Author Interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, MG Historical Fiction Author of The Last Cherry Blossom

Hi guys! As a nerd who loves to learn more about the history (particularly the stories) behind the world, World War II has to be the time period that captivates me the most. It horrifies me to think how war-torn countries became and how much persecution was rampant, yet I get inspired by the stories of hope, survival, and perseverance that arose from the fight against evil. World War II is something I wish would never ever happen again, but I find myself fascinated by stories set during this period, from the Holocaust to the Pacific Front. However, there aren’t very many fictional stories that explore the viewpoints of civilians from Asian countries such as China, Japan, and the Philippines; yet I was able to meet online Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom, an MG novel set in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb landed in the heart of the city. I am super excited to read this book, and I’m very honored to share this story with y’all by having Kathleen here on the blog to talk about it.


About the BookThe Last Cherry Blossom

Following the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

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

Kester, thank you so very much for interviewing me for your blog! It’s an honor to be asked. 

I loved to read any kind of book as a child. As an introvert, I loved writing because it took me to a different world where I participated in the story instead of being too shy. I especially love it now because it helps me to escape from my pain -at least lessen it for a little while. I started writing poems for birthday cards from the moment I could hold a pencil. Then as I got older, I loved doing book reports (I think I was in the minority at school). After I was asked to write a high school honor speech, I thought I could really enjoy doing this for a living. But life after college led me to writing business contracts instead. After being ill for a while, I happily rediscovered my love for creative writing.

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

I love reading historical fiction, and mysteries. As a child I loved reading Nancy Drew Mysteries, and anything by Judy Blume. I was an adult when I read WEEDFLOWER by Cynthia Kadohata and it was the first time I read about a Japanese-American as a main character. So, she influenced me greatly. Also, local NC authors (state I live in): Joyce Moyer Hostetter (historical fiction), as well as Lisa Williams Kline (historical fiction and fiction).

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

Well, 17 years ago I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a debilitating chronic pain condition. I had to give up my health care administration career. So, I guess you could say, writing is probably less than part time. It depends on the daily pain. I do try to write in the morning if I can. I like to read or listen to audio books when I’m not able to write. I enjoy visiting schools and meeting students!

4. Your debut novel The Last Cherry Blossom follows a young girl who witnesses and survives the atomic bombing at Hiroshima during World War II, and the story is loosely based on your mother’s accounts of the tragedy. Would you like to share with us a bit about your mother’s experiences before, during, and after the bombing and how they shaped your story?

The Last Cherry BlossomIt’s interesting that my mother’s life events that I based the book on stalled my writing for a bit. I had to get past the actual timeline of events in her life since the book only took place during the last year of WWII. My mom was born in 1932, so she grew up with war in the background (the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931). She was very well off, but she saw the giving heart of her Papa. When she was five, she and her friend Machiko used to put on shows for the injured soldiers. She hated all the air raid drills, black out curtains, and being in the bomb shelter. However, she felt with her Papa she could endure anything. The chapters that deal with the day of the bombing-were exactly as she told me. These were the most difficult chapters to write, because I could see the tears in her eyes and hear the pain in her voice when she told me about that time. I can still hear her voice whenever I read these sections to students. In the months following the atomic bombing, her feelings of loneliness, guilt, and anger consumed her. It took her a long time to not feel guilty for surviving and feel that she was worth having happiness again. I’m so grateful that she did.

Continue reading “Author Interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, MG Historical Fiction Author of The Last Cherry Blossom”

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

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


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

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

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

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

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

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

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

A part of me never left.

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

Until I finally did.

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, that is a message that has become more and more relevant since 2016. We live in a world where Nazis marched openly in a college town that I lived in for nearly two years, where children are once again being put in cages, where hateful speech is considered acceptable and even admirable by the President of the United States. History is repeating itself in alarming ways…but as I have seen over the last two years, we are fighting back against it.

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


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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Author Interview with Mark Falkin, Literary Agent and YA Apocalyptic Author of The Late Bloomer

Hi guys! Today, I’m celebrating my school’s homecoming! Roll Red Roll! Man, it’s pretty sad that this is my senior year homecoming–and my last homecoming as a high school student. I’m going to be celebrating as I cheer on my school at tonight’s football game. Roll Red Roll! Mark Falkin is here on the blog to talk about his latest book The Late Bloomer, which releases on October 16th from California Coldblood. It sounds really chilling and intriguing, so I hope you enjoy this interview and check out Mark’s book!


About the BookThe Late Bloomer

Imagine THE STAND told with the intimacy of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

A keening wail heralded the end of the world.

It came from everywhere. After it passed, most of the world’s population was gone—either taken by a bizarre affliction or their own hand—leaving behind a stunned and altered race controlled by a shadowy superintelligence.

Opposing this threat are the late bloomers—teens for whom puberty was delayed.

Within these pages lies the transcript of a recording made by one of those late bloomers. His name’s Kevin March. When the apocalypse hit, he was about to get kicked out of his high school marching band for smoking pot. Kevin’s bright, wise beyond his years, and he just might be meant for something big in the new world order—if he can survive it.

Going on the run to find his little brother, Kevin teams up with his biggest crush, Kodie, and his best friend, Bass. The trio strike out across Texas in search of food, shelter, and answers.

Mark Falkin, bestselling author of Contract City, returns with a young adult thriller that combines shades of Lovecraft, Salinger, and Twain, all of it told in Kevin’s unforgettable voice.

The Late Bloomer releases from California Coldblood on October 16th. Pre-order it today!

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

What Bernard Malamud said: I’d be too moved to say. But to try to say: It’s a compulsion. Naively, I think maybe it’s an attempt to explain life to myself. I don’t get any real solid answers, but sometimes I feel maybe I’ve got it cornered, this explanation.

In third and fourth grade I would make these holiday themed puzzle books for my classmates. I’d create this hand drawn book and ask my Dad to run off copies at work which he dutifully did, having his secretary do it. She stapled them too. The teacher was flummoxed and thrilled at my self-aggrandizing precociousness, helping me hand them out at home room around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. They were mini versions of those Highlights kids’ magazines and they uniformly contained a word search, a crossword, a maze you solved with your finger or pencil, hidden pictures, and flash fiction. Really flash—“I saw Santa in my living room on Christmas Eve and he’s sure fat alright.” The looks on my classmates’ faces trying to solve my puzzles, read my little story… oh, I was hooked then. Orwell wrote of the sheer egoism of the writer. I felt that glory in Third Grade.

Skip to high school and I found myself doodling epigrams in the margins of whatever we were doing in AP English class. These later bloomed into bad poetry. I did the bad poetry thing off and on through college and law school. In law school I thought I could do what Grisham did and write a novel my first year, that blistering 1L year. Um, no, I didn’t pull that off, but I did start a novel that I published ten years later.

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

I can longlist some writers who combined form my lodestar: Stewart O’Nan, Daniel Woodrell, Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Karen Russell, Barker, Palahniuk, Lethem, DFW, Ellis, Proulx, McCarthy, McGuane, William Gibson, Bradbury, Updike, Capote, Oates, TC Boyle, Sedaris. Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes. Oh and Vonnegut, Kerouac, and the insufferable personality that is Hunter S. Thompson.

I cannot say who’s the most impactful, per se. I just know that these writers formed me.

Lately: Tommy Orange inspires me. Merritt Tierce inspires me. Emil Ferris inspires me. Billy Collins inspires me. Joan Didion inspires me. Kate Tempest inspires me.

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

I’m a literary agent and erstwhile/recovering music and IP attorney. I wish writing was full-time, but then I’d miss out on my clients’, and clients-to-be, exciting new work.

4. Your upcoming YA dystopian novel The Late Bloomer chronicles one teen’s journey when a cataclysm strikes Earth, but it’s unlike any apocalypse seen in fiction. What inspired this end-of-the-world scenario? In your opinion, how does your novel stand out from other books in the apocalyptic/dystopian genre?

The Late BloomerIt’s an apocalyptic/postapocalyptic novel, not dystopian, and it’s not straight YA either. It’s a crossover novel. That’s not me saying that; that’s pro readers and other writers saying that, so.

Ultimately, I love the genre. What inspired me was that I wanted to write a horror novel that was unlike anything else out there and that was the scariest thing I could think of and what makes it scary isn’t just a set piece here, a set piece there, but something that holistically makes you shudder, making you feel something deeper than just simple fear but rather a resonating poignancy through the pathos. What makes this story unique is that it avoids the well-worn tropes. There are no zombies, viruses or virals, no doomsday asteroid, no aliens, no environmental cataclysm, no nuclear holocaust.

As far as direct inspiration, the three simultaneous sparks were these: There’s a line in Lord of the Flies that goes You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are? and a little supernova exploded in my mind and I probably said behind clenched teeth in public “that’s it!” The book’s working title was No Go for a long time and was even initially pitched with that title. There’s that and there’s a certain work of fiction that I can’t disclose for spoilage reasons; the way it made, still makes, me feel . . . I approached this book at the outset from the standpoint of wanting to make the reader feel like I did reading that work. And then there’s this: a few people reading might remember these emails I used to send out during October years ago, I think 1998 through 2003. They were these epistolary little stories that came in bi-weekly installments that I called the Chronicles of Spooky Month which over the years got longer, less funny and more scary. In maybe 2012 I attempted to take a run at it again for fun and as a palette cleanser. I wrote a couple thousand words and put it away, never sending anything out. This was the impetus for The Late Bloomer. This book really is an all-grows-up, exploded version of that. Pure fun. Labor of love.

Continue reading “Author Interview with Mark Falkin, Literary Agent and YA Apocalyptic Author of The Late Bloomer”

Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus

Hi guys! Today, Lauren Gibaldi is here to talk about Autofocus, a book that I won in a giveaway and really enjoyed. I met Lauren back at the SE-YA Book Festival in March, and she was super nice and sweet! I’m so glad to have her on the blog, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


About the BookAutofocus

From the author of The Night We Said Yes comes a fun and heartfelt YA contemporary tale. When Maude decides to search for information about her birth mother, she finds out more than she expected. Perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Susane Colasanti.

Family. It’s always been a loaded word for Maude, whose birth mother died after giving her up for adoption. With her best friend, Treena, in college in the same town where her birth mother grew up, Maude decides to visit and explore her past. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena doesn’t seem to have time for her—or for helping with her search. Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude, she starts to realize that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

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

I love writing because it transports me. It’s the same reason I love reading, too. It’s an experience, even when it’s hard. I started writing young, in a diary, with zero pressure. And I think that’s what made it great for me- those early years when I was just given a dairy and able to write whatever I wanted without fear of it being bad.

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

Along with being an author, I’m a librarian, so it’s pretty impossible for me to choose favorites! I read a lot of YA, obviously, and a lot of picture books due to having young children. I listen to adult fiction audio books because I like being inspired on my way to work. And I mostly read graphic novels whenever I’m writing. (I don’t like reading novels when writing.) I think three books influenced my writing the most – Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read them all in college, and they helped me understand what I wanted to write.

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

I’m a full-time librarian!

Autofocus4. I really enjoyed your sophomore YA romance novel Autofocus, which follows high school senior Maude, who was adopted as a child, as she explores deeper into her mother’s past and discovers the true meaning of family. How do you explore adoption throughout your novel? For readers were or are adopted, how do you want them to be impacted as they read Autofocus?

Thank you! The main idea behind Autofocus is wondering if who we are is determined by birth (nature), or if we can change as we grow (nurture). Maude has no clue who her mother was, so she’s not sure if this person she’s becoming as she finishes up high school is inspired by her birth mother, or by her mom/dad/friends. (She differentiates mother vs. mom.) I think, even though it’s an experience very specific to adopted teens, the feeling is pretty common for any teen–figuring out who you are, apart from influences. As for readers, I’m just happy they’re seeing themselves in a book. To see that their experience, though unique, can also be universal.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus”

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra Blog Tour: Author Guest Post on “Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep”

Hi everybody! (I know, my greeting is different today.) I hope you are having an awesome start of the week! What are your favorite genres? My top two are historical fiction and fantasy, so whenever I see a historical fantasy come out, I know that I have to read it. Books that combine multiple genres intrigue me, and one such book is What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra, which infuses thriller, suspense, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction all into one story. Today, as part of the blog tour, Katya is here on the blog to talk about “exploring the subconscious” with her debut novel. I hope you enjoy and check out this amazing book! (Thanks so much to Tale Out Loud for hosting this tour! Karlita’s an amazing person, so go check out her blog!)

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About the BookWhat the Woods Keep

Title: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Published by: Imprint Macmillan

Publication date: September 18, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Thriller

Synopsis: What the Woods Keep is the stunning debut of Katya de Becerra, who combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible—something that threatens reality itself.

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Pre-order What the Woods Keep today!

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Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep

What scares you?

Is it that moment when your eyes adjust to darkness and you begin seeing shapes that don’t belong there? Or perhaps it is the sound of rustling dry leaves underfoot that keeps on long after you’ve stopped moving? Or maybe, like me, you break into cold sweat at the very idea of hearing your name spoken when there’s no one in the room but you?

Innocent sounds that take on a new sinister meaning, shapes that materialize in the dark just as the eyes adjust and the viewer regains her equilibrium – all of it plays on our strings of perception in hopes of triggering that disturbing sensation of uncanny. Uncanny is exactly that: what happens to our perception when reality is distorted. It is a type of emotional and cognitive dissonance you might feel when you stumble upon something that used to be familiar but not anymore. It might still look right, but it feels decisively wrong.

The horror genre has been known to play on the idea of uncanny by utilizing all of the above (and more!) as techniques designed to set the reader’s (or the movie goer’s) nerves on fire, to provoke a visceral response.

My debut YA novel, What The Woods Keep, doesn’t shy away from its own tribute to the uncanny phenomenon, though I hope that it offers its own genre-bending take on it and its associated horror genre tropes.

In the novel, the protagonist, science-minded Hayden, at some stage fatefully states: “We are attracted to mysteries. Our perpetual drive to solve the unsolvable, to know the unknown, makes us human. The unknowing bothers us.” And so, true to her words, in one of the novel’s early key scenes designed to signal the uncanniness of what’s yet to come, Hayden ventures into the dark to investigate, possibly to help someone’s in trouble. It is then, for the first time, that she experiences the moment of extreme irrational fear. It is so intense that Hayden’s rational mind wavers for a moment, pushing her to give in to primal fear. In that moment, familiar objects are distorted, Hayden’s sense of smell is assaulted by the raw stench of the upturned earth, her skin ripples in the cold draft… And then there’s the pinnacle of her journey into the dark: what was once familiar morphs into something strange, unsettling, as if possessed by an otherwordly force. It triggers Hayden’s fight-or-flight response and even someone as cool-headed as she finds it hard to resist.

I did scare myself a little while writing that scene. But it also helped me to analyze what I found particularly scary and why. I’m glad I’ve woven my darkest fears into my YA debut.

After all, the act of telling (or hearing) a spooky tale brings about a form of emotional catharsis allowing us to experience fear in a controlled, safe environment and by doing so, hopefully, get over it.


About the AuthorKatya de Becerra

Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology. What the Woods Keep is her first novel.

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Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule on Tale out Loud

SEPTEMBER 10 (MONDAY)

Karlita — Tale Out Loud (Review, Q&A)
Kester — LILbooKlovers (Guest Post)

SEPTEMBER 11 (TUESDAY)

Salwa — Voguish Perusal (Review, Favorite Quotes, Guest Post)
Amanda — MetalPhantasmReads (Review)
Laura — Bucks, Books & Beyond (Review, Favorite Quotes)

SEPTEMBER 12 (WEDNESDAY)

Liv — Liv’s Wonderful Escape (Review, Creative)
Sifa — Sifa Elizabeth Reads (Review)

SEPTEMBER 13 (THURSDAY)

Austine — NovelKnight (Review, Q&A)
Imogene — Amidst the Pages (Review, Favorite Quotes)
Mari — Andico Mari (Review)

SEPTEMBER 14 (FRIDAY)

AJ — Diary of an Avid Reader (Review, Novel Aesthetic Board)
Justine — Bookish Wisps (Review, Favorite Quotes)
Nikole — A Court of Coffee and Books (Review, Q&A)

SEPTEMBER 15 (SATURDAY)

Jamie — PrincessofPages (Excerpt)
Preethi — Young Adult Media Consumer (Review)
Crimson — Crimson Talks Books, Mostly (Review)


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for What the Woods Keep? Do you YA thrillers?

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

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

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

Two Dark Reigns Blog Tour


About the BookTwo Dark Reigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Trailer

Watch the official book trailer for Two Dark Reigns here!


About the AuthorKendare Blake

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

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

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?Two Dark Reigns Giveaway

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

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

Open to International

Must be 13+ to Enter

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Tour Schedule


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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Author Interview: Ann Braden, MG Contemporary Author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Hi guys! Tomorrow, one of the BEST books I’ve read this year–The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden–is releasing from Sky Pony Press, and to celebrate, I have Ann, the author of this wonderful novel, here on the blog to talk about her latest novel. A few weeks ago I shared my really really personal review of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. You definitely NEED to read this book. I urge you to pick it up. If I could buy a whole shipment of copies to just hand out to kids and random people, I would do it. This is a book that you do NOT want to miss.


About the BookThe Benefits of Being an Octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of Being an Octopus will release from Sky Pony tomorrow! Pre-order it today!

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Ann Braden Interview.png

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

I love writing because stories shape us and change us in inexorable ways (both as the author and as the reader) AND because of the way it uses all parts of my brain!

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

I love realistic fiction. My favorite authors are the ones who make me feel like it’s all real. I still remember reading Sara Zarr’s HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and being so struck by one simple scene where the girl and her mom are in the kitchen making peanut butter toast because it was so incredibly real. And I thought: How did she do that? I want to write like that! Sara Zarr, along with authors like Gary Schmidt and Jason Reynolds showed me that page-turners can be created with emotional arcs instead of snazzy plots. They freed me up to approach this book, not by trying to tell a great story, but simply trying to be as honest as possible.

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

At the moment I’m a part-time writer and a part-time stay-at-home mom. In the past I’ve juggled a variety of different kinds of community organizing work along with my writing. I seem to find the kind of work that takes huge amounts of time, (while paying very little money) – but that feeds my soul and that hopefully helps to get more voices to the table and helps those new voices feel supported.

4. Your MG debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus, set to release on September 4th from Sky Pony Press, follows seventh-grader Zoey as she attempts to find her voice while navigating through poverty, loved ones in abusive relationships, and acceptance among her fellow peers. How do you desire for your book to be a bridge between the cultural divides in school? How do you want readers, regardless of financial situation, to be impacted by Zoey’s story?

The Benefits of Being an OctopusI think that too often in our society we discount those who live differently than we do, whether its how much money someone has, what kind of job someone has, or what kind of political views they have. When I was in middle school, I remember being so struck that every person in every car on the road had their own story. And as I got older and got to meet a wide variety of people, I came to believe more strongly that not only do they have their own story, but that nearly every person is trying to do their very best given the circumstances they’re faced with. I hope that readers come away seeing that many of the characters, even the ones they don’t necessarily agree with, are doing the best they can – and that maybe the people around them in real life aren’t so different.

Continue reading “Author Interview: Ann Braden, MG Contemporary Author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus”

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes Blog Tour: Excerpts from the Book and Audiobook

Hi guys! If you hadn’t known, Nadine Brandes is one of my favorite authors. EVER. I am a part of her street team (go Ninjas!) and her Out of Time trilogy has such a special place in my heart. I love and miss every single of one her characters so much. So when she announced that she was writing a YA historical fantasy based off the Gunpowder Plot, I was so excited! A few weeks ago, a kind person on Twitter granted one of my #bookishwish’s and gave me an ARC of Fawkes, which I loved and devoured. I am so happy to be sharing with you a short excerpt from the novel plus a snippet from the audiobook! Enjoy!

Fawkes Blog Tour


About the BookFawkes

Title: Fawkes

Author: Nadine Brandes

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 10, 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

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Excerpts of Fawkes!

Click the link below to read an exclusive excerpt of Fawkes from the beginning chapters! It will hook you right in!

Book Excerpt

Click the link below to listen to an exclusive extended sound clip from the Fawkes audiobook! It sounds so cool!

Audiobook Clip


Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

Prize: One winner will receive 1 copy of FAWKES by Nadine Brandes

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Ends on the 6th of September

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About the AuthorNadine

I once spent four days as a sea cook in the name of book research. I’m also the author of the award-winning The Out of Time Series and my inner fangirl perks up at the mention of soul-talk, Quidditch, bookstagram, and Oreos. When I’m not busy writing novels about bold living, I’m adventuring through Middle Earth or taste-testing a new chai. I and my Auror husband are building a Tiny House on wheels. Current mission: paint the world in shalom.

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Check out the rest of the blog tour here!

Tour Schedule


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Fawkes? Do you like YA historical fantasy?

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

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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 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”