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

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


About the BookThe Story Collector

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

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

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

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

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5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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ARC Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden — A Powerful, Vivid, Beautiful Depiction of the Struggles Many Families Face Today

Hi guys! This year, I’ve discovered upon a slew of life-changing Middle Grade books that have impacted me so dearly. I am so happy to say that The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is one of them, and today’s review displays how much it will change your perspective on what other people have to go through in their lives. It’s especially fitting since school is beginning for many people in these next few weeks, so I hope you’ll pick up this book for you or for your children/students.


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.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

Never have I ever read a book in my life that I wanted to be pushed into the hands of readers, from students to educators, than The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Ann Braden’s vivid portrayal of a young girl trying to “get by” each day as her family—her single mother and her four siblings—are struggling with financial troubles and her mom’s abusive boyfriend is a reality that many children around both the nation and the world face everyday. I would write a longer introduction, but this book is so powerful and so relevant that I must start on the body of my review as soon as possible.

I have to first start out by saying that I saw myself very clearly in one character, Matt. Matt is guy in class who excels in virtually everything he does; he also has a good family with a steady income. When I first met him, I saw too much of myself in him—the student who goes above and beyond in assignments, from staying up too late to working at rapid speed. But Matt has one characteristic flaw that I know I have: Forgetting how blessed and privileged he is. While eating out at the pizzeria or drinking a peanut butter banana smoothie may not seem like a big deal to him, for Zoe those things seem like a distant reality. She has to deal power outages, clothes that are too small, and not always seeing her mother due to work.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus reminded me—in fact, it poked and prodded me with a gigantic tentacle—that not everyone is as blessed as I am. I am blessed to have two loving parents along with a great sister, a nice home, and three best friends who have my back. I have the ability to afford things I want, to travel places, and to go out. I am glad that I have discovered and honed by academic, musical, and extracurricular talents and abilities. But many of my fellow classmates don’t have these luxuries. Some always are out of the house, hanging out with friends or partying hard, because of their parents or their parental situation. Others have to work even two jobs on top of school to help provide for their families. There are many kids who can say that they’ve never set foot outside my small town, while I’ve visited countries halfway across the world. Some don’t own their own cars while I have one ready at a moment’s notice. While I can wiggle my way through a difficult calculus problem, there are classmates who struggle with algebra or geometry. Not everyone has the opportunities and the blessings I have. And I’m not saying my life is perfect at all. What am I saying is that there’s so much in my life, especially the little things, that I take too much for granted.

I know this review isn’t usually my standard format. I’m not reviewing over any of the story elements except for one gigantic overarching theme. This review is pretty much a personal reflection on Braden’s beautiful book. But I think that whenever I am compelled to write such a personal essay that helps me further understand and examine a key theme of a book, then that story must be very special. It must have struck a deep chord in my heart and changed my mindset. That is the mark of a five-star book. Certainly it is receiving one from me! It is one of the best Middle Grade novels—scratch that, books—I have ever read. No matter your background, no matter your age, you need to read this book. It will change your perspective as much as mine did. The Benefits of Being an Octopus will make readers become aware of the struggles that each person is going through, and it will instill in them the courage to speak up for, to be mindful to, and to reach out to those who may not have the blessings that the readers may experience. And for readers who may be in Zoe’s shoes, they will realize that they are not alone and that they have the power to change who they are.

Please note that I read from an uncorrected proof, so there could have been changes between this draft and the final publication.


About the AuthorAnn Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. Newbery award-winner Karen Hesse describes Ann’s debut middle grade novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus as “a compassionate look at poverty, hard choices, and defending one’s right to be treated humanely. A very fine first novel, written with a deft hand.” Ann founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. Ann lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Benefits of Being an Octopus? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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Book Review: The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody — A Heart-Pounding yet Heartwarming MG Horror Novel Full of Empathy and Imagination

Hi guys! Today is my first day of school, and I am really stoked for senior year! It’s going to be crazy and stressful yet fun and exciting, and I am resolving to enjoy each and every day to the fullest (plus read some amazing books along the way). Today’s review is a Middle Grade horror novel (yes, MG and horror!) by Patrick Moody called The Gravedigger’s Son. It’s really spooky yet heartwarming, and you can see why I loved it so much in my review! I hope you enjoy it!


About the BookThe Gravedigger's Son

“A Digger must not refuse a request from the Dead.” —Rule Five of the Gravedigger’s Code

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

Equal parts spooky and melancholy, funny and heartfelt, The Gravedigger’s Son is a gorgeous debut that will long sit beside Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

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4 Stars

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

Middle Grade and horror may not seem like a soluble combination at first, but Patrick Moody masters this mixture in his debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son. The Gravedigger’s Son infuses dark fantasy full of the undead, witches, and magic with a story filled with light, hope, and goodness. I didn’t know what to expect from a MG horror novel (a genre that is very rare), but this book definitely met and even exceeded my expectations. It is one that makes you want to savor each and every page. From the opening pages to the beautiful illustrations, readers will become mesmerized as this heart-pounding yet heartwarming story will capture their imaginations and wrench their emotions.

Throughout The Gravedigger’s Son, Ian is torn between upholding his family’s legacy as a Gravedigger and pursuing his passion for helping the living as a Healer. As he explores both his heritage and himself, readers become driven to be see the good in each person and to understand the struggles behind their motives. The Gravedigger’s Son teaches readers of all ages the true meaning behind the old adage “Hurt people hurt people,” that bad guys are often driven to evil not because they are evil but because they are hurt, insecure, fearful. Moody’s debut novel spreads empathy as he reveals more about the antagonists. I can say that The Gravedigger’s Son truly imprinted that message on my heart and inspired me to see a new side to those who have hurt and persecuted me. This book will touch readers regardless of age or background.

Patrick Moody creates a spooky yet magical world where Gravediggers assist the dead, Healers help the living, and Witches can disrupt the peace between the two worlds. I fell in love with all of the magic and intrigue from the first few chapters. The illustrations, gorgeously crafted by the talented Graham Carter, further make the story come to life. While they may be few in number, their quality will cause readers to stare at them in wonder and become entranced into the scenes they depict. I can say for certain that I fell in love with all of the illustrations to the point where I felt like I was actually in the story. In addition, the characters are very charming, complex, and lovable. Everything about The Gravedigger’s Son is beautifully crafted.

The Gravedigger’s Son may scare you at times, but it will warm and wrench your heart nonetheless. It may not be a horror novel in the style of Stephen King, but it certainly does spook you and sends chills down your spine. With the help of a few beautiful illustrations, Patrick Moody transports readers into a world where the lines between the living and the dead can become blurred at times. He accomplishes this using brilliant storytelling, charming characters, surprising twists, and powerful messages. The Gravedigger’s Son ultimately will help readers to remember to stand up for what is right, to defend your family at all costs, to help people in any way possible, and to continue pursuing your dreams.


About the AuthorPatrick Moody

When he was six years old, Patrick Moody saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon on late-night television, which sparked a life long love of all things horror, fantasy, and science fiction. He also grew up next to a graveyard, which probably helped.

Patrick is the author of numerous short stories, ranging from adult horror to Middle Grade fantasy. His work has appeared in several journals and magazines, and a few have been adapted into audio dramas.

His first novel, The Gravedigger’s Son, illustrated by Graham Carter, will be available August 1, 2017 from Sky Pony Press.

Patrick lives in Connecticut with his girlfriend and their mischievous coven of cats.

When he’s not thinking about zombies, witches, werewolves, and wizards, he’s writing about them.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Gravedigger’s Son? Do you like MG horror novels?

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

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Book Review: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske — One of the Most Humorous, Relatable, Memorable, and Life-Changing Novels I’ve Ever Read

Hi guys! In exactly one week, my senior year will start, and that means I am going to be graduating in ten months. I cannot believe it. It’s so crazy to think that I’m going to be off to college in about a year and I’ll be closing this chapter of my life. Today’s review features a book that revolves around dealing with many struggles in one’s life, whether it be regarding family, friendships, or school. I’m so happy to be sharing with you my review of Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske, and I hope you enjoy it and check out this amazing novel!


About the BookKat Greene Comes Clean

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.

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5 Stars

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

Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those rare few books that you want to give a big hug after you’ve finished it. I feel like I bonded so much with Kat and her story since I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with everything, not knowing what to do or where to start. It is one of the most relatable novels I have ever read, and it is also one of the funniest books I have read! It is humor at its finest! A little note: I actually upgraded my original rating of 4-stars to 5-stars because I could still feel the impression the book left on me. I’ve read over 50 books this past year, and Kat Greene Comes Clean remains vividly at the top of the list, which shows how well-written and how powerful it is. It is certainly one of the best Middle Grade novels I’ve read. Melissa Roske’s MG debut will have readers falling in love with Kat in this story full of brilliant humor, heartwarming lessons, and many Harriet the Spy references.

One of the greatest things about MG Contemporary is that it explores a wide variety of issues and offers readers a glimpse into the struggles that other people go through. Certainly, Kat Greene Comes Clean accomplishes this job exceptionally. While I do not agree with divorce, it was very enlightening and touching to be able to read from Kat’s point of view as she deals with the separation of her parents, especially since many friends and classmates I know also go through this. In addition, I’ve learned a lot from the author’s stark portrayal of OCD in Kat’s mom and how Kat reacted to it. I could feel Kat’s fear about what to do along with her hurricane of other emotions as she deals with the problems in her family, at school, and among her friends. There were many times that I personally could relate to her. Kat Greene Comes Clean fostered in me a greater amount of empathy that would help me better understand what other kids are going through, and I have no doubt readers of all ages will find themselves changed after they read this book.

The story overall was written brilliantly. This was one of the few books in which I laughed very hard and very frequently! It was kidlit humor at its finest (oh, how I love kids!). I highly enjoyed all the Harriet the Spy references, and now I know that I really need to pick it up soon. Roske’s novel is very short and easy to read, yet it was so great that I did not want to put it down! I finished it in an entire day as I found myself saying, “Just a few more pages,” before picking it back up a few minutes later. I became so hooked by Kat’s tale full of family, friends, love, and hope from page one. Kat Greene Comes Clean certainly was a fun novel that made me feel good and feel at the same time.

As I’ve been foraying deeper into Middle Grade literature, I’ve found that while most (if not all) will provide me comfort and consolation, only a few books will make a deep impact on me. Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of those few. When I think about this beautiful story, I often greet it with a slightly nostalgic smile, one that marks how happy and how heart-wrenched it made me. It is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this one, and it’s one that I will never forget. It has the power to touch the hearts of many readers and change their lives. Kat Greene Comes Clean ultimately teaches readers two very important lessons: to love one another, for everyone is going through their own set of challenges, and to never give up hope, regardless of how overwhelming life may seem.


About the AuthorMelissa Roske

Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. (Her column was called “Life Sucks,” but it was Melissa’s job to insist it didn’t.) Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Kat Greene Comes Clean? Do you like MG contemporary?

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

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Book 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!

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

ARC Review: Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes — A Puzzling and Haunting Thriller Full of Mystery, Danger, and Death

Hi guys! I normally do not post reviews this early before release date, but because I am very short on reviews, I’ve decided to post my review of Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes already. I’ve read Stokes’s This is How It Happened and really enjoyed and loved it, so I was really excited to be able to read an advance copy of her latest YA thriller novel! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookHidden Pieces

Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move…is murder.

Hidden Pieces will release from HarperTeen on August 28th! Pre-order it here!

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4 Stars

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

For me to enjoy a suspense and mystery thriller, I have to experience two feelings: I must not be able to put it down and I must be shocked at the plot twists and revelations. Hidden Pieces accomplished both of them! I started this book on a road trip (a 4 to 5 hour drive) and ended up finishing it that same day—it was THAT good. From the first page, I became hooked by its fast-paced, action-driven storyline. I felt a whole range of emotions as the story progressed from a simple threat to a menacing mix of death and betrayal. You cannot trust anybody in this story. Paula Stokes does not disappoint in her latest YA thriller novel as Hidden Pieces will have readers puzzled and chilled while facing a potential murderer.

Hidden Pieces poses an interesting Catch-22 situation, a complicated moral dilemma, that will make readers think of what they would do in Embry’s shoes. After she causes a fire that destroys an abandoned hotel, Embry is torn between keeping her role in it a secret and telling the truth (and thus being liable for paying thousands of dollars in damages plus possibly facing criminal charges), but this dilemma becomes twisted as an unknown stalker threatens her loved ones when she refuses to reveal what actually happened that night. It definitely made me ponder about whether I would be able to have the courage to say the truth, and that is the mark of a well-written book. For a novel to make readers question not only the story but themselves shows how impactful and powerful it is.

Paula Stokes is a master at creating twisted plotlines full of surprising revelations, subtle hints, complex characters, and treacherous dangers. I became so emotionally invested into the story that I just wanted to gasp and scream so loud at times. She doesn’t hold back any punches when she throws at you shocker. Readers will be filled with dread, fear, and curiosity as their hearts pound and their fingers fly through the pages. I surely did not expect at lot at first, but as the story progressed I was able to guess a few motives and eventually the identity of Unknown (though I was thrown off at the end). Although Stokes placed a few subtle clues, I guessed who Unknown was based off my knowledge of mystery novels. But it would take a seasoned reader to fit together all the hidden pieces (I had to make that joke) before Embry and Holden do.

Hidden Pieces is a well-written, masterfully-crafted suspense thriller that is ridden with mystery, secrets, and backstabbing. It is certainly very memorable and very unputdownable, and it is one that will stick with you for a while. Paula Stokes jerked my heart in This Is How It Happened and now impressed and thrilled me with Hidden Pieces, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading more of her books in the future! Hidden Pieces will not only keep you up at night but haunt you after you close the last page.

Please note that there could have been changes between this unfinished version and the finalized, publicized one.


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Hidden Pieces? Do you like YA thrillers?

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

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

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


About The Juniper Sawfeather TrilogyThe Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy

Mermaids are real.

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

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

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

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

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Overall Trilogy Rating

4 Stars

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

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

Cry of the Sea

Cry of the Sea

5 Stars

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

Whisper of the Woods

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

Echo of the Cliffs

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

Conclusion

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


About the AuthorSAMSUNG

D. G. Driver is an optimist at heart, and that’s why she likes to write books about young people who strive to make a difference in the world. From her teen environmentalist in The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, a young girl teaching her friends autism acceptance and to stop bullying people with special needs in No One Needed to Know, a princess who desires to be more than a pampered prize for a prince in The Royal Deal, to a boy who learns that being genuine and chivalrous are the ways to win a girl’s heart in Passing Notes, Driver hopes to write characters that you’ll want to root for. When she’s not writing, she is a teacher in an inclusive child development center in Nashville, and she can often be found strutting the stage in a local musical theater production.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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ARC Review: Dragon Mount by Jennifer M. Eaton — Made Me Feel Like I Was Flying in the Air!

Hi guys! I am doing my best to catch up on reviews because I am so far behind! Today’s review is Dragon Mount by Jennifer M. Eaton, a great author friend of mine who is super nice in person and exceptional in writing. Her latest book Dragon Mount just released last week, and to celebrate, here is my review! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookDragon Mount

Things can’t get any worse than being snatched by a dragon, until Anna is dropped into a bloodthirsty battle for the Draconic crown.

On what’s supposed to be a fun trip to New Zealand to recover from a painful breakup, Anna is kidnapped and flown away by a mythical beast bent on making her his queen. Anna’s rare blood type makes her the only viable mate in the islands, and with scores of dragons looking for her, escape isn’t likely.

Joe is the youngest and smallest dragon in the competition to become king. Now that he’s found Anna, all he needs to overthrow their tyrannical monarch is to bring her back to Dragon Mount before anyone can challenge his claim. But Joe is injured and unable to fly, and each passing second increases the risk of discovery.

Challenging the king means certain death, but Anna is Joe’s to lose. If the king finds her, he will bathe Dragon Mount in her blood, condemning Joe’s people to seventeen more years of brutal subjugation. The fate of the Draconi rests in the talons of their smallest dragon, and the clock is ticking.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic ARC copy of this book from the author for an honest review consideration. This will not affect my review at all. 

I was a bit hesitant to start Dragon Mount–I was not a big fan of paranormal/urban fantasy romances featuring dragons, werewolves, vampires, and the like. But because I love Jennifer M. Eaton and her novels, especially her Fire in the Woods series, I decided to give this a shot! Surprisingly, I finished the entire story in less than two days and a few sittings. Dragon Mount made feel like I was flying in the air at times! Readers will find themselves swooning at the slow-burning romance and feeling a rush of adrenaline from the action. It definitely exceeded my expectations, and it left me wanting more from the world of Dragon Mount.

Continue reading “ARC Review: Dragon Mount by Jennifer M. Eaton — Made Me Feel Like I Was Flying in the Air!”

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.

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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”

ARC Review: The Island by J. L. Pattison — A Government Conspiracy Thriller Filled with Hope and Perseverance

Hi guys! I am in the Philippines! I will be out of the country for almost two months, but I will still be active on the blog and on my social medias. Though it may be trickier to correspond with me (since I am 12 hours ahead), for sure if you are in America and you cannot sleep, you have someone you know you can talk to. Today I am reviewing J. L. Pattison’s The Island, which just released. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Island

Agent Sherard Parker never expected to get caught.

His first reconnaissance mission with the DEA was supposed to be simple: infiltrate a small South Pacific island and gather intelligence about its involvement in the international drug trade.

But when Parker stumbles upon a hidden airliner reportedly shot down weeks earlier—an act of terrorism that sparked a war—he realizes the island is more than just home to a major drug operation, it’s also part of a conspiracy so evil it could lead to World War III.

After being captured, Parker is forced to abandon his original mission for a far more important one: escape from the island and return to his family.

Can Parker lead an eclectic band of prisoners in a daring life-or-death escape from their tropical prison, or will those in charge of protecting the island prevail, keeping its dark secrets forever?

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Buy The Island on Amazon!


4 Stars

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

Two years ago, I really enjoyed J. L. Pattison’s short stories “The Visitor” an “Alibi Interrupted.” The author truly knows how to write a story that packs a punch and chills you to the bone. I honestly was a bit hesitant to read his newest novella The Island, but by the end, I became reacquainted with Pattison’s signature storytelling style similar to The Twilight Zone. At first, I was very uneasy with the first third of the book because the prose did not feel exceptional at all–there was so much telling instead of showing that I doubted if I could continue and finish. I did read from an uncorrected galley, so these problems could have been fixed in the finalized copy. And it did get better as the story went on. By the halfway point, I was hooked.

The Island is a government conspiracy thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end. It serves as a stark warning to those who have become dulled from the technological Information Age today–who follow the crowd, normalize disasters, and are addicted to irrelevant media. It certainly has made me think about how I view the world and people around me, how I receive news and use my phone. The Island is certainly an eye-opener, warning that readers should not become mindless drones addicted to social media and smartphones. Pattison’s latest book will make you question your morality and trust at times. There will be moments when readers are compelled to scream at some characters in order to reveal to them the actual truth, but in the end they will have to accept the finale and all its heartbreaking punches. The book certainly chilled my body to the spine as it creeped me out yet engrossed me with its suspenseful atmosphere.

While The Island is a great novella to read, please remember that this is a work of fiction. While plane switching and crash cover-ups may be a possibility in real life, it also may not. My only concern (other than grammar) about this book is that readers could become conspiracy theorists regarding many disasters. Honestly, I have a favorable view of our government, that it is necessary to maintain order and aid its citizens. However, has the government performed bad crimes? Yes, and I will not deny that fact. But my only wish is to not become too consumed with conspiracy theories. The Island will certainly cause you to question the actual motives of the government, and it is important to have a healthy skepticism at times. However, while government conspiracies may exist, I ask for you to not become accusatory at every disaster. Government conspiracy stories are fun and interesting and thought-provoking to read, but always remember that it is a work of fiction, though there may be some truth to the story.

Ultimately, The Island is a book filled with hope and perseverance, regardless of the current conditions and the possible outcomes. Sherard Parker is a man–one who values his family and his freedom–who anyone can relate easily with, and readers will root for him from page one. His struggle to get off the island and free its prisoners is full of courage and optimism that will inspire anyone to continue fighting the good fight, no matter if it ends up in success or failure. The odds may be stacked a million to one, but The Island shows that a person must retain hope, maintain courage, and continue to fight his battles.

Please note that I am reviewing an uncorrected galley, which means there may have been changes from this version to the published one.


About the AuthorThe Island

J. L. Pattison is the author of liberty-minded speculative fiction whose stories are garnering favorable comparisons to the works of M. Night Shyamalan and Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling.

His first paperback, SAVING KENNEDY, contains his two previous short fiction e-book releases, THE VISITOR and ALIBI INTERRUPTED, both of which deal with the subjects of time travel gone wrong, the JFK assassination, and the consequences of the decisions we make.

His latest book, THE ISLAND, delves into governmental conspiracies and has an ending you won’t soon forget.

When not writing, J.L. Pattison enjoys board games, reading, fishing, rooting for his beloved San Francisco 49ers, and drinking copious amounts of sweet tea . . . an addiction he acquired while growing up in the South. He currently lives in the Western United States with his wonderful wife and six amazing children.

Website


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Island or Saving Kennedy? Do you like government conspiracy novels?

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

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