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

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


About Legends of the Lost CausesLegends of the Lost Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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About The Fang of Bonfire CrossingThe Fang of Bonfire Crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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September LILbooKtalk.png

Questions are in bold

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

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

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

Brad McLelland
Brad McLelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis Sylvester
Louis Sylvester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad: Thanks, L.

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

ARC Review: The 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”

Exclusive Interview with Kelly deVos, YA Contemporary Author of Fat Girl on a Plane

Hi guys! Today starts the first full week of school for me, and I am very excited! Senior year is going to be full of some amazing experiences, achievements, friends, and books! High school is coming *quickly* to an end, and I know I need to enjoy each and every day while it lasts. Right now, Kelly deVos is here with me to talk about her debut novel Fat Girl on a Plane, which looks amazing! I hope you enjoy this interview and check out her book!


About the BookFat Girl on a Plane

Fat.

High school senior Cookie Vonn’s post-graduation dreams include getting out of Phoenix, attending Parsons and becoming the next great fashion designer. But in the world of fashion, being fat is a cardinal sin. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly compared to her supermodel mother—and named after a dessert.

Thanks to her job at a fashion blog, Cookie scores a trip to New York to pitch her portfolio and appeal for a scholarship, but her plans are put on standby when she’s declared too fat to fly. Forced to turn to her BFF for cash, Cookie buys a second seat on the plane. She arrives in the city to find that she’s been replaced by the boss’s daughter, a girl who’s everything she’s not—ultrathin and superrich. Bowing to society’s pressure, she vows to lose weight, get out of the friend zone with her crush, and put her life on track.

Skinny.

Cookie expected sunshine and rainbows, but nothing about her new life is turning out like she planned. When the fashion designer of the moment offers her what she’s always wanted—an opportunity to live and study in New York—she finds herself in a world full of people more interested in putting women down than dressing them up. Her designs make waves, but her real dream of creating great clothes for people of all sizes seems to grow more distant by the day.

Will she realize that she’s always had the power to make her own dreams come true?

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Kelly deVos Interview

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

Like a lot of writers, I fell I love first with reading. Around the fifth grade, I became obsessed with Trixie Belden, which is a series of Middle Grade detective novels, similar to Nancy Drew. So I started writing my own Trixie Belden stories, sort of like fan fiction, and this is what made me want to be a writer.

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

At the moment, I tend to read mostly YA. Some recent faves have been have been HOLE IN THE MIDDLE by Kendra Fortmeyer, AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao and THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I by Carolyn Mackler. I guess, in general, I’m attracted to personal, character-driven stories. On the adult side of things, I’m reading SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn as I am watching the show and I read The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

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

I write 20-30 hours a week so I guess I’d call it my part time job. I’m a graphic designer for a company that sells professional beauty products to salons and stylists. I also enjoy knitting and I collect stickers.

4. Your debut novel Fat Girl on a Plane, which recently released from Harlequin Teen, follows Cookie as she deals with her body image and weight while trying to achieve her dream of becoming a fashion designer. As an advocate for body positivity and fat acceptance, how do you explore these two issues—especially in the fashion industry—throughout your book? Why is it important to address these in Young Adult fiction?

Fat Girl on a PlaneFirst of all, I think it’s vitally important for there to be more fat stories out there. Fat people make up 30-40% of society but are very rarely main characters in fiction and film. I also think young people have a lot of questions when it comes to body images issues, weight loss and diet culture and I wanted to write something that sparked conversations about those topics.

5. What inspired you to write Fat Girl on a Plane, and how have your personal experiences, including your time working in the fashion and beauty industries, shaped and impacted your book?

The novel begins with my character, Cookie Vonn, being declared “too fat to fly.” This was inspired by a real experience I had where I was on a business trip to Salt Lake City and was asked to buy a second seat on the plane. The experience was incredibly humiliating. Afterwards, I started doing research. I went on a lot of travel blogs. There seemed to be two perspectives. Fat people were asking, “How is it okay to treat people like this?” Thin people were asking, “Well, why can’t you just lose weight?” That was the inspiration. I wanted a narrative that spoke to those two questions.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Kelly deVos, YA Contemporary Author of Fat Girl on a Plane”

Exclusive Guest Post with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

Hi guys! Today I am at the Tennessee American Legion Boys’ State, where I will be marching and learning more about the inner workings about the government for the entire week. It is an honor to be representing my community this year! Today, I have a special guest post by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of It’s a Mystery, Pig Faceand the upcoming release The Frame-Up, which looks so fascinating! Can you imagine traveling to the worlds inside paintings?


About the BookThe Frame-Up

Don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Thirteen-year-old Mona Dunn has adhered to that rule for almost one hundred years, ever since her portrait was hung on the walls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So when the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer discovers the truth, she’s sure she’d just exposed the gallery’s biggest secret. But Sargent, an aspiring artist himself, just wants to know more about the vast and intriguing world beyond the frames. With devious plots, shady characters, and grand art heists, this inventive mystery adventure celebrates art and artists.

Featuring sixteen pages of full glossy pictures of the masterpieces who are characters in the book, this book is a must-read and a useful tool for teachers and parents who want to introduce children to art and artists in a fun, accessible way.

The Frame-Up will release from Greenwillow Books on June 5th, 2018!

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Don’t miss her pre-order giveaway!


Wendy McLeod MacKnight Guest Post.png

The World Behind the Frame: The Frame-Up

I’ve always loved art.

From an early age, I was inspired by art, although I didn’t show a particular aptitude to make it myself (though I admit to the odd dabbling).

I remember visiting my grandmother as a little girl and seeing the portrait of my mother as a teenager on the wall.

Patsy Rider
Photo Courtesy of Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Yes, my mother is Patsy Ryder, the visitor in the story!

The girl in the painting was flat. I wondered what she was looking at. I wondered if she found the grownups conversations boring, as I sometimes did.

What was it like to be in there, behind the frame?

Creating the world behind the frame before I began to write the book was time-consuming.

The world of the art gallery was easy; I had only to wander around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery take notes.

For the world behind, there had to be rules.

First of all, there was the whole travelling between paintings business. I don’t explicitly spell it out in the book, because I want the reader to imagine how it works for themselves, but in my mind’s eye, there is a magical rabbit’s warren of hallways connecting the paintings to one another. Usually, the residents take their time going between the paintings, often times not entering another painting as they go, but other times, they simply walk from painting to painting, especially if the painting is a landscape.

And then there is the whole issue of what exactly is IN any particular painting.

Since the artist’s vision is supreme and what brings the painting to life, I decided early on that the only thing that existed in any given painting was entirely dependents upon what the artists was thinking about while he or she painted.

So Helena Rubinstein gets to have a few rooms at the back of her portrait, as well some cookies, because artist Graham Sutherland thought of them at the time he painted her.

Not so fortunate is a sketch of Somerset Maugham’s head. Since Sutherland was so focused on getting Maugham’s features right for the final portrait, he only thought of the head. The Maugham in the sketch will be forever dependent on the kindness of other residents to get him where he wants to be.

Depending on the imagination of the artist, the painting can go on far into the distance. For example, Mona Dunn ends up in the painting MerryMaking, and ends up travelling for miles on a bitterly cold winter day, thanks to Krieghoff’s imagination.  This is mostly true of all the paintings, though sometimes to almost comical lengths. In Dan Vigilio Lake Garda, John Singer Sargent doesn’t stock the café with chocolate gelato because the proprietor ran out of it on the day Singer visited!

Mona’s painting is very bare: a small throw, a stool, and a shadowy room. It is not wonder that she adores visiting paintings like San Vigilio, Lake Garda!

There are other rules in the world outside the frame: a resident should not go into another residents’ painting when they are not there without their permission.


About the AuthorWendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy grew up in St. Stephen and wrote her first novel at age nine. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education when the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. Wendy is represented by Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. Her second book, The Frame-Up, a fantasy set at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, was sold at auction to Greenwillow Books in a two-book deal and will be published June 5th 2018.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Frame-Up? Do you like MG Fantasy?

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

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ARC Review: Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett — A Masterfully Crafted Tale and World that I Never Wanted to Leave

Hi guys! May the 4th be with you! Next week, my AP exams are going to start, so I will be offline a lot this week because I am preparing really hard for them. It’s crazy when you have 5 to juggle with, and the pressure is slowly building up, haha. I am really sad that my junior year is about to end, and with that many great experiences are coming to a close. It’s very heartbreaking, especially considering that I am off to college in a little more than a year! It’s so crazy! Today I have for you a review, and it’s on Onyx and Ivory by the wonderful Mindee Arnett, whose Street Team I am on! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookOnyx and Ivory

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king of Rime. Cast out of the noble class, she now works for the royal courier service. Only those most skilled ride for the Relay and only the fastest survive, for when night falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with forbidden magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan mysteriously massacred by drakes in broad daylight—the only survivor Corwin Tormane, the son of the king. Her first love, the boy she swore to forget, after he condemned her father to death. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin uncover secrets, both past and present, to face this new threat of drakes who attack in the daylight and the darker menace behind them.

Acclaimed author Mindee Arnett’s stunning new novel thrusts readers into a beautiful, expansive, and dangerous new world—one where trust is rare, magic is commonplace, and little is as it seems.

Onyx and Ivory releases from Balzer and Bray on May 15th!

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5 Stars

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

Onyx & Ivory is one of those novels that you do not want to finish because you just want to savor every single word. From page one, I fell in love with Mindee Arnett’s beautiful storytelling as she weaves a masterfully crafted tale of love, magic, action, and intrigue. This book is a prime example of why I love fantasy novels: They create worlds that you never want to leave, characters you want to become acquainted with, and adventures that take you on the wildest rides. Onyx & Ivory exceeded all of my expectations, and I could not put it down at all. The deeper I went into the story, the more emotionally attached I became. Seriously, I will fanboy about this book, and I want to have an Onyx & Ivory collection because it is that epic.

The biggest thing that I look for in fantasy stories is the world-building. As a high school teen who is dealing with so much going on right now (actually AP exams are literally right around the corner), I need an escape from the outside world. I need a book that I can nestle in and forget about my troubles, stresses, and worries. The magic system in Onyx & Ivory was truly fascinating. From the Magists’ runestones to the Wilders’ control over the world around them, my imagination swirled with enchantment. I did not want to rush the story at all. I saw the drakes attack from all sides. I could feel the mystery and tension slowly build. I watched as the romance between Kate and Corwin slowly burned (go slow-burn romances!). My heart wrenched when Kate was humiliated or Corwin was verbally attacked. I felt such a great connection between me and the story that I loved every single second of my experience.

I love the characters so much! They are truly complex yet understandable. They hold secrets that once revealed will shock you (or maybe they are never revealed). My two favorites are Kate and Corwin. After her father’s death, Kate has been labeled as a Traitor to the kingdom even though she has committed no crime. She is ostracized and misunderstood by even those who she once loved and who loved her. Corwin (her ex-boyfriend) cannot forgive her father, and she is treated as an Untouchable in society. I am very sure we’ve all felt ostracized and misunderstood in many ways, where we’ve been blamed and taunted and bullied for no reason. Truly, you instantly relate with Kate and become sympathetic to her struggles from the first chapter. Corwin, on the other hand, has to deal with the deaths of his mother and his friends, and he constantly blames himself for them. He does not want to become king, but he truly knows the struggles of the lowly and destitute. While he does have his errors, he is a good guy, and he treats his people as humans rather than subjects or numbers. Both Kate and Corwin are inspirational characters that will move us to become better people, to understand the plights of those who are suffering, and to continue to fight for what is right. I wish I could actually meet them in real life — that would be epic.

Onyx & Ivory takes you on the adventure of a lifetime. As readers travel into the world of Rime, they are faced with danger from all sides, whether it be inside the castle or outside of the kingdom. Betrayal, secrets, and evil plague the characters as they fight against multiple conflicts, from surprise challenges to an underlying rebellion. Mindee Arnett is a talented storyteller and world-crafter, and I will look forward to reading more of her novels. I just want more from this world! Onyx & Ivory is the spectacular start of an epic fantasy series that you do not want to miss.

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


About the AuthorMindee Arnett

Mindee Arnett is the author of the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Avalon as well as the Arkwell Academy series and the upcoming Onyx and Ivory. An avid eventer, she lives on a farm near Dayton, Ohio with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. When not telling tales of magic, the supernatural, or outer space, she can be found on a horse, trying to jump anything that will stand still.

A literacy advocate, Mindee is available for school and library visits, both in person and online, as well as writing workshops for both teens and adults. For more information on available presentations, click here.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Onyx and Ivory? 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: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne — A Fast-Paced and Brilliant Retelling of Jane Eyre Full of Intrigue, Mystery, Secrets, and Lies

Hi guys! Today, in my hometown, we are celebrating the World’s Biggest Fish Fry! What is that, you might ask? Well, in Paris, Tennessee, (yes I live in a town that is named after the city in France… and yes, we do have a miniature Eiffel Tower), the town fries up literally tons of catfish and we celebrate that by having a week-long celebrating full of eating, going to the fair, and fish-related activities, including catfish races (yes, we race catfish, and we’re not ashamed of it). While I’m watching the parade today, I hope you enjoy this review of one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne!


About the BookBrightly Burning

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

Brightly Burning releases from HMH on May 1st! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

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

It feels so great to finally find a YA novel that I literally could NOT put down; in fact, I finished Brightly Burning in just one weekend, tearing through it like a slice of cake. Brightly Burning is a brilliant and imaginative retelling of Jane Eyre thrust among the stars and full of intriguing mystery, dark secrets, and jaw-dropping technology. Honestly, I tried to read Jane Eyre but never had time to finish it (though I’m determined to read it this summer), but comparing the synopsis of the novel with Donne’s debut, I have got to say that Brightly Burning keeps the essence of Jane Eyre while spinning it into a dystopian and aristocratic space society. It is such a stunning and marvelous book that I fell in love with everything about it from page one.

While I did enjoy the romance and found it to be swoon-worthy and charming (I was rooting for Hugo and Stella the entire time), I was more captured by all the mystery and deception surrounding the Rochester. Curiosity swelled through my body as Stella attempted to learn more about Hugo’s dark past that lies beneath his brooding exterior. The climax took me by surprise, and I did not expect it at all. Every shocking revelation, every plot twist was a punch to the gut. Brightly Burning throws at readers everything from surprise visitors to mysterious secrets to heartbreaking betrayals, and each twist and turn will slowly wrench your heart until the very end.

Alexa Donne is a master at world-building. Brightly Burning is set in a dystopian future where an Ice Age took over the Earth, and only a fleet of space ships holds the remainder of the human race. The deeper I went into the novel, the more I became fascinated by this history. I wanted to know more about the ships, the people, and the politics. I craved answers to questions like “Are there people on Earth? Is it inhabitable?” The author elegantly describes the technology and the ships so well that you feel as if you were on them. I could imagine myself reading in Hugo’s library or walking through the decks of the Rochester or the Stalwart. I even felt the urge to live on a space ship myself! Brightly Burning will enrapture readers so much that they will never want to leave! I know I did not.

You cannot help but fall in love with all of the characters, regardless of their personality. From the strict yet caring Officer Xiao to the kind-hearted best friend George, each character had his or her own complexities that make them memorable, lovable, and relatable. Even the supposed antagonists (I use “supposed” very lightly) will surprise you in many ways when the time comes. However, Stella has to be my favorite character. Firstly, her love of books is one of the best parts of the entire novel. There are so many references to amazing classics and authors that the avid reader will rebound in joy at each one. I now want to re-read some of my favorite books because the novel emphasizes the power of literature. Secondly, she’s one of the strongest characters I have read. She would rather risk her joy and her life to save the lives of others, and she won’t give up searching for answers. Stella’s perseverance and self-sacrifice throughout the novel inspires readers to keep on fighting and moving regardless of the risks.

Brightly Burning is the perfect book for science fiction and mystery fans alike! It is one of the best Young Adult novels I have read in a long time, and I did not want it to end. I became so snuggled up into the Rochester that I did not want to leave. Alexa Donne outdid herself in her debut, and I loved every single aspect of it. Although Brightly Burning is a standalone novel, there will be a companion novel to it in the future, which is so exciting. I know I want to get my hands on it as soon as possible!

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


About the AuthorAlexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, fan convention organizing, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Visit her at http://www.alexadonne.com or on most social media spaces @alexadonne.

Website | Twitter | Youtube


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Brightly Burning? Do you like YA sci-fi?

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

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

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

Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner


About the BookLove Songs & Other Lies Cover

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

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

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Jessica Pennington Header.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the BookLove Songs & Other Lies Cover

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

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

Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Powell’s | Book Depository | Macmillan


Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner

Monday 16th

LILbooKlovers – Interview

Ashleigh’s Bookshelf – Review

Tuesday 17th

The Clever Reader – Dream Cast

Tale Out Loud – Review

Wednesday 18th

Smada’s Book Smack – Top 10 Quotes

BookCrushin – Review

Thursday 19th

My Fangirl Chronicles – Excerpt

A Blunt Book Blog – Review

Friday 20th

BookishBitsBlog – Guest Post

Books. Life. and Everything Else. – Review

Monday 30th

The Candid Cover – Interview

Belle’s Archive – Review

Tuesday 1st

The Cursed Books – Playlist

The Heart of a Book Blogger – Aesthetic

Wednesday 2nd

Portrait of a Book – Aesthetic

 Vicky Who Reads – Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Read LS&OL

Thursday 3rd

The Mind of a Book Dragon – Interview

Boundless Bookaholic – Review

Friday 4th

Claerie’s Tales – Guest Post

Librarian Laura – Interview and Excerpt


About the AuthorJessica Pennington

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

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Tumblr | Goodreads


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin