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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Exclusive Interview with Supriya Kelkar, MG Historical Fiction Author of Ahimsa

Hi guys! I have a really special interview for you today, and today’s guest is Supriya Kelkar, author of her MG historical fiction debut Ahimsa. It is an amazing novel, and if you haven’t read it, you are missing out! Check out my review of Ahimsa here, and I hope you enjoy this interview and read this beautiful book!


About the BookAhimsa

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

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Supriya Kelkar Header.png

 

1. Your MG debut novel Ahimsa, which follows Anjali as she and her mother join the nonviolent Indian Freedom Movement, was inspired by your great-grandmother who worked with Gandhi and other political leaders as a Freedom Fighter. Could you share with us a bit about your great-grandmother and how her life of perseverance and activism led to the creation of Ahimsa?

My great-grandmother’s background is very similar to Ma’s in Ahimsa. When Gandhi asked each family to give one member to the nonviolent freedom movement, my great-grandfather was running a business and couldn’t go because they needed the income to survive. So my great-grandmother decided she would join. She fought for women’s rights and for the impoverished communities in her region. She was arrested by the British for leading a protest and remained imprisoned until Gandhi negotiated the Gandhi-Irwin pact, which allowed non-violent political prisoners to be released from jail. After India’s independence, she went on to become a two-term congresswoman.

In 2003, when I learned more about her, I really wanted to write a screenplay about her story, a biopic. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. Then I thought it should be a fictional story and tried to tell it from the point of view of a freedom fighter’s daughter. That still wasn’t working. That’s when I decided to give the story a try as a novel. Ahimsa was the first novel I ever wrote and it didn’t get published until fourteen years after the first draft was written!

2. What attracted you to historical fiction as an author and a reader? Why do you believe it is important to shed light on events such as the Indian Freedom Movement to young readers?

It’s so interesting to me how much there is to learn from historical fiction, and how relevant the genre can be. I didn’t even realize the social justice parallels in my book until more than a decade into revisions on it. I think it is important to shed light on events such as the Indian Freedom Movement so young readers can not only learn a little about historical events that are often lightly touched upon in a school curriculum, but also so young readers can learn from them and apply the lessons of the time period to today’s time.

3. How have your personal experiences dealing with racism as you grew up shaped Ahimsa? What do you want readers to take away from your debut novel?

AhimsaA few years ago, a childhood friend on Facebook was talking about how differently some people were treated by the police, based on the color of their skin. And almost everyone who responded from our high school said this wasn’t true. We grew up in a town that was all about being “color blind.” Race was not discussed (unless you were being bullied because of it), and everyone liked to talk about how they didn’t see color and everyone was equal. I was stunned. I finally wrote a long comment on his post to the other people about everything I went through, all the racist incidents that happened, all the racist comments from teachers, peers, kids younger than me, words written in permanent marker on my locker, and a brick thrown through our window. And none of the people I grew up with could believe any of this happened, even though it happened almost daily and in front of their eyes. This realization that I could walk the same halls of high school as other people but my experience could be so totally different, led to the scene where Mohan tells Anjali that although they walk on the same street, their experiences are totally different.

I want readers to understand from Ahimsa that if someone tells them something is hurtful or racist, they should believe it, even if they haven’t experienced it or seen it. I want them to be aware of their own prejudices and their own privileges and see where they can grow.  I also want readers to know that they are powerful and can make a difference in this world with their voice. And most of all, I want them to take away empathy from Ahimsa, and realize how much there is to respect and value in each person, from every background.

4. What were some of the challenges you faced during your research for Ahimsa? How has writing your debut helped you embrace and understand more about your Indian heritage and ancestry?

Anjali’s house is my father’s childhood home in India. But when I was describing things in it, I was describing how I remembered them in the 1980s and 1990s. Although most of it was accurate, since the house was around in the 1940s, there were small details I got wrong. I had only seen kitchen cabinets with a stove on top of them. But back in the 1940s, the cooking was done on the floor in that house. Luckily, my parents read the drafts several times and were able to point out any inaccuracies.

Another mistake was I had used my favorite Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” in the book. But it wasn’t until almost the very last edit, when I was triple checking every little detail, that I realized there is no proof Gandhi ever said that line. I had to remove it and find a quote that was actually documented as being said by Gandhi to replace it with.

Debuting with a story about Indian characters really did help me embrace my background more. For years I had written stories about characters that were not from my cultural background, because those stories were the ones that sold. It meant so much to me that now, a story like this could be published.

5. Which character in Ahimsa do you identify most with, and why?

I relate a lot to Anjali in that I can be stubborn at times and it takes me a while to learn from my mistakes. I also relate to Ma’s optimism and wish I were as brave as she was.

6. As a screenwriter for multiple Hindi films, how has your profession in the film industry impacted you as a writer? Would you like to describe to us some of your experiences working on your productions?

Supriya KelkarI had the great privilege of working with one of the biggest production houses in India, and one that knows the value of a solid screenplay. We would spend years on one script, revising it and having it get torn apart and then revising it again. As an impatient person, I learned a lot about how important it is to keep revising and not become attached to your words. You have to be able to throw out entire scenes and storylines and sometimes characters when you’re revising. I also learned a lot about the importance of plot and the importance of being entertaining while serving the plot thanks to the incredible directors and writers I got to work with.

 

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

I have always been someone who loved to tell a story, and probably embellished my stories quite a bit as a child, so writing was a natural way for me to record those stories when I was younger. I first remember really loving writing in third grade, when our class wrote our own books, which our teacher bound into hardcover books. That’s when I first felt this huge sense of accomplishment for writing a story and the joy of being able to share it. It was also when I first heard some constructive criticism too. I couldn’t figure out how to get the characters out of trouble so right when things were at their worst, I had the main character wake up with a start and realize it was all just a bad dream. A family member told me she loved the story except for the ending. 🙂

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

I don’t really have a favorite genre. As a child, I really enjoyed the Babysitters Club series and scaring myself with the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. I was also really into this Indian comic book series called Amar Chitra Katha. Since there weren’t any books about Indian or Indian-American characters when I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning Indian history, folk tales and mythology from those comic books. In my late teens and twenties, I loved the Harry Potter books. And currently, I really adore picture books. I love how much can be said in so few words in them and think you’re never too old to read them. I was really floored by DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis. It is a book told totally in a made-up bug language and yet the reader is able to understand.

I don’t think any of the books in particular impacted my writing style. But I do think I learned about story and plot and character arcs from each and every one of them.

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

When I’m not writing, I have my hands full with my three young kids. Writing is my only job outside of being a mother. I come from a screenwriting background, having studied it in college and then later going on to become a Bollywood screenwriter. I enjoy that I can make my own hours as an author, versus being a screenwriter. I actually write late at night after the kids have slept. It leads to groggy mornings and strange dreams but it’s worth it!

10. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you ever surprise yourself as you drafted and revised your book?

I am 100% a plotter thanks to my screenwriting background. I start with general story beats. Then I expand them into bullet points. And then I write paragraphs below each bullet point about the moments I want to have happen in each chapter. I do surprise myself as I draft each chapter when the writing leads to a new idea that has repercussions later in the book though. Those are fun moments that I always look forward to when writing.

11. Your upcoming children’s picture book The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh is set to release in 2019! What is it like making this transition from a Middle Grade novel to a picture book? What can we expect in your latest story?

Yes! I am so excited for it! I always wanted to be a picture book author and I still can’t believe it is actually happening next year. I learned the hard way that it isn’t easy to write a picture book, even though the word count is the equivalent of a page or two in a novel. The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh is about an Indian-American boy who expresses himself through colors. When he moves to a new town across the country, he uses his colors to navigate the various emotions he feels, from nervous, to shy, to finally feeling at home again. Alea Marley did the illustrations and they are stunning and adorable and I can’t wait to be able to share the book with everyone next year!

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

I would say to keep learning, keep revising, and never give up. Ahimsa took 14 years to be published, and the first draft was awful. It can be hard to not get attached to your words and be receptive to constructive criticism, but once you’re able to delete stuff with abandon and really take in constructive criticism, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I know I was.

Thanks so much, Supriya, for joining us today! It was so great to get to know more about you and your wonderful debut novel!


About the AuthorSupriya Kelkar

Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the 2015 New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (October 2, 2017), Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films, including Lage Raho Munnabhai and Eklavya: The Royal Guard, India’s entry into the 2007 Academy Awards. She was an associate producer on the Hollywood feature, Broken Horses. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019), and THE SANDALWOOD PYRE (Tu Books, 2020). Supriya is represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Ahimsa? Do you like MG historical fiction?

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

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June Reading Recap!

Hi guys! Fortunately, because summer’s here, I’ve been able to read more and blog more over the past few weeks! I have managed to finish nine books (compared with May’s two/three) and I have finally completed a few reading goals! I’ve found two five-star books (yes, my four-star drought has ended!) and I’ve finished a classic outside of English! Jane Eyre took me a long time to read but it was so well worth it! I hope you can check out these amazing books!


5 Stars

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

Goodreads

Follow Me Back by A. V. Geiger

Follow Me Back

Goodreads


4 Stars

One Night by Deanna Cabinian

One Night

Goodreads

Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn

Forget Tomorrow

Goodreads

The Magnificent Glass Globe by N. R. Bergeson

The Magnificent Glass Globe

Goodreads

Dragon Mount by Jennifer M. Eaton

Dragon Mount

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One Summer with Autumn by Julie A. Reece

One Summer with Autumn
Goodreads

Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes

Hidden Pieces


Goodreads

Before Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn

Before Tomorrow


Goodreads


In Case You Missed It

Author Interviews

Meg Eden, author of Post-High School Reality Quest

Mindee Arnett, author of Onyx & Ivory

Author Guest Posts

Monica Tesler, author of The Heroes Return, on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction”

B. W. Morris, author of Six Pack: Emergence, on “The Journey to The Six Pack Series

LILbooKtalks

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

Book Reviews

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (5 stars)

Dragon Mount by Jennifer M. Eaton (4 stars)

The Island by J. L. Pattison (4 stars)

Blogoversary!

The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers

Kester’s Interview on MG Book Village

Reading Recaps

May Reading Recap


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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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.

Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Book Depository | Signed Copies from Once Upon a Time


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”

Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library

Hi guys! I have a gigantic slew of MG novels that I need to review for y’all, so for the upcoming weeks, you will see a bunch of reviews of some amazing Middle Grade books! Spoiler alert: They’re all four or five star ratings! To start off, today’s review is on Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar, which is set in 1940s India during the Freedom Movement. Sounds intriguing? Go read it! You will not regret it!


About the BookAhimsa

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Book Depository


5 Stars

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

I rarely rate books five stars anymore. A book is awarded five stars for one of three reasons: it is a new all-time favorite, it resonates with me on such a deep basis, or it has the power to change lives including my own. Ahimsa is a novel that will influence the viewpoints of readers, regardless of age. It is such a thought-provoking and emotionally gripping story that will inspire readers to persevere in their battles. Although I was not very into the story at first since it was written in third-person, the deeper I progressed into Anjali’s fight for freedom, the more that I literally could not put the book down.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library”

Celebrating LILbooKlovers’s (Belated) 2 Year Blogoversary with My Research Paper on Middle Grade Literature!

Hi everybody!!! I had meant to post up a blogoversary post on May 28th–the day the first ever post went live on this site–but because of Boys State and last-minute activities, I was not able to schedule a post in time. But that is okay. It’s better to be late than never!

My opening remarks are going to be a bit short because I am way behind on posting (so my summer posts will be very erratic in the upcoming weeks) and because I want to get straight to my special gift for y’all. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported, helped, or contributed to the blog in any way. The blog has grown exponentially over the past year, and I have made so many connections with bloggers and authors all across the country. I appreciate all of the support and encouragement you have poured into my blogging and personal endeavors, and every kind word and cheer fills my heart up to the brim. To be able to make an impact on readers is what makes blogging worthwhile, and I am excited to see where this next year will take LILbooKlovers to.

For my AP English Language and Composition final research paper, I decided to use Middle Grade Literature as my topic. I wrote a total of 22 pages (along with 6 more pages full of cited sources) that explore why “The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers.” Yes, I wrote 22 pages. Yes, the page limit was supposed to be five to eight pages. Yes, I did get permission from my teacher. And yes, I did enjoy it. (Well, I liked the revising more than the drafting, which was really rough–pun not intended.)

Here is a little snippet from my essay if you would like a small taste of it:

By combining this experimentation of various genres, cultures, poetry and prose styles, and perspectives with the vast world of themes, issues, real-life inspirations and people, and conflicts, Middle Grade is an entire buffet of unique stories and qualitative writing that can be considered by many literary enthusiasts as modern classics. Alyssa Hollingsworth, author of The Eleventh Trade, reflects upon this high degree of excellence: “[I]t was just so amazing to me as I read Story Thieves that I was having the same metanarrative discussions on the same level that I did in an upper level English class at college” (Hollingsworth). Whether they possess subtle symbolism or majestic world-building or authentic realism, MG can be dissected for lesson plans in the classroom or discussed by readers of any age in book clubs and panels. It tackles a wide variety of issues in ways that more mature fiction cannot, and it has the power to promote unity and dialogue between children, adults, and their fellow peers, regardless of their backgrounds.

If you would like to read the entire essay and see the thoughts of many authors and professionals in the Middle Grade industry and community, please click the link below! I definitely hope you enjoy it!

The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers

In addition, I am being interviewed on MG Book Village (co-founded by the amazing Jarrett Lerner, author of EngiNerds), and it was really fun to be on the other side of the interview this time! Get to know a little more about me, my bookish life, and also my personal life as I approach my senior year of high school!

An Interview with Kester on MG Book Village

I hope you enjoyed my essay and interview, and thank you so much for celebrating our (albeit late) two-year blogoversary! It has been such an amazing journey to provide y’all with great recommendations and introduce many great author to you all, and I hope you’ll continue to stick with me and this blog.


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

What are your thoughts on Middle Grade?

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

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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”

May Reading Recap

Hi everybody! This month’s Reading Recap will be very short because I have read only two books this month. Yes, two. This past May has been one of the busiest months of my entire life, with AP exams in the first two weeks, end-of-school activities the third, Boys State on the fourth, and traveling to the Philippines on the fifth. It has been very crazy for me, so I have not been able to read at all. Hopefully this summer, I’ll be able to catch up on reading and reviewing and blogging!


4 Stars

The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody

The Gravedigger's Son

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The Island by J. L. Pattison

The Island

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In Case You Missed It: This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, author of A Dog Like Daisy

Author Guest Posts

Wendy McLeod MacKnight, author of The Frame Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

LILbooKtalks

“Mermaid Tails and Fairy Tales” with Tobie Easton and D. G. Driver

Discussions

Memorial Day: A Personal Reflection on Washington, DC, and TN Boys State

Book Reviews

Genesis by Brendan Reichs

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett

Runtime by S. B. Divya

Seeing through Sampson’s Eyes by Pamela Schloesser Canepa

Blog Tours

Genesis by Brendan Reichs

Reading Recap

April Reading Recap


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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Exclusive Guest Post with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

Hi guys! Today I am at the Tennessee American Legion Boys’ State, where I will be marching and learning more about the inner workings about the government for the entire week. It is an honor to be representing my community this year! Today, I have a special guest post by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of It’s a Mystery, Pig Faceand the upcoming release The Frame-Up, which looks so fascinating! Can you imagine traveling to the worlds inside paintings?


About the BookThe Frame-Up

Don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Thirteen-year-old Mona Dunn has adhered to that rule for almost one hundred years, ever since her portrait was hung on the walls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So when the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer discovers the truth, she’s sure she’d just exposed the gallery’s biggest secret. But Sargent, an aspiring artist himself, just wants to know more about the vast and intriguing world beyond the frames. With devious plots, shady characters, and grand art heists, this inventive mystery adventure celebrates art and artists.

Featuring sixteen pages of full glossy pictures of the masterpieces who are characters in the book, this book is a must-read and a useful tool for teachers and parents who want to introduce children to art and artists in a fun, accessible way.

The Frame-Up will release from Greenwillow Books on June 5th, 2018!

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Don’t miss her pre-order giveaway!


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The World Behind the Frame: The Frame-Up

I’ve always loved art.

From an early age, I was inspired by art, although I didn’t show a particular aptitude to make it myself (though I admit to the odd dabbling).

I remember visiting my grandmother as a little girl and seeing the portrait of my mother as a teenager on the wall.

Patsy Rider
Photo Courtesy of Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Yes, my mother is Patsy Ryder, the visitor in the story!

The girl in the painting was flat. I wondered what she was looking at. I wondered if she found the grownups conversations boring, as I sometimes did.

What was it like to be in there, behind the frame?

Creating the world behind the frame before I began to write the book was time-consuming.

The world of the art gallery was easy; I had only to wander around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery take notes.

For the world behind, there had to be rules.

First of all, there was the whole travelling between paintings business. I don’t explicitly spell it out in the book, because I want the reader to imagine how it works for themselves, but in my mind’s eye, there is a magical rabbit’s warren of hallways connecting the paintings to one another. Usually, the residents take their time going between the paintings, often times not entering another painting as they go, but other times, they simply walk from painting to painting, especially if the painting is a landscape.

And then there is the whole issue of what exactly is IN any particular painting.

Since the artist’s vision is supreme and what brings the painting to life, I decided early on that the only thing that existed in any given painting was entirely dependents upon what the artists was thinking about while he or she painted.

So Helena Rubinstein gets to have a few rooms at the back of her portrait, as well some cookies, because artist Graham Sutherland thought of them at the time he painted her.

Not so fortunate is a sketch of Somerset Maugham’s head. Since Sutherland was so focused on getting Maugham’s features right for the final portrait, he only thought of the head. The Maugham in the sketch will be forever dependent on the kindness of other residents to get him where he wants to be.

Depending on the imagination of the artist, the painting can go on far into the distance. For example, Mona Dunn ends up in the painting MerryMaking, and ends up travelling for miles on a bitterly cold winter day, thanks to Krieghoff’s imagination.  This is mostly true of all the paintings, though sometimes to almost comical lengths. In Dan Vigilio Lake Garda, John Singer Sargent doesn’t stock the café with chocolate gelato because the proprietor ran out of it on the day Singer visited!

Mona’s painting is very bare: a small throw, a stool, and a shadowy room. It is not wonder that she adores visiting paintings like San Vigilio, Lake Garda!

There are other rules in the world outside the frame: a resident should not go into another residents’ painting when they are not there without their permission.


About the AuthorWendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy grew up in St. Stephen and wrote her first novel at age nine. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education when the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. Wendy is represented by Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. Her second book, The Frame-Up, a fantasy set at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, was sold at auction to Greenwillow Books in a two-book deal and will be published June 5th 2018.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Frame-Up? Do you like MG Fantasy?

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

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

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


About A Dog Like DaisyA Dog Like Daisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crack!

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

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

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

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

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


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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