Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life

Hi guys! Last semester, I met the amazing Christina Soontornvat at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival when I asked David Arnold (who I met for the second time) for a picture! We talked a bit and she was so kind and even gave me a copy of her debut novel The Changelings to read. If you haven’t seen it in the #kidlit world, Christina is going to write a nonfiction book depicting the cave rescue of the Thai cave rescue, using her knowledge of STEM from her background in the field and her knowledge of Thai culture and geography since she is Thai herself. I am so happy and excited for her, and today I am reviewing her debut novel The Changelings, an MG fantasy! Hope you enjoy!

And if you want to check out my LILbooKtalk with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee on “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Fantasy Worlds,” check it out here!


About the BookThe Changelings

Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

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4 Stars

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

A great fantasy novel will provide me a special refuge from the outside world. I want to become immersed in the magic, the adventure, the characters, and the world-building to the point where I do not want to leave. Once I picked up The Changelings, I became dazzled and awestruck by the fantastical world of Faerie; and the story was brimming with action, adventure, magic, creatures, family, and friendship! The Changelings is an imaginative retelling based on a classic tale that will enchant and warm the welcome hearts of readers regardless of age. Faerie is a world that I didn’t want to leave, and I really want to revisit it in the sequel.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life”

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

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


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

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

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

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

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

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

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

A part of me never left.

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

Until I finally did.

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

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

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

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

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


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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Author Interview: Sarah Jean Horwitz, MG Steampunk Author of The Wingsnatchers

Hi guys! I hope you are having an awesome August! Today, Sarah Jean Horwitz is here to talk about her Carmer and Grit series, a Middle Grade duology that combines fantasy and steampunk together. I won both books in a giveaway hosted by Sarah, and I am super excited to read them, especially after reading her epic interview! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Wingsnatchers

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

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Sarah Jean Horwitz Interview

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

I love writing because I love storytelling, and writing happens to be a pretty great way to share your stories with the world. I took some creative writing classes and wrote terrible fan fiction in high school, but it wasn’t until I took my first screenwriting class in college that I really fell in love with writing. Screenwriting has a very specific format and structure, and I found that very attractive as a new writer, as opposed to the terrifying abyss that appeared in my mind when someone said, “Write a story!” I took screenwriting classes throughout college and found that education to be very helpful when I turned my hand to children’s books.

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

The Harry Potter books were my favorite books for much of my life and still hold a very special place in my heart. Harry Potter has probably influenced me as a writer the most – something I think readers can tell, with all the Harry Potter references sprinkled through my books! I’ve been reading a fair bit of YA fantasy since high school and college. Maggie Stiefvater is a favorite of mine. I’ve often though to myself, “When I grow up, I want to write fantasy as good as Maggie Stiefvater’s!”

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

I write part-time and also have a day job as an administrative assistant at a real estate company. When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching TV, hanging out with my partner, reading, and circus arts. Most recently I’ve been practicing handstands and trapeze.

4. The first novel in your Carmer and Grit series—The Wingsnatchers—follows aspiring inventor Carmer and faerie princess Grit as they investigate the recent disappearances of many faeries, only to discover that a mad and deadly scientist is behind them. Since Carmer and Grit infuses magic and steampunk together, could you describe to us your world-building process for your series? What drew you to steampunk as an author and a reader? The Wingsnatchers

I always joke that the steampunk element of my books is the most accidental element, and it really is. The very first idea that I ever had for Carmer and Grit was a mental image of a boy in a top hat with a fairy with a mechanical wing sitting on the brim. Naturally, I had to at least partly build the story world around the existence of that mechanical wing. This led to research on clockwork, automatons, and the Industrial Revolution. When I also made the decision to pair fairy light and electric light in the plot, that of course took me straight to Thomas Edison and the late 1800s and the first power stations. And suddenly, bam! I found myself with an alternate Victorian era setting and a plot that heavily incorporated steam power and futuristic technology. And so: accidental steampunk! It just so happens that I love the aesthetic of that literary traditional as well, so I had great fun incorporating a lot of that imagery into the books.

Continue reading “Author Interview: Sarah Jean Horwitz, MG Steampunk Author of The Wingsnatchers”

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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June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! The theme is “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” a theme that is present is most Middle Grade novels. That is one of the biggest reasons why I love MG because they certainly boost my hope whenever I feel overwhelmed or sad. Today, I have two wonderful authors here to discuss this topic, Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth, and they both provide some amazing insight into the worlds of MG and contemporary. I hope you enjoy!


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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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.

The Eleventh Trade releases from Roaring Brook Press on September 18th, 2018! Pre-order it today!

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LILbooKtalk August 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Dana Middleton, MG author of Open If You Dare, which released last year. I was able to meet Dana at the SE-YA Book Festival back in March, also! Could you tell us a bit about your latest book and your background?

Dana: Hi Kester. So great to be here! My latest book is called Open If You Dare. It’s set in Atlanta (in the real neighborhood of my youth). It’s a mystery but it’s mostly about three friends during their last real summer together. I live in LA now but most of my MG fiction takes me back to my childhood in the South.Open If You Dare

Kester: Thank you for joining us today, Dana! I certainly loved Open If You Dare!Alongside Dana, we have Alyssa Hollingsworth, whose MG debut novel The Eleventh Trade is set to release in September of this year. Would you like to share with us a little about your book and yourself?

Alyssa: Sure! Thanks for having me. The Eleventh Trade is a contemporary story set in Boston about an Afghan boy who loses his last heirloom from home and goes on a quest of trades to get it back. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old, got my master’s in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, and seem to have accidentally landed in the niche of MG books with fun plots and an underbelly of humanitarian themes.

The Eleventh TradeKester: I am really excited to read The Eleventh Trade! I’m glad that you’re here with us!

Both Birdie in Open If You Dare and Sami in The Eleventh Trade are faced with great challenges, such as dealing with one’s best friends moving away or trying to buy back a prized possession, that require a lot of hope and perseverance to overcome. What is the central message that you want young readers to take away from your novels? How do you want your book to help readers who are going through similar trials?

Alyssa: Great question! Boiled down to its very basic core, The Eleventh Trade is about how loss opens us up to community (friendship/belonging), and how community brings healing. I hope that readers will see the book as an opportunity to be aware of others’ struggle and actively jump in to give help and hope.

Dana: I agree with Alyssa. When a reader can identify and/or become aware of others’ struggles, the world becomes a smaller and kinder place. As an author, I feel like it’s my job to step into the skin of my protagonist. Birdie, in this case, is a lot like me and a lot different, too. She feels deeply about the impending loss of her friends (one is moving away and the other will go to a different school next year) but she also grows to understand that she can stand on her own and that the future can be different and good at the same time.

Alyssa: “Different and good” — I love that!

Dana: Right? I think I still struggle with that as an adult!

Kester: I definitely agree with the both of y’all. It’s very important to foster empathy in readers so they could make the world a better place.

Dana: In all fiction, but perhaps especially in middle grade fiction, it’s all about empathy and showing readers a variety of experiences. I’m excited to read The Eleventh Trade, partially for that reason. And also because it sound really good!

Alyssa: 🙂

Continue reading “June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth”

Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library

Hi guys! I have a gigantic slew of MG novels that I need to review for y’all, so for the upcoming weeks, you will see a bunch of reviews of some amazing Middle Grade books! Spoiler alert: They’re all four or five star ratings! To start off, today’s review is on Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar, which is set in 1940s India during the Freedom Movement. Sounds intriguing? Go read it! You will not regret it!


About the BookAhimsa

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

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5 Stars

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

I rarely rate books five stars anymore. A book is awarded five stars for one of three reasons: it is a new all-time favorite, it resonates with me on such a deep basis, or it has the power to change lives including my own. Ahimsa is a novel that will influence the viewpoints of readers, regardless of age. It is such a thought-provoking and emotionally gripping story that will inspire readers to persevere in their battles. Although I was not very into the story at first since it was written in third-person, the deeper I progressed into Anjali’s fight for freedom, the more that I literally could not put the book down.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library”

Exclusive Interview with Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, MG Author of “A Dog Like Daisy”

Hi guys! School is out in less than two weeks! I am super stoked for summer to come! I have AP exams next week (ugh) and after graduation, I’m off to Boys’ State! Woo hoo! This year has been really awesome for me, and not only have I grown so much with everything, but this blog has grown a lot. Even though it might not have the reach it once had last year, it means a lot more to me to be able to touch more hearts rather than to just reach out to them. That is truly what being a blogger is about.


About A Dog Like DaisyA Dog Like Daisy

Max meets A Dog Called Homeless in this sweet and poignant middle grade novel told from the humorous, thoughtful perspective of a rescued pit bull as she trains to be a service dog for an injured veteran and his family.

Daisy has only ten weeks to prove her usefulness or else be sent back to the pound. Yet if she goes back, who will protect Colonel Victor from his PTSD attacks? Or save the littler human, Micah, from those infernal ear muzzles he calls earphones? What if no one ever adopts her again?

Determined to become the elite protector the colonel needs, Daisy vows to ace the service dog test. She’ll accept the ridiculous leash and learn to sit, heel, shake, even do your business, Daisy when told to. But Daisy must first learn how to face her own fears from the past or risk losing the family she’s so desperate to guard—again.

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1. Your latest novel A Dog Like Daisy, which released last summer, follows the story of Daisy as she tries to prove her usefulness as a service dog before being sent back to the pound. What was it like writing from an animal’s perspective, and how is it different from storytelling with a human’s point of view? Could you describe to us your approach as you created Daisy’s narration?

I love research, because it often gives me many plot points (hello there, “truth is stranger than fiction” adage!), and it sometimes even provides the voice of character. That was certainly the case for Daisy. I read while researching that some experts believe dogs experience the world as a human with synesthesia might – in other words, their five senses blend into something beautifully unique. Someone with synesthesia might see colors when they hear music, or experience a certain taste when they have intense feelings; something in their brain combines multiple senses exceptionally. When I read that – boom! – there was Daisy’s voice, in all its bacon-loving, color-hearing glory.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about service dogs? Would you like to tell us some of your experiences and adventures working with them?

Ideas are dust – they’re floating everywhere if you’re paying attention and look hard enough to find them. (From this statement it should be obvious that cleaning is WAY LOW on my priority list – ha!) The idea for Daisy came about when my dog was playing with a neighbor’s dog. She mentioned in passing that the man from whom she bought her Great Dane also trained dogs that assist veterans. I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder what that training looks like? I’ve read what service dogs can do, of course, but how do they learn it?” I’ve learned that when I say “hmmmm” to myself, it’s likely that others would say “hmmmm” to that same question. And that? That is a story idea.

I didn’t have personal experience with service dogs prior to researching Daisy, but one thing I’ve found in my decade of writing: people love to tell you about their passions, and those who train service dogs are very passionate about it. I was fortunate enough to chat with Katie Young, a trainer for Southeastern Guide Dogs (https://www.guidedogs.org), and she taught me gobs and gobs about training service animals. Since then, a Southeastern trainer came with a dog-in-training, Rickie, to Daisy’s launch party. I give out information about Southeastern at my book events. And a portion of all sales of A Dog Like Daisy goes to Southeastern for their amazing work. Needless to say, I believe in what they do.

3. In your book, Colonel Victor struggles with PTSD, but Daisy is there to protect him. Why do you believe it is important to portray mental illnesses such as PTSD in middle grade fiction, and in what ways do you want A Dog Like Daisy to impact readers, young and old alike?

A Dog Like DaisyOne review of Daisy captured something that I honestly hadn’t considered when writing the story; the reviewer said that approaching a topic like PTSD from a dog’s point of view makes the story a bit more approachable to a young reader. I agree with that; the story would be far different if the main boy character, Micah, had told it.

Many middle graders experience mental illness in their own homes, and some, in their own bodies. Since the release of Daisy, I’ve met a nine-year-old with PTSD, and her mother tearfully thanked me for writing a book for her age group that included a character with her same challenges. I’ve met a twelve-year-old whose father is a veteran; she told me she’s read the book four times and each time sees something new. I had a veteran who bravely writes speaks about his PTSD request that I join him and other veteran-writers on a panel, and he thanked me for writing this book for military families. I’ve even had a unit of disabled veterans buy copies of the book and donate them to their local library. Honestly, I’m humbled and honored by the response to this story. I’m just delighted that Daisy seems to be offering her service-animal skills far off the page, especially to people who have given so much of themselves to our country.

Kristin's Dogs4. Who are your favorite fictional and/or real-life dogs? Do you have any pets of your own?

Snoopy, for certain. I love the idea of him leading all these secret lives, while Charlie Brown thinks he’s simply lying atop his dog house, waiting for dinner. I can’t wait to see the Isle of Dogs – it looks gorgeous. And of course Dug from Up – “Squirrel!”

I have two dogs – Lucky and Cookie. I narrate their thoughts all the time; Lucky is goofy and lovable, Cookie is neurotic and headstrong. They are very much a part of our family. I’ve included a photo of them here!

5. What is your favorite part about the writing process (i.e. research, drafting, revising, creating characters, writing dialogue, etc.), and why?

Researching! I love discovering and learning new things, and research helps me make real-life connections to the thoughts and feelings I hope to convey in the story. That is the BEST feeling! Research helps me with voice, plot, characterization, setting – I always struggle quite a bit with writing if I don’t take enough time to soak in the aspects of a character’s world through research.

6. It is so great to meet another wonderful author from my home-state of Tennessee! What do you like most about living in the Volunteer State and the Nashville area, which both have amazing writer communities?

Nashville’s literary community is second-to-none! Between Parnassus Books (http://www.parnassusbooks.net), the regional chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI Midsouth; https://midsouth.scbwi.org), the Southern Festival of Books (http://humanitiestennessee.org/programs/southern-festival-books-celebration-written-word), and the best libraries and librarians in the known universe (including those who organize SEYA: https://www.seyabookfest.com), there is no shortage of incredible writing, writing workshops, and events that celebrate powerful stories. I love this community; readers and writers are the heart and soul of stories, and I’m delighted and honored that I get to be a part of it.

7. As a veteran author with multiple books published across various genres (contemporary, fantasy, historical fiction), how have your writing abilities transformed over the past few years? What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned throughout your writing career?Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that every book comes to life differently. Simply because The 13th Sign was written one way doesn’t mean that A Dog Like Daisy or The Story Collector will be written similarly. And I don’t mean voice or characters here – I mean the actual process of creating. Some books beg to be written long hand. Some books are written chunk by chunk, rather than in plot order. Some are outlined, other pour out of your fingertips. I think that’s why it can be so difficult for authors to give advice on “how to be a writer;” they are many different types of writers themselves!

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

I think Liz Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) said it best on her “Magic Lessons” podcast: Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask of any sort. I am fully, completely, 100% me when I’m writing. It’s when I feel most authentic.

I had an amazing opportunity when I was in sixth grade, thanks to my wonderful school librarian: I got to interview Madeleine L’Engle by telephone! (Yep!) When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it.” Well, when Madeleine L’Engle tells you you can be a writer, you give it a try! And you know what? My first poem, a haiku called “The Weeping Willow,” was published in a student anthology the very next year. I visit a lot of schools now, and I try to pay that same sentiment forward.

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

Oh, picking a favorite genre is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream! It just depends on what you’re in the mood for: Salted caramel? Creamy vanilla? Super-rich dark chocolate swirl? A Wrinkle In Time has a special place in my heart, for obvious reasons (see above) and I still say it’s my favorite book of all time. But recently I’ve adored The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – I adore poetry, and would love to try a novel-in-verse someday. And I attribute Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume for my love of historical fiction; my favorite historical titles of late have been anything by Ruta Sepetys and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (both Tennessee writers!). See? I can’t pick just one!

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

There’s a time when a writer isn’t writing? J I feel like I’m always observing, always listening (read: always eavesdropping), with hopes that I can write better characters, build a better fictional world, tell a better story. But for some reason, that doesn’t feel like a full-time job to me; the actual writing happens around real life, in stolen quiet moments.

The Story Collector11. Your upcoming novel The Story Collector is slated to release this August from Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). What could readers look forward to in The Story Collector, and are there any secrets about it you would like to share with us?

EeeeEEEEeeee I’m so excited about this story! The Story Collector is based on a real-life girl, Viviani Fedeler, who was born and raised in the flagship building of the New York Public Library – the iconic one at 5th and 42nd, with the lions. She and her brothers have sleepovers, play in the stacks, hide from guards – all within the library. It’s a ghost story (many claim the building truly is haunted by a ghost named Big Red) and a mystery, based on a real-life stamp collection that was stolen from the library while the Fedelers lived there. The book also features photos from the NYPL (https://www.nypl.org) archives, a timeline, and gorgeous illustrations from Iacopo Bruno (http://iacopobruno.blogspot.com)

It’s also a story about a young writer who struggles to find her voice, which I think a lot of writers can relate to. So in that spirit, I’d like to share the first three paragraphs of the story:

Some people are story collectors. While others collect seashells, or stuffed animals, or stamps, story collectors wrap themselves in words, surround themselves with sentences, and play with participles, even those pesky, perky dangling ones. They climb over Cs and mount Ms and lounge in Ls. Soon enough they land in the land of homonyms, then, WHAM! They stumble into onomatopoeia, that lovely creaking, booming bit of wordplay – and that, Dear Friend, is where our story begins:

Crack!

The bat swung over Viviani Fedeler’s left shoulder, then clanged to the terracotta-tile floor of the New York Public Library. She shrieked and ran, red hair flying, nothing short of a firework whizzing about the bases.

The book is available for pre-order, and if you get it from Nashville’s awesome indie, I’ll sign & personalize it for you! Just put how you’d like the book personalized in the comment section upon check-out. Here’s the link:
http://www.parnassusbooks.net/book/9781250143808

12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers reading this interview?

I firmly believe that EVERYONE – yes, EVERYONE – is a writer. (Now, whether or not you want to share your story is a personal choice.) You’re likely already doing the kinds of things that professional writers do on a daily basis: if you text, you’re writing dialogue. If you play video games, you’re worldbuilding. If you’re a rule-breaker, you’d likely excel at poetry. So first, think about the kind of writing you’re already doing regularly, that you already love, and hone that skill.  Then: get involved in your local community of writers! There is nothing like sharing your ideas with other writers to give you the courage to share your stories with the world. Best of luck, story collectors – I am cheering you on!

Thanks so much, Kristin, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to have you here today!


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

Have you read A Dog Like Daisy? Do you like books set from an animal’s perspective?

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

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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””

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt — A Heartwarming yet Thrilling Tale of Family and Fitting In

Hi guys! Right now, I am at the Tennessee DECA State Career Development Conference, otherwise known as SCDC! If you are reading this, then I am currently competing for a coveted spot in the top 5 in the state for my event Marketing Communications Series. I’ve learned to love marketing a lot this past year, and I hope that I could come home with a trophy! Also, tomorrow I’m going to be at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival, and I’m so stoked to attend it again! I have 20 books awaiting to be signed (yes, somehow I’ve accumulated 20 books this past year) and there’s so many authors I want to meet and connect with! Today, I am reviewing Greetings from Witness Protectionby Jake Burt, whose interview with me is being posted in just a couple of weeks! Hope you enjoy!


About the BookGreetings from Witness Protection!

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

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4 Stars

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

Greetings from Witness Protection! shows readers what it truly means to be a part of a family and to love them so much to be willing to sacrifice everything for their safety and protection. It’s the heartwarming story about a girl who tries to fit in with her foster family as they take on a new identity in a new town with a multitude of responsibility under the Witness Protection Program. This book both warmed my heart so much yet placed me on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happens next. My heart was pounding as I sympathized with Nicki and her struggles with kleptomania and being a part of a new family. It even made me laugh so many times, and the storyline had the perfect mix of light humor and deep issues. Greetings from Witness Protection! is an MG part-spy thriller and part-family contemporary novel that will have readers of all ages inspired to fight for their loved ones.

Continue reading “Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt — A Heartwarming yet Thrilling Tale of Family and Fitting In”