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”

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September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Hi guys! I am really really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to read Legends of the Lost Causes, which was an epic MG western novel full of magic, action, and adventure! Today, the authors of the series, Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, are here on the blog to talk about what it was like collaborating on their books. I hope you enjoy it!


About Legends of the Lost CausesLegends of the Lost Causes

A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.

This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.

With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.

But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.

Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.

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About The Fang of Bonfire CrossingThe Fang of Bonfire Crossing

The Brotherband Chronicles meets the Wild West in this rip-roaring middle-grade adventure series filled with dark magic, scrappy heroes, and diabolical villains.

Keech Blackwood and his band of fellow orphans demand justice for their fallen families. But the road to retribution is a long and hard-fought journey.

After defeating Bad Whiskey Nelson, the man who burned Keech’s home to the ground, the Lost Causes have a new mission: find Bonfire Crossing, the mysterious land that holds clues to the whereabouts of the all-powerful Char Stone. Along the way they’ll have to fend off a shapeshifting beast, a swarm of river monsters, and a fearsome desperado named Big Ben Loving who conjures tornadoes out of thin air. It’s an epic standoff between the Lost Causes and the outlaw Reverend Rose, a powerful sorcerer who would be unstoppable with the Stone in his possession.

With the world—and vengeance—hanging in the balance, the Lost Causes are ready for battle.

The Fang of Bonfire Crossing releases on February 19th, 2019, from Henry Holt! Pre-order it today!

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Questions are in bold

Legends of the Lost CausesKester: Today, we have Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, the two talented authors of Legends of the Lost Causes, an MG fantasy adventure novel set in the Wild West and of which released earlier this year. Would both of you like to tell us a little bit about each of yourselves and your novel?

Brad: Sure thing! Well, I’m an Arkansas native, but I moved to Oklahoma in 2008 to attend grad school at Oklahoma State University — where I met Louis in a creative writing program. I’ve been in OK ever since, and now I have a wonderful wife, Alisha, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe.

Louis: I’m an English professor at Lewis-Clark State College in northern Idaho. I earned my PhD at Oklahoma State University where I met Brad. I also have a wife and two dogs. The dogs are named Cake and Muse.

Brad McLelland
Brad McLelland

Brad: Louis and I got to know each other through casual hangouts, really. A mutual friend of ours would host fun get-togethers, where we would all play Werewolf and other games, and mine and Louis’s friendship just naturally occurred at these get-togethers. And of course, I saw Louis from time to time in the halls of the OSU English Department. But he was WAY too popular for me to hang out with there. 😉

Louis: Right before I left for Idaho, we decided to write a book series together.

Brad: Yep, we started outlining the series in–what was it, Louis?–Spring of 2010, I believe.

Louis: Yep. We planned out the basic plot points and then I left town.

Brad: Yes you did! I was devastated. (Kidding.)

Louis: From then on, we had to work with each other online or by phone.

Brad: By that time, we already had a pretty good amount of work done on Book 1–which at that time was this kind of monstrosity of a YA Western. In other words, we didn’t quite know what sort of book we wanted to write at the time.

Kester: So what inspired you to write Legends of the Lost Causes together?

Brad: Well, I really loved my discussions with Louis at these get-togethers. I knew he enjoyed reading (and writing) genre books, as did I, so those discussions turned into deeper conversations about collaborating on an old idea I had.

Louis Sylvester
Louis Sylvester

Louis: As I recall, we were at a birthday party, chatting about writing and our future goals. Brad and I both declared our desire to write a rip-roaring adventure.

Brad: Yep! It was June 3, 2010. Our friend’s birthday. That was the “birth” of Keech Blackwood.

Louis: As we got into our ideas, we realized that we could come up with an exciting tale that would surprise us both if we worked together. And I moved at the end of July.

Brad: After Louis took his professorship in Idaho, we talked on the phone extensively, and just agreed to keep going. As I mentioned before, we had a lot on the page for Book 1 and a lot already outlined for the whole series, we just needed to continue on.

Louis: That’s true. We had a massive outline built by the time I split.

Brad: Yes we did! Eventually, in September 2011, as I recall, we finished the draft of Book 1.

Louis: Yep. For that first draft, we would pass the book back and forth through email. We would write a chapter, then pass it back.

Brad: I’ve always liked to call our process a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting — because we never really stop the process between the two of us. We’re constantly honing sentences.

And then came the LONNNNNNG haul of getting it in front of an agent.

Louis: Once we were happy with the story, Brad started the work of finding our agent. He deserves full credit for that.

Brad: Thanks, L.

Continue reading “September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester”

ARC Review: The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth — A Highly Relevant Story that Will Melt, Break, and Re-Piece Your Heart Over and Over Again

Hi guys! One of the biggest reasons I love Middle Grade is that it tackles such big issues in such simple yet beautiful ways. The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth is one of the books. I had the awesome pleasure to host Alyssa on the blog a few months ago as part of the June LILbooKtalk on “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” and I was able to get an ARC of her debut novel and read it. It definitely did not disappoint! The Eleventh Trade just released a few days, and you definitely need to go get it!


About The Eleventh TradeThe Eleventh Trade

From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.

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4 Stars

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

From the very first chapter—in fact, page—of The Eleventh Trade, I knew I was in for something very special. It’s very rare for me to have that feeling super early on in the story, and my hunch was right. The Eleventh Trade is one of the most heart-warming and inspirational books I have ever read. The ending made me tear up, and I have not cried from reading a story in such a long time. I can’t even remember the last time I ever did that from a book. The Eleventh Trade will break and re-piece your heart over and over again. Readers will rejoice with Sami during his triumphs and become saddened by his failures.

Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut novel helped changed my perspective on the refugee crisis today. It is a vivid and real portrayal of the struggles that Afghan refugees endure as they adjust to life in the United States. Sami had to face so many trials during his quest to gain back his grandfather’s rebab, such as raising money from virtually nothing, dealing with an impending deadline, being forced to lie to his only remaining relative, enduring vile racism from one of his classmates, and coping with trauma from a horrific experience in Afghanistan. You don’t really think about the struggles that these people have and had to go through during their search for a better life. It’s shocking to think how many refugees such as Sami are being labeled as terrorists out of racism and prejudice in their new countries while terrorist groups oppressed them and their family members out of pure evil in their home countries. It’s very rattling to think about this. This is the reason why I love contemporary Middle Grade so much—novels such as The Eleventh Trade cover such important issues in a way that wrenches your heart, changes your viewpoint, and makes you love the goodness in humanity even more.

Sami’s story of perseverance is truly inspiring. His quest to raise $700 to buy back his grandfather’s rebab is full of new friends, moments of triumph, bouts of trouble, and ultimately love and sacrifice. I fell in love with Sami from the very first page, and I rooted for him to succeed every step of the way. His deep affection for his grandfather and for the music of his mother nation is very contagious—I truly could feel the passion he had for soccer, for his family and friends, and for the rebab. I loved how this tragedy turned out to be a blessing in disguise: He not only found new friends but also a newfound hope for a better future.

The Eleventh Trade is truly one of the most memorable and touching novels I have ever read. From having his grandfather’s rebab stolen to dealing with trauma and racism on his quest to regain it back, Sami is a character that readers will fall in love with and cheer on. Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut will melt, break, and wrench your heart over and over and over again. Her writing truly emanates the pains, joys, sufferings, and trials of being a refugee from a war-torn nation. I would definitely recommend this book to students, teachers, parents—virtually everyone—in a heartbeat. The Eleventh Trade is a much needed and relevant story in today’s world full of uncertainty, grief, hate, and hope.


About AlyssaAlyssa Hollingsworth

Alyssa was born in small-town Milton, Florida, but life as a roving military kid soon mellowed her (unintelligibly strong) Southern accent. Wanderlust is in her blood, and she’s always waiting for the wind to change. Stories remain her constant. Alyssa received her BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Berry College and her MA with honors in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. In 2013, she won a prize from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity for her creative non-fiction essay, Naan in the Afghan Village. She is represented by Amber Caraveo at Skylark Literary. Her debut THE ELEVENTH TRADE will launch Fall 2018 with Macmillan (U.S.) and HotKey (U.K.).

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Eleventh Trade? What are some of your favorite books that tackle the refugee crisis?

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!)

What the Woods Keep Blog Tour.png


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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Katya de Becerra Guest Post.png

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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ARC Review: The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb — An Ode to the Stories We Love and Cherish

Hi guys! The Tennessee writing community is full of amazing and talented storytellers, and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is one of them! I met her back at the SE-YA Book Fest earlier this year in March (although I saw but never actually talked to her in person twice before that), and I had the opportunity to read her latest novel The Story Collector, which definitely filled me with joy. I hope you enjoy this review and check out her wonderful book!


About the BookThe Story Collector

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Harriet the Spy in this middle-grade historical fiction novel inspired by the real life of Viviani Joffre Fedeler, born and raised in the New York Public Library.

Eleven-year-old Viviani Fedeler has spent her whole life in the New York Public Library. She knows every room by heart, except the ones her father keeps locked. When Viviani becomes convinced that the library is haunted, new girl Merit Mubarak makes fun of her. So Viviani decides to play a harmless little prank, roping her older brothers and best friend Eva to help out.

But what begins as a joke quickly gets out of hand, and soon Viviani and her friends have to solve two big mysteries: Is the Library truly haunted? And what happened to the expensive new stamp collection? It’s up to Viviani, Eva, and Merit (reluctantly) to find out.

The Story Collector releases from Henry Holt & Co. on August 28th!

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5 Stars

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

I have always been fascinated with history. I remember when I went to Washington, D.C., and visited the Lincoln Memorial, I stood near the very spot Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and imagined that very day–the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963–from his point of view. I could envision the massive crowds stretching across the National Mall and around the Reflecting Pool. I saw the Washington Monument, standing tall as a beacon of hope and freedom, as I became aware that these were the very steps where history was made, was changed, was altered forever. Reading The Story Collector made me realize that this love for history, along with my love of taking pictures or buying souvenirs to commemorate big moments in my life, is fueled because I love the stories behind them. It made me realize that I am a story collector myself, and I need to treasure the memories that make up who I am.

The Story Collector is the perfect reminder that stories are precious and that stories make up who we are. Viviani’s fascination with the tales behind every artifact and person, the tales that might not be 100% true but can excite the listeners’ imaginations, and the tales that are found in a person’s beloved books is very contagious. Her pursuit to get her new classmate Merit to see the value of stories, to find the ghost that is supposedly haunting the library, and to catch the stamp thief is an exhilarating escapade that readers will not want to put down. My heart was filled with joy as I journeyed through New York City in the Roaring Twenties. This was the book that I needed in a long time for it rekindledmy passion for reading.

The Story Collector was such a fun and exciting adventure filled with friendship, ghosts, mystery, and history. I truly became transported into the story, and I could even hear the crashes that came when the thief stole the stamps. I had so much fun exploring the New York Public Library and becoming acquainted with every nook and cranny and all of its inhabitants. This book both wrenched and warmed my heart as I felt Viviani’s emotions and inner struggles as she was bullied, labeled a liar, and even doubted herself as a storyteller. The Story Collector is not just a fun mystery, but also a novel full of self-exploration. It will make you rethink how you view the people around you and the things that surrounds you. Ultimately, it will teach you the power that stories have on our lives and on the lives around us–a power that can build or tear relationships, bring comfort in our darkest times, and take us on the journey of a lifetime.

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb exceeded all of my expectations for her novel, which compelled me to give her latest release a five-star rating. It truly is one of the most well-written and inspiring novels I’ve read this year, and it’s one that I am not going to forget. It is certainly one that I would want to revisit again and again, especially since this story has helped me make up who I am. Especially with the recent article that advocated against public libraries, The Story Collector is very relevant today, with Merit even discovering the joys and wonders of the New York Public Library. The Story Collector is an ode to the stories we cherish, whether they be in the books we love or in the memories we value, that will inspire readers to become story collectors.

Please note that this review is based from an uncorrected proof, which means there may have been changes between this draft and the final publication.


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

Are you excited for The Story Collector? Do you like MG Historical Fiction?

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

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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June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! The theme is “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” a theme that is present is most Middle Grade novels. That is one of the biggest reasons why I love MG because they certainly boost my hope whenever I feel overwhelmed or sad. Today, I have two wonderful authors here to discuss this topic, Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth, and they both provide some amazing insight into the worlds of MG and contemporary. I hope you enjoy!


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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About The Eleventh TradeThe Eleventh Trade

From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.

The Eleventh Trade releases from Roaring Brook Press on September 18th, 2018! Pre-order it today!

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LILbooKtalk August 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Dana Middleton, MG author of Open If You Dare, which released last year. I was able to meet Dana at the SE-YA Book Festival back in March, also! Could you tell us a bit about your latest book and your background?

Dana: Hi Kester. So great to be here! My latest book is called Open If You Dare. It’s set in Atlanta (in the real neighborhood of my youth). It’s a mystery but it’s mostly about three friends during their last real summer together. I live in LA now but most of my MG fiction takes me back to my childhood in the South.Open If You Dare

Kester: Thank you for joining us today, Dana! I certainly loved Open If You Dare!Alongside Dana, we have Alyssa Hollingsworth, whose MG debut novel The Eleventh Trade is set to release in September of this year. Would you like to share with us a little about your book and yourself?

Alyssa: Sure! Thanks for having me. The Eleventh Trade is a contemporary story set in Boston about an Afghan boy who loses his last heirloom from home and goes on a quest of trades to get it back. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old, got my master’s in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, and seem to have accidentally landed in the niche of MG books with fun plots and an underbelly of humanitarian themes.

The Eleventh TradeKester: I am really excited to read The Eleventh Trade! I’m glad that you’re here with us!

Both Birdie in Open If You Dare and Sami in The Eleventh Trade are faced with great challenges, such as dealing with one’s best friends moving away or trying to buy back a prized possession, that require a lot of hope and perseverance to overcome. What is the central message that you want young readers to take away from your novels? How do you want your book to help readers who are going through similar trials?

Alyssa: Great question! Boiled down to its very basic core, The Eleventh Trade is about how loss opens us up to community (friendship/belonging), and how community brings healing. I hope that readers will see the book as an opportunity to be aware of others’ struggle and actively jump in to give help and hope.

Dana: I agree with Alyssa. When a reader can identify and/or become aware of others’ struggles, the world becomes a smaller and kinder place. As an author, I feel like it’s my job to step into the skin of my protagonist. Birdie, in this case, is a lot like me and a lot different, too. She feels deeply about the impending loss of her friends (one is moving away and the other will go to a different school next year) but she also grows to understand that she can stand on her own and that the future can be different and good at the same time.

Alyssa: “Different and good” — I love that!

Dana: Right? I think I still struggle with that as an adult!

Kester: I definitely agree with the both of y’all. It’s very important to foster empathy in readers so they could make the world a better place.

Dana: In all fiction, but perhaps especially in middle grade fiction, it’s all about empathy and showing readers a variety of experiences. I’m excited to read The Eleventh Trade, partially for that reason. And also because it sound really good!

Alyssa: 🙂

Continue reading “June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth”

Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild”

Hi guys! Today on the blog, I am hosting one of the kindest and most supportive authors I have ever met, Melissa Ostrom. Melissa is the author of the YA historical fiction novel The Beloved Wild, which I loved and you can see why in my review here, and I am very honored to have her on my blog to talk to us about her debut novel! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please check out The Beloved Wild! (By the way, Ruta Sepetys blurbed it, in case you didn’t know.)


About the BookThe Beloved Wild

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.

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Melissa Ostrom Header.png

1. Your YA historical fiction debut The Beloved Wild, which released in March from Feiwel & Friends, follows Harriet Winter as she disguises herself as a boy to venture into the Genesee Valley as she overcomes prejudice, nature, and eventually love. As a local resident, what do you love most about living in that region? How did the valley allure you to use it as the setting of your debut?

I’m originally from Chautauqua County. The teaching position at Kendall High School brought me to this area, and I fell in love with its gentle landscape—the sweeping orchards, Lake Ontario, the cultivated fields that alternate with woodlands, and the historical features, like the Erie Canal and cobblestone houses. I felt like a pioneer, traveling to a new place and making it my home. The families of my students warmly welcomed me. Writing Harriet’s story (and recognizing the significant role the Genesee Valley played in our country’s initial wave of westward expansion) became a way for me to show my gratitude for that welcome and my appreciation for this location.

2. The Age of the American Frontier is a time period that is often overlooked in historical fiction. How did you first stumble upon the exodus of New Englanders flocking to the uncharted wilderness of New York? What are some of the most interesting things you learned from your research?

I’m fortunate to have some dear friends who happen to know a lot about our local history. Three in particular—Diane Palmer, Adrienne Kirby, and Sharon Root—shared significant stories about the early pioneers (to whom these women can trace their own ancestries!), and those tales definitely stirred my interest. My friends also shared family memorabilia, access to the archives of the Orleans County Chapter of the DAR, and powerful reading materials, like the settlers’ reminisces, compiled by Arad Thomas. These firsthand pioneer accounts proved quite useful and remarkable. Most of the early settlers were young—just teenagers with little money and few tools—but they possessed a great deal of gumption. They worked hard to eke clearings out of the wilderness and faced incredible trials while starting their farms. Their stories inspired me. I remember reading about one young man who had nothing but the clothes on his back and an axe in his hand when he broached the wilds of his purchased lot of land. He started with practically nothing and yet made something of himself. Amazing.

3. What would be your dream adventure? Where would you go and what would you do?

Oh, I’d like to travel around our country and visit other parts of the world. But lately I’ve been thinking about walking the length of the Erie Canal—simply packing a backpack and taking off for a while, breaking up the hike with stays in inns and visits to the waterway towns. I love going for long walks and usually cover around eight miles a day. It’d be fun to set out—and just keep going! My family (when my kids get a little older) would probably enjoy this adventure, too. The Beloved Wild

4. Before you wrote The Beloved Wild, you wrote many short stories for various journals. Could you describe to us the transition you made from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel? What are the specific benefits and challenges of creating a short story versus drafting a novel?

Actually, about nine years ago when I initially decided to try fiction writing, I started with a novel, not short fiction. The novel became the first in a series of four. I finished the entire quartet before shopping around the first book. When querying this piece didn’t win me an agent, I set aside all four and got to work on another novel (a standalone). Concurrently, I began to craft short fiction.

My initial reasoning behind the short-fiction enterprise was I need to beef up my credentials! I just held a couple of degrees in English lit and my teaching certification. I couldn’t mention publications, conferences, retreats, or even an MFA in a query letter because I hadn’t accomplished any of these things. Publishing short stories would rectify that, I figured. And I have managed to find homes in literary journals for many of my stories.

But something else (something more wonderful) happened as a result of this foray into short fiction: my writing skills improved. Perhaps due to their sparer frame, stories (those admirable ones written by others and the ones I endeavor to create) showcase precise language and an attention to detail. A word must earn its place—or out it goes.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild””

Exclusive Guest Post by Bridget Hodder, MG Author of The Rat Prince, on “Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic”

Hi guys! For the next few months, most of the authors I am going to have on the blog are going to Middle Grade authors. Although I am still going to be very active in the YA community, my heart has lodged itself deeper in MG fiction. I have met so many wonderful MG authors since the New Year has started, and readers of all ages should pick up their books. Today, Bridget Hodder is here to answer the question, “Why are fairy tales so popular?” Her answer: magic.


About the BookThe Rat Prince

AN ILA CHILDREN’S CHOICE LIST STARRED SELECTION

So, you think you know the tale of Cinderella? Think again!

The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman on the night of the big ball. Together, they’re about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on their way to a most unexpected happy ending!

A sparkling debut full of magic and adventure, from a fresh new voice in fairytale fiction.

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Bridget Hodder Header

Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic

My debut novel, THE RAT PRINCE, is a re-imagining of the tale of Cinderella. When I appear at author festivals, give workshops, or visit schools, readers almost always ask me: Why are fairy tales still so popular?

It’s a great question!

What is the reason why people have loved this particular type of story for hundreds of years? Clearly, stories couldn’t stand the test of centuries unless they appealed to something universal inside us. So maybe the real question is: what’s universal about fairy tales?

Continue reading “Exclusive Guest Post by Bridget Hodder, MG Author of The Rat Prince, on “Why Fairy Tales? A Theory of Magic””

ARC Review: The Beloved Wild by Melissa Ostrom — A Novel about Overcoming Prejudices and Obstacles and Finding Adventure and Oneself

Hi guys! I hope you are having an awesome week! I know I am, especially since it’s Spring Break and Holy Week this week. Today I am at Ole Miss for a college visit (Hotty Toddy!), so I’m really looking forward to touring and visiting the campus. I usually do not post on Wednesdays, but since I have so many books to review that are releasing in the upcoming months, I’m going to post the occasional Wednesday post to get all my reviews in on time. Yesterday, The Beloved Wild by Melissa Ostrom just released, which is an amazing YA historical fiction debut that blew me away. Melissa is one of the most supportive and kind authors I’ve met online, so I’m super excited to be sharing my review of her debut to y’all today. Hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Beloved Wild

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.

Goodreads

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group and my publicity contact there for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Before I begin this review, I have two things to point out. The first one is that Ruta Sepetys (yes, THE Ruta Sepetys, my favorite author in the entire world) blurbed this book, which is awesome and well-deserved. The second one is that Melissa is one of the kindest and most supportive authors I have ever met online, and she has said and done so many things for me that has warmed my heart greatly. But it was actually through Twitter where I began to rave about The Beloved Wild when we first began to communicate.

Now onto why I love The Beloved Wild so much!

The Beloved Wild is a stark yet gripping account of the prejudices women had to endure in the 19th century, a time before the Industrial Revolution prompted new reforms and changes. It is YA historical fiction and literature at its finest. A great novel is one that enlightens you and influences your viewpoint, and I am proud to consider Ostrom’s debut novel as one. The Beloved Wild teaches readers how to embrace who they are and find their inner strength when encountering the toughest of obstacles. It has the perfect combination of adventure, romance, family, and friendships that will appeal to many readers and give each of them a memorable experience.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Beloved Wild by Melissa Ostrom — A Novel about Overcoming Prejudices and Obstacles and Finding Adventure and Oneself”