Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert — Beautifully Horrifying with a Chilling Narrative and Mystical Storytelling

Hi guys! Today I am at the TN All Northwest Honor Choir festival, and this is my SIXTH and final year to be part of such an amazing program. I will truly miss it when I graduate–certainly it’s one of the highlights of each school year. My review today will be about The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, a creepy fairy tale-filled YA debut from earlier this year. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Hazel Wood

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

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3 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This will not affect my review.

Before I start, let me tell you that The Hazel Wood is one of the beautifully haunting novels I’ve ever read. I read horror very occasionally—it’s not something that I read too much of. However, when I first read The Hazel Wood, I could not set the book down at all. It was so intriguing and suspenseful that I had to devour the chilling narrative and mystical storytelling. I wish I could rate this book higher—I did enjoy it very much—but the ending is what kind of “ruined” it for me. I did not feel very satisfied to be honest. It was as if the lead-up was so mesmerizing with its creepiness and its adventure but then the drop-off was disappointing.

Although I’m not a horror person, the feeling that I love regarding such stories is not being scared but being creeped out. I think that’s why I loved the two stories—“Alice Three-Times” and “The Door That Wasn’t There”—the most. I wish there was more backstory to the novel, though; I wanted more of the stories. Rather than seeing the character of Thrice-Killed Katherine, I wanted to actually know her true story and her true background. Instead, all Melissa Albert includes is just two out of the twelve stories listed and features and alludes to characters from the rest. Honestly, if Albert writes a novel with all of the Tales from the Hinterland, I would read it. Overall, the author’s writing style perfects the eerie tone that makes horror novels both creepy and beautiful. The story definitely gave me chills that I felt right down my spine.

I loved The Hazel Wood until the very end—this is where it began to unravel for me. Firstly, although the author stated that her novel was not intended as an Alice in Wonderland retelling, The Hazel Wood does draw a lot of parallels between their counterparts that share the same name. (I have nothing against this; I just wanted to point it out.) Alice Prosperine’s journey follows the typical “hero’s quest,” but when the climax arrived and Alice reached the self-knowledge she was searching for the entire time, it felt disappointing. Without getting into any spoilers, the revelation was easily predictable—I didn’t expect the realization but I really did not see it coming. I felt it was too predictable from the beginning, like the hints were too obvious and not that subtle. (They were like road signs that say “Hey! Look at me!” but you end up overlooking them.) There were details that I did not like and that I could not reconcile with the rest of the story and world-building. Some events and stories did not have a lot of importance or effect—for example, while I loved the inclusion of the “The Door That Wasn’t There” story, it had very few contributions to the actual plot. I did see how it was “important” to the understanding of some details, but for me, it was not as effective in terms of reasoning behind its addition. (I loved the story and wanted more of it, but I feel like its addition was not that necessary.) While Albert’s writing style is superb from the start, the story structure wasn’t the best.

Overall, The Hazel Wood had a lot of potential with its intriguing premise and its chilling narration, but its execution could have been cleaner. Certainly, until the very end, it was beautifully mesmerizing and horrifying. I think twisted fairy tale lovers and classic horror fans will enjoy venturing into The Hazel Wood


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” — Stephen King

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Guest Post with J. Keller Ford, YA Fantasy Author of BANE OF THE DRAGON KING, on “Saying Goodbye to Fallhollow”

Hi guys! Saying goodbye is probably one of the hardest things in the world, isn’t it? It’s extremely hard to let go of the people, places, and things we love. As a senior, I’m letting go of so much this year. Last semester was hard because I had to say goodbye to people who have been in my life for a long time, from my parish priest (who left for the Air Force) to one of my fellow violinists in my orchestra (who left for college). It’s even more heartbreaking to think that I am going to say goodbye to so many things and people who have shaped my life over the past years as a student–from the orchestra I’ve played in for the past six years to the teachers and friends that have changed who I am. It’s funny that when you don’t see them, you don’t miss them because you know you have a chance of seeing them again, but when you are leaving for good, you begin to miss them. J. Keller Ford definitely knows this feeling as she is wrapping up her Chronicles of Fallhollow series with book three, and I’m very blessed to have her on my blog to share her story about her remarkable series.


About the BookBane of the Dragon King

Fallhollow is at war. The sudden deaths of the only two heirs that could have saved it has plunged the entire land into chaos. Despite all the magic thrown at him, the Dragon King still lives. Hope for any sort of victory seems faint until Charlotte discovers a secret that could change the course of history.

Armed with the power to set things right, Charlotte embarks on a perilous journey with the sly and cunning Prince Izmayel Ascatar Venniver IV, Lord of the peaceful Edryd dragons. But her journey of peace is thwarted, and Hirth’s most fearsome enemy plans to use Charlotte to destroy the kingdom and claim the universe as his own.

As Fallhollow and the Kingdom of Hirth descend into a battlefield of bloodshed and death, David, Trog, and the warriors of Hirth march toward war with an impossible plan to bring down the Dragon King, destroy his armies, and return the kingdom to its former glory. All they need is a little faith, a few extraordinary surprises, and a lot of magic of the most unexpected, generous kind.

This book is the final dramatic and magnificent conclusion to the Chronicles of Fallhollow trilogy.

Bane of the Dragon King is releasing from Month9Books tomorrow!

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J. Keller Ford Guest Post

Saying Goodbye to Fallhollow

When I started this trilogy many, many years ago, I never thought about ending it. My focus was on writing it. I thought developing the worlds, the characters, the plots were the hardest things I could ever do.

I was wrong.

Saying goodbye to a story that has been with me for most of my life is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done with regards to my writing.

I started the first book in the Chronicles of Fallhollow trilogy when I was very young. Of course it didn’t resemble anything like it does now, but the concept was there. When my father died right before my 12th birthday, I made a promise to him that I would finish the story I began. He used to feed my imagination with stories of bravery and honor and sacrifice. See, my dad was in the Army when he passed away, and served 2 terms in Vietnam. He enlisted with the Navy in WWII and also served in Korea. He saw a lot of war, lost a lot of friends, and though he rarely spoke of the horrors he lived, he always told me stories of heroism and what honor, love and sacrifice looks like. I carried those stories with me all my life and weaved them in the page of the Chronicles of Fallhollow.

In the Shadow of the Dragon KingOne of my main characters, Sir Trogsdill Domnall, was fashioned after my dad. Reading back on my stories, I can’t believe how much of my dad is in him. Trog is private, harsh at times, but compassionate and loving and he conceals a lot of pain both from war and life. I think I will miss Trog the most. It’s strange. While I was writing Trog, I could hear my dad’s voice. It was as if he were with me, leaning over my shoulder, telling me what to write. Of course, Trog has his own personality and voice, but they melded well with my dad’s and I think the two of them would have gotten along great (if there was any way they could have met).  It was cathartic to write Trog because in many ways, I got to visit my dad every day for years. To say goodbye to Trog … well my heart breaks a little. It’s not as bad as saying goodbye to my dad in real life, but it is still sad. But I can always go back and visit them anytime I want because they’re in books now.

My dad aside, it’s very bittersweet to put “The End” on something that has taken up so much of my life for so many years. While I’m ready to venture off to new realms and meet new characters, these tales are such an integral part of me. At first, I found myself writing some of my new characters with Charlotte’s or David’s voice and I had to unhinge them and revamp myself. I had to get my head in a different space. These new tales, while still YA fantasy riddled with dragons and faeries, the world is so different than Fallhollow. The creatures speak differently and there is no war going on, and there is actually a strong romance element in the new Fae Hunter series. Sometimes it’s difficult to turn off the old voices to create new, unique ones, but it is getting easier as I delve into book 2.

Rage of the Dragon KingI’ve learned so much about myself in the process of writing three books. There was a time I didn’t think I’d ever reach the end. There was so much self doubt. So much procrastination. What if they (readers) don’t like the books? What if I can’t find a publisher? What if, what if, what if? It’s enough to make someone give up. But I couldn’t give up. This story had to be told, for me, my dad. Oh, I still suffer from the what if’s and the whys, especially when I see my books hovering in the 100s in their categories on Amazon and other dragon writers have their books in the top numbers spots with lots of reviews. (Yeah, I’m a stat person, though I shouldn’t be). The reviews are few and there are so many times I wonder why I keep writing if no one will ever find my books, much less like them. But writing to me is essential. It’s like breathing. To not write is insane. It’s unthinkable. Yes, I have dreams of being a best-selling author, to hit the NY Times Bestseller List or USA Today Bestseller list. I’m not sure if my inner me will ever be happy if I don’t accomplish those things, but the writer part of me says ‘Who Cares! Write because you love to write!’

So, that’s what I’ll keep doing.

I’m excited about the books I’m writing right now. I am looking into agents and yes, I want to go the traditional route again. I’ve had a wonderful experience with my publisher, Month9Books, but I want to shoot for Random House, Scholastic … you know, the big houses, and I can’t do it without an agent. It’s still all up in the air.

Bane of the Dragon KingIn the meantime, I can pat myself on the back and say “You did it, Jenny! You wrote three published books!” I no more have to wonder if I can do it. I DID do it, and that in itself is a huge accomplishment, and it will drive me whenever I start to worry about the new books I’m writing. I learned during this whole process that there is nothing I can’t accomplish, that getting out of my own way was the most important step to reaching my goal. I learned that dreams can be reached with perseverance and surrounding myself with positive, like-minded people to encourage me and get me out of my dark funks. Saying goodbye to Fallhollow is bittersweet, but I’m a better person for hanging out there for as long as I did. It made me realize just how big the universe is, and how many worlds are out there, ready to be discovered.

I’m ready to explore. I hope you come along with me.


About the AuthorJ. Keller Ford

J. Keller Ford is a scribbler of speculative fiction and YA tales. As an Army brat, she traveled the world and toured the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles in hopes of finding snarky dragons, chivalrous knights, and wondrous magic to permeate her imagination. What she found remains etched in her topsy-turvy mind, and oozes out in sweeping tails of courage, sacrifice, honor and everlasting love.

When not torturing her keyboard or trying to silence the voices in her head, Jenny spends time collecting seashells, bowling, screaming on roller coasters, and traveling. She is a mom of four magnificent and noble offspring, and currently lives in paradise on the west coast of Florida with a menagerie of royal pets, and her own quirky knight who was brave enough to marry her.

Jenny is the author of The Chronicles of Fallhollow series. The first two books, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING, and RAGE OF THE DRAGON KING, are currently available. The third and final book, BANE OF THE DRAGON KING, is due to release November 13, 2018. For more information about her books and to sign up for her newsletter, please visit http://www.j-keller-ford.com

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying Goodbye so hard.” — Winnie the Pooh

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

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The Color of Lies by C. J. Lyons Blog Tour: An Interview with The New York Times Bestselling Author + GIVEAWAY!

Hi guys! I haven’t had an interview on my blog for quite a bit, so I’m super happy to welcome The New York Times bestselling author C. J. Lyons today to talk about her latest YA thriller with heart The Color of Lies as part of the book’s blog tour! I hope you enjoy!

The Color of Lies Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookThe Color of Lies

From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons comes The Color of Lies, a world drenched in color and mystery.

High school senior Ella Cleary has always been good at reading people. Her family has a rare medical condition called synesthesia that scrambles the senses—her Gram Helen sees every sound, and her uncle Joe can literally taste words. Ella’s own synesthesia manifests itself as the ability to see colors that reveal people’s true emotions…until she meets a guy she just can’t read.

Alec is a mystery to Ella, a handsome, enigmatic young journalist who makes her feel normal for the first time in her life. That is, until he reveals the real reason why he sought her out—he wants to learn the truth behind her parents’ deaths, the parents that Ella had always been told died in a fire. Alec turns Ella’s world upside down when he tells her their deaths were definitely not an accident.

After learning her entire life has been a lie, Ella doesn’t know who she can trust or even who she really is. With her adoptive family keeping secrets and the evidence mixing fact and fiction, the only way for Ella to learn the truth about her past is to find a killer.

Perfect for fans of Caroline B. Cooney, Ally Carter, and Jennifer Brown, The Color of Lies blurs the lines between black-and-white facts and the kaleidoscope of reality.

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C. J. Lyons Interview

Your latest YA thriller The Color of Lies follows a teen girl with color synesthesia who finds out that her parents did not die in a fire but were murdered. After learning this shocking revelation, she tries to uncover secrets about her family’s past, but she does not know who to trust or what to believe. What inspired you to incorporate synesthesia into the genetics of Ella’s family? Could you describe to us the research process you used regardless this condition? Have you had any personal experiences encountering synesthesia in you or in other people?

The Color of LiesAs a physician, I’ve long been fascinated by unique medical oddities such as synesthesia. It’s not a disease, but rather the way the brain processes information is mistranslated into other senses. You may see letters as colors or smell words you read.

People with synesthesia experience the world differently, which is not only fascinating, it makes for an intriguing character—especially since we all base our idea of reality on what we see, hear, feel. For people with synesthesia, their reality is already very different than people who don’t have synesthesia, so if we upset that reliance on what is seen, felt, or heard, how do we know what’s real and what isn’t?

Start playing with people’s perception of reality, of their basic, essential truth, and you open up a world of possibilities for a story.

Also, many people with synesthesia don’t even know they have it–it’s simply how they see the world and they think everyone experiences it the same way. These include some famous artists such as Kandinsky, Tori Amos, Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Bob Dylan, among others. About 4% of the population are estimated to have some form of synesthesia (about twice as many as those who have red hair), so it’s actually fairly common.

I have friends who have it—one is a musician who sees the notes she plays as color and light, another hears colors… I myself have what may be a mild form (or maybe it’s just a symptom of my overactive imagination!). I can taste recipes for food I’ve never eaten before just by reading them.

Before you became an author and a New York Times bestseller, you worked as a pediatric ER doctor. How has your career as an ER doctor influenced you as a writer? What moved you to make the jump from medicine to writing?

I’ve been a writer all my life—I wrote my first book, a YA fantasy (it was awful, lol!) when I was fifteen and wrote two SF novels while in med school. Writing has always been my way of understanding the chaos that surrounds us all.

My medical career has had a huge influence on my writing. Not only has it given me the opportunity to see behind the curtain of real life and death situations, it also taught me the discipline necessary to achieve my dream of being published.

When I left medicine to write full time, it was a huge leap of faith—only a very small percentage of writers can make a full time career of it. But at the time I had two book contracts (with all the deadlines and hard work that entails) and realized I couldn’t continue to give both my patients and my writing 120% of my energy.

I saved up enough money to take a sabbatical from medicine to give my writing a chance, telling myself that I could return to medicine if the writing didn’t work out.

That was thirteen years and forty-four books ago and I’ve never regretted my choice. With almost two and a half million books sold, I’ve been able to touch more lives with my writing than I ever could seeing one patient at a time.

As the author of over 40 novels, you’ve called your books “thrillers with heart.” Could you describe to us what that means and how you first coined that term?

As an ER doctor, I’ve been privileged to see people on the best day and the worst day of their lives. My experiences taught me that heroes are born everyday and that everyday, normal people can find the courage to stand up and make a difference.

I want to tell their stories as best I can and this is where the “heart” of my thrillers with heart comes from. Stories not about the black and white of good and evil, but rather about the gray area between where it’s not easy to know the right thing to do or what the cost will be, even if you win your happy ending.

Continue reading “The Color of Lies by C. J. Lyons Blog Tour: An Interview with The New York Times Bestselling Author + GIVEAWAY!”

ARC Review: The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden — An MG Historical Fiction Novel Personally Not for Me, but May Inspire Others

Hi guys! If you’ve been following my blog, you would probably know that my favorite genre is historical fiction. (I know, I read so much fantasy and love the genre so much, but my heart will lean towards historical fiction.) Today’s review is The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden, which is a Middle Grade novel set in the Great Depression (a time period not really seen much in fiction). I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe High Climber of Dark Water Bay

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Parker lived a comfortable life with her loving father until the stock market crashed and he took his own life. Now she lives with her older sister and money is tight. Lizzie is expected to help out, but she can’t even cook breakfast without burning something. How is she supposed to help pay the bills? With little money coming in, Lizzie’s sister decides it may be best to send her to Seattle to live with an aunt, whom Lizzie never met. Then a letter arrives from Lizzie’s uncle in British Columbia. He and his family are living in a logging camp, and he’s willing to pay Lizzie to be a summer governess for his two sons. Lizzie has never spent a night away from home, let alone in the woods. With few options left to her, Lizzie accepts the offer, but when she shows up at camp, her uncle and his family are gone. Without money for a return trip, she must fend for herself amid rough-talking loggers and a perilous wilderness. As Lizzie adjusts to this new life, she tries to find out what happened to her uncle, but if she’s not careful something bad may happen to her out in the woods.

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2 Stars

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

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, so when I first heard of The High Climber of Dark Water Bay, I wanted to read it. It’s a Middle Grade historical fiction set in the Great Depression, a time period that is often overlooked in modern historical fiction, especially with World War II overshadowing the early 20th century. When I started Arden’s debut novel, I was expecting a lot of action and adventure and even a bit of suspense. Unfortunately, The High Climber of Dark Water Bay didn’t rise up to my expectations–it fell a bit short for me. Although the story became enjoyable in sections towards the end, overall it just did not click for me. The story was not bad, but it wasn’t the best historical fiction book I’ve read.
Continue reading “ARC Review: The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden — An MG Historical Fiction Novel Personally Not for Me, but May Inspire Others”

ARC Review: Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky — A Powerful Testimony to the Ever-Growing Need of Women in STEM

Hi guys! Happy November! I am starting to really catch up on reviews and review copies. As I’m writing this, I’m down to five books excluding galleys that are to be read next year. It’s so great not being behind! Today’s review is Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky, a YA contemporary novel featuring archaeology, women in STEM, backstabbing, betrayal, fashion, and fun. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookMammoth

The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

Mammoth will release from Turner Publishing on November 6th. Pre-order today!

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3 Stars

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

To be honest, Mammoth is one of those books for me that I liked but not loved, if you know what I mean. When I first started this story, I knew I was in for a special treat–the writing style automatically clicked and the next thing I knew I just wanted to keep on reading. There were many times when I could not put it down, and there were many times where I could feel the anger or betrayal that Natalie felt. Certainly, Mammoth will transport you to a summer of internships and archaeology as Natalie tries to manage her feelings regarding her weight, her relationships, and her dreams. Mammoth is definitely a powerful testimony to the ever-growing need for women in STEM. 

Continue reading “ARC Review: Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky — A Powerful Testimony to the Ever-Growing Need of Women in STEM”

ARC Review: The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs — Will Be Remembered as One of the Best and Most Brilliant YA Thrillers I’ve Ever Read

Hi guys! Over the past few months, I got really behind on my review copies–and I mean, really behind. Because I had to go out of the country and I had so much going on in the month of May, I was not able to read the physical ARCs of May and June releases before I left. But I am slowly catching up, and I was able to fit in The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan into my schedule a few weeks ago. It definitely was worth it. If you have missed it, Gia Cribbs was on my blog to talk about “Plotting, Pantsing, and the Art of Surprise” in her debut novel. Certainly she did surprise me in this wild and crazy story. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

No one wants me to tell you about the disappearance of Sloane Sullivan.

Not the lawyers or the cops. Not her friends or family. Not even the boy who loved her more than anyone. And most certainly not the United States Marshals Service. You know, the people who run the witness protection program or, as it’s officially called, the Witness Security Program? Yeah, the WITSEC folks definitely don’t want me talking to you.

But I don’t care. I have to tell someone.

If I don’t, you’ll never know how completely wrong things can go. How a single decision can change everything. How, when it really comes down to it, you can’t trust anyone. Not even yourself. You have to understand, so it won’t happen to you next. Because you never know when the person sitting next to you isn’t who they claim to be…and because there are worse things than disappearing.

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The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan Review

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

I love YA thrillers for the sole reason of being sucked into the story. I enjoy the rush of adrenaline, the feeling of not being able to set down the book, and the shocks from being kicked with a plot twist. I didn’t know what to expect when I first started The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan, but once I started, I literally could not stop. I finished virtually 90% of it in a single day because I just wanted to know what happens next. I came into this story without any expectations of how it would pan out, and if I did, certainly would Gia Cribbs exceed them. As Sloane tries to survive the last four weeks of high school but encounters many major setbacks along the way, The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan is a sinister story full of secrets and betrayal masked by an innocent façade of comfort and hope.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs — Will Be Remembered as One of the Best and Most Brilliant YA Thrillers I’ve Ever Read”

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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Two Dark Reigns Blog Tour: Author Interview with #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Kendare Blake

Hi guys! I have a really special guest on the blog with me today. I actually met Kendare Blake at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival back in March, and it is my pleasure to be hosting such an amazing and epic author today as part of the blog tour for the third book in her Three Dark Crowns trilogy, Two Dark Reigns. I am very excited to share with you this special interview, and I hope you all enjoy!

Two Dark Reigns Blog Tour


About the BookTwo Dark Reigns

#1 New York Times bestselling author Kendare Blake returns with the highly anticipated third book in the Three Dark Crowns series! And while Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katharine all have their own scores to settle, they aren’t the only queens stirring things up on Fennbirn Island.

Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead—or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.

Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the minland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn.

Jules, too, is in a strange place—in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.

This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed—or expected.

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Kendare Blake Interview.png

Two Dark Reigns continues the Three Dark Crowns saga as Katharine sits on the throne of Fennbirn, Mirabella and Arsinoe stay alive in hiding but are visited by the Blue Queen, and a disguised Jules considers leading a rebel army against Queen Katharine. After writing two novels and two prequel novellas, how does it feel like continuing your series with Two Dark Reigns? What are your thoughts and emotions seeing all of the excitement for book three’s release?

Hello again, Kester! Thank you for having me on the blog! 🙂 To answer your question, it’s wonderful to see the excitement! And as a side effect of being so late finishing Book Four, the excitement is all I’ve had time for. I haven’t had time to worry! I’m really thrilled, and grateful, to have the opportunity to continue the queens’ stories. As I near the end of the last book, I’m happy to say that I’m still not really ready to leave. I love these girls.

You’ve stated before that Three Dark Crowns was inspired by bees and their matriarchy revolving around the queen bee. Could you describe to us more about how did this idea first come about? Were there any real-life matriarchal societies that you also drew inspiration from, too?

Queen bees lay several queen eggs, and the new queen babies hatch out and kill each other to see who gets to take over. I learned that when I was at a book event in Oregon and a ball of bees was stuck to a nearby tree. Thankfully, there was a beekeeper also there to put us all at ease. The bees were only concerned with protecting their queen, you see, in the middle of the ball. Anyway, after I learned all this stuff about bees, I had to find a way to do it to people. And on the drive home, the three queens were born. Aside from the original inspiration though, the culture of Fennbirn went on to become its own thing. That was one of the best parts: learning about the naturalists and the poisoners, the elementals. I’m particularly happy to be writing the third and fourth books, because they let me go to Bastian City, home of the war gifted, and to Sunpool, the city of the seers.

As the author, did you ever root for a specific queen to succeed (like you wanted one of them to take the crown)? Or did you remain impartial and instead let the characters duke it out themselves without your intervention?

I definitely tried to remain impartial. The decision to write it in third person, and in relatively dispassionate, removed prose, went toward that purpose. I mean, these girls are in a bad enough situation already without me taking sides. Truthfully, I didn’t know who was going to win the crown until the midway point in One Dark Throne. And even so close to finishing the last book, I don’t know everyone who’s going to die.

Was Three Dark Crowns originally intended as a duology or a quartet? What is the hardest part about writing and continuing a series, considering you’ve written two other series before this one?

It was intended as a duo, and nothing really changed about the end of One Dark Throne when the series was extended. Those books are the arc of the Ascension. These next two are the arc of the reign. I think the hardest part about continuing is knowing how it ends. Now I know. Before, at the close of One Dark Throne, I just had hopes. I hoped that the survivors would make the best of it. But now I know, for better or worse.

Did you or your characters ever surprise yourself as you progressed through the series? Would you consider yourself to be a plotter or a pantser?

My characters constantly surprise me. Elizabeth surprised me by turning a walk-on role into a recurring supporting one. Pietyr surprised me by chucking Kat down that hole. Natalia surprised me by dying. Arsinoe surprises me about every five minutes. It’s not uncommon for me to have no idea what they’re doing, or for me to actually say out loud, “What are you doing?!” So I’m firmly a pantser.

Thank you so much for coming onto the blog today, Kendare! I’m so happy to have you and help share the love for Two Dark Reigns!


Book Trailer

Watch the official book trailer for Two Dark Reigns here!


About the AuthorKendare Blake

Kendare Blake is the author of several novels and short stories, most of which you can find information about via the links above. Her work is sort of dark, always violent, and features passages describing food from when she writes while hungry. She was born in July (for those of you doing book reports) in Seoul, South Korea, but doesn’t speak a lick of Korean, as she was packed off at a very early age to her adoptive parents in the United States. That might be just an excuse, though, as she is pretty bad at learning foreign languages. She enjoys the work of Milan Kundera, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Linklater, and the late, great Michael Jackson, I mean, come on, he gave us Thriller.

She lives and writes in Kent, Washington, with her husband, their cat son Tyrion Cattister, red Doberman dog son Obi-Dog Kenobi, rottie mix dog daughter Agent Scully, and naked sphynx cat son Armpit McGee.

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?Two Dark Reigns Giveaway

2 Winners will receive a Copy of Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

1 Winner will receive a $25.00 Amazon/PayPal Gift Card

Open to International

Must be 13+ to Enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Two Dark Reigns? Do you like YA fantasy?

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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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”