September Reading Recap

Hi guys! I usually post my reading recap on the first Sunday of the month, but because I was so busy the week Fall Break ended, I didn’t have time to get this post up before I left for San Francisco for my vacation. I’ve finished 12 books this past month–yes, TWELVE! I’ve had such a busy and crazy month yet somehow I’ve squeezed in 12 stories from YA post-apocalyptic to MG contemporary. And it has been a great month for books for me–I’ve read 5 books that are 5 stars for me (though 2 are re-reads of my favorite books). I hope you enjoy!


5 Stars

Return of the Continuums by Jennifer Brody (Re-read)

Return of the Continuums

Goodreads

The United Continuums by Jennifer Brody (Re-read)

The United Continuums

Goodreads

Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler

Earth Force Rising

Goodreads

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan

Goodreads

The Tundra Trials by Monica Tesler

The Tundra Trials

Goodreads


4 Stars

A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar

A Stitch in Time

Goodreads

The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

Goodreads

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Orphan Island

Goodreads

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

Goodreads


3 Stars

Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan

Finchosaurus

 

Goodreads

Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky

Night Witches

Goodreads


2 Stars

The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden

The High Climber of Dark Water Bay
Goodreads


In Case You Missed It: This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Ann Braden, author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Kendare Blake, author of Two Dark Reigns

Lauren Gibaldi, author of Autofocus

Author Guest Posts

Katya de Becerra, author of What the Woods Keep, on “Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep”

LILbooKtalks

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

Book Reviews

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan (5)

The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth (4)

The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee (3)

The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt (4)

Blog Tours

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake: Author Interview

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra: Author Guest Post on “Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep

Cover Reveals

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Reading Recaps

August Reading Recap


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7 (NAB)

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

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Book Review: Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler — My New “Forever Book” that Makes Me Feel I Truly Belong

Hi guys! Whenever I go to events that have made such a deep impression on me, I get a really deep yearning to go back. I miss them so much that my heart aches. I miss my HITES11 Engineering Camp, Boys’ State, All State, and many other events where I made so many great memories and lifelong friends. I’ve never thought I’d have those same exact feelings with a book, but I did! I met Monica back at the SE-YA Book Festival in March, and she was so kind to send me a signed copy of her first book, and I loved it so much. Read my review and you’ll see why I miss it so much already.


About the BookEarth 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.

Goodreads

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Buy a signed & personalized copy at Buttonwood Books & Toys


5 Stars

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

Earth Force Rising now has a special place in my heart; I’m already tearing up just by thinking about it. Seriously, it is one of the best sci-fi novels I have read—both this year and of all-time. From the first few pages, I was sucked into this world full of dazzling science, unique characters, government secrets, and fascinating technology. I honestly did not want this book to end… ever! Knowing that there is a book five in the works, I’m already dreading the end of the series, and I haven’t read book two yet! As Earth Force Rising celebrates neurodiversity and the differences that makes each one of us unique, it bounds readers throughout space and takes them on the adventure of a lifetime. It evokes so many memories and emotions that I feel like I’ve been bonded to the book for such a long time. I’m missing the Bounders series as if I had actually lived it out.

I have never connected so deeply with such a cast of characters until I met Jasper, Cole, Lucy, Marco, and Myra. I seriously just want to jump into this world and become their friend. (Cole is my favorite character—he’s so great that I wish he was my best guy friend in real life.) Just like many of these characters, I know it feels to be outcasted and not fit in with everybody else. Although I’m not neurodiverse, I went through similar struggles that these kids had to endure (see the next paragraph for more on this). I’ve realized so much about my friendships as a Bounder–how great it is to have at least just one true friend in real life who I can trust and how great it is to have support from many others from all around the state. Earth Force Rising took me back to events such as HITES11 and Boys’ State, events that I miss constantly since I made so many great memories and so many lifelong friends. This book brought back so many memories and emotions from these experiences. It reminded me of the times when I felt like I belonged for who I was and the times when I knew I had an entire group that had my back. (My HITES11 family and my Boys’ State city are the best.) It also made me more grateful for not only those friendships but the few ones I have at home. High school is a very rough time, especially socially. I really don’t click with most of the people at my school, and I’ve endured so many changes and challenges regarding my social life in the past few years that I’ve been hurt so many times. Earth Force Rising moved me to remember that I have three best friends who make me feel accepted, and particularly one friend who I can always trust. It also reminded me that God will guide us to meet the friends that we are meant to meet and become close with, just as Jasper found the four best friends that he needed the most. For me, I’ve made five new best friends that I can visit any time I want to when I open up this series. (I know this review is very personal right now, but Earth Force Rising struck a really really really deep chord in my heart.)

One scene that I have to particularly talk about is the scene where Jasper, Cole, and Marco were choosing their bunks. This is such a minor scene, but I related to it so much. I’ve endured it in my own life as I figured out–and am still figuring out–who are my true friends. Cole (who was Jasper’s first ever Bounder friend) wanted him and Jasper to have the front bunks, but Marco (at this point, Cole still does not trust Marco) wanted Jasper to sleep in the back bunks. Knowing that it was a true test of friendship for Cole, Jasper decided to stay with him and sleep in the front bunks. This scene right here made the whole book for me, and it is why Cole is my favorite character. For me, the small details in my fellow peers’ behavior during our interactions tell me if they truly think of me as a friend. That’s why I am just like Cole–we are both very sensitive to this and know when someone is truly treating us as a friend. I’ve had classmates who I thought of as friends treat me as if I’m invisible when they’re around closer friends. Some don’t acknowledge my existence when they are with others. Many others treat me as an “answer key” in school and only talk to me when they need something. I’ve lost many old friends from this and realized I needed to cut off certain people from my life. It hurts. It still hurts. And it hurts a lot. Yet to be able to see this same thing happen to Cole gave me comfort. It showed me that I’m not alone. That scene alone gave me strength, and it reminded me that I don’t want to do what my peers did to me. I need to treat others how I want to be treated–as a friend. This is one of the first times I have been able to relate to a character on this deep of a level. I seriously wish Cole and I were friends in real life; he and I could get along really well.

Earth Force Rising helped me further embrace the person I am. I saw myself in every single character: my talkative and extroverted personality in Lucy, my tendency to know-it-all and nerd out in Cole, my sometimes-reckless curiosity in Marco, my awkwardness and desire to do the right thing in Jasper, and my conflicted courage and timidity in Mira. I truly felt like I fitted in with everybody at the Earthbound Academy, and I miss it so much. Almost every day, I have a nostalgic yearn to jump back into Earth Force Rising. I’ve already devoured book two because I wanted to continue this journey with everybody. I’ve had the same exact emotions as I did when I left Boys’ State and HITES11–the deep desire to just want to go back. Earth Force Rising gave me the epiphany that the world doesn’t need more of everyone else; it needs one of us, one version of our unique selves to stand out and bring more color to the lives of others. It needs one of me, and it needs one of you.

I could have talked about the world-building or the plot (which both were immersive with imagination and intrigue), but almost every good sci-fi and fantasy novel has both of them. But what makes a story go from great to extraordinary is how it impacts you. The feelings for the book does not end when you finish it; it stays with you for a very long. I know I throw around that phrase a lot in my reviews, but Earth Force Rising is the first book I’ve ever constantly thought about and missed for days on end. It is what the amazing Mr. Schu calls a “forever book,” one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. After reading Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials, I already know that the Bounders series are my forever books! I don’t think I’m ever going to forget how much Earth Force Rising has made me feel like I am truly home.


About the AuthorMonica Tesler

Monica Tesler is the author of the Bounders series, a middle grade science fiction adventure series about the first class of cadets at the EarthBound Academy for quantum space travel. The Heroes Return, the fourth title in the five book series, is due out in December. Monica lives outside of Boston with her family. For more information, you can visit her website, monicatesler.com.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

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

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Author Guest Post with R. M. Romero, MG Historical Fantasy Author of The Dollmaker of Kraków, on “Remembrance and Return”

Hi guys! Last Saturday–October 6th–marked the end of the Invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, who divided and annexed the nation under the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. The Invasion of Poland also marked the beginning of World War II and the catalyzation of the atrocities conducted by both the Nazis in the Holocaust and the Soviets in the mass deportations. A few weeks ago, I won a copy of The Dollmaker of Krakow in a giveaway hosted by author R. M. Romero, who agreed to do this guest post on the blog! I am very excited to share this post with y’all, and I hope you enjoy it!


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

In the land of dolls, there is magic.
In the land of humans, there is war.
Everywhere there is pain.
But together there is hope.

Karolina is a living doll whose king and queen have been overthrown. But when a strange wind spirits her away from the Land of the Dolls, she finds herself in Krakow, Poland, in the company of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power and a marked past.

The Dollmaker has learned to keep to himself, but Karolina’s courageous and compassionate manner lead him to smile and to even befriend a violin-playing father and his daughter–that is, once the Dollmaker gets over the shock of realizing a doll is speaking to him.

But their newfound happiness is dashed when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. Karolina and the Dollmaker quickly realize that their Jewish friends are in grave danger, and they are determined to help save them, no matter what the risks.

Goodreads

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

I am not of Polish descent and I was not born Jewish; I converted as an adult. But when I was eighteen, I traveled to Poland, driven by a desire to learn about the history there. I visited Kraków, a city seeped in legends and KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau, where over a million people–mostly Jews–were murdered.

A part of me never left.

I circled back to Kraków, that beautiful fairy tale city, and the darkness of Auschwitz-Birkenau time and time again. I was haunted by them and by all those who had lost their lives in the Holocaust, but I could only write stories around them. For many years, I never quite dared to return to those places–even in my imagination.

Until I finally did.

One summer night in 2014, I wrote a scene in which a doll comes to life in a magic toyshop. It was a simple scene, yet the characters interested me enough to go on. Before long, I realized where the story took place: Kraków. Shortly after, I realized when the story began: 1939, months before the German invasion and subsequent occupation of Poland. And finally, I realized how the story would end.

Once I knew that, I seriously considered abandoning the book. But ultimately, I pressed on; I felt as if I had to finish it. I had been unable to speak about what I’d seen for Auschwitz for almost a decade, and my dark fairy tale about a doll named Karolina and a toymaker was finally allowing to do just that.

Some thought that choosing to write a book that incorporated fantasy elements into real world history was odd, but if Guillermo del Toro is correct and fairy tales are born in troubled times, it was the only way I could tell the story.

I hoped that through The Dollmaker of Kraków, I could make others see what I had, and that they might come to fully understand the horrors that racism, antisemitism and xenophobia can create. I thought the book could help children see that they will always have the choice to help others…or to give into fear and anger.

Unfortunately, that is a message that has become more and more relevant since 2016. We live in a world where Nazis marched openly in a college town that I lived in for nearly two years, where children are once again being put in cages, where hateful speech is considered acceptable and even admirable by the President of the United States. History is repeating itself in alarming ways…but as I have seen over the last two years, we are fighting back against it.

I don’t know if The Dollmaker of Kraków can be a candle in that darkness and a way to honor those who died in the Holocaust because of vicious hatred. But I continue to hope. And I continue to remember.


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

R. M. Romero is a Jewish Cuban-American author. While afflicted with a terrible cast of wanderlust, she currently lives in Miami Beach with her witchy black cat. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program.

When she is not writing, R. M. Romero occupies her time reading fairy tales, taking care of a feral cat colony, and studying Polish.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Even in darkness, it is possible to create light.” — Elie Wiesel

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

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito by Shelley Johannes Blog Tour — Spotlight Post

Hi guys! Happy October!! Today is the first day of October, and that means Fall is in the air! Woo hoo! Today I am kicking off the blog tour for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito, an MG contemporary novel about a 3rd grader who loves all things spy-related. I’ve seen a lot of great things about it in the MG community, so I am very excited to share with y’all this a little more about the book!

Beatrice Zinker Incognito Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookBeatrice Zinker Incognito

Title: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito

Author: Shelley Johannes

Pub. Date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 224

Synopsis: In book two of the Beatrice Zinker series, Operation Upside is finally in full swing! But when Beatrice’s over-enthusiasm lands Mrs. Tamarack with a Strictest Certificate, the team has to scale back a bit.

Lying low is not exactly Beatrice’s strong suit, especially when she sees someone who desperately needs to be recognized. But when the certificate meant for him falls into the wrong hands, Beatrice and Lenny have to find a way to widen their circle once again to save Operation Upside, and themselves, from trouble.

Goodreads

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About the AuthorShelley Johannes

Before becoming an author-illustrator, Shelley began her creative career with ten years in architecture—where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. She currently lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan with her husband and two sons.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book she’s written. She looks forward to more upside down adventures with Beatrice.

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

3 winners will win a finished copy of BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER: INCOGNITO, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Link to Tour Schedule

Week One:

10/1/2018- LILbooKloversSpotlight Post (Excerpt will be added once I receive it)

10/2/2018- A Fictional Bookworm– Review

10/3/2018- Beagles & Books– Review

10/4/2018- Oh Hey! Books.– Excerpt

10/5/2018- Patriotic Bookaholic– Review

Week Two:

10/8/2018- Rhythmicbooktrovert– Review

10/9/2018- Christen Krumm Review

10/10/2018- For the Love of KidLit– Spotlight

10/11/2018- BookHounds YA– Review

10/12/2018- Two Points of Interest– Review


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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

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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!

Goodreads

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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”

ARC Review: The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee — An Ode to Autumn Full of Mystery and Spookiness

Hi guys! Fall is almost here, so today I am reviewing The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee, an MG fantasy set in a small Tennessee town (go Tennessee!) in the fall. With Halloween coming up, I think this murder mystery is perfect for those who need a good spook. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe House in Poplar Wood

For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.

But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.

Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.

Goodreads

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3 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.

I’ve never read one of K. E. Ormsbee’s MG novels, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to review her latest novel The House in Poplar Wood. I was really excited to read about all of the magic regarding Death, Memory, and Passion. Magical realism and contemporary fantasy fascinate me very much. Unfortunately, The House in Poplar Wood fell short of my expectations. I did not feel any emotional connection to the story at all until the very end. To me, it wasn’t bad but it just wasn’t very good. I wish I could have enjoyed it a lot more, but I felt as if I was reading words off of a page rather than being transported into a story.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee — An Ode to Autumn Full of Mystery and Spookiness”

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.

Goodreads

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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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September LILbooKtalk.png

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

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


About the BookThe Benefits of Being an Octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ann Braden Interview.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August Reading Recap!

Hi everybody!! I am on a three-day weekend today (woo hoo!), and I’m spending this Labor Day break reading and relaxing and catching up on things. One day off really can make all the difference, don’t you think? Today, I am sharing my August Reading Recap, and I read eight books this month! I’m a bit surprised at that, but I’m so glad to do so. I’m planning on doing some more re-reads of my favorite books (I have The Continuum Trilogy and The Book Thief next on my list) along with knocking out a lot of review copies and backlist books. I hope you enjoy!


5 StarsBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Re-read!)

Between Shades of Gray

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Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Fawkes

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Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

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The 13th Continuum by Jennifer Brody (Re-read!)

The 13th Continuum

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4 StarsThe Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M

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The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth

The Eleventh Trade

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Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

Kids of Appetite

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3 StarsThe House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee

The House in Poplar Wood


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In Case You Missed This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane

Sarah Jean Horwitz, author of The Wingsnatchers

LILbooKtalks

“Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt

Blog Tours

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes: Book and Audiobook Excerpts

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd: Book Review

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen: Book Excerpt

Book Reviews

Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver (4)

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (5)

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (4)

The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody (4)

The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (5)

Recaps

July Reading Recap

Promotional Posts

Top 10 Favorite Apparel Designs from Literary Book Gifts


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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