ARC Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden — A Powerful, Vivid, Beautiful Depiction of the Struggles Many Families Face Today

Hi guys! This year, I’ve discovered upon a slew of life-changing Middle Grade books that have impacted me so dearly. I am so happy to say that The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is one of them, and today’s review displays how much it will change your perspective on what other people have to go through in their lives. It’s especially fitting since school is beginning for many people in these next few weeks, so I hope you’ll pick up this book for you or for your children/students.


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.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

Never have I ever read a book in my life that I wanted to be pushed into the hands of readers, from students to educators, than The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Ann Braden’s vivid portrayal of a young girl trying to “get by” each day as her family—her single mother and her four siblings—are struggling with financial troubles and her mom’s abusive boyfriend is a reality that many children around both the nation and the world face everyday. I would write a longer introduction, but this book is so powerful and so relevant that I must start on the body of my review as soon as possible.

I have to first start out by saying that I saw myself very clearly in one character, Matt. Matt is guy in class who excels in virtually everything he does; he also has a good family with a steady income. When I first met him, I saw too much of myself in him—the student who goes above and beyond in assignments, from staying up too late to working at rapid speed. But Matt has one characteristic flaw that I know I have: Forgetting how blessed and privileged he is. While eating out at the pizzeria or drinking a peanut butter banana smoothie may not seem like a big deal to him, for Zoe those things seem like a distant reality. She has to deal power outages, clothes that are too small, and not always seeing her mother due to work.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus reminded me—in fact, it poked and prodded me with a gigantic tentacle—that not everyone is as blessed as I am. I am blessed to have two loving parents along with a great sister, a nice home, and three best friends who have my back. I have the ability to afford things I want, to travel places, and to go out. I am glad that I have discovered and honed by academic, musical, and extracurricular talents and abilities. But many of my fellow classmates don’t have these luxuries. Some always are out of the house, hanging out with friends or partying hard, because of their parents or their parental situation. Others have to work even two jobs on top of school to help provide for their families. There are many kids who can say that they’ve never set foot outside my small town, while I’ve visited countries halfway across the world. Some don’t own their own cars while I have one ready at a moment’s notice. While I can wiggle my way through a difficult calculus problem, there are classmates who struggle with algebra or geometry. Not everyone has the opportunities and the blessings I have. And I’m not saying my life is perfect at all. What am I saying is that there’s so much in my life, especially the little things, that I take too much for granted.

I know this review isn’t usually my standard format. I’m not reviewing over any of the story elements except for one gigantic overarching theme. This review is pretty much a personal reflection on Braden’s beautiful book. But I think that whenever I am compelled to write such a personal essay that helps me further understand and examine a key theme of a book, then that story must be very special. It must have struck a deep chord in my heart and changed my mindset. That is the mark of a five-star book. Certainly it is receiving one from me! It is one of the best Middle Grade novels—scratch that, books—I have ever read. No matter your background, no matter your age, you need to read this book. It will change your perspective as much as mine did. The Benefits of Being an Octopus will make readers become aware of the struggles that each person is going through, and it will instill in them the courage to speak up for, to be mindful to, and to reach out to those who may not have the blessings that the readers may experience. And for readers who may be in Zoe’s shoes, they will realize that they are not alone and that they have the power to change who they are.

Please note that I read from an uncorrected proof, so there could have been changes between this draft and the final publication.


About the AuthorAnn Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. Newbery award-winner Karen Hesse describes Ann’s debut middle grade novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus as “a compassionate look at poverty, hard choices, and defending one’s right to be treated humanely. A very fine first novel, written with a deft hand.” Ann founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. Ann lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Benefits of Being an Octopus? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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Book Review: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske — One of the Most Humorous, Relatable, Memorable, and Life-Changing Novels I’ve Ever Read

Hi guys! In exactly one week, my senior year will start, and that means I am going to be graduating in ten months. I cannot believe it. It’s so crazy to think that I’m going to be off to college in about a year and I’ll be closing this chapter of my life. Today’s review features a book that revolves around dealing with many struggles in one’s life, whether it be regarding family, friendships, or school. I’m so happy to be sharing with you my review of Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske, and I hope you enjoy it and check out this amazing novel!


About the BookKat Greene Comes Clean

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.

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5 Stars

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

Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those rare few books that you want to give a big hug after you’ve finished it. I feel like I bonded so much with Kat and her story since I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with everything, not knowing what to do or where to start. It is one of the most relatable novels I have ever read, and it is also one of the funniest books I have read! It is humor at its finest! A little note: I actually upgraded my original rating of 4-stars to 5-stars because I could still feel the impression the book left on me. I’ve read over 50 books this past year, and Kat Greene Comes Clean remains vividly at the top of the list, which shows how well-written and how powerful it is. It is certainly one of the best Middle Grade novels I’ve read. Melissa Roske’s MG debut will have readers falling in love with Kat in this story full of brilliant humor, heartwarming lessons, and many Harriet the Spy references.

One of the greatest things about MG Contemporary is that it explores a wide variety of issues and offers readers a glimpse into the struggles that other people go through. Certainly, Kat Greene Comes Clean accomplishes this job exceptionally. While I do not agree with divorce, it was very enlightening and touching to be able to read from Kat’s point of view as she deals with the separation of her parents, especially since many friends and classmates I know also go through this. In addition, I’ve learned a lot from the author’s stark portrayal of OCD in Kat’s mom and how Kat reacted to it. I could feel Kat’s fear about what to do along with her hurricane of other emotions as she deals with the problems in her family, at school, and among her friends. There were many times that I personally could relate to her. Kat Greene Comes Clean fostered in me a greater amount of empathy that would help me better understand what other kids are going through, and I have no doubt readers of all ages will find themselves changed after they read this book.

The story overall was written brilliantly. This was one of the few books in which I laughed very hard and very frequently! It was kidlit humor at its finest (oh, how I love kids!). I highly enjoyed all the Harriet the Spy references, and now I know that I really need to pick it up soon. Roske’s novel is very short and easy to read, yet it was so great that I did not want to put it down! I finished it in an entire day as I found myself saying, “Just a few more pages,” before picking it back up a few minutes later. I became so hooked by Kat’s tale full of family, friends, love, and hope from page one. Kat Greene Comes Clean certainly was a fun novel that made me feel good and feel at the same time.

As I’ve been foraying deeper into Middle Grade literature, I’ve found that while most (if not all) will provide me comfort and consolation, only a few books will make a deep impact on me. Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those few. When I think about this beautiful story, I often greet it with a slightly nostalgic smile, one that marks how happy and how heart-wrenched it made me. It is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this one, and it’s one that I will never forget. It has the power to touch the hearts of many readers and change their lives. Kat Greene Comes Clean ultimately teaches readers two very important lessons: to love one another, for everyone is going through their own set of challenges, and to never give up hope, regardless of how overwhelming life may seem.


About the AuthorMelissa Roske

Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. (Her column was called “Life Sucks,” but it was Melissa’s job to insist it didn’t.) Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Kat Greene Comes Clean? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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

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


About The ChangelingsThe Changelings

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

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

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About The Water and the WildThe Water and the Wild

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

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

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

Questions are in bold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean”

Hi guys! Yesterday I just got back from Washington, D.C., and I definitely had a really great trip! Man, April’s almost over, and that means this entire school year is quickly coming to an end. In just a few weeks, it will be AP exams time, so I will be cramming as much studying as I can before then. Today I have another interview with the wonderful Melissa Roske, MG debut author of Kat Greene Comes Clean! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookKat Greene Comes Clean

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.

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Melissa Roske Header

1. Your MG debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean follows a young girl as she manages through a turbulent time in her life, including dealing with her cleaning-obsessed mom, her parents’ divorce, the school play, and many friendships. How do you want readers to be impacted from Kat trying to be the “parent” when her mom is unable to? Why do you believe it is important to show how young children overcome these struggles in their everyday lives?

Although I was never thrust into a parental role the way Kat was with her mom, I can certainly relate to being an eleven-year-old with familial and social struggles. I mean, who doesn’t struggle as a preteen? My struggle was primarily with my physical development. At Kat’s age, I was extremely small and underdeveloped, and I used to get teased for it all the time. I was always picked last for sports teams too. One boy in particular—who shall remain nameless—called me “Flatsy,” because, well, you know… and it was humiliating. I was teased for being flat-chested at summer camp, too. I know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but the scars left by all the teasing and name-calling never fully healed. That’s what I tapped into when I wrote my book. I wanted kids to know that life’s struggles are incredibly difficult—but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

2. How has your personal experiences and those of others helped shape Kat Greene Comes Clean? What aspects of Kat’s life and personality are based off your life?Kat Greene Comes Clean

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but my book based on my own experience with OCD—or, to be more accurate, my dad’s OCD. His compulsions are the polar opposite of Kat’s mom’s, though, because my dad is extremely messy and keeps everything. (I recently found a datebook in his apartment from 1973!) He’s also a checker, which means he must check the front-door locks, and the gas jets on the stove, multiple times a day. I too have obsessive-compulsions tendencies, including the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, but I wouldn’t say they impede my life. They’re just extremely distracting—to my family, and to myself.

3. What about Middle Grade Contemporary drew you as an author and a reader? What inspired you to write for kids and from a child’s point of view, and what were some of the challenges that you faced writing your debut?

I’m not sure if I should admit this, but in many ways I still feel like an eleven-year-old girl. That’s why I’m drawn to MG. It focuses on a phase in one’s life when feelings and thoughts and creativity—even love—are bubbling at the surface, ready to come up for air. I also love the openness, and the receptiveness to new things, that tweens exhibit and express. They say want they mean, and they mean what they say. Who doesn’t love that?

In terms of challenges as a debut novelist, I’d say it’s learning how to manage my expectations. As author, you hope your book will be enthusiastically received, and that it will sell well. But that is not always the case. Some things are beyond your control, as it’s important to realize this and manage your expectations accordingly.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean””

Exclusive Interview with Jake Burt, MG Author of Greetings from Witness Protection!

Hi guys! In exactly one month, I am going to be off to Washington, D.C., with my choir, and I am super stoked about it! I have always wanted to visit our nation’s capital, and I am super blessed that I have this opportunity to go there along with my fantastic choir that I have definitely bonded so much with over the last few months. Speaking of the government (haha, Kester, good/cheesy segue), today I am having Jake Burt, author of Greetings from Witness Protection! on the blog in this exclusive interview, and I am so excited to have him because if you had read my review of his debut, you’ll know why I loved it so much. I hope you enjoy this interview!


About Greetings from Witness Protection!Greetings from Witness Protection!

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

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Jake Burt Interview

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

First off, thanks for hosting me, Kester, and for all you do to support MG and YA literature! To answer your question, I fell in love with stories first. My dad used to read aloud to my brothers and me every night – stuff like The Hobbit and excerpts from Mark Twain’s Roughing It. It was easily the highlight of my day. Then, when I was in grade school, I discovered that I could create my own stories. I had a string of really good teachers who encouraged me (or, rather, at least tolerated my nascent attempts at authorship), and that allowed me to develop a love for the written word.

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

Books: The Hobbit. Le Morte D’Arthur. James and the Giant Peach. The Last Unicorn. Charlotte’s Web. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Snow Crash. Are You My Mother? The Golden Compass. Faeries. Tuck Everlasting.

Genres: Fantasy. Sci-Fi. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

Authors: Tolkien. Malory. Dahl. Pullman. Basically anyone who wrote one of the above books. I’ve also got a special place in my heart for the authors of the books I devoured when I was a kid – sprawling Dungeons and Dragons fantasy novels by R.A. Salvatore; Lone Wolf game books by Joe Dever; sci-fi short stories by Bradbury, Vonnegut, et al. Given all that, you’d think I’d be churning out middle grade fantasy novels, right? I thought so, too. And yet, here I am with MG contemporary…and I couldn’t be happier with the stories I’m telling so far. As far as the writers who had the greatest impact on me and my writing style, though? If I’m being honest with myself, it’s probably TV writers – those behind-the-scenes authors of dialogue I’ve found particularly memorable, of scenes that have stuck with me long after the show is done. It’s often teams of people, so I don’t know precisely who to credit, but I can name characters on shows about whom I think, “I want my MC to talk like that,” far more than passages in books about which I think, “I want to write like that!” (not that I’d turn down having my descriptions compared to E.B. White’s, or anything…)

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

I’m not sure if I’d describe writing as a job. It’s more like a passion. And lest that come across too tritely, I’m talking about the “If I don’t write this story down and get it out of my head, I’m never going to stop obsessing about it” kind of passion, rather than the “The heavens are my muse, inspiring me to the glory that is” sort. Writing IS work, of course, and often times it’s hard work. It just never feels that way to me, because it’s never monotonous. The same goes for my day job – teaching 5th grade. I love both of them, and for similar reasons: they’re nothing like the hardest job I’ve ever had. That dubious honor goes to working a hydraulic press in a gasket factory one summer in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was hard for me because it was repetition. The sameness of it about drove me mad; I have incredible respect for people who can manage it. I couldn’t, so I’ve spent most of my life engaged with careers that allow me to be as intensely creative as I can be. Writing and teaching provide those opportunities.Greetings from Witness Protection!

4. Your debut novel Greetings from Witness Protection!, which released last year, follows Nicki Demere as she joins the Witness Protection Program’s Project Family and adopts a new identity to help protect the Trevor family from those seeking to kill them. How did you research and learn more about WITSEC as you conceived your story? How did you figure out how to portray WITSEC for middle grade readers without sacrificing a thrilling story to avoid anything too “graphic” or “adult?”

I did what research I could on WITSEC, but as you can imagine, there’s not much to go on. It’s not like people in witness protection are lining up to let an author of middle grade fiction interview them about their experiences. I did access the US Marshalls’ website, Google Earth’ed the facility in Glynco, and read whatever accounts I could get my hands on, but much of what I did in portraying WITSEC and the witness protection program was fashioned after how it has been portrayed in other books, movies, and television shows. I figured if I couldn’t get at the truth about WITSEC (and that I couldn’t is decidedly a good thing!), then I could at least portray a version of it that was consistent with the rest of the body of fiction. As far as keeping it kid-friendly? I don’t necessarily know that I did. I hoped that my readers would be able to handle what I put my characters through, and as long as I was honest about the emotions behind it – Nicki’s desire to be part of something, Jackson’s anger, Brit’s trepidation – then it would read true for them. Those are real for kids, and I trusted that they’d relate. This sentiment was explored beautifully by Matt de la Pena in TIME recently, and both his essay and Kate DiCamillo’s response are modern-day required reading for MG authors, as far as I’m concerned. Check them out here: http://time.com/5093669/why-we-shouldnt-shield-children-from-darkness/

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Jake Burt, MG Author of Greetings from Witness Protection!”

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt — A Heartwarming yet Thrilling Tale of Family and Fitting In

Hi guys! Right now, I am at the Tennessee DECA State Career Development Conference, otherwise known as SCDC! If you are reading this, then I am currently competing for a coveted spot in the top 5 in the state for my event Marketing Communications Series. I’ve learned to love marketing a lot this past year, and I hope that I could come home with a trophy! Also, tomorrow I’m going to be at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival, and I’m so stoked to attend it again! I have 20 books awaiting to be signed (yes, somehow I’ve accumulated 20 books this past year) and there’s so many authors I want to meet and connect with! Today, I am reviewing Greetings from Witness Protectionby Jake Burt, whose interview with me is being posted in just a couple of weeks! Hope you enjoy!


About the BookGreetings from Witness Protection!

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Goodreads


4 Stars

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

Greetings from Witness Protection! shows readers what it truly means to be a part of a family and to love them so much to be willing to sacrifice everything for their safety and protection. It’s the heartwarming story about a girl who tries to fit in with her foster family as they take on a new identity in a new town with a multitude of responsibility under the Witness Protection Program. This book both warmed my heart so much yet placed me on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happens next. My heart was pounding as I sympathized with Nicki and her struggles with kleptomania and being a part of a new family. It even made me laugh so many times, and the storyline had the perfect mix of light humor and deep issues. Greetings from Witness Protection! is an MG part-spy thriller and part-family contemporary novel that will have readers of all ages inspired to fight for their loved ones.

Continue reading “Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt — A Heartwarming yet Thrilling Tale of Family and Fitting In”

This Month’s LILbooKtalk: “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families” with Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser

Hi guys! I am super excited for this month’s LILbooKtalk! I had the amazing opportunity to read both of these excellent debuts, and they share so many similar themes and conflicts that I had to invite both of the authors in our February panel. Today, we have Corabel Shofner, author of Almost Paradise, and Leslie Hauser, author of Chasing Eveline, on the blog today to talk about “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families.” It was definitely a fun chat to moderate, and I hope you enjoy it!


About Almost ParadiseAlmost Paradise

Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.

Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from.

Goodreads


About Chasing EvelineChasing Eveline

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.

Goodreads


LILbooKtalk 3

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Corabel Shofner, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Southern Festival of Books last October. Her Middle Grade debut novel Almost Paradise released last summer, and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in a day! Could you describe to us a bit about your book and yourself?Almost Paradise

Corabel: ALMOST PARADISE is a Middle Grade contemporary novel with lots of whimsy, humor and heartbreak. In some ways it is a reverse coming of age story, since Ruby Clyde had taken on the adult role in her family and needs to reclaim her childhood. I am a wife and mother who lives in Nashville, TN. I had a very colorful life before I settled in the suburbs and I love it out here. ALMOST PARADISE is my debut novel although I have written law, short stories, essays and such.

Kester: Thank you, Corabel! It’s so great to be having a local Tennessee author here on the blog! We also have the amazing Leslie Hauser, who I was able to interview on my blog last summer. I loved her Young Adult contemporary debut Chasing Eveline, which I also devoured in a single day! Would you also like to share with us a bit about your novel and your background?

Leslie: Hi! Thanks for having me here. CHASING EVELINE is about 16-year-old Ivy HIggins and her desire to reunite her mom’s favorite 80s band. She thinks it may be the only way to find her mom who left Ivy and her dad several years prior, but also the music is a way to keep her mom present in her life. It also has some humor and heartbreak–sounds like a good companion to ALMOST PARADISE! I am a middle school English and history teacher in California and CHASING EVELINE is my debut novel.

Kester: Chasing Eveline and Almost Paradise are definitely great companions! (And you provided the perfect segue for my next question, Leslie!) That’s why as I read both of your novels, I noticed that each of your main characters share the common goal of healing their broken families. How do you want readers to be impacted by Ivy’s attempts at finding her long-lost mother or Ruby Clyde’s actions to help her mother avoid being imprisoned? How do your characters learn what it means to love those around you?

Chasing EvelineLeslie: Losing someone is difficult. I realized after my aunt passed away that every year, the memories became dimmer. It’s to the point now where I can’t even see parts of these memories (like the picture in Back to the Future! If you’re familiar with that movie.) Ivy’s quest to reunite Chasing Eveline is her way of dealing with loss and trying to keep her mom present. I wanted to write a story that shows that there are productive outlets for grief. I would hope readers would see that as a takeaway.

Corabel: Hi Leslie, I haven’t written anything with music as an element but I love the way Ivy seeks her mother through her mother’s favorite 80’s band. Reminds me a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy where he’s stomping through puddles listening to his mother’s old music, on an old player. Ruby Clyde is a self possessed little thing. She willingly steps up to care for her fragile mother but when the Catfish (mother’s rascal boyfriend) launches off on a cross country trip and gets them both arrested, Ruby Clyde is consumed with a longing for home and a growing realization that she might not be able to single handedly save her mother from prison. I want my readers to feel brave. Bravery is contagious.

Leslie: Sounds like Ivy and Ruby both have to step up in their families. Ivy feels compelled to take care of her dad in her mother’s absence. Bravery is definitely important when dealing with these struggles.

Corabel: Everybody loves the precocious child, the ‘little mother’ or the one who takes care of everything because a parent is damaged. People should realized that these children pay a price by losing their childhood. My sister did that in our family and it did not end well. I’ve since seen other children try to play this role and it breaks my heart. But their old personalities in the miniature bodies is often hilarious.
Continue reading “This Month’s LILbooKtalk: “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families” with Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser”

E-ARC Review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

Hi guys! Last Summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview YA debut author Leslie Hauser on her contemporary novel Chasing Eveline, and I am super excited to share with you my review of her debut here! I read it last month when I went Christmas shopping out of town with my family, and I somehow managed to finish it in an entire day! It was just that good! I hope you enjoy this review!


About Chasing Eveline26631470

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.

Goodreads


4 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the author for providing me an electronic ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Chasing Eveline is a heartwarming Young Adult contemporary novel that will inspire you to chase your wildest dreams despite the obstacles that stand in your way. I could not put down this book so much that I finished it in an entire day, which only a few novels can accomplish for me. I loved everything from the characters and the music to the humor and the romance. It’s a very quick and easy-to-read novel, and it will capture your attention from page one! Hauser’s debut novel did not disappoint, refreshing both my love for literature and my love for music.

As a musician who’s life is constantly fueled by my passion for music, I became ecstatic at how the novel revolved around Ivy’s love and connection to Chasing Eveline. I could really relate with her as she attempts to spread the love of her favorite band with her peers, only to face rejection. I definitely know how that feels, especially since I’m one of the only male singers and violinists at my high school and since my taste in music is European oldies (Eurovision from 1998 and before–I know, very specific). Hauser captured Ivy’s connection to music so vividly that I could feel the notes and lyrics swirl around me and enrapture me in its emotion.

Chasing Eveline also tackles family and friend problems in such a raw yet graceful way that I felt my heartstrings being tugged at. There’s so much love in the air that you can’t help but go “Awww…” There is a bit of romance in this novel, and fortunately, it was very clean and the book didn’t solely revolve around it. I really felt the deep and heartfelt emotions that Ivy felt towards her missing mom and her semi-distant dad. I also really loved both Matt and Sean–they were such supportive and caring friends!

This novel put me on the edge of my seat even though it was both light and funny and dark and depressing at different points. There was even a few bits of humor that made my entire day, especially the scene about garage sales. A few months ago, I had to work a yard sale for one of my clubs, and I literally had the same exact experience as Ivy–I tended to overprice everything (I didn’t know you’re supposed to make everything super cheap!) and I had to work with the bargainers. This section may not seem very influential in the plot, but the author tackled having a garage sale very accurately to where I just loved it.

I was not disappointed by Chasing Eveline at all! I am so glad that I had the chance to read this delightful contemporary novel full of love, family, and friendships! This is the perfect novel for music lovers (like me). Chasing Eveline will take you on a roller coaster ride full of emotions, from happiness and humor to sadness and sorrow, as it moves you to chase your dreams and never give up. I am super excited to see what Leslie Hauser has in store next! She’s a debut author you do NOT want to miss!


About the AuthorLHauser author picture_smaller size (1)

I am a YA writer and middle school teacher. I have a B.A. in English from UCLA and a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently reside in Los Angeles, California, with my dog Mr. Darcy.

When I’m not living in fictional worlds inside my head, I run all sorts of distances, torture my body at CrossFit, and DVR entirely too many television shows. I dream of one day returning to the Midwest to live on a farm. Or perhaps owning a cookie delivery service.

My debut novel CHASING EVELINE releases in 2017 from Pen Name Publishing.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

Order Chasing Eveline today here:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Pen Name Publishing


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Chasing Eveline? Do you like YA contemporary?

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

Summer of Authors #12: Exclusive Interview with Leslie Hauser, author of Chasing Eveline!

Hi guys! I am currently at an engineering camp right now, so I am taking a blogging/social media hiatus for the meantime, but I’ll be back by next week. I got a few posts scheduled for you, but I won’t be editing any posts and I’ll be not too active on social media. If you need me, just shoot me an email or DM on Twitter, but know that it’ll take a bit for me to reply since I’ll be really busy. 😉 Today, I’m welcoming Leslie Hauser, the author of Chasing Eveline, which sounds super interesting (Music is a big part of my life, so that’s why!). Cayli loved Hauser’s debut (review can be found here) and I have the amazing opportunity to interview her! Hope you enjoy!


About Chasing Eveline26631470

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.


 Leslie Hauser.PNG

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

I can’t pinpoint an exact event or moment that ignited my passion for writing, but I think it stems from my imagination. When I was younger, I had two imaginary friends: People and Kikibrumbrum. I cannot explain the names 🙂 , sorry! But I seem to have always had wild stories and imaginary people swirling about in my mind, and that has led me to 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?

I mainly read contemporary YA. So much so that I was hesitant to read Harry Potter. I didn’t think I’d like it. (I ended up loving it!) Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever is the book that hooked me on YA contemporary. I was reading mostly adult fiction at that time, and a friend recommended that book. I fell in love with YA and that story, and I was hooked.IMG_4397

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

Writing is part-time, though I’d love to make it my full-time job. When I’m not writing, I’m spending time with family and friends, reading, running, and doing CrossFit. But my main occupation is entertaining Mr. Darcy. He is one spoiled dog (but quite a gentleman)!

4. Your debut novel Chasing Eveline follows Ivy as she tries to reunite her favorite band Chasing Eveline, an 80s rock band based out of Ireland, in an attempt to find her mother, who abandoned her two years ago. Was Chasing Eveline inspired by any real life bands or artists? Do you and Ivy share the same taste of music? (I’m more an oldies person myself!)

Great question! The band Chasing Eveline is not based on any one particular band, but it is influenced by several of my favorite bands from the 80s: The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths.  I channeled into my Chasing Eveline songs all the feelings those bands evoked in me. Ivy and I definitely have the same taste in music. I’m not a big fan of today’s pop music either. I prefer the indie bands that don’t get much play on the radio, and I love listening to songs from the 70s and 80s.

5. Did you base any of Ivy’s characteristics and experiences off of you or anyone you know?

Ivy was a pretty easy character to write because I gave her a lot of my own sarcasm and my way of believing that there’s always hope (even when it’s pretty clear to everyone there is no hope! haha). There’s a scene with her dad that was pretty tough to write because it was based on something real that I experienced with my dad. But everything else is pure imagination. Even the meerkat scene! You must read the book if only for that 🙂

6. Since Chasing Eveline is based out of Ireland, have you ever been there? If so, what were some of your fondest memories from your trip? If not, what are some places and things you want to see and do?

Yes, I’ve been to Ireland. I looooved it! My favorite part was how friendly everyone was. But I also loved how beautiful it is there. One of my best days there was the day I ate fish and chips out of a newspaper by the side of the road! I also drove while I was there (on the wrong side!) and that was quite an adventure. I’m anxious to return!26631470

7. Music and 80s pop culture is prominent all throughout Chasing Eveline! What is it about the 80s that you love so much? If you had to go into a bunker and you could only bring one album and one movie from the 80s (provided you have a stereo and a TV without connection), what would you choose?

I love all the crazy styles of the 80s. Fluorescent and jellies! So awful and yet so great at the same time 🙂 I would take Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths and Pretty in Pink with me into a bunker. I’d never get tired of either!

8. In addition to being a YA novelist, you are a middle school teacher. How is it like teaching middle grade students? Do you have any funny experiences that happened to you in class that you would like to share? (I know that 6th– 8th graders can be a handful. Believe me, I was one a few years ago!)

Middle school is a blast. It really is. Currently I teach sixth grade English and history, but I’ve taught all the middle grades. I love sixth grade because they are still enthusiastic about learning and reading. Every day there are funny experiences! The kids I teach are pretty nice, so there’s lots of laughing all day long. Mostly it’s them laughing at me trying to be funny, but that’s what I love about it! 🙂

9. In your bio, you say that you dream is to return to the Midwest either owning a farm or a cookie delivery service. How do you envision your future farm or service to look like?

LHauser author picture_smaller size (1)I want to live on a horse farm. I know nothing about horses, so I’d have to be rich enough to hire someone to take care of that! But I love the wide open spaces and the green rolling hills of Kentucky. And I think the world needs a cookie delivery service for people like me who can’t buy a whole pack of cookies and not eat them all at once! But after dinner, don’t you sometimes just want a little treat? I need one cookie at a time—thus that cookie delivery service 🙂

10. How do you tackle writer’s block whenever it hits you?

I watch TV or Google Princess Kate or find cat gifs to send to my friends! I am great at avoidance. But usually if I take a break, my brain stops the sit-in protest and the ideas will form.

11. What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any secrets you would like to share?

I’m super excited about this YA contemp that I’m currently writing. If I stay on track, it will be finished by mid-August. I’m keeping it a secret for now, but I hope it makes its way into the world. 🙂 I also just wrote a YA short story that I sort of fell in love with as I wrote it—about having a crush and the idea of documenting every event on social media vs just experiencing the moment. It’s part of a charity anthology from Pen Name Publishing.  All proceeds go toward Wine to Water, an organization that aims to get clean water to people around the globe. http://amzn.to/2tpkt56

12. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?

I sort of laugh when published authors say, “Don’t worry so much about getting published. Just write and everything will fall into place.” You know, that’s easy to say once you have a publishing deal. But if your dream is to see your book in print, you will worry and you will stress and you will be sad at times. My advice is just to accept that as part of the process. Go with it. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re angry that it seems so easy for some people, be angry. I would also tell writers to consider indie publishers. I’m very happy with my decision to go with Pen Name Publishing. The whole experience has been great and I get to see my book out in the world. This may not have happened if I’d only considered the traditional publishing route.

Thanks so much, Leslie, for coming onto the blog! It was a blast having you!


About the AuthorLHauser author picture_smaller size (1)

I am a YA writer and middle school teacher. I have a B.A. in English from UCLA and a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently reside in Los Angeles, California, with my dog Mr. Darcy.

When I’m not living in fictional worlds inside my head, I run all sorts of distances, torture my body at CrossFit, and DVR entirely too many television shows. I dream of one day returning to the Midwest to live on a farm. Or perhaps owning a cookie delivery service.

My debut novel CHASING EVELINE releases in 2017 from Pen Name Publishing.


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Do you have any thoughts or questions?

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

Contact | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

 

100th Post: Interview + GIVEAWAY with Marie Silk!

Hi guys! Man, January is almost over! It has been an amazing month for LILbooKlovers. This is actually the 100th post of LILbooKlovers! Woo hoo! *cue streams and balloons* I am so happy to celebrate our 100th post with Marie Silk, a #1 Amazon bestseller who has had her book Heiress Interrupted placed in the goodie bags at the Golden Globes- the movie and TV show Golden Globes- and the Producers Guild Awards! I loved her first book, and I hope you will enjoy this interview and enter the giveaway below!

We have also nearly tripled our views this month and have met a ton of amazing authors and bloggers! I have definitely enjoyed this month with all of you! To end off January, here is an exclusive interview and GIVEAWAY with Marie Silk. Marie Silk’s book Heiress Interrupted was actually put into the goodie bags at this year’s Golden Globe- the Golden Globes where Jimmy Fallon sang an opening number that parodied La La Land– and the Producers Guild Awards! Marie is also an #1 Amazon bestselling author and the #87 author in Historical Fiction on Amazon! If you want to win her amazing book series (I loved the first book Davenport House), then enter below!

a-marie-new

1. What is your Davenport House series about?photo-7

The Davenport House series follows the lives of a wealthy family and their servants in 1915 America.  The house is turned upside down with the sudden death of the patriarch.  This tragedy sets into motion a chain of events which affects everyone on the estate, including the workers.

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

I love writing because I know how enjoyable it is for me to read a story that originated in the imaginations of other writers. I hope to bring that enjoyment to others.  It’s hard to remember a time that I wasn’t writing. When I was ten years old, I was sent with some other students to organize the storage room at school.  I remember being intrigued by the puppets and theatrical props that were in there. I went home and wrote a play that would use the props. The teachers at school liked the script and we later produced the play for the students.  This was probably the first time I realized that I could write a story.  It was fun!

Continue reading “100th Post: Interview + GIVEAWAY with Marie Silk!”