Author Interview with Melissa Sarno, MG Realistic Fiction Author of “Just Under the Clouds”

Hi guys! I am starting off the first full week of my last semester of high school. It’s pretty crazy to think about that. I mean, I’m graduating this year!!! It’s almost a real reality. The journey leading up to this moment feels very surreal. Today on the blog, Melissa Sarno and I are having a conversation over her MG realistic fiction debut novel Just Under the Clouds. It’s high up on my TBR, so I can’t wait to read it! Enjoy!


About the BookJust Under the Clouds

Can you still have a home if you don’t have a house?

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

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

I love writing because I love getting in a character’s head and living there. I love listening to a voice and following it to understand the heart of the story. And I love exploring themes so I can make sense of my own life. I also like finding just the right rhythm for a sentence. And, the challenge of puzzling through a story and unlocking mysteries and connections.

I started writing when I was around eight years old. My father brought a home-computer in the early 1980s. There was only one game on the computer, PacMan, and, I got bored with it so I turned to the only other thing I could actually do on the computer and that was to play around on a word-processing program. There was just the cursor and the keyboard, and I started fooling around with words and stories. Soon, I started writing by hand in lined marble notebooks whenever I could.

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

I love reading fiction. I prefer realistic fiction but I also like quirk, some absurdity, a hint of magic, or surrealism. I guess you could say literary fiction is my favorite genre. Some of my favorite children’s authors are: Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, Jaqueline Woodson, Beth Kephart, and Rita Williams Garcia. On the adult fiction side, I love George Saunders, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Yoon, Aimee Bender, and Elizabeth Strout. I think they’ve all impacted me in different ways. Many of these authors have very lyrical, rhythmic prose, and I am attracted to that as a reader and writer.

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

Writing fiction is something I have to fit into the tiny cracks and openings in my day. There are many days when I do not fit it in. I have a one year old and four year old who keep me very busy. I am also a freelance writer for many children’s media companies where I write content for toys, games, magazines, learning software, podcasts and more.Just Under the Clouds

4. Your debut MG realistic fiction novel Just Under the Clouds follows the story of Cora and her family as they try to navigate homelessness after her father’s death. Since homelessness affects nearly half a million individuals in America–including almost 60,000 families–how does your novel explore the harsh reality of homelessness for young readers, and what do you hope to achieve when a child picks up your novel?

Just Under the Clouds focuses on the instability of homelessness, as Cora and her family seek permanence in their housing situation. I tried to be realistic about the unsafe conditions of many shelters and the emotional stress of not having a permanent home. But, ultimately, this is a hopeful story about the true meaning of home; how it can be more than a place, and shift and change as we do. I hope the story will encourage readers to think about what home means to them. And I hope they will find compassion for themselves and others in Cora’s situation.
Continue reading “Author Interview with Melissa Sarno, MG Realistic Fiction Author of “Just Under the Clouds””

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

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

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


About the BookThe Changelings

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

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

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4 Stars

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

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

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

ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable

Hi guys! Today’s review is on The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the long-awaited sophomore standalone novel of Jake Burt, who wrote the heartwarming debut Greetings from Witness Protection! I definitely enjoyed his first novel, so I was really excited to be able to have the opportunity to read his next one! If you had missed it, Jake was recently on my blog with Rebecca Donnelly in August’s LILbooKtalk on “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students.” Don’t miss it–it was an amazing discussion! I hope you enjoy this review!


About The Right Hook of Devin VelmaThe Right Hook of Devin Velma

From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game–one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma releases from Feiwel & Friends on October 2nd! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way. Please note that this review is based off an uncorrected galley, so changes could have been made in the published draft.

When I first started The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the story did not click with me at first, and I had to set it down since I wanted to read another book at the time. Weeks later, I decided to restart and pick it back up, and I did not ever want to put it down. I finished most of it in one sitting. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a charming story about two young boys attempting to preserve their friendship and their families as they formulate a plan to gain fame and fortune. Throughout the story, I laughed and I cried. I cringed and I celebrated. I loved and I understood. Ultimately, it made me feel grateful that I have a tremendous outpouring of support from my three best friends and my caring family.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable”

Book Review: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan (Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie) — A Masterpiece Full of Captivating Imagery, Elegant Prose, Hidden History, and Powerful Inspiration

Hi guys! It’s been years since I last read a picture book. But when I was approached by author Alice Faye Duncan to review and promote her upcoming picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, I jumped at the opportunity. I saw one of my author friends Linda Williams Jackson raving about Alice’s book on Facebook, so I knew I was in for something very special. Today’s review shows how picture books aren’t just for children–they can be enjoyed by children, teens, and adults alike. Certainly, they hold such immense power to change lives, especially since these are the first few books that children will be exposed to in their lives as readers. I hope you enjoy this review and check out Alice’s amazing book on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968.


About Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

This historical fiction picture book for children ages 9-12 presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

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5 Stars

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

When I went to Washington, D.C., I visit the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Being a history nerd and a story collector, I stood on the very steps that Dr. King stood on himself and became instantly mesmerized. As I gazed upon the Washington Monument—a beacon of hope, persistence, and freedom throughout the centuries for Americans—I imagined myself as if I were there on that very day. I pondered upon the massive size of the crowds, thousands and thousands of blacks and whites united for a single cause, spanning for miles and miles. History was made in that very spot, and this realization took away my breath. Had I been by myself, I would have stayed on those steps for ages, transporting myself to that day 50 years ago.

Most people know that Dr. King was assassinated on April 3rd, 1968, on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. While I’ve never been to the motel that houses the National Civil Rights Museum, I have passed by it a few times when visiting the city. What I didn’t know—a piece of history that is unknown to most people—is the Sanitation Strike that led up to that fateful day. It is a critical event in not only the history of Memphis and Tennessee but also the history of this nation that shouldn’t be kept unknown to the general populace. In the form of a children’s picture book, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the perfect history lesson for children and adults of all ages as it depicts Dr. King’s final stand for respect, human dignity, and equality. This is truly one of those few rare books that must be placed into the hands of as many children and students possible.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is a masterpiece full of hidden history, elegant prose, and captivating imagery. Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie captures the Sanitation Strike of 1968 so vividly that readers will feel transported back 50 years ago, when blacks across Memphis united together to bring about improved labor conditions for sanitation workers. Even as a teen who hasn’t read a picture book in years, I found myself mesmerized by this story of full of sorrow and triumph, hardships and hope. This is the perfect book not only to read by yourself but to read to children—the poetic yet reflective style reminisces of the past. It’s simple yet effective, and it made me feel all the tension, anticipation, and even dread that was bursting throughout the city and even the nation at the time.

In addition, the illustrations made the words truly come to life. I truly wanted to get lost in R. Gregory Christie’s art as it depicted Lorraine’s story both accurately and vividly. They were simply beautiful. I fell in love with every single one of them from the first few pages to the last. The illustrations make the atmosphere full of sorrow, joy, triumph, persistence, anguish, bleakness, and despair. They will make readers just go “Wow.”

I am truly blessed and honored to have this opportunity to read and review Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. It might be a very short story, but it’s one that I would want to revisit every once in a while. I feel changed by this book, and I’ve learned more not only about my state’s local history but also about myself. It has instilled in me a greater fighting sense to “march on” throughout life despite all of the difficulties I will encounter. I have been moved greatly to tears as I endured this strike with Lorraine and her family. It surely is one that I will never ever forget. As it has enlightened me so greatly, in the words of Alice Faye Duncan, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop will surely inspire readers to “climb up the mountaintop!”


About the AuthorAlice Faye Duncan

Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. Her most popular picture book for infants is HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD. It is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

Alice’s book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) will debut August 2018. It is a poetic paean for school age students that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a clunky mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” This book will debut in October–2018. The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

Finally, in celebration of words, the splendor of alliteration and the power of a poetic life–A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This picture book biography is the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. Miss Brooks was the very first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1950.

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About the IllustratorR. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie won a Coretta Scott King Honor (Illustration) for his first book, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, was selected as a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame won the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Claudia Lewis Award for poetry (given by Bank Street College of Education), and was a BCCB Blue Ribbon Winner. His latest book is The Lost Boys of Sudan.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop? What are some of your favorite picture books?

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

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

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


About the BookThe Benefits of Being an Octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver — A Creepy Ghost Story Perfect for the Summertime or around a Campfire

Hi guys! Today is the last day of August, and to celebrate, I am sharing with you all a review of a spooky summertime read. A month ago, I read Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver, a local author who not only lives in Tennessee but set her latest novel there as well. It’s definitely a quick and easy read, yet it will get your heart pounding! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookLost on the Water

One girl’s daring adventure turns into a long frightful night lost on the water.

Against her wishes, Dannie has to leave the California beach behind to spend the summer with her grandma in rural Tennessee. Things look up when a group of local boys invite her on an overnight kayaking trip. When her grandma refuses to let her go, Dannie finds an old rowboat hidden behind the shed and sneaks off to catch up to her new friends. It seems like a simple solution… until everything goes wrong.

Dannie soon discovers this lake is more than just vast. It’s full of danger, family secrets, and ghosts.

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4 StarsDisclaimer: 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.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of horror and ghost stories. While I think they’re really interesting, sometimes I just get too creeped out by movie trailers or book synopses. I did love D. G. Driver’s The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, so when she reached out to me about her latest novel—a ghost set in my home state of Tennessee—I could not resist. Lost on the Water is a creepy and chilling tale filled with secrets, mystery, and intrigue. It is a very quick and easy read that will suck you in after just a few pages. The story might seem a bit innocent at first, but be warned, there’s more secrets and scares than meets the eye.

While I am not an expert in ghost stories, I can say with certainty that a good one must be able to spook you. Lost on the Water did send many chills down my spine as it creeped me out. It is one of those stories that is perfect to narrate around a campfire in the middle of the night or to read in your bed while staying up past your bedtime. I finished Lost on the Water in just a few sittings, and I found myself intrigued and mystified by the possibility of a ghost plaguing Dannie and Center Hill Lake from the start. This book will get your heart pounding, your blood pumping, and your senses prickling.

I think the part that I enjoyed the most was the whole setting. As much as I love reading books by local authors, what’s even better is reading books set in my beloved home state of Tennessee. Lost on the Water takes place in the quiet town of Smithville (which is real and I have passed by it), home to Center Hill Lake, which may or may not be haunted. To see all of the references to Tennessee life and culture made me so happy—small details like the freeway being referred to as an “interstate” and people drinking really really sweet tea filled me with joy. Certainly, the author got Tennessee life in a small town right. In addition, she truly transports her readers into nature, making them feel as if they were paddling on the vast lake or stumbling through a dark forest. Driver’s prose was very well-written, and I commend her greatly for that.

Lost on the Water is a great read for both the summer and the fall. It’s a spooky tale that is one thrill of a ride—a journey that will take on the waters of a lake that may seem serene but is haunted by the memory (or possibly more than that) of a terrible accident. Dannie’s adventure will have readers feeling goosebumps and wanting more after each chapter.


About the AuthorSAMSUNG

D. G. Driver is an optimist at heart, and that’s why she likes to write books about young people who strive to make a difference in the world. From her teen environmentalist in The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, a young girl teaching her friends autism acceptance and to stop bullying people with special needs in No One Needed to Know, a princess who desires to be more than a pampered prize for a prince in The Royal Deal, to a boy who learns that being genuine and chivalrous are the ways to win a girl’s heart in Passing Notes, Driver hopes to write characters that you’ll want to root for. When she’s not writing, she is a teacher in an inclusive child development center in Nashville, and she can often be found strutting the stage in a local musical theater production.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Lost on the Water? Do you like ghost stories?

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

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The Book of M by Peng Shepherd Blog Tour: Book Review — A Terrifying yet Fascinating Novel that is Unlike Anything I’ve Ever Read Before

Hi guys! Tomorrow is the last day of August, and man, this month has flown by! (Generic opening phrase used when scheduling a post in advance is written. Check!) Today I am a part of The Book of M Blog Tour, and I had the amazing opportunity to read what turned out to be a chilling, haunting, and baffling book set in a dystopian world. It’s truly nothing I’ve ever read. Enjoy!
The Book of M Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookThe Book of M

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Goodreads


4 Stars

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

From the moment I first heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Once I picked it up, I just couldn’t stop. The Book of M isn’t your average dystopia or futuristic fantasy—it’s much more than that. Peng Shepherd explores our memories and our subconscious as she turns the world upside down in her debut novel, a world in which a single forgotten memory can wreck havoc. While this book may not have been perfect, it certainly captured my imagination so much that I even flipped ahead a few pages just to know how did the world end up as it is. I’ve never read anything like The Book of M, and I can still feel it haunt me even after I finished the last page. Ooh, the chills!

The Book of M takes place in a near-future world where shadows can disappear at a moment’s notice, and with those shadows one’s memories. It was such a haunting and chilling concept that it terrified yet fascinated me. I wanted to know so much more about the events that led up to the Forgetting and how the loss of one’s shadows work. I was so amazed yet creeped out by how forgetting something can change the fabric of reality itself—imagine doors, stairs, objects, or even people disappearing once a shadowless forget about their existence. I became very entranced by this post- apocalyptic world, a world that I didn’t want to enter yet leave at the same time. Shepherd’s world-building is some of the most innovative and interesting I’ve ever read, combining Indian mythology, magic, and the subconscious all into one epic tale. It’s certainly one that I’ll never forget.

The Book of M also switches between the point of view of four characters—Ory, Max, Naz, and The One who Gathers. Through each POV, the past, present, and future intertwine together, with flashbacks and simultaneous events scattered throughout. It may not seem evident how all of these lives will come together, but when they do, it feels like an explosion of imagination, triumph, and even horror. I found myself dreading Max’s slow yet painstaking Forgetting, and I wanted to know more and more about the safety and status of every character. There were so many surprises that the book sent shockwaves through my body. Believe me, when you get to the very end of Part 4, you want to throw your book at the wall. Out of every plot twist I’ve read, it was one of the few ones that I really and truly did not ever see coming.

However, I do have to mention that The Book of M does have its flaws. There were some aspects of the world-building that were confusing and inconsistent. Did the world’s depopulation occur because someone forgot a person existed? Did they disappear the same way as objects? How far is the extent of someone’s Forgetting? How can person forget that something didn’t exist? The workings of the Forgetting had a few holes such as these that could cause some people to scratch their heads. I know that I had my questions that I really wanted to be answered. There were some things about this book that also did make me uncomfortable and that I didn’t like. And many times because I just wanted to know what happened to a certain character, it was very very tempting to skip one person’s POV to get to another’s (I even did it a few instances). While it did capture my attention and imagination very much, the book wasn’t 100% perfect in my eyes.

Regardless, The Book of M is nothing like I’ve ever read. It’s very innovative and imaginative as it combined elements from science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and dystopia into a concoction that is fascinating yet terrifying at the same time. I certainly won’t forget all the horror and chills I’ve had to go through, all of the triumphs and defeats. I cannot express how much The Book of M will blow your mind. The eerie atmosphere will suck you right in. I warn you, enter with no expectations at all. I didn’t know what I was walking in to, and you won’t either.


The Book of M GiveawayDid Someone Say… Giveaway?

10 Winners will receive a Copy of THE BOOK OF M by Peng Shepherd.

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About the AuthorPeng Shepherd

Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. The Book of M is her first novel.

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Follow the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule

WEEK ONE
AUGUST 20th MONDAY JeanBookNerd INTERVIEW
AUGUST 20th MONDAY TFAULC Book Reviews EXCERPT
AUGUST 21st TUESDAY Book Queen Reviews REVIEW
AUGUST 21st TUESDAY TMBA Corbett Tries to Write INTERVIEW
AUGUST 22nd WEDNESDAY Movies, Shows, & Books EXCERPT
AUGUST 23rd THURSDAY 100 Pages A Day REVIEW
AUGUST 23rd THURSDAY Insane About Books REVIEW
AUGUST 24th FRIDAY BookHounds REVIEW & INTERVIEW
WEEK TWO
AUGUST 27th MONDAY A Dream Within A Dream REVIEW
AUGUST 28th TUESDAY Wishful Endings TENS LIST
AUGUST 29th WEDNESDAY FUONLYKNEW REVIEW
AUGUST 29th WEDNESDAY Book Lovers Life EXCERPT
AUGUST 30th THURSDAY Book Briefs REVIEW
AUGUST 30th THURSDAY LILbooKlovers REVIEW 
AUGUST 31st FRIDAY Here’s to Happy Endings REVIEW

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Book of M? Do you like dystopian novels?

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

Book Review: The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody — A Heart-Pounding yet Heartwarming MG Horror Novel Full of Empathy and Imagination

Hi guys! Today is my first day of school, and I am really stoked for senior year! It’s going to be crazy and stressful yet fun and exciting, and I am resolving to enjoy each and every day to the fullest (plus read some amazing books along the way). Today’s review is a Middle Grade horror novel (yes, MG and horror!) by Patrick Moody called The Gravedigger’s Son. It’s really spooky yet heartwarming, and you can see why I loved it so much in my review! I hope you enjoy it!


About the BookThe Gravedigger's Son

“A Digger must not refuse a request from the Dead.” —Rule Five of the Gravedigger’s Code

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

Equal parts spooky and melancholy, funny and heartfelt, The Gravedigger’s Son is a gorgeous debut that will long sit beside Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

Goodreads

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4 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.

Middle Grade and horror may not seem like a soluble combination at first, but Patrick Moody masters this mixture in his debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son. The Gravedigger’s Son infuses dark fantasy full of the undead, witches, and magic with a story filled with light, hope, and goodness. I didn’t know what to expect from a MG horror novel (a genre that is very rare), but this book definitely met and even exceeded my expectations. It is one that makes you want to savor each and every page. From the opening pages to the beautiful illustrations, readers will become mesmerized as this heart-pounding yet heartwarming story will capture their imaginations and wrench their emotions.

Throughout The Gravedigger’s Son, Ian is torn between upholding his family’s legacy as a Gravedigger and pursuing his passion for helping the living as a Healer. As he explores both his heritage and himself, readers become driven to be see the good in each person and to understand the struggles behind their motives. The Gravedigger’s Son teaches readers of all ages the true meaning behind the old adage “Hurt people hurt people,” that bad guys are often driven to evil not because they are evil but because they are hurt, insecure, fearful. Moody’s debut novel spreads empathy as he reveals more about the antagonists. I can say that The Gravedigger’s Son truly imprinted that message on my heart and inspired me to see a new side to those who have hurt and persecuted me. This book will touch readers regardless of age or background.

Patrick Moody creates a spooky yet magical world where Gravediggers assist the dead, Healers help the living, and Witches can disrupt the peace between the two worlds. I fell in love with all of the magic and intrigue from the first few chapters. The illustrations, gorgeously crafted by the talented Graham Carter, further make the story come to life. While they may be few in number, their quality will cause readers to stare at them in wonder and become entranced into the scenes they depict. I can say for certain that I fell in love with all of the illustrations to the point where I felt like I was actually in the story. In addition, the characters are very charming, complex, and lovable. Everything about The Gravedigger’s Son is beautifully crafted.

The Gravedigger’s Son may scare you at times, but it will warm and wrench your heart nonetheless. It may not be a horror novel in the style of Stephen King, but it certainly does spook you and sends chills down your spine. With the help of a few beautiful illustrations, Patrick Moody transports readers into a world where the lines between the living and the dead can become blurred at times. He accomplishes this using brilliant storytelling, charming characters, surprising twists, and powerful messages. The Gravedigger’s Son ultimately will help readers to remember to stand up for what is right, to defend your family at all costs, to help people in any way possible, and to continue pursuing your dreams.


About the AuthorPatrick Moody

When he was six years old, Patrick Moody saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon on late-night television, which sparked a life long love of all things horror, fantasy, and science fiction. He also grew up next to a graveyard, which probably helped.

Patrick is the author of numerous short stories, ranging from adult horror to Middle Grade fantasy. His work has appeared in several journals and magazines, and a few have been adapted into audio dramas.

His first novel, The Gravedigger’s Son, illustrated by Graham Carter, will be available August 1, 2017 from Sky Pony Press.

Patrick lives in Connecticut with his girlfriend and their mischievous coven of cats.

When he’s not thinking about zombies, witches, werewolves, and wizards, he’s writing about them.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Gravedigger’s Son? Do you like MG horror novels?

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

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Book Review: Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton — One of the Most Relatable, Heartwarming, and Tear Jerking Books I’ve Read

Hi guys! Today I am heading back home to the United States! I have had such an amazing vacation in the Philippines, and I am super grateful for all of the blessings, adventures, experiences, and memories over the past two months. Back in the spring, I had the lovely opportunity to read Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton, who I met at the amazing Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival! A few weeks ago, she and Alyssa Hollingsworth were on the blog in the June edition of our LILbooKtalks, and it was so fun to talk with the both of them about “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty.” I hope you enjoy this review and hopefully check out this amazing book!


About Open If You DareOpen If You Dare

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has “Open if you dare” written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it.

And now, along with everything else that’s going on–Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying–the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

Goodreads

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4 Stars

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

Sometimes a book deserves a 5-star when it is written very exceptionally. Other times it deserves one when it resonated so deeply inside me, to the point where I laughed and cried. Dana Middleton and her protagonist Birdie wrenched and warmed my heart so much in Open If You Dare that I just wanted to give my copy a big hug. Although I read this book back in March (or April?), it was one of the best stories I read at the time, thus breaking a really long 5-star drought. Open If You Dare is one of the most relatable books I have read this year—Birdie’s feelings and struggles regarding dealing with friendships (and possibly losing them) and a future full of fear and uncertainty could be applied in a sense to my life. As a high school who has had some social problems in the past and is almost off to college in a year, Birdie’s story struck a very deep chord in my heart.

Knowing that her two best friends are not going to be around in a few months, Birdie is determined to make this last summer with them the best, but her plans get sidetracked as they discover a box that has clues that could solve a possible murder mystery that occurred decades ago. Open If You Dare explores how important the power of imagination is as she fuels the creativity of both her characters and her readers. Birdie’s curiosity and love of books show readers that both reading and reality can take one on wild adventures that will make memories of a lifetime. This book was definitely very fun to read! It filled me with a lot of smiles, love, and laughter. It’s the perfect summer read that will have readers not only savor the story but also go out and make their own adventures and memories.

Open If You Dare’s main internal conflict revolved around Birdie trying to deal with an uncertain future where her friends won’t be around. Will she lose her friendships? Will she be all alone next school year? Will she find new friends? Her emotions and questions are some that I feel everyone, including me, has gone through. It is tough trying to find out who’s a true friend. I’ve had my share of troubles and tears as I entered high school—losing some best friends, dealing with toxic relationships, encountering feelings of loneliness, and figuring out who are my best friends (or friends, if at all). And I still struggle with some of these challenges today. But to be able to walk with Birdie as she waded through her river of worries and fears was very comforting for me. I truly could connect with how she felt at times, to be misunderstood, to be conflicted, to be worried, to be alone. For her to deal with her problems has given me a lot of hope and reminded me that having a few best friends is what matters the most and that I must cherish them as much as I can before we leave. It may be tough at times, but they will always be there for you, no matter what. Open If You Dare instills hope within readers so they can remember that everything can be and will be alright.

Open If You Dare will warm your heart to the point of tears, and it will make you reflect about how you deal with your friends, your future, and ultimately your life. It serves as a reminder that we must live each and every day to the fullest, regardless of whether it is good or bad. Dana Middleton definitely impressed me with her sophomore novel abounding with hope and love, and I will be looking forward to reading more of her novels. Open If You Dare is not just one of the best MG novels I’ve read this year, but one of the best books I have read in 2018. Readers of all ages will find themselves connecting so much with Birdie’s struggles and adventures and be moved to reminisce over childhood summers, adventures, and friendships as they start this story of a lifetime.


About the AuthorDana Middleton

Dana Middleton grew up in Georgia before moving to Los Angeles to work in film and theatre. She produced an Academy Award-nominated short film and won an Ovation Award but writing for kids is what she loves most! Her middle grade novels THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES and OPEN IF YOU DARE were inspired by her Georgia childhood which she writes about from her sunny Los Angeles home.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Open If You Dare? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin