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.

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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!

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Book Series Review: The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy by D. G. Driver

Hi guys! A few months ago, I met online a wonderful local author from my home state of Tennessee, and I was so blessed to feature her on the May edition of our LILbooKtalks! D. G. Driver is the author of the amazing The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, which combines environmentalism with fantastical mythology! My review is going to be a bit different since I’m reviewing an entire series. I will start off with a brief overview followed by a short review of each book. Regardless, please try out all three!


About The Juniper Sawfeather TrilogyThe Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy

Mermaids are real.

In the aftermath of an oil spill in the Pacific Northwest, teen environmental activist Juniper Sawfeather discovers a new species–mermaids!

In the days that follow, she must defy all odds to protect these beautiful creatures from the corrupt oil company and the frenzied media.

But mermaids are only the beginning of Juniper’s increasingly dangerous adventures as she realizes she has a talent for finding mythological creatures. Or maybe the creatures are finding her…

The Juniper Sawfeather series is an urban fantasy based around Native American legends featuring a Native American bi-racial heroine.

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Overall Trilogy Rating

4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received free electronic copies of all three books in the trilogy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

A series is very special if I have both the opportunity and the initiative to finish it and enjoy it. Reading three or more novels takes a huge amount of commitment, and to be able to do so displays how much love I have poured into a story and its characters. The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy explores environmental conservation in a very unique and original way–combining Native American mythology, a blossoming romance, and teenage discovery with an urgent message for readers to heed. This series has certainly made me rethink and ponder over the current state of our environment, from our oceans and forests to pollution and poaching. It has inspired me to strive to be more green and to protect nature’s wonders and beauties.

Cry of the Sea

Cry of the Sea

5 Stars

Cry of the Sea is by far the best novel in the entire trilogy. The author places a very unique twist on the classic tale as she uses Pacific Northwest Native American legends to portray her own take on the beloved creature: a mermaid that is more like fish, ugly and hideous at first, than like man. Driver takes readers on a wild ride full of suspense, betrayal, romance, and magic as Juniper and her friends and family attempt to save the mermaids from an evil corporation. Cry of the Sea paints a stark image of how large corporations can in the interests of themselves–money and success–rather than the earth’s. I devoured it in just a couple of days, and the first time I picked it up, I just could not set it down, even though I did not mean to start it and get very far yet! It did everything from dazzling me with magic and mythology to leaving me hanging and wanting more. Cry of the Sea is urban fantasy at its finest!

Whisper of the Woods

Whisper of the Woods
4 StarsAlthough Whisper of the Woods may be stationary in terms of the setting, it has as much action, magic, and conflict as its predecessor! Cry to the Sea‘s dazzling sequel continues to explore Native American legends by introducing the existence of tree spirits, serving as a bridge between what’s happened book one and the events to come in book three. I certainly became entranced by the magic and mystery surrounding the tree that holds Juniper captive–it possesses an incredible amount of history and secrets that will shock readers. As Whisper of the Woods answers many questions about the characters and the local American Indian legends, its ending leaves readers wanting more to satisfy their love of fantasy and their curiosity. Fortunately, I did not feel a case of the Sagging Sequel Syndrome at all in this epic second installment.

Echo of the Cliffs

Echo of the Cliffs
4 Stars
Echo of the Cliffs is the stunning conclusion to The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy as it examines the final part of the legend of the three warriors, a person turned into stone. The stakes have been raised even higher as some of the lives of Juniper’s loved ones are in danger. Without spoiling anything, I can say that Echo of the Cliffs will not disappoint fans of books one and two. The story truly does teach readers about the power of sacrifice, whether it be for love or for doing what is right. Echo of the Cliffs will make the hearts of readers pound and their eyes water with tears. I am very happy and satisfied with the ending, though I am sad to see it come to a close.

Conclusion

The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy is certainly a series that I love, miss, and would hope to revisit again one day. It is the perfect series for readers who not only love fantasy and mythology but also novels that explore big issues such as environmentalism. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the mythology of the American Indians in the Pacific Northwest throughout the entire saga, and that is what makes this series unique and memorable for readers. While there may not be stone orcas, talking trees, or mermaids in our world, Juniper Sawfeather teaches us that nature possesses a special magic that must be preserved and cherished for future generations.


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

Do you like YA urban fantasy? Have you read The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy?

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

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Exclusive Interview with Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, MG Author of “A Dog Like Daisy”

Hi guys! School is out in less than two weeks! I am super stoked for summer to come! I have AP exams next week (ugh) and after graduation, I’m off to Boys’ State! Woo hoo! This year has been really awesome for me, and not only have I grown so much with everything, but this blog has grown a lot. Even though it might not have the reach it once had last year, it means a lot more to me to be able to touch more hearts rather than to just reach out to them. That is truly what being a blogger is about.


About A Dog Like DaisyA Dog Like Daisy

Max meets A Dog Called Homeless in this sweet and poignant middle grade novel told from the humorous, thoughtful perspective of a rescued pit bull as she trains to be a service dog for an injured veteran and his family.

Daisy has only ten weeks to prove her usefulness or else be sent back to the pound. Yet if she goes back, who will protect Colonel Victor from his PTSD attacks? Or save the littler human, Micah, from those infernal ear muzzles he calls earphones? What if no one ever adopts her again?

Determined to become the elite protector the colonel needs, Daisy vows to ace the service dog test. She’ll accept the ridiculous leash and learn to sit, heel, shake, even do your business, Daisy when told to. But Daisy must first learn how to face her own fears from the past or risk losing the family she’s so desperate to guard—again.

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Kristin O'Donnell Tubb Header.png

1. Your latest novel A Dog Like Daisy, which released last summer, follows the story of Daisy as she tries to prove her usefulness as a service dog before being sent back to the pound. What was it like writing from an animal’s perspective, and how is it different from storytelling with a human’s point of view? Could you describe to us your approach as you created Daisy’s narration?

I love research, because it often gives me many plot points (hello there, “truth is stranger than fiction” adage!), and it sometimes even provides the voice of character. That was certainly the case for Daisy. I read while researching that some experts believe dogs experience the world as a human with synesthesia might – in other words, their five senses blend into something beautifully unique. Someone with synesthesia might see colors when they hear music, or experience a certain taste when they have intense feelings; something in their brain combines multiple senses exceptionally. When I read that – boom! – there was Daisy’s voice, in all its bacon-loving, color-hearing glory.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about service dogs? Would you like to tell us some of your experiences and adventures working with them?

Ideas are dust – they’re floating everywhere if you’re paying attention and look hard enough to find them. (From this statement it should be obvious that cleaning is WAY LOW on my priority list – ha!) The idea for Daisy came about when my dog was playing with a neighbor’s dog. She mentioned in passing that the man from whom she bought her Great Dane also trained dogs that assist veterans. I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder what that training looks like? I’ve read what service dogs can do, of course, but how do they learn it?” I’ve learned that when I say “hmmmm” to myself, it’s likely that others would say “hmmmm” to that same question. And that? That is a story idea.

I didn’t have personal experience with service dogs prior to researching Daisy, but one thing I’ve found in my decade of writing: people love to tell you about their passions, and those who train service dogs are very passionate about it. I was fortunate enough to chat with Katie Young, a trainer for Southeastern Guide Dogs (https://www.guidedogs.org), and she taught me gobs and gobs about training service animals. Since then, a Southeastern trainer came with a dog-in-training, Rickie, to Daisy’s launch party. I give out information about Southeastern at my book events. And a portion of all sales of A Dog Like Daisy goes to Southeastern for their amazing work. Needless to say, I believe in what they do.

3. In your book, Colonel Victor struggles with PTSD, but Daisy is there to protect him. Why do you believe it is important to portray mental illnesses such as PTSD in middle grade fiction, and in what ways do you want A Dog Like Daisy to impact readers, young and old alike?

A Dog Like DaisyOne review of Daisy captured something that I honestly hadn’t considered when writing the story; the reviewer said that approaching a topic like PTSD from a dog’s point of view makes the story a bit more approachable to a young reader. I agree with that; the story would be far different if the main boy character, Micah, had told it.

Many middle graders experience mental illness in their own homes, and some, in their own bodies. Since the release of Daisy, I’ve met a nine-year-old with PTSD, and her mother tearfully thanked me for writing a book for her age group that included a character with her same challenges. I’ve met a twelve-year-old whose father is a veteran; she told me she’s read the book four times and each time sees something new. I had a veteran who bravely writes speaks about his PTSD request that I join him and other veteran-writers on a panel, and he thanked me for writing this book for military families. I’ve even had a unit of disabled veterans buy copies of the book and donate them to their local library. Honestly, I’m humbled and honored by the response to this story. I’m just delighted that Daisy seems to be offering her service-animal skills far off the page, especially to people who have given so much of themselves to our country.

Kristin's Dogs4. Who are your favorite fictional and/or real-life dogs? Do you have any pets of your own?

Snoopy, for certain. I love the idea of him leading all these secret lives, while Charlie Brown thinks he’s simply lying atop his dog house, waiting for dinner. I can’t wait to see the Isle of Dogs – it looks gorgeous. And of course Dug from Up – “Squirrel!”

I have two dogs – Lucky and Cookie. I narrate their thoughts all the time; Lucky is goofy and lovable, Cookie is neurotic and headstrong. They are very much a part of our family. I’ve included a photo of them here!

5. What is your favorite part about the writing process (i.e. research, drafting, revising, creating characters, writing dialogue, etc.), and why?

Researching! I love discovering and learning new things, and research helps me make real-life connections to the thoughts and feelings I hope to convey in the story. That is the BEST feeling! Research helps me with voice, plot, characterization, setting – I always struggle quite a bit with writing if I don’t take enough time to soak in the aspects of a character’s world through research.

6. It is so great to meet another wonderful author from my home-state of Tennessee! What do you like most about living in the Volunteer State and the Nashville area, which both have amazing writer communities?

Nashville’s literary community is second-to-none! Between Parnassus Books (http://www.parnassusbooks.net), the regional chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI Midsouth; https://midsouth.scbwi.org), the Southern Festival of Books (http://humanitiestennessee.org/programs/southern-festival-books-celebration-written-word), and the best libraries and librarians in the known universe (including those who organize SEYA: https://www.seyabookfest.com), there is no shortage of incredible writing, writing workshops, and events that celebrate powerful stories. I love this community; readers and writers are the heart and soul of stories, and I’m delighted and honored that I get to be a part of it.

7. As a veteran author with multiple books published across various genres (contemporary, fantasy, historical fiction), how have your writing abilities transformed over the past few years? What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned throughout your writing career?Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that every book comes to life differently. Simply because The 13th Sign was written one way doesn’t mean that A Dog Like Daisy or The Story Collector will be written similarly. And I don’t mean voice or characters here – I mean the actual process of creating. Some books beg to be written long hand. Some books are written chunk by chunk, rather than in plot order. Some are outlined, other pour out of your fingertips. I think that’s why it can be so difficult for authors to give advice on “how to be a writer;” they are many different types of writers themselves!

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

I think Liz Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) said it best on her “Magic Lessons” podcast: Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask of any sort. I am fully, completely, 100% me when I’m writing. It’s when I feel most authentic.

I had an amazing opportunity when I was in sixth grade, thanks to my wonderful school librarian: I got to interview Madeleine L’Engle by telephone! (Yep!) When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it.” Well, when Madeleine L’Engle tells you you can be a writer, you give it a try! And you know what? My first poem, a haiku called “The Weeping Willow,” was published in a student anthology the very next year. I visit a lot of schools now, and I try to pay that same sentiment forward.

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

Oh, picking a favorite genre is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream! It just depends on what you’re in the mood for: Salted caramel? Creamy vanilla? Super-rich dark chocolate swirl? A Wrinkle In Time has a special place in my heart, for obvious reasons (see above) and I still say it’s my favorite book of all time. But recently I’ve adored The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – I adore poetry, and would love to try a novel-in-verse someday. And I attribute Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume for my love of historical fiction; my favorite historical titles of late have been anything by Ruta Sepetys and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (both Tennessee writers!). See? I can’t pick just one!

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

There’s a time when a writer isn’t writing? J I feel like I’m always observing, always listening (read: always eavesdropping), with hopes that I can write better characters, build a better fictional world, tell a better story. But for some reason, that doesn’t feel like a full-time job to me; the actual writing happens around real life, in stolen quiet moments.

The Story Collector11. Your upcoming novel The Story Collector is slated to release this August from Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). What could readers look forward to in The Story Collector, and are there any secrets about it you would like to share with us?

EeeeEEEEeeee I’m so excited about this story! The Story Collector is based on a real-life girl, Viviani Fedeler, who was born and raised in the flagship building of the New York Public Library – the iconic one at 5th and 42nd, with the lions. She and her brothers have sleepovers, play in the stacks, hide from guards – all within the library. It’s a ghost story (many claim the building truly is haunted by a ghost named Big Red) and a mystery, based on a real-life stamp collection that was stolen from the library while the Fedelers lived there. The book also features photos from the NYPL (https://www.nypl.org) archives, a timeline, and gorgeous illustrations from Iacopo Bruno (http://iacopobruno.blogspot.com)

It’s also a story about a young writer who struggles to find her voice, which I think a lot of writers can relate to. So in that spirit, I’d like to share the first three paragraphs of the story:

Some people are story collectors. While others collect seashells, or stuffed animals, or stamps, story collectors wrap themselves in words, surround themselves with sentences, and play with participles, even those pesky, perky dangling ones. They climb over Cs and mount Ms and lounge in Ls. Soon enough they land in the land of homonyms, then, WHAM! They stumble into onomatopoeia, that lovely creaking, booming bit of wordplay – and that, Dear Friend, is where our story begins:

Crack!

The bat swung over Viviani Fedeler’s left shoulder, then clanged to the terracotta-tile floor of the New York Public Library. She shrieked and ran, red hair flying, nothing short of a firework whizzing about the bases.

The book is available for pre-order, and if you get it from Nashville’s awesome indie, I’ll sign & personalize it for you! Just put how you’d like the book personalized in the comment section upon check-out. Here’s the link:
http://www.parnassusbooks.net/book/9781250143808

12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers reading this interview?

I firmly believe that EVERYONE – yes, EVERYONE – is a writer. (Now, whether or not you want to share your story is a personal choice.) You’re likely already doing the kinds of things that professional writers do on a daily basis: if you text, you’re writing dialogue. If you play video games, you’re worldbuilding. If you’re a rule-breaker, you’d likely excel at poetry. So first, think about the kind of writing you’re already doing regularly, that you already love, and hone that skill.  Then: get involved in your local community of writers! There is nothing like sharing your ideas with other writers to give you the courage to share your stories with the world. Best of luck, story collectors – I am cheering you on!

Thanks so much, Kristin, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to have you here today!


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector series, A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (written as E.F. Abbott), The 13th Sign, Selling Hope and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. She’s also written many activity books featuring well-loved characters like Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, the Powerpuff Girls, and Strawberry Shortcake. Kristin lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her bouncy-loud family. Just like her two dogs, she can be bribed with cheese.

Kristin can be found far too often on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read A Dog Like Daisy? Do you like books set from an animal’s perspective?

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

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Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son

Hi guys! To be honest, I have not read that many horror novels in my lifetime. The most recent one was The Lairdbalor by Kathleen Kaufman, and although I wish I had enjoyed that book much more than I actually did, I am really excited for The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody. I am actually ready to be scared to my bones! Today, I have the wonderful opportunity to interview the book’s amazing author, and I’ve certainly enjoyed writing his questions and reading his answers. I hope you have the chance to check out his novel!


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.

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Patrick Moody Header.png

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

First, thanks so much for hosting me, Kester!

I love writing because I’ve always been a daydreamer. I’ve always had stories in my head, or at least little snippets of stories, thinking up fantastical places and people, heroes and villains, dangerous quests and spooky castles. Growing up, my mind was filled with “what ifs”. I think, in all honesty, that I never really grew out of playing make believe. I love writing because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be fulfilled creatively.

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

My favorite genres are fantasy and horror. Science Fiction is up there as well, and a bit of magical realism, too. I think the most impactful writer in my childhood was Robert Jordan. My father was a fan of his, and had his entire Wheel of Time series. I remember climbing up onto the bookshelves and staring at those incredible covers, completely spellbound. Aside from Goosebumps and Lloyd Alexander, I never really read for my age group. I jumped right into epic fantasy. Terry Brooks came next, followed by Peter S. Beagle and Ursula K. Leguinn.

Beagle has influenced me more than any other writer. I think The Innkeeper’s Song is the most beautiful fantasy ever written.

As for favorite books, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King & Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury have always been close to my heart. Recent favorites include The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe. I’ve also really enjoyed a few short story collections by Kelly Link.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. It seems my TBR pile gets bigger every time I turn around. I think it’s growing on its own! Maybe that’ll be my next book?

For me, writing isn’t really a job. It’s a passion. A need. I do have a full time job as a middle school custodian. It’s really great for my writing. Nice and quiet, with plenty of time to think. I write for one hour a day, on my lunch break. I feel that setting a time limit really helps. On my days off, I always tell myself, “Okay, lets get writing. You’ll get so much done!”…Until I turn on the tv or crack open a book. Having the structure of writing at work really helps. Otherwise, I get way too distracted.

4. Your MG debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son tells the tale of Ian Fossor, who feels conflicted between his desire to become a Healer and his family’s lineage as Gravediggers. As he is Called to help the soul of a young boy, he finds himself fighting against a group of witches bent on seeking revenge and power. Would you be a Gravedigger or a Healer? How do you explore the themes of life and death, good and evil, and following your dreams versus your family’s expectations in your novel?

The Gravedigger's SonThat’s a tough one! Gravediggers and Healers both help people, but one helps the Living while the other helps the Dead. I think I’d like to be a Gravedigger, since they deal with a certain amount of magic and mysticism. Healing is noble, but I’d be too worried about messing something up. I was never too good in biology or anatomy class!

Exploring the concept of death can be tricky, especially when writing for a MG audience. In terms of religion, I kept everything utterly vague and set it in a fantasy realm. I also had to do it in a way that wasn’t too bleak (I hope), so I knew that I needed a lot of comic relief. That came in the form of Bertrum, Ian’s grumpy but loving undead tutor. And it comes later with Thatcher Moore, the skeleton who refuses to stay dead. One of the main struggles in Ian’s life is the fact that he lost his mother at a young age, and though he’s growing up in a family that has the power to speak to the Dead, he knows he’ll never be able to reach her…or so he thinks. I liked the idea of having something so important being just out of his reach. It makes for a melancholy character, but a sympathetic one. Ian knows that death is a serious business. There’s a big part of him that really despises the whole notion of it (which is probably true for most of us), but as the story progresses, he discovers that death is far from the end.

Good and evil was also something I wanted to explore, but I knew that I didn’t want to make it so black and white. In the story, Ian comes across a coven of Weavers, or dark magic witches. At first, they seem to be completely evil. Yet as the conflict reaches its climax, Ian realizes that their evil deeds are coming from a place of great pain, and in the case of the younger Weavers, a place of learned ignorance. I never like stories of completely flawless heroes vs. completely evil villains. That’s been done before, and I think it’s (thankfully) becoming a dying trope. Everyone has the capacity to be good and bad. There are a thousand shades of gray. You never know what might drive a good person to do something bad, or a bad person to do something good. We all handle things differently. I wanted to write about characters who struggle with righting past wrongs. Naturally, they all have a lot of emotional distress, their morality is clouded, and that heavy baggage can lead to some pretty drastic action.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son”

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.

Goodreads


 

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: The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor by Ellie Firestone

Hi guys! I am taking a brief hiatus from most blog-related activities this week and next until Spring Break rolls around. I’ll still respond to comments here and on social media, but I’m putting the blog aside a bit for the meantime since I am trying to catch up on everything from schoolwork to other extracurriculars. Today, I am posting my review


About The Misadventure of Bolingbroke ManorThe Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor

You and your two friends are on a ghost hunting trip at Bolingbroke Manor, an old and reputably haunted mansion. But do you have what it takes to defeat the ghost, and, more importantly, get out alive?

Click on the links to make your decisions and save the day with this fast-paced interactive adventure!

Goodreads

Buy The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor today!

Amazon


4 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the author for sending me a free electronic copy of this book for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

I love text-adventure games! I remember in middle school reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book about visiting the Statue of Liberty and either getting involved in a crime heist or being transported back in time to Ellis Island in the early 20th century. The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor was a delight to read! This interactive adventure will both entertain and spook readers as they search for elusive ghosts in the manor, but trouble and mayhem is very close at each turn. I certainly had a really fun time as I sped through this book—I did not stop until I went through every single outcome possible!

Continue reading “Review: The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor by Ellie Firestone”

These Vengeful Souls Blog Tour: Book Review of These Ruthless Deeds

Hi guys! I have been really busy this past week, especially since I have been doing my best to catch up with everything after missing a few days last week for the DECA TN SCDC. I had such a great time there, but now it’s time for reality… that means more homework, studying, practicing, and blogging! Today I am a part of the blog tour of These Vengeful Souls by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas. I read These Vicious Masks (the first book in the series) last year, and I am going to review for y’all its sequel These Ruthless Deeds. I hope you enjoy!

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These Vengeful Souls These Vengeful Souls
Kelly Zekas & Tarun Shanker
(These Vicious Masks #3)
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: February 20th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

Summary: England, 1883. On the run with the grieving Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn wants two things: to be reunited with her friends, and to get revenge on the evil Captain Goode. Not only has he misused his and Sebastian’s powers to rack up a terrible death toll, but he’s also completely destroyed any hope of Evelyn or her friends regaining the life they once knew.

Evelyn is determined to make Captain Goode pay for what he’s done, but is her revenge worth risking the lives of Sebastian and her friends? Or is it better to flee the city and focus on staying alive? And with the Captain spreading lies about Sebastian in an attempt to flush them out of hiding and turn the populace against them, does she even have a choice at all?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo


These Ruthless Deeds These Ruthless Deeds
Kelly Zekas, Tarun Shanker
(These Vicious Masks #2)
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: March 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

Synopsis: England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.

As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo


4 Stars

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

I have been wanting to read These Ruthless Deeds for such a long time now, and I jumped at the opportunity to read it. Although it did not exactly live up to its predecessor since I had such high expectations after reading such an outstanding debut, I still really enjoyed it. Certainly, These Ruthless Deeds is the satisfying and attention-grabbing sequel to These Vicious Masks that will make you beg for more until you reach the last page. It was such a great continuation, introducing new plot twists and characters, that I had to read book three as soon as I put this book down!

These Ruthless Deeds had so much action and excitement seeping from its pages from the first one. There were so many plot twists and surprises that felt like they punched me in the gut. Seriously, that’s how much I hurt after I learned of these shocking revelations. My eyes became glued onto my Kindle as I literally flew through the pages, transporting me into the X-Men-esque Society of Aberrations. In addition, there was so much humor, snarkiness, sarcasm, and awkwardness that made me chuckle and smile throughout the entire book, even when things got tense. This novel was so entertaining yet heart-wrenching.

The best thing about both this book and this series is the characters. I loved the introduction of many new characters with unique and bizarre abilities, and I fell in love with people like Miss Chen and Emily. Before I go on, I have to say that my favorite character in the entire series is Mr. Kent. He is truly amazing, and he always has some sort of witty or sarcastic remark that makes me laugh. Plus, how he uses his power is so cunning and awesome — seriously, I wish we were friends, though he’d probably make me say things I wish I hadn’t said. This unique cast of characters will stick with you even after you have left this alternative London.

As expected with every sequel, this book fell a bit — just a bit — flat for me since I had such high expectations from These Vicious Masks. Although I found myself sucked into the plot, I didn’t feel as emotionally invested as I had wanted to. However, I do find These Ruthless Deeds a very satisfying sequel to its predecessor. I am so glad that I was able to continue it, and I hope that you’ll be able to pick up These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds sometime! 🙂


Author Bio:

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few years later.

Tarun is a writer living in Los Angeles whose idea of paradise consists of kung-fu movies, David Bowie and chai tea. Since completing his first horrible screenplay in high school, he’s written everything from one-act plays and film criticism to humor pieces and strongly-worded emails. He’s also magnetized, crushed and burned the hard drive where that first screenplay can be found.

Kelly is a writer and actor living in NYC. YA is her absolute favorite thing on earth other than cupcakes and she has spent many hours crying over fictional deaths. She also started reading Harlequin romances at a possibly too early age (12?), and still loves a good paperback romance.

Links (Tarun):

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

Links (Kelly):

Website / Goodreads / Twitter


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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J

~ Kester

Have you read any of the These Vicious Masks trilogy?

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

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This Month’s LILbooKtalk!: “From Film to Fiction to Film Again” with Brittany Goodwin and Jennifer Brody

Hi guys! I am super excited to present to you all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Two of my favorite authors are here on the blog to talk about their backgrounds in the film industry and how their books are in the process of being adapted into movies! I had my heart being wrenched out in Brittany Goodwin’s YA debut If You’re Gone and in Jennifer Brody’s The Continuum Trilogy, and I cannot wait to see their film adaptations when they come out! I hope you enjoy this LILbooKtalk!


About If You’re GoneIf You're Gone

Lillian White was planning for the perfect summer- spending every waking minute at the lake with her heartthrob boyfriend, Brad Lee. But her world is shattered when Brad mysteriously disappears the night of his graduation ceremony- the same night he tells her he loves her for the first time. After law enforcement dismisses the case, classifying Brad as voluntarily missing, Lillian becomes desperate to prove that he couldn’t have just walked away. Not from his family. Not from his friends. Not from her.

Heartbroken but determined to find answers, Lillian begins to uncover secrets from Brad’s past that force her to question everything she thought she knew about him and their relationship. Will the truth lead her to him? Or are Brad’s lies just the beginning of the mystery?

Goodreads


About The 13th ContinuumThe 13th Continuum

One thousand years after a cataclysmic event leaves humanity on the brink of extinction, the survivors take refuge in continuums designed to sustain the human race until repopulation of Earth becomes possible. Against this backdrop, a group of young friends in the underwater Thirteenth Continuum dream about life outside their totalitarian existence, an idea that has been outlawed for centuries. When a shocking discovery turns the dream into a reality, they must decide if they will risk their own extinction to experience something no one has for generations, the Surface.

Goodreads


LILbooKtalk 4

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the amazing Brittany Goodwin, who is actually a local author from my home state of Tennessee! I loved her YA debut If You’re Gone, and I had the opportunity to meet her at SE-YA last year! Could you describe to us a bit about yourself and your book?If You're Gone

Brittany: Yes, and it was so fun to meet you last year! I grew up in Tennessee and lived here until I was 18, then started traveling around the country following my passion for acting and worked at different regional theaters, on a cruise ship, and eventually ended up in Los Angeles where I worked in some independent films. The whole time I was working on my novel If You’re Gone here and there but was more focused on the film side of things, and when I moved to North Carolina in 2010 I decided to write and direct my first feature film Secrets in the Snow. It was followed by the sequel, Secrets in the Fall, and once the second film released in 2014 I decided I was finally ready to focus on “If You’re Gone. So I spent a year writing the novel, which is a missing persons story about a teenage boy who goes missing, told from his girlfriend’s perspective. It released in June of 2016!

Kester: Your background is so awesome! Thanks so much, Brittany! Alongside her, we have the awesome Jennifer Brody, whose action-packed, post-apocalyptic The Continuum Trilogy is my favorite series of all-time! I had the pleasure of creating the questions for the Q&A that is featured in the back of the epic conclusion The United Continuums! Would you also like to share with us a few things about yourself and your novels?

Jennifer: Of course, and so fun to chat with you! I’m still sad we haven’t had a chance to meet IRL yet.

Kester: I know!!! Hopefully some day though!

The 13th ContinuumJennifer: I’m the author of author of the award-winning Continuum Trilogy. The first book The 13th Continuum sold in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. Translation rights to my books have sold in multiple territories, most notably Russia and China. I also began my career in Hollywood. Highlights include working on The Lord of the Rings films, The Golden Compass, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I live and write in LA (so howdy from the West Coast). Though I grew up in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. So I also do both book and film projects. Several of my short stories are also being put together as films. They’re in various stages of the packaging process.

Kester: That’s so rad!!! Thanks, Jen!!! This next question is for both of you! I know you might have already mentioned it, but could you describe to us your backgrounds in the film industry? What inspired you to shift from producing movies to writing stories, and what was the transition like?

Brittany: I was focused only on acting for the early part of my film career, but as I started working on independent films I became fascinated with what went on behind the camera and wanted to tell stories of my own through film. I definitely felt like writing screenplays came easier to me than writing novels, because I knew I would be able to SHOW the audience instead of TELL. So If You’re Gone was a really big challenge for me but it was always in my head and I just knew I had to get it on paper. Then turning it into the screenplay was even more challenging because it had to be cut back a lot, which was tough to go from author to screenwriter. But it was fun. And worth it.

Jennifer Brody
Jennifer Brod

Jennifer: I wanted to take a shot at telling my own stories, not just giving them away to screenwriters we hired. And since I think it’s important right now to be really honest about it, one of the biggest reasons I shifted from Hollywood is related to the #metoo movement. I’ve worked for or with most of the big names in the news. And I got really tired of the bad practices toward women in the business and not being taken seriously for my talent and hard work. But I think there is a rare opportunity right now to have more control and come back into the process with the goal of putting strong content together with female and POC directors.

Brittany: Totally agree with Jennifer on how women and their work are viewed in the industry!

Jennifer: Yes, Brittany! And also that’s why I’m so impressed you directed films. I can’t emphasize how important it is to get more women behind the camera. I always worked as an executive or producer. I’ve never directed, but I’m thinking about it now finally. I’m sure we could trade industry stories.

Brittany: You definitely should! It is one of the most rewarding experiences. And I hope to keep including more and more women on my film crews.

Jennifer: Yes, that’s also so important! I was so excited the female cinematographer from MudBound got a nomination. If I direct, it will be a horror movie. I‘m going to get a few of my projects going with others first and then maybe go for it!

Brittany: Yes!! The first screenplay I ever wrote was a horror film. That’s so awesome. Remember you know a fellow author/actress!

Brittany: Sounds amazing! 🙂

Jennifer: Let’s go make something fun and scary! You’ll have to send me your films to check out or tell me where I can watch them. 

Brittany: Definitely, would love to trade work.

Jennifer: Let’s do it! Look Kester, isn’t that cool?

Kester: It is!! I love this so much! It would be great to have you both collaborate on a project — you’d rock at it! Next question: How did your experiences in the film industry affect the creation of your stories? Did you write your books with a movie adaptation in mind?  How is writing a novel different from writing a script?

Jennifer: Great question! I think I got two big things from working in development and producing—how to structure a story and also my writing has a very visual component to it. And yes, I always think about the film adaptation, partially because I love movies so much. And it would be a great to make the Continuum books into films. Fingers crossed—the big pitch is going out next week I think!

Brittany: That’s so exciting, Jennifer

Kester: Ahh, that is so awesome Jen!!! I wish you all the best with it!!

Jennifer: Thank you! We have a great screenwriter attached who is getting a lot of traction lately. And producers. So we shall see…

Brittany Goodwin
Brittany Goodwin

Brittany: I could always picture If You’re Gone as a film as I was writing the novel, and before I really cracked down on the novel I went back and forth between writing it as a screenplay and as a book. And even though I wrote both the screenplay and the novel, they are different in many ways because they translate differently on the page and on the screen.

Whenever I read any book I am ALWAYS thinking about it as a film! I love to read books that aren’t really in the main stream with the thought of turning them into a film myself. I have a stack of books I’ve had for YEARS that I would love to option as films at some point (if I ever run out of my own stories to tell lol).

Jennifer: That’s really cool Brittany! I do that too!

Kester: How do you think of your “dream cast” with your books? I know it’s popular for book bloggers to make them (I don’t have that talent though haha), but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Jennifer: For The 13th Continuum, we plan to break new talent on the teen leads. My only hard ask is that we cast the roles with diverse actors (which is how they’re written in the books). Especially Myra—she has to be POC or biracial. I picture Octavia Spencer as Maude and Kevin Klein at Professor Divinus.

Brittany: That’s a really good question… honestly I can’t remember if I had a dream cast in mind before I actually started casting the film! Coming from the Indie side of things, I always have realistic expectations of budgets, etc, so I don’t think I ever thought Jennifer Lawrence would star in If You’re Gone or anything haha. But I do know when I saw the actors I ended up casting in If You’re Gone I knew immediately that they were right for the roles!

Jennifer: I’d love to work with Tessa Thompson again. My short story “200” is being adapted and directed by a really cool female screenwriter. I think Tessa could be perfect!

Jennifer: Yes, I can’t say who the writer is yet. But I can say that she’s one of the top writers in the industry right now. And she wants to direct, so she will make this her debut. It’s Philip K. Dick style SF.

Brittany: I will say, for the new screenplay (and novel) I am working on I definitely picture Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars as the lead female! Maybe it could happen! 🙂

Jennifer: Oh nice choice! Netflix wants to do a lot of films and teen stuff right now. And they have a low budget division and lots of money. My old boss just produced #realityhigh for them.

brittanygoodwin-8133-2Brittany: That’s awesome! I’m sitting here racking my brain on who your writer could be… heheh.

Jennifer: Well, she’s usually the only women in a lot of male writing rooms on big studio films lately. They just announced the one she’s writing now two weeks ago and it trended on Twitter. 😉

Brittany: I’ve been dying to leak the trailer for If You’re Gone and my producer says I can’t. So I’ve been good! Easier said than done though hehe.

Kester: It must be tough! I’m still happy for you, though, Jen! The movies are going to be epic!

Jennifer: Thanks and excited for the trailer Brittany!

Brittany: Thanks! Hopefully soon!

Kester: Brittany, what was the biggest challenge of turning a character-driven novel into a film, and how did you overcome it?

Brittany: The novel was all told from Lillian’s perspective, so the reader always knew exactly what she was thinking and because it is a faith-based novel there are several instances where she is silently praying. That was one of the trickiest things for me to figure out how to convey on screen without having a cheesy narration going on throughout the film. I had to choose the most important moments and figure out which silent thoughts needed to become dialogue and what could be told visually.

Overall, the film is a little darker than the book because of the style choices we made, but the story still comes through and I’m SO happy with how it is turning out in the editing room. So I think it worked!

Kester: That’s so great to hear, Brittany!!! I am super excited to hopefully see the movie come out in the future!

Brittany: Thank you!

Kester: Jennifer, what is it like writing a trilogy, and what are some of the challenges you faced?The United Continuums

Jennifer: The best part of a trilogy is getting to tell such an epic story and watch the characters grow and change. The hardest part was the third book The United Continuums. I was writing on deadline, and had so many POVs. I had to pay everything off and raise the stakes. I really didn’t want to write a bad third book. I’ve personally been disappointed by so many series as a reader. I didn’t want to deliver that experience.

You were one of my first readers, and that’s why it meant so much that you loved the book. It was so fun to have you do the Q&A. When my editor suggested adding one, you were my first thought.

Kester: Aww, thank you, Jen! I’m so happy that I got to read it and do your Q&A! It was so fun, and certainly it was both my pleasure and honor to do so!

Jennifer: You asked great questions and made it easy.

Brittany: Kester you are making quite a name for yourself!

Jennifer: He sure is.

Kester: It’s all thanks to all the love and support from authors like you! Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers or even screenwriters and filmmakers who are viewing this discussion?

Brittany: For all the young people who want to write or get involved in film… just go for it! Write a short story and film it on your smart phone, do whatever you can just to make it happen! It can be a little scary to get started, especially if you’re self-taught like I am, but there are some amazing books out there you can read to learn about screenwriting, directing, etc. And never think you’re too young to try!

Jennifer: This probably sounds cliche, but don’t give up on your dreams. You will hear NO a lot, but believe in yourself and tell the stories you want to tell. Read a lot and watch a lot of films. Seek out other people with similar interests and classes and workshops so you can learn from the best. Don’t give up.

Kester: Brittany, Jennifer, thank you so much for taking part of this LILbooKtalk!!! I really appreciate everything you have done, and I definitely had such a fun time chatting with you both!

Brittany: Thank you for thinking of us, Kester!

Jennifer: Thanks Kester! This was a lot of fun.


About BrittanyBrittany Goodwin

As a screenwriter and author based in Nashville, TN, I am proud to have written the screenplays for two nationally-distributed films, Secrets in the Snow and Secrets in the Fall, both of which have been awarded five (out of five) Doves from the Dove Foundation.

I love to read and create stories with elements of faith and friendship, particularly ones with realistic female protagonists. At a young age I was drawn to the work of writers who added a slightly glamorized twist to the day-to-day lives of teens- Francine Pascal, John Hughes, and Ann M. Martin to name a few. I always found elements of myself in the characters these writers created and felt inspired by them. If Andi could fall in love with a boy from the other side of the tracks, I could find a prom date. And if the Babysitters Club could solve mysteries, so could I! The characters in my stories are meant to emulate the same emotions from readers. Even the most average protagonist can accomplish something extraordinary.

I live on a mini-farm with my  wonderful husband, John, and our ever growing plethora of house pets (current count: 3 canine, 5 feline). With a cat on my lap and a dog at my side, I enjoy watching anything on Investigation Discovery Channel, web sleuthing via missing persons websites, DIY projects, and movie trivia.

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Buy If You’re Gone here today!

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About JenniferJennifer Brody

Jennifer Brody is the award-winning author of the The 13th Continuum. Her book sold in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. The book is a Gold Medal Winner (Young Adult – Sci-Fi/Fantasy) from the Independent Publisher‘s Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Return of the Continuums and The United Continuums complete this epic trilogy. Translation rights to her books have sold in multiple territories, most notably Russia and China. Her short fiction appears in the From the Stars anthology and Common Deer Press’ Short Tails. She is a graduate of Harvard University (magna cum laude), a creative writing instructor at the Writing Pad, and a volunteer mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. She’s also a board member for the non-profit writing competitions the Roswell Award and the Tomorrow Prize. After studying film at Harvard University, Jennifer began her career in Hollywood. Highlights include working for Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema, most notably on The Lord of the Rings films, The Golden Compass, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She also produced the feature film Make It Happen starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tessa Thompson. She lives and writes in LA, where she’s hard at work on her next book.

She is represented by Deborah Schneider (Gelfman Schneider/ICM Partners), Josie Friedman (ICM) for TV/Film, and Curtis Brown for UK and foreign rights.

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Buy The 13th Continuum here today!

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Thanks so much again to Jennifer Brody and Brittany Goodwin for agreeing to do this LILbooKtalk! I hope you all enjoyed this online discussion panel, and if you’d like to talk about any aspect or question of the discussion, please comment below!

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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Exclusive Interview with Eliot Sappingfield, MG Sci-fi Author of A Problematic Paradox

Hi guys! We have an amazing lineup of 2018 debut authors in store for you this year, and we’re kicking off all the #2018debuts with Eliot Sappingfield, author of A Problematic Paradox! I loved this book so much because it gave me so many laughs and hilarious moments, and I am glad I have the opportunity to interview the author about it! Hope you enjoy!


About the BookA Problematic Paradox

Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in this wild, warm-hearted, and hilarious sci-fi debut about a brainy young girl who is recruited for a very special boarding school.

Nikola Kross has given up on living in harmony with classmates and exasperated teachers: she prefers dabbling in experimental chemistry to fitting in. But when her life is axially inverted by a gang of extraterrestrials who kidnap her dad and attempt to recruit her into their service, she discovers he’s been keeping a world of secrets from her–including the school for geniuses where she’s sent for refuge, a place where classes like Practical Quantum Mechanics are the norm and where students use wormholes to commute to class. For Nikola, the hard part isn’t school, it’s making friends, especially when the student body isn’t (entirely) human. But the most puzzling paradox of all is Nikola herself, who has certain abilities that no one understands–abilities that put her whole school in greater danger than she could have imagined.

A Problematic Paradox releases tomorrow January 23rd from G. P. Putnam’s and Son’s!

Goodreads


Eliot Sappingfield Interview

 

1. Your debut MG sci-fi novel A Problematic Paradox is releasing on January 23rd from G. P. Putnam and Son’s, and it follows Nikola as she is sent to the School, concealed from the outside world and filled with extraterrestrial creatures and futuristic technology, after her father is kidnapped by a group of aliens called “the Old Ones.” If you had the opportunity to become enrolled in the School, would you go? What classes would you want to take, and what would you be most looking forward to as a student?

Absolutely! Practical Quantum Mechanics sounds like a lot of fun to me, even if I might not be able to keep up with the actual geniuses there.

There’s also the fact that since I wrote the place, I’d be kind of like a god, and could control reality and bend others to my every whim. I’d be cool about it, though.

2. Nikola struggles to both fit in as a genius in her old school and as a human in her new school mostly comprised of parahumans, extraterrestrial creatures with extraordinary capabilities. How do you want A Problematic Paradox to impact young readers, especially regarding the themes of bullying and fitting in?

I wanted it to be realistic. A lot of times, especially in those middle school years, kids find themselves in impossible situations and are given terrible advice for dealing with it. It’s not that adults want to give bad advice; it’s just that every situation is different and what works for one kid doesn’t always work for others.

Since that’s just a fact of life for some, what I really wanted to do was to focus not on overcoming bullies, but on not letting them make your whole world as ugly as they are. It can feel safer to close yourself off, and avoid people altogether, but that stops you from connecting with the wonderful people that are all around us, sometimes dealing with the same issues.

I had a tough time in school myself, but was lucky enough to make friends that made it all worthwhile. Today, looking back, I can’t recall the face of a single bully, because they’re ultimately forgettable (which might be why they’re bullies in the first place) but I still speak to some of the friends I made back then.

3. Since Nikola’s primary passion is science, why do you believe it is important to portray more empowering girls pursuing STEM-related careers as protagonists and deuteragonists in Middle Grade fiction?A Problematic Paradox

That was actually where the idea for the book came from initially. I wanted to write a science fiction story with a female hero, but one that wasn’t a “girl book”. My daughters complained that there weren’t enough science books with girl heroes, and challenged me to come up with one. I’ve heard the middle grade years are when a lot of young women turn away from the sciences and start embracing what they think are gender-normative goals, so I really loved the idea of creating a world where a girl being brilliant and deeply interested in science isn’t just possible, it’s the norm.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Eliot Sappingfield, MG Sci-fi Author of A Problematic Paradox”

Celebrating MLK Day with an Exclusive Interview with Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

Hi guys! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! Today we are remembering one of the greatest figures in American history who has inspired millions of people across the nation both in his lifetime and after his death to strive for greater racial unity and equality. To celebrate his birthday, I’m interviewing Alice Faye Duncan about her newest children’s picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, which revolves around the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and Dr. King’s role in it. Honestly, I had never heard of the Strike until I was first introduced to this book by my author friend Linda Williams Jackson, and I’m very surprised I haven’t heard about this since this took place 50 years ago in my home state! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please go check out and pre-order this book for you or any children you know!


About the BookMemphis, 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.

Goodreads


Alice Faye Duncan Interview

1. Your picture book, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop—is set to release in September (2018) and it has already become a #1 Amazon early release. This historical fiction tells the story of the Memphis Sanitation Strike through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl, Lorraine Jackson. What is the strike’s historical significance?

The Memphis Strike of 1968 was a non-violent protest where black sanitation workers left their garbage barrels on the curb in order to defend their dignity and demand economic justice in a city that abused their labor. White sanitation supervisors spoke to the men like children, called them buzzards and when it rained, they sent the black men home early without a full day’s pay.

It is important to know that Memphis sanitation workers initiated and organized the strike. This was not an idea conceived by Dr. King.  However, Dr. King chose to help the men in their struggle for justice. Also, children like my main character, Lorraine Jackson, missed school and black parents sacrificed time to march in the strike over 65 days.  Ultimately, it is Dr. King, who made the greatest sacrifice.  While helping the striking workers in Memphis, he was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

2. What do you want young readers to learn from your character, Lorraine Jackson and Dr. King?

Freedom is not free.  And to gain freedom and keep it, children and adults must be vigilant, courageous and ready to sacrifice their comfort.

3. Why did it take 10 years to write a story that is only 3,000 words?

It took 10 years to write MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP because my proper entrance into the story, the right characters and organization for the plot, did not show up when I received the initial idea to write it. I wrote more than seven drafts for the story until I finally landed the perfect combination of poetry and prose.

4. What did the creative process for birthing this book teach you?

After writing for two decades, there is one thing that I clearly understand. The story that I am looking for is also looking for me.  It is also my opinion that the writer serves as a vessel or instrument, who carries the story until it is ready to emerge.  Writing is not easy. But, when the real germ of the story appears, there is clarity and the soul of the writer knows that she is on the train that will carry her and the reader to an ending that satisfies.

5. What makes this new book different from the other children’s books you have written?

Alice Faye DuncanI wrote my first non-fiction book in 1995.  It was titled THE NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM CELEBRATES EVERYDAY PEOPLE. That book was a chronology of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 – 1968.

MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP is a historical-fiction that was inspired by the life of a Memphis preacher, Reverend Henry Logan Starks and his young daughter, Almella Yvonne. Almella marched in the sanitation strike with her mother and father.  She sang freedom songs at the strike rallies and she also heard Dr. King deliver his last sermon, “The Mountaintop Speech.”

Continue reading “Celebrating MLK Day with an Exclusive Interview with Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop”