Everlasting Nora by Marie Cruz Blog Tour: Book Review — An Authentic and Gripping Portrayal of the Poverty Millions of Filipinos Face Today that is Blossoming with Hope and Resilience

Hi guys! Today (or tomorrow) is my last day of school, and I am so relieved to finally be on Christmas Break. I’m going to use these next two-and-a-half weeks to rest, bond with my family, and catch up on a bunch of school/college-related stuff. I am also very glad to be a part of the Everlasting Nora Blog Tour, hosted by the wonderful Kate at The Backwards Bookshelf. I really enjoyed and loved Marie Miranda Cruz’s (a Filipino author writing a book set in the Philippines!) debut novel, and I hope you enjoy my review.

Everlasting Nora Blog Tour.png


About the BookEverlasting Nora

An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines’ North Manila Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

Trigger Warnings: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries.

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Everlasting Nora Review

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

To be honest, I have not read very many books that feature Filipino main characters. In fact, I could probably even count them on a single hand if I tried. When I first heard of the opportunity to join the blog tour for Everlasting Nora and have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful debut novel, I jumped at the chance. As a Filipino-American who was born in the Philippines, moved to the United States when I was three, and visits the Philippines every two years, I knew that I had to read this book. Combine that with my love for Middle Grade, and Everlasting Nora was the book for me.

Continue reading “Everlasting Nora by Marie Cruz Blog Tour: Book Review — An Authentic and Gripping Portrayal of the Poverty Millions of Filipinos Face Today that is Blossoming with Hope and Resilience”

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Book Review: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — An Important Candle Illuminating Goodness in Our Dark World

Hi everybody! Today is the last day of November, so I found it timely to share my review of The LAST Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw. She is such a sweet and amazing person, and it is my honor to be reviewing her debut MG historical fiction novel. It is an amazing work of fiction, and one that everyone–not just children–need to read. I hope you enjoy!


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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5 Stars

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

The Last Cherry Blossom means a lot to me as an American and as a Filipino. As I’ve learned more and more about World War II as an American student, it is very easy to villainize people in the Axis powers and in the Soviet Union. Many times, it’s true and justified—the Nazis and fascists of Germany and Italy executed millions of people they deemed “inferior” while the communists of Russia killed and deported many more in their atheistic, paranoia-filled, and anti-intellectual society. As the Japanese invaded countries throughout the Pacific, including my birth country the Philippines, they committed many heinous crimes from raping thousands of “comfort women” forced into sexual submission to sending Koreans to working in hard-labor mines. The Japanese brought about the infamous Bataan Death March that went through the province me and my dad’s side of my family is from. This review is in no way condoning what they did to millions of people around the Pacific, and I condemn their actions during the Great War (from the Bombing at Pearl Harbor to the Balloon Bombs that have caused many American casualties).

However, The Last Cherry Blossom–based on the true story of the author’s mother who endured through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath as a child–is a glimpse into the life of a young Japanese girl during World War II, one that shows that the lives of the Japanese weren’t that much different than the lives of the Americans. It was very surprising to see the Western (even American) influences in their culture, from business attire to hairstyles to even the popularity of jazz music. (I couldn’t believe it myself! Japan was more Western than we would have thought.) The enemy is truly not as different from us than we think. That’s one reason that makes this novel one that needs to be read to all children and taught to all students. This is a story that needs to be told. Artificially, it may seem like the ordinary life of a girl going through some family troubles during World War II, but it’s not just that. It’s a book filled with Japanese culture and history, one that will give readers a better understanding of the world around them and the world before them. It truly has enlightened me and changed my view on Japanese life in World War II. Certainly, I have learned a great deal from The Last Cherry Blossom, and it has made me view World War II in a different light. It has made me wonder things like, did citizens know the atrocities their troops committed in foreign lands? Did they know what the Germans and the Italians were doing? What was their propaganda like that villainized America? (I will say that a lot of what we did during World War II was not justifiable, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans, the racist propaganda, and the Korematsu decision.)

The most effective thing about this novel is how the story structures around the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As readers, we know the inevitable is going to happen, but the author leads us to love the characters more and more—leading us to dread that tragic day of August 6th, 1945, with every passing chapter. With every triumph and failure that Yuriko endured, I found my heart slowly and slowly not being able to handle my fearful anticipation. I knew her city was going to get hit with the bomb, and that added another layer of suspense and scariness. Surprisingly, the moment the atomic bomb hits still was very unexpected. It was heartbreaking. It was horrifying. It was perfectly executed. It truly depicted how one moment life was normal and the next mass destruction ensued, and it shocks you back into the reality that your life could end at any moment. As an American student, you are not really taught about the effects of the atomic bombs—but being able to witness it as if it were first-hand was horrifying yet enlightening. It is a powerful testimony to the urgent need for every nation in the world to abolish nuclear weapons. If Fat Man and Little Boy were that bad, imagine the destruction wrought about by current nuclear arsenals around the world comprising of nuclear missiles and hydrogen bombs. We need to know how horrible this kind of destruction is because it might happen to us, and by reading a book like The Cherry Blossom, we can become convinced why we must strive for world peace.

The Last Cherry Blossom is truly one of the most beautiful, most chilling, most real books I’ve read this year. I would even go as far as to consider it one of the best written novels I have encountered. (For reference, its writing rivals that of Salt to the Sea, and that was a beautiful book.) This book is very important and very relevant in today’s society, a society where nuclear annihilation remains a looming threat in our near future. Certainly, Burkinshaw’s debut novel is a candle illuminating good into the world. I believe it should become a classic that will withstand the test of time.


About the AuthorKathleen Burkinshaw

Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja.  Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle and high schools, as well as at education conferences for the past 8 years. She has carried her mother’s story in her heart and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.” — Kathleen Burkinshaw

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

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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

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

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The Prophet Calls by Melanie Sumrow Blog Tour: Spotlight Post

Hi guys! I have another blog tour up for you, and this time it’s a MG contemporary novel called The Prophet Calls, which just released a few days ago! I’ve seen Melanie on the Twittersphere quite frequently, so I’m very glad to be helping out with her debut novel’s release! I hope you enjoy!

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(By the way, while The Prophet Calls definitely has a beautiful prose and message, I ask that readers may not use this book to denounce religion. As a Catholic, I believe that there are many dark and twisted cults in the world that idolize men as gods, yet many denominations in not only the Christian faith but in other religions are not cults. I may not agree with other religions but I do respect those who adhere to them. The Prophet Calls is a stark depiction of what life is like in a polygamous apocalyptic-sect community, but I don’t believe that author had the intention to denounce all religions. Personal note over.)


About the BookThe Prophet Calls

Born into a polygamous community in the foothills of New Mexico, Gentry Forrester feels lucky to live among God’s chosen. Here, she lives apart from the outside world and its “evils.”

On her thirteenth birthday, Gentry receives a new violin from her father and, more than anything, she wants to play at the Santa Fe Music Festival with her brother, Tanner. But then the Prophet calls from prison and announces he has outlawed music in their community and now forbids women to leave.

Determined to play, Gentry and Tanner sneak out. But once they return, the Prophet exercises control from prison, and it has devastating consequences for Gentry and her family. Soon, everything Gentry has known is turned upside down. She begins to question the Prophet’s teachings and his revelations, especially when his latest orders put Gentry’s family in danger. Can Gentry find a way to protect herself and her family from the Prophet and escape the only life she’s ever known?

This realistic, powerful story of family, bravery, and following your dreams is a can’t-miss debut novel from Melanie Sumrow.

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About the AuthorMelanie Sumrow

Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. Melanie lives in Dallas with her husband, her daughter and one very spoiled dog.

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE PROPHET CALLS, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Catch up on the Rest of the Tour Here!

Link to Tour Schedule

Week One:

10/29/2018- Oh Hey! Books.– Review

10/30/2018- BookHounds YA– Interview

10/31/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

11/1/2018- For the Love of KidLit– Interview

11/2/2018- Rhythmicbooktrovert– Review

Week Two:

11/5/2018- mall3tg1rl– Review

11/6/2018- Patriotic Bookaholic– Review

11/7/2018- Margie’s Must Reads– Excerpt

11/8/2018- Cindy’s Love of Books– Review

11/9/2018- LILbooKloversSpotlight Post


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Find the good–and praise it.” — Alex Haley

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

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

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


About the BookThe High Climber of Dark Water Bay

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

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2 Stars

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

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

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

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


About the BookThe Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan Review

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

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

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

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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Kathleen Burkinshaw Interview.png

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”

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

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


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

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

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

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

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

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

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

A part of me never left.

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

Until I finally did.

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

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

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

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

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


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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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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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”

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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