filled with friendship, ghosts, mystery, and history. I truly became transported into the story, and I could even hear the crashes that came when the thief stole the stamps. I had so much fun exploring the New York Public Library and becoming acquainted with every nook and cranny and all of its inhabitants. This book both wrenched and warmed my heart as I felt Viviani’s emotions and inner struggles as she was bullied, labeled a liar, and even doubted herself as a storyteller. The Story Collector is not just a fun mystery, but also a novel full of self-exploration. It will make you rethink how you view the people around you and the things that surrounds you. Ultimately, it will teach you the power that stories have on our lives and on the lives around us–a power that can build or tear relationships, bring comfort in our darkest times, and take us on the journey of a lifetime.

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb exceeded all of my expectations for her novel, which compelled me to give her latest release a five-star rating. It truly is one of the most well-written and inspiring novels I’ve read this year, and it’s one that I am not going to forget. It is certainly one that I would want to revisit again and again, especially since this story has helped me make up who I am. Especially with the recent article that advocated against public libraries, The Story Collector is very relevant today, with Merit even discovering the joys and wonders of the New York Public Library. The Story Collector is an ode to the stories we cherish, whether they be in the books we love or in the memories we value, that will inspire readers to become story collectors.

Please note that this review is based from an uncorrected proof, which means there may have been changes between this draft and the final publication.


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector series, A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (written as E.F. Abbott), The 13th Sign, Selling Hope and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. She’s also written many activity books featuring well-loved characters like Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, the Powerpuff Girls, and Strawberry Shortcake. Kristin lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her bouncy-loud family. Just like her two dogs, she can be bribed with cheese.

Kristin can be found far too often on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Story Collector? Do you like MG Historical Fiction?

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

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ARC Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden — A Powerful, Vivid, Beautiful Depiction of the Struggles Many Families Face Today

Hi guys! This year, I’ve discovered upon a slew of life-changing Middle Grade books that have impacted me so dearly. I am so happy to say that The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is one of them, and today’s review displays how much it will change your perspective on what other people have to go through in their lives. It’s especially fitting since school is beginning for many people in these next few weeks, so I hope you’ll pick up this book for you or for your children/students.


About the BookThe Benefits of Being an Octopus

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

Never have I ever read a book in my life that I wanted to be pushed into the hands of readers, from students to educators, than The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Ann Braden’s vivid portrayal of a young girl trying to “get by” each day as her family—her single mother and her four siblings—are struggling with financial troubles and her mom’s abusive boyfriend is a reality that many children around both the nation and the world face everyday. I would write a longer introduction, but this book is so powerful and so relevant that I must start on the body of my review as soon as possible.

I have to first start out by saying that I saw myself very clearly in one character, Matt. Matt is guy in class who excels in virtually everything he does; he also has a good family with a steady income. When I first met him, I saw too much of myself in him—the student who goes above and beyond in assignments, from staying up too late to working at rapid speed. But Matt has one characteristic flaw that I know I have: Forgetting how blessed and privileged he is. While eating out at the pizzeria or drinking a peanut butter banana smoothie may not seem like a big deal to him, for Zoe those things seem like a distant reality. She has to deal power outages, clothes that are too small, and not always seeing her mother due to work.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus reminded me—in fact, it poked and prodded me with a gigantic tentacle—that not everyone is as blessed as I am. I am blessed to have two loving parents along with a great sister, a nice home, and three best friends who have my back. I have the ability to afford things I want, to travel places, and to go out. I am glad that I have discovered and honed by academic, musical, and extracurricular talents and abilities. But many of my fellow classmates don’t have these luxuries. Some always are out of the house, hanging out with friends or partying hard, because of their parents or their parental situation. Others have to work even two jobs on top of school to help provide for their families. There are many kids who can say that they’ve never set foot outside my small town, while I’ve visited countries halfway across the world. Some don’t own their own cars while I have one ready at a moment’s notice. While I can wiggle my way through a difficult calculus problem, there are classmates who struggle with algebra or geometry. Not everyone has the opportunities and the blessings I have. And I’m not saying my life is perfect at all. What am I saying is that there’s so much in my life, especially the little things, that I take too much for granted.

I know this review isn’t usually my standard format. I’m not reviewing over any of the story elements except for one gigantic overarching theme. This review is pretty much a personal reflection on Braden’s beautiful book. But I think that whenever I am compelled to write such a personal essay that helps me further understand and examine a key theme of a book, then that story must be very special. It must have struck a deep chord in my heart and changed my mindset. That is the mark of a five-star book. Certainly it is receiving one from me! It is one of the best Middle Grade novels—scratch that, books—I have ever read. No matter your background, no matter your age, you need to read this book. It will change your perspective as much as mine did. The Benefits of Being an Octopus will make readers become aware of the struggles that each person is going through, and it will instill in them the courage to speak up for, to be mindful to, and to reach out to those who may not have the blessings that the readers may experience. And for readers who may be in Zoe’s shoes, they will realize that they are not alone and that they have the power to change who they are.

Please note that I read from an uncorrected proof, so there could have been changes between this draft and the final publication.


About the AuthorAnn Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. Newbery award-winner Karen Hesse describes Ann’s debut middle grade novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus as “a compassionate look at poverty, hard choices, and defending one’s right to be treated humanely. A very fine first novel, written with a deft hand.” Ann founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. Ann lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Benefits of Being an Octopus? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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Book Review: The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody — A Heart-Pounding yet Heartwarming MG Horror Novel Full of Empathy and Imagination

Hi guys! Today is my first day of school, and I am really stoked for senior year! It’s going to be crazy and stressful yet fun and exciting, and I am resolving to enjoy each and every day to the fullest (plus read some amazing books along the way). Today’s review is a Middle Grade horror novel (yes, MG and horror!) by Patrick Moody called The Gravedigger’s Son. It’s really spooky yet heartwarming, and you can see why I loved it so much in my review! I hope you enjoy it!


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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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free hardcover copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

Middle Grade and horror may not seem like a soluble combination at first, but Patrick Moody masters this mixture in his debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son. The Gravedigger’s Son infuses dark fantasy full of the undead, witches, and magic with a story filled with light, hope, and goodness. I didn’t know what to expect from a MG horror novel (a genre that is very rare), but this book definitely met and even exceeded my expectations. It is one that makes you want to savor each and every page. From the opening pages to the beautiful illustrations, readers will become mesmerized as this heart-pounding yet heartwarming story will capture their imaginations and wrench their emotions.

Throughout The Gravedigger’s Son, Ian is torn between upholding his family’s legacy as a Gravedigger and pursuing his passion for helping the living as a Healer. As he explores both his heritage and himself, readers become driven to be see the good in each person and to understand the struggles behind their motives. The Gravedigger’s Son teaches readers of all ages the true meaning behind the old adage “Hurt people hurt people,” that bad guys are often driven to evil not because they are evil but because they are hurt, insecure, fearful. Moody’s debut novel spreads empathy as he reveals more about the antagonists. I can say that The Gravedigger’s Son truly imprinted that message on my heart and inspired me to see a new side to those who have hurt and persecuted me. This book will touch readers regardless of age or background.

Patrick Moody creates a spooky yet magical world where Gravediggers assist the dead, Healers help the living, and Witches can disrupt the peace between the two worlds. I fell in love with all of the magic and intrigue from the first few chapters. The illustrations, gorgeously crafted by the talented Graham Carter, further make the story come to life. While they may be few in number, their quality will cause readers to stare at them in wonder and become entranced into the scenes they depict. I can say for certain that I fell in love with all of the illustrations to the point where I felt like I was actually in the story. In addition, the characters are very charming, complex, and lovable. Everything about The Gravedigger’s Son is beautifully crafted.

The Gravedigger’s Son may scare you at times, but it will warm and wrench your heart nonetheless. It may not be a horror novel in the style of Stephen King, but it certainly does spook you and sends chills down your spine. With the help of a few beautiful illustrations, Patrick Moody transports readers into a world where the lines between the living and the dead can become blurred at times. He accomplishes this using brilliant storytelling, charming characters, surprising twists, and powerful messages. The Gravedigger’s Son ultimately will help readers to remember to stand up for what is right, to defend your family at all costs, to help people in any way possible, and to continue pursuing your dreams.


About the AuthorPatrick Moody

When he was six years old, Patrick Moody saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon on late-night television, which sparked a life long love of all things horror, fantasy, and science fiction. He also grew up next to a graveyard, which probably helped.

Patrick is the author of numerous short stories, ranging from adult horror to Middle Grade fantasy. His work has appeared in several journals and magazines, and a few have been adapted into audio dramas.

His first novel, The Gravedigger’s Son, illustrated by Graham Carter, will be available August 1, 2017 from Sky Pony Press.

Patrick lives in Connecticut with his girlfriend and their mischievous coven of cats.

When he’s not thinking about zombies, witches, werewolves, and wizards, he’s writing about them.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Gravedigger’s Son? Do you like MG horror novels?

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

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Book Review: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske — One of the Most Humorous, Relatable, Memorable, and Life-Changing Novels I’ve Ever Read

Hi guys! In exactly one week, my senior year will start, and that means I am going to be graduating in ten months. I cannot believe it. It’s so crazy to think that I’m going to be off to college in about a year and I’ll be closing this chapter of my life. Today’s review features a book that revolves around dealing with many struggles in one’s life, whether it be regarding family, friendships, or school. I’m so happy to be sharing with you my review of Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske, and I hope you enjoy it and check out this amazing novel!


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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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free hardcover copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those rare few books that you want to give a big hug after you’ve finished it. I feel like I bonded so much with Kat and her story since I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with everything, not knowing what to do or where to start. It is one of the most relatable novels I have ever read, and it is also one of the funniest books I have read! It is humor at its finest! A little note: I actually upgraded my original rating of 4-stars to 5-stars because I could still feel the impression the book left on me. I’ve read over 50 books this past year, and Kat Greene Comes Clean remains vividly at the top of the list, which shows how well-written and how powerful it is. It is certainly one of the best Middle Grade novels I’ve read. Melissa Roske’s MG debut will have readers falling in love with Kat in this story full of brilliant humor, heartwarming lessons, and many Harriet the Spy references.

One of the greatest things about MG Contemporary is that it explores a wide variety of issues and offers readers a glimpse into the struggles that other people go through. Certainly, Kat Greene Comes Clean accomplishes this job exceptionally. While I do not agree with divorce, it was very enlightening and touching to be able to read from Kat’s point of view as she deals with the separation of her parents, especially since many friends and classmates I know also go through this. In addition, I’ve learned a lot from the author’s stark portrayal of OCD in Kat’s mom and how Kat reacted to it. I could feel Kat’s fear about what to do along with her hurricane of other emotions as she deals with the problems in her family, at school, and among her friends. There were many times that I personally could relate to her. Kat Greene Comes Clean fostered in me a greater amount of empathy that would help me better understand what other kids are going through, and I have no doubt readers of all ages will find themselves changed after they read this book.

The story overall was written brilliantly. This was one of the few books in which I laughed very hard and very frequently! It was kidlit humor at its finest (oh, how I love kids!). I highly enjoyed all the Harriet the Spy references, and now I know that I really need to pick it up soon. Roske’s novel is very short and easy to read, yet it was so great that I did not want to put it down! I finished it in an entire day as I found myself saying, “Just a few more pages,” before picking it back up a few minutes later. I became so hooked by Kat’s tale full of family, friends, love, and hope from page one. Kat Greene Comes Clean certainly was a fun novel that made me feel good and feel at the same time.

As I’ve been foraying deeper into Middle Grade literature, I’ve found that while most (if not all) will provide me comfort and consolation, only a few books will make a deep impact on me. Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those few. When I think about this beautiful story, I often greet it with a slightly nostalgic smile, one that marks how happy and how heart-wrenched it made me. It is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this one, and it’s one that I will never forget. It has the power to touch the hearts of many readers and change their lives. Kat Greene Comes Clean ultimately teaches readers two very important lessons: to love one another, for everyone is going through their own set of challenges, and to never give up hope, regardless of how overwhelming life may seem.


About the AuthorMelissa Roske

Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. (Her column was called “Life Sucks,” but it was Melissa’s job to insist it didn’t.) Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Kat Greene Comes Clean? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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Book Review: Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton — One of the Most Relatable, Heartwarming, and Tear Jerking Books I’ve Read

Hi guys! Today I am heading back home to the United States! I have had such an amazing vacation in the Philippines, and I am super grateful for all of the blessings, adventures, experiences, and memories over the past two months. Back in the spring, I had the lovely opportunity to read Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton, who I met at the amazing Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival! A few weeks ago, she and Alyssa Hollingsworth were on the blog in the June edition of our LILbooKtalks, and it was so fun to talk with the both of them about “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty.” I hope you enjoy this review and hopefully check out this amazing book!


About Open If You DareOpen If You Dare

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has “Open if you dare” written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it.

And now, along with everything else that’s going on–Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying–the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

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4 Stars

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

Sometimes a book deserves a 5-star when it is written very exceptionally. Other times it deserves one when it resonated so deeply inside me, to the point where I laughed and cried. Dana Middleton and her protagonist Birdie wrenched and warmed my heart so much in Open If You Dare that I just wanted to give my copy a big hug. Although I read this book back in March (or April?), it was one of the best stories I read at the time, thus breaking a really long 5-star drought. Open If You Dare is one of the most relatable books I have read this year—Birdie’s feelings and struggles regarding dealing with friendships (and possibly losing them) and a future full of fear and uncertainty could be applied in a sense to my life. As a high school who has had some social problems in the past and is almost off to college in a year, Birdie’s story struck a very deep chord in my heart.

Knowing that her two best friends are not going to be around in a few months, Birdie is determined to make this last summer with them the best, but her plans get sidetracked as they discover a box that has clues that could solve a possible murder mystery that occurred decades ago. Open If You Dare explores how important the power of imagination is as she fuels the creativity of both her characters and her readers. Birdie’s curiosity and love of books show readers that both reading and reality can take one on wild adventures that will make memories of a lifetime. This book was definitely very fun to read! It filled me with a lot of smiles, love, and laughter. It’s the perfect summer read that will have readers not only savor the story but also go out and make their own adventures and memories.

Open If You Dare’s main internal conflict revolved around Birdie trying to deal with an uncertain future where her friends won’t be around. Will she lose her friendships? Will she be all alone next school year? Will she find new friends? Her emotions and questions are some that I feel everyone, including me, has gone through. It is tough trying to find out who’s a true friend. I’ve had my share of troubles and tears as I entered high school—losing some best friends, dealing with toxic relationships, encountering feelings of loneliness, and figuring out who are my best friends (or friends, if at all). And I still struggle with some of these challenges today. But to be able to walk with Birdie as she waded through her river of worries and fears was very comforting for me. I truly could connect with how she felt at times, to be misunderstood, to be conflicted, to be worried, to be alone. For her to deal with her problems has given me a lot of hope and reminded me that having a few best friends is what matters the most and that I must cherish them as much as I can before we leave. It may be tough at times, but they will always be there for you, no matter what. Open If You Dare instills hope within readers so they can remember that everything can be and will be alright.

Open If You Dare will warm your heart to the point of tears, and it will make you reflect about how you deal with your friends, your future, and ultimately your life. It serves as a reminder that we must live each and every day to the fullest, regardless of whether it is good or bad. Dana Middleton definitely impressed me with her sophomore novel abounding with hope and love, and I will be looking forward to reading more of her novels. Open If You Dare is not just one of the best MG novels I’ve read this year, but one of the best books I have read in 2018. Readers of all ages will find themselves connecting so much with Birdie’s struggles and adventures and be moved to reminisce over childhood summers, adventures, and friendships as they start this story of a lifetime.


About the AuthorDana Middleton

Dana Middleton grew up in Georgia before moving to Los Angeles to work in film and theatre. She produced an Academy Award-nominated short film and won an Ovation Award but writing for kids is what she loves most! Her middle grade novels THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES and OPEN IF YOU DARE were inspired by her Georgia childhood which she writes about from her sunny Los Angeles home.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Open If You Dare? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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