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

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

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


About the BookThe Changelings

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

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

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4 Stars

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

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

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

Book Review: Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler — My New “Forever Book” that Makes Me Feel I Truly Belong

Hi guys! Whenever I go to events that have made such a deep impression on me, I get a really deep yearning to go back. I miss them so much that my heart aches. I miss my HITES11 Engineering Camp, Boys’ State, All State, and many other events where I made so many great memories and lifelong friends. I’ve never thought I’d have those same exact feelings with a book, but I did! I met Monica back at the SE-YA Book Festival in March, and she was so kind to send me a signed copy of her first book, and I loved it so much. Read my review and you’ll see why I miss it so much already.


About the BookEarth Force Rising

Bounders have always known they were different, but they never suspected they were the key to saving Earth.

Jasper Adams is excited to join the Earth Force military agency as part of its first class of Bounders, a team of kids training to be elite astronauts. He can’t wait to connect with others like him and learn to pilot spaceships that can travel across the galaxy in an instant.

But when Jasper arrives at the space station, nothing is as it seems. Security is sky-high, and Jasper and his new friends soon realize that Earth Force has been keeping secrets—one of the biggest being a powerful, highly-classified technology that allows the Bounders to teleport through space without a ship. Only Bounders can use this tech, which leads Jasper to a sinister truth—humanity is facing a threat greater than any they’ve ever known, and Bounders are the ones standing between their planet and destruction.

Will Jasper and his friends rebel against Earth Force for hiding the truth or fulfill their duty and fight for their planet? The fate of Earth may rest on their choice.

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Buy a signed & personalized copy at Buttonwood Books & Toys


5 Stars

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

Earth Force Rising now has a special place in my heart; I’m already tearing up just by thinking about it. Seriously, it is one of the best sci-fi novels I have read—both this year and of all-time. From the first few pages, I was sucked into this world full of dazzling science, unique characters, government secrets, and fascinating technology. I honestly did not want this book to end… ever! Knowing that there is a book five in the works, I’m already dreading the end of the series, and I haven’t read book two yet! As Earth Force Rising celebrates neurodiversity and the differences that makes each one of us unique, it bounds readers throughout space and takes them on the adventure of a lifetime. It evokes so many memories and emotions that I feel like I’ve been bonded to the book for such a long time. I’m missing the Bounders series as if I had actually lived it out.

I have never connected so deeply with such a cast of characters until I met Jasper, Cole, Lucy, Marco, and Myra. I seriously just want to jump into this world and become their friend. (Cole is my favorite character—he’s so great that I wish he was my best guy friend in real life.) Just like many of these characters, I know it feels to be outcasted and not fit in with everybody else. Although I’m not neurodiverse, I went through similar struggles that these kids had to endure (see the next paragraph for more on this). I’ve realized so much about my friendships as a Bounder–how great it is to have at least just one true friend in real life who I can trust and how great it is to have support from many others from all around the state. Earth Force Rising took me back to events such as HITES11 and Boys’ State, events that I miss constantly since I made so many great memories and so many lifelong friends. This book brought back so many memories and emotions from these experiences. It reminded me of the times when I felt like I belonged for who I was and the times when I knew I had an entire group that had my back. (My HITES11 family and my Boys’ State city are the best.) It also made me more grateful for not only those friendships but the few ones I have at home. High school is a very rough time, especially socially. I really don’t click with most of the people at my school, and I’ve endured so many changes and challenges regarding my social life in the past few years that I’ve been hurt so many times. Earth Force Rising moved me to remember that I have three best friends who make me feel accepted, and particularly one friend who I can always trust. It also reminded me that God will guide us to meet the friends that we are meant to meet and become close with, just as Jasper found the four best friends that he needed the most. For me, I’ve made five new best friends that I can visit any time I want to when I open up this series. (I know this review is very personal right now, but Earth Force Rising struck a really really really deep chord in my heart.)

One scene that I have to particularly talk about is the scene where Jasper, Cole, and Marco were choosing their bunks. This is such a minor scene, but I related to it so much. I’ve endured it in my own life as I figured out–and am still figuring out–who are my true friends. Cole (who was Jasper’s first ever Bounder friend) wanted him and Jasper to have the front bunks, but Marco (at this point, Cole still does not trust Marco) wanted Jasper to sleep in the back bunks. Knowing that it was a true test of friendship for Cole, Jasper decided to stay with him and sleep in the front bunks. This scene right here made the whole book for me, and it is why Cole is my favorite character. For me, the small details in my fellow peers’ behavior during our interactions tell me if they truly think of me as a friend. That’s why I am just like Cole–we are both very sensitive to this and know when someone is truly treating us as a friend. I’ve had classmates who I thought of as friends treat me as if I’m invisible when they’re around closer friends. Some don’t acknowledge my existence when they are with others. Many others treat me as an “answer key” in school and only talk to me when they need something. I’ve lost many old friends from this and realized I needed to cut off certain people from my life. It hurts. It still hurts. And it hurts a lot. Yet to be able to see this same thing happen to Cole gave me comfort. It showed me that I’m not alone. That scene alone gave me strength, and it reminded me that I don’t want to do what my peers did to me. I need to treat others how I want to be treated–as a friend. This is one of the first times I have been able to relate to a character on this deep of a level. I seriously wish Cole and I were friends in real life; he and I could get along really well.

Earth Force Rising helped me further embrace the person I am. I saw myself in every single character: my talkative and extroverted personality in Lucy, my tendency to know-it-all and nerd out in Cole, my sometimes-reckless curiosity in Marco, my awkwardness and desire to do the right thing in Jasper, and my conflicted courage and timidity in Mira. I truly felt like I fitted in with everybody at the Earthbound Academy, and I miss it so much. Almost every day, I have a nostalgic yearn to jump back into Earth Force Rising. I’ve already devoured book two because I wanted to continue this journey with everybody. I’ve had the same exact emotions as I did when I left Boys’ State and HITES11–the deep desire to just want to go back. Earth Force Rising gave me the epiphany that the world doesn’t need more of everyone else; it needs one of us, one version of our unique selves to stand out and bring more color to the lives of others. It needs one of me, and it needs one of you.

I could have talked about the world-building or the plot (which both were immersive with imagination and intrigue), but almost every good sci-fi and fantasy novel has both of them. But what makes a story go from great to extraordinary is how it impacts you. The feelings for the book does not end when you finish it; it stays with you for a very long. I know I throw around that phrase a lot in my reviews, but Earth Force Rising is the first book I’ve ever constantly thought about and missed for days on end. It is what the amazing Mr. Schu calls a “forever book,” one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. After reading Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials, I already know that the Bounders series are my forever books! I don’t think I’m ever going to forget how much Earth Force Rising has made me feel like I am truly home.


About the AuthorMonica Tesler

Monica Tesler is the author of the Bounders series, a middle grade science fiction adventure series about the first class of cadets at the EarthBound Academy for quantum space travel. The Heroes Return, the fourth title in the five book series, is due out in December. Monica lives outside of Boston with her family. For more information, you can visit her website, monicatesler.com.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

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

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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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Exclusive Interview with Rob Vlock, MG Sci-Fi Author of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect

Hi guys! School for me starts in just a few days, and I’m super excited yet unready at the same time. I’m still in shock that I am a senior–yes, a high school senior! It’s still unbelievable, and I know this year is going to be full of craziness, fun, stress, and excitement. Speaking of craziness, fun, stress, and excitement, today I am inviting Rob Vlock on the blog to talk about his debut novel Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect, which is an exciting Middle Grade adventure full of, basically, epicness. I hope you enjoy this interview and check out his awesome book!


About the BookSven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect

Sven Carter—part boy, part robot—is on a mission to save himself from destroying the human race in this fun and funny MAX novel!

Ever since Sven Carter was caught eating a moldy blueberry muffin under the gym bleachers, earning himself the nickname “Trashmouth,” he’s been his school’s biggest outcast.

But he soon discovers that having a lame nickname is the least of his worries. After a horrible wipeout involving a bike, a ramp, and a chocolate-anchovy-garlic-mint wedding cake (don’t ask), his left arm just…well, it falls off. But before Sven can even remove the stray anchovy from his nostril, his arm drags itself across the pavement and reattaches itself to his shoulder!

That’s when Sven learns he’s not a kid at all, but a “Tick”—a high-tech synthetic humanoid created as part of an elaborate plot to destroy the human race. Now Sven, his best friend Will, and his tough-as-nails classmate Alicia must face down a host of horrors—killer clown-snakes, a giant Chihuahua, the stomach-churning Barf Bus, murderous roast chickens, and even Sven’s own brain—to save humanity from permanent extinction.

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Rob Vlock Interview.png

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

Writing for me is such a delightful escapist activity. When I’m focused on writing a novel, everything else just sort of fades into the background. No matter what might be bothering me in the real world, I can stop thinking about it and sink myself into the world I’m creating for my characters. I can’t remember a time I didn’t like creating stories. I think it all stems from growing up in a family that loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to write and record silly radio programs. Later, I’d make movies with my dad’s super-8 movie camera. Eventually, I worked as a copywriter and creative director in the advertising business. I guess writing novels just seemed like a natural next step for me.

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

I love so many different genres, it’s hard to single one out. But science fiction is way up near the top of the list. I mostly read middle-grade fiction these days, and I LOVE it! But I’m also usually reading some adult fiction and graphic novels at the same time—I tend to juggle books. My favorite books? Wow, that’s not an easy one to answer! I’ll always adore Melville’s Moby Dick. I reread that one every couple of years. But as for non-dead authors, one of my favorites in kidlit is Jonathan Stroud. His Bartimaeus and Lockwood & Co series are among my all-time favorite recent novels! If I had to pick a writer who most influenced my style, I’d go with Douglas Adams. He was so wonderfully absurd! I’d like to think he and I would have had a great time talking books and mashing our brains over a few Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m usually worried about the fact that I’m not writing! But I also do a lot of reading, I play trumpet in a jazz band and I love spending time hanging out with my kids. I wish writing were a full-time job for me, but like many authors, I have to supplement my income with a second job. I spend about 25 hours a week running a marketing consultancy—which is about as far from writing about killer robots as you can get.

Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect4. Your first novel Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect follows Sven as he discovers his identity as a part-robot, part-human “Tick,” only to quickly join two of his friends on a mission to save humanity from extinction. How do you explore themes such as bullying, figuring out one’s identity, and teamwork throughout your action-packed, laugh-out-loud MG sci-fi adventure?

I’ve always been interested in outsider stories. And Sven, as a Synthetic, is kind of the ultimate outsider—he feels like he’s the only one of his kind on Earth. So, while the book uses a lot of humor and action, it still takes the question of identity and bullying seriously. Coming to terms with who you are and how to become the kind of person you want to be isn’t easy for most kids, so I wanted to talk about it in a way that would be funny and exciting, but not heavy-handed.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Rob Vlock, MG Sci-Fi Author of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect”

July LILbooKtalk: “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Magical Worlds” with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee

Hi guys! I am super excited to be sharing with you all this month’s LILbooKtalk! As a fantasy lover, I am always in search of magical and mystical worlds to become lost and entrapped in, away from the harsh life of reality. Thus, I was inspired to revolve this month’s LILbooKtalk theme around the magic of fantasy and the pursuit of Narnia with two wonderful MG authors, Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee, both of whom I met in real life. I hope you enjoy this amazing and wonderful discussion!


About The ChangelingsThe Changelings

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

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

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About The Water and the WildThe Water and the Wild

For as long as Lottie Fiske can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world—a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful—in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.
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LILbooKtalk July 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Christina Soontornvat, author of the middle grade series The Changelings. I had the amazing pleasure of meeting Christina at the SE-YA Book Fest back in March! Could you describe to us a bit about your books and your background?

The ChangelingsChristina: Hi! I’m super excited to chat with you. My Changelings series is a middle grade fantasy duology that plays with the Changeling. That myth says that wicked fairies steal human babies and swap them out with shapeshifters. In my books, the main character’s little sister has been snatched away, but there is no Changeling to take her place. So her big sister must both rescue her and solve the mystery of what’s up with the Changelings.

My background is in…mechanical engineering. You know, pretty standard fare for children’s book authors. The Changelings was my first book (2016), but I have always, always been enchanted with fantasy and fairytales. And I have been telling stories to anyone who would listen all my life. And the engineering does come in handy – revising a novel isn’t that different from re-designing a mechanical prototype. Just lots of dedication and elbow grease!

K. E.: I love that, Christina! I was an English major, which I’ve always felt is ye ol’ boring, stereotypical author background. Ha! Also, your books sound so amazing. I was fascinated by the concept of changelings as a kid (and still am!).

Christina: Yes, I get the sense that you also love all things creepy, Kathryn!

K. E.: Haha, I do indeed! I’ve always been a macabre soul.

Kester: By the way, Christina, I’m actually planning on entering as a computer engineering major in college.

Christina: Kester, that’s awesome! The world needs more book-loving engineers.

Kester: It does! I’ll try my best to find the time to continue reading and blogging then!

K. E.: Also, agreed that book-loving engineers are the best! My father is another one of them, and he’s one of the people who first instilled in me a love for reading & writing.

Kester: The second author we have with us today is K. E. Ormsbee, a fellow Tennessean and author of The Water and the Wild trilogy. I also had the lovely opportunity to meet K. E. at last year’s SE-YA! Would you like to share with us a little about your novels and your background?

The Water and the WildK. E.: Sure thing, Kester! I began writing young and got my very first book deal out of college, with that aforementioned English degree. That book was The Water & the Wild, the first in a MG fantasy trilogy, which was inspired by my favorite childhood books and fairy tales, including Alice in Wonderland and The Gammage Cup. TW&TW was followed by The Doorway & the Deep. The final installment, The Current & the Cure, comes out in June. I first wrote The Water & the Wild in 2009, so it’s really wild to be coming up on the decade mark for this book series. Lottie Fiske’s story will always be my first love. This fall, Chronicle Books will be publishing my MG standalone, The House in Poplar Wood—my tribute to all things spooky and autumnal, AND set in Tennessee!

Christina: Oh, The Changelings gets started in Tennessee too! The first chapter is set in “The Jiggly Goat” (basically a Piggly Wiggly).

K. E.: I love that! Clearly, TN is inspiring.

Kester: Kathryn, I actually just got an ARC of The House in Poplar Wood a few weeks ago and I’m super excited to read it!

Kathryn: That’s fantastic to hear, Kester! I hope you enjoy the read.

I also write Young Adult contemporary novels with Simon & Schuster. My first YA novel, Lucky Few, is a Harold & Maude-inspired story set in my favorite city, Austin, Texas. My next YA, The Great Unknowable End, is a dual-POV story of two teenagers living in Kansas in 1977. It’s my homage to my favorite TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Christina: It so is. It’s magical. Especially when you’re a girl from Texas where there are hardly any trees! I feel like we have so many things in common. I live in Austin! I need to read your YA novel now.

K. E.: Wait! Christina, I had no idea you lived in Austin! I just moved here from Nashville back in August. I couldn’t stay away. But yes, I do miss all trees, and the bluegrass from my hometown in Kentucky. There’s no true proper autumn here, alas.

Christina: Crazy! We need to get together and write! Kester, this is supposed to be an interview, but it’s turning into a writing meet-up matchmaking service!

K. E.: It really is! Haha. I’d absolutely love that, Christina. Hurray for connections!

Continue reading “July LILbooKtalk: “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Magical Worlds” with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee”

Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory

Hi guys! I am a HUGE fantasy fan now. I used to have a strong dislike for the genre, but I’ve magically been converted as I read more books full of magic. One of the street teams I have been really active in this year is the Relay Riders for Mindee Arnett’s latest book Onyx & Ivory, which is super epic. Check out my review here on why you should read it! Today I invited Mindee on the blog to talk about Onyx & Ivory, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


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.Goodreads

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Mindee Arnett Interview

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

My love for writing grew out of my love for reading and story in general. As a child, I started off telling myself elaborate stories with my toys, and when I hit the sixth grade my teacher gave me my first short story writing assignment. Once I figured out that “story” was an actual world I could get to just by putting my pen to paper, I knew I wanted to go there again and again. And that’s why I love it so much—it’s an escape into another world.

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

Gosh, I have so many. Early on my biggest influence was adult fantasy writer Jennifer Roberson. Before her I loved Roald Dahl, Walter Farley, and C.S. Lewis. Nowadays one of my favorite writers is Maggie Stiefvater. I adored her Raven Cycle series as well as The Scorpio Races, and I find her writing very inspirational.

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

Writing is a full-time job for any writer that’s actively publishing. But for me, I do have to hold down a regular full-time job in addition to the books. That definitely keeps me very busy, but in my free time I’m either hanging out with my family or riding my horses.Onyx and Ivory

4. Your latest YA fantasy novel Onyx & Ivory, which released from Balzer and Bray back in mid-May, is set in two points of view: Kate, an outcasted Relay Rider who possesses an outlawed magic, and Corwin, a crown prince scarred by past failures and mistakes. What are some of the biggest challenges of writing in the points of view of two unique characters? Would you consider yourself to be more like Kate or Corwin, and why?

Going into the book, I honestly had no idea how hard it is to write two points of view. I learned a lot about that process through this book—although I’ve still got plenty to learn. One unique thing about the story is that Kate and Corwin both have complete story arcs that intersect with one another but also standalone. Of the two, I relate to Kate a little more than Corwin. If only because she is a perpetual outsider. She never feels like she belongs in any of the groups she inhabits, and that’s a feeling I know well. I suffer from imposter syndrome so much. I also relate to Kate in how she has a troubled history with her father.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory”

Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL

Hi guys! A few months ago, I went to the Southeastern Young Adult Festival (or SE-YA for short) and I met some amazing Middle Grade authors there! I had the lovely opportunity to chat with Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series, which looks very epic! I currently have a copy at home waiting to be read, and I can’t wait! Today, Monica and I are celebrating the COVER REVEAL of the FOURTH book in her series, The Heroes Return, with a special guest post. I hope you enjoy!


About Earth Force Rising (Bounders #1)Earth Force Rising

Bounders have always known they were different, but they never suspected they were the key to saving Earth.

Jasper Adams is excited to join the Earth Force military agency as part of its first class of Bounders, a team of kids training to be elite astronauts. He can’t wait to connect with others like him and learn to pilot spaceships that can travel across the galaxy in an instant.

But when Jasper arrives at the space station, nothing is as it seems. Security is sky-high, and Jasper and his new friends soon realize that Earth Force has been keeping secrets—one of the biggest being a powerful, highly-classified technology that allows the Bounders to teleport through space without a ship. Only Bounders can use this tech, which leads Jasper to a sinister truth—humanity is facing a threat greater than any they’ve ever known, and Bounders are the ones standing between their planet and destruction.

Will Jasper and his friends rebel against Earth Force for hiding the truth or fulfill their duty and fight for their planet? The fate of Earth may rest on their choice.

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Buy a signed & personalized copy at Buttonwood Books & Toys


Monica Tesler Guest Post.png

Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

I recently had the privilege of being on the faculty for the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) Annual Spring Conference. I love this conference. I’ve gone every year since 2012 when I was a new writer with no agent and definitely no publishing deal. This year, in addition to teaching a session on the business side of publishing, I taught a class on writing commercial series in middle grade and young adult literature.

As I was preparing my materials for the class and engaging with my enthusiastic students, I was reminded how much I love writing science and speculative fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. And one of the very best parts is creating the fictional worlds in which my characters live, dream, interact, and often get into huge heaps of trouble.

Why do I love building these worlds?

Earth Force RisingThe first and easiest answer is that it’s fun. I love escapist fiction, both as a reader and a writer, and there’s nothing better than creating my own fictional worlds in which to escape. In the Bounders series, for example, there are several dystopian, not-so-great aspects of the fictional, future world, but those are balanced out by a lot of cool stuff. Suction chutes to travel between buildings at the space station? Check. Jet packs to fly? Check. Super cool alien technology that lets you bound through space without a ship? Check. I had the best time coming up with all that stuff. If you’re writing middle grade or young adult sci-fi and fantasy, I think the cool and fun factors are a must, even if your worlds have a dark underbelly. Readers want to imagine themselves in the worlds you create, so it can’t be all doom and gloom.

Continue reading “Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL”

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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