Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL

Hi guys! A few months ago, I went to the Southeastern Young Adult Festival (or SE-YA for short) and I met some amazing Middle Grade authors there! I had the lovely opportunity to chat with Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series, which looks very epic! I currently have a copy at home waiting to be read, and I can’t wait! Today, Monica and I are celebrating the COVER REVEAL of the FOURTH book in her series, The Heroes Return, with a special guest post. I hope you enjoy!


About Earth Force Rising (Bounders #1)Earth Force Rising

Bounders have always known they were different, but they never suspected they were the key to saving Earth.

Jasper Adams is excited to join the Earth Force military agency as part of its first class of Bounders, a team of kids training to be elite astronauts. He can’t wait to connect with others like him and learn to pilot spaceships that can travel across the galaxy in an instant.

But when Jasper arrives at the space station, nothing is as it seems. Security is sky-high, and Jasper and his new friends soon realize that Earth Force has been keeping secrets—one of the biggest being a powerful, highly-classified technology that allows the Bounders to teleport through space without a ship. Only Bounders can use this tech, which leads Jasper to a sinister truth—humanity is facing a threat greater than any they’ve ever known, and Bounders are the ones standing between their planet and destruction.

Will Jasper and his friends rebel against Earth Force for hiding the truth or fulfill their duty and fight for their planet? The fate of Earth may rest on their choice.

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Buy a signed & personalized copy at Buttonwood Books & Toys


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Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

I recently had the privilege of being on the faculty for the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) Annual Spring Conference. I love this conference. I’ve gone every year since 2012 when I was a new writer with no agent and definitely no publishing deal. This year, in addition to teaching a session on the business side of publishing, I taught a class on writing commercial series in middle grade and young adult literature.

As I was preparing my materials for the class and engaging with my enthusiastic students, I was reminded how much I love writing science and speculative fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. And one of the very best parts is creating the fictional worlds in which my characters live, dream, interact, and often get into huge heaps of trouble.

Why do I love building these worlds?

Earth Force RisingThe first and easiest answer is that it’s fun. I love escapist fiction, both as a reader and a writer, and there’s nothing better than creating my own fictional worlds in which to escape. In the Bounders series, for example, there are several dystopian, not-so-great aspects of the fictional, future world, but those are balanced out by a lot of cool stuff. Suction chutes to travel between buildings at the space station? Check. Jet packs to fly? Check. Super cool alien technology that lets you bound through space without a ship? Check. I had the best time coming up with all that stuff. If you’re writing middle grade or young adult sci-fi and fantasy, I think the cool and fun factors are a must, even if your worlds have a dark underbelly. Readers want to imagine themselves in the worlds you create, so it can’t be all doom and gloom.

Continue reading “Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL”

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

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


About the BookGreetings from Witness Protection!

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

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

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

Goodreads


4 Stars

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

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

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

February Reading Re-Cap!

Hi guys! March is going to be a crazy month for me! I just performed last night in my choir’s Evening with the Madrigals, and I sang and/or played the piano to “Hold Me Now” by Johnny Logan, “Home” from Beauty and the Beast: The Musical, and “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera. Next week is Midterms week, along with my DECA State Convention and the SE-YA Book Fest. And that’s only the first two weeks of March, and there’s much more in store for me. At least last month, I was able to finish 10 books somehow!


5 Stars

Cry of the Sea by D. G. Driver

Cry of the Sea

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4 Stars

These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

These Ruthless Deeds

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Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt

Greetings from Witness Protection!

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AutoFocus by Lauren Gibaldi

AutoFocus

Goodreads

Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester

Legends of the Lost Causes

Goodreads

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Goodbye Eyes

Goodreads

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild

Goodreads

Rook by Sharon Cameron

Rook

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3 Stars

These Vengeful Souls by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

These Vengeful Souls

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Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington

Love Songs & Other Lies

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In Case You Missed This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Adrianne Finlay, author of Your One & Only

Mary Weber, author of Reclaiming Shilo Snow

Chelsea Sedoti, author of As You Wish

LILbooKtalks

“Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families” with Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser

Discussions

The Power of Middle Grade Novels

Reviews

Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay (5 Stars)

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (4 Stars)

Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester (4 Stars)

The Lairdbalor by Kathleen Kaufman (3 Stars)

Blog Tours and Cover Reveals

Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay (ARC Review)

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Review)

Fighting Fate by Shaila Patel (Cover Reveal and Excerpt)

Reclaiming Shilo Snow by Mary Weber (Scavenger Hunt and Author Interview)

Misc.

January Reading Re-Cap

Blog Update: Re-Organization of Archives


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

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

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Review: Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester — An MG Western Fantasy Full of Adventure and Perseverance!

Hi guys! Happy President’s Day!! Today I am off from school (yay, thank goodness), so I’m getting some much needed rest and relaxation. School is getting so much busier, and Lent has started, so I will be off of social media a lot these upcoming weeks. I will, however, check all my emails, messages, and notifications on my accounts once in the morning and once at night, so I will not ignore any messages you send me. It will take me some time to respond because I did give up social media for Lent, but I will be sure to look at and reply whenever I have the time. Today’s review is for Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester, a new and becoming MG Western Fantasy series that infuses elements of Native American culture and Western adventures! I hope you check out this book when you have the chance!


About the BookLegends 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 try to track down the legendary stone. Now, it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first. . . . all is lost.

Legends of the Lost Causes releases tomorrow February 20th from Henry Holt!

Goodreads

Pre-Order Legends of the Lost Causes here today!

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the publisher for sending me a free finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This will not affect my review in any way.

Legends of the Lost Causes is the MG adventure novel that I have been looking for ages. It was fun and gripping at the same time, and it had everything from zombies and gun fights to curses and mystery. It felt so refreshing to read a book that enraptured me from page one! I just could not put it down, and I found myself going “One chapter more. I need to know what happens next!” so many times. Legends of the Lost Causes places you in the midst of the fighting between the orphans and the outlaws as it takes you on a wild adventure in search of the elusive Char Stone. This story will not only make readers smile but also inspire readers, regardless of age, to continue to fight for what is right in the face of enemies and evil.

Continue reading “Review: Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester — An MG Western Fantasy Full of Adventure and Perseverance!”