November and December 2018 Reading Recap

Hi guys! Since I was not able to do a Reading Recap for November, I’ve decided to compile the books I’ve read in the past two months in my first ever Reading recap of the year! I read a total of 13 books these past two months, with a little over a third of them rereads of some classic favorites I’ve read in the past. I hope you enjoy the first Reading Recap of the 2019!


5 Stars

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Reread)

the book thief

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Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Everlasting Nora

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The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

The Rat Prince

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A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes

A Time to Die

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A Time to Speak by Nadine Brandes

A Time to Speak

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A Time to Rise by Nadine Brandes

A Time to Rise

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Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade

Hi guys!! It’s been quite a while since you’ve last heard me talk about books here, so Happy New Year!! I’m going to try my best to get some blogging in during my FINAL semester of high school. Man, I’m surprised I’m at this point already! Before I go on, I want to wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2019 full of many blessings and joys. 2018 was definitely a crazy year for me, but it was full of so many life-changing and amazing books! Here are my Top 10 Books of 2018! I think it was a great year for kidlit–I have nine Middle Grade novels and one picture book in the list below, and I am very happy to share which 10 they are! Please do check these books out–you will NOT regret it! (This list is excluding rereads, and I will only include one book per series.)


Top 10 Books of 2018.png

10. Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene Comes Clean

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I’m starting off this list with a beautiful gem of a book! Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of the funniest novels I’ve read this year, and it’s one of the few books that you just want to give a great big hug. I couldn’t help from smiling all throughout this story! This MG realistic fiction debut offers such a vivid glimpse into some of the struggles that many children, especially those who have to parent themselves, go through. The lessons are heartwarming, the humor is belly-filling, and the story itself is life-changing.

9. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a Tree

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I loved Fish in a Tree so much that I read it twice this year. The first time I read it, I literally could not put it down–I finished it within a single day. It’s a lot like Wonder (which I’ve yet to read but I’ve watched and loved the movie)–a bright and talented girl with dyslexia has to overcome her disability, her bullies, and even herself as she discovers new friends and her true potential. Fish in a Tree has taught me how to never underestimate people who are neurodivergent, for they may be some of the brightest and smartest people I would ever meet. Certainly, I’ve also connected with Ally’s story as I knew how it feels not to fit in with everybody else, but both she and I found the friends that love us regardless of our quirks.

8. Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton

Open If You Dare

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When I can connect with a book, my reading experience is transformed so much because I can see myself in the characters. I share so many of Birdie’s feelings as she has to face an uncertain future regarding her friends moving away–it’s very similar to what I’m facing right now as I’m about to go off to college. I read this back in junior year, I know I probably need to reread it sometime during this semester. Truly this novel made me cherish the few yet true friendships I possess, and it has moved me so much to tears.

Continue reading “Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade”

Book Review: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — An Important Candle Illuminating Goodness in Our Dark World

Hi everybody! Today is the last day of November, so I found it timely to share my review of The LAST Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw. She is such a sweet and amazing person, and it is my honor to be reviewing her debut MG historical fiction novel. It is an amazing work of fiction, and one that everyone–not just children–need to read. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Last Cherry Blossom

Following the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

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5 Stars

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

The Last Cherry Blossom means a lot to me as an American and as a Filipino. As I’ve learned more and more about World War II as an American student, it is very easy to villainize people in the Axis powers and in the Soviet Union. Many times, it’s true and justified—the Nazis and fascists of Germany and Italy executed millions of people they deemed “inferior” while the communists of Russia killed and deported many more in their atheistic, paranoia-filled, and anti-intellectual society. As the Japanese invaded countries throughout the Pacific, including my birth country the Philippines, they committed many heinous crimes from raping thousands of “comfort women” forced into sexual submission to sending Koreans to working in hard-labor mines. The Japanese brought about the infamous Bataan Death March that went through the province me and my dad’s side of my family is from. This review is in no way condoning what they did to millions of people around the Pacific, and I condemn their actions during the Great War (from the Bombing at Pearl Harbor to the Balloon Bombs that have caused many American casualties).

However, The Last Cherry Blossom–based on the true story of the author’s mother who endured through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath as a child–is a glimpse into the life of a young Japanese girl during World War II, one that shows that the lives of the Japanese weren’t that much different than the lives of the Americans. It was very surprising to see the Western (even American) influences in their culture, from business attire to hairstyles to even the popularity of jazz music. (I couldn’t believe it myself! Japan was more Western than we would have thought.) The enemy is truly not as different from us than we think. That’s one reason that makes this novel one that needs to be read to all children and taught to all students. This is a story that needs to be told. Artificially, it may seem like the ordinary life of a girl going through some family troubles during World War II, but it’s not just that. It’s a book filled with Japanese culture and history, one that will give readers a better understanding of the world around them and the world before them. It truly has enlightened me and changed my view on Japanese life in World War II. Certainly, I have learned a great deal from The Last Cherry Blossom, and it has made me view World War II in a different light. It has made me wonder things like, did citizens know the atrocities their troops committed in foreign lands? Did they know what the Germans and the Italians were doing? What was their propaganda like that villainized America? (I will say that a lot of what we did during World War II was not justifiable, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans, the racist propaganda, and the Korematsu decision.)

The most effective thing about this novel is how the story structures around the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As readers, we know the inevitable is going to happen, but the author leads us to love the characters more and more—leading us to dread that tragic day of August 6th, 1945, with every passing chapter. With every triumph and failure that Yuriko endured, I found my heart slowly and slowly not being able to handle my fearful anticipation. I knew her city was going to get hit with the bomb, and that added another layer of suspense and scariness. Surprisingly, the moment the atomic bomb hits still was very unexpected. It was heartbreaking. It was horrifying. It was perfectly executed. It truly depicted how one moment life was normal and the next mass destruction ensued, and it shocks you back into the reality that your life could end at any moment. As an American student, you are not really taught about the effects of the atomic bombs—but being able to witness it as if it were first-hand was horrifying yet enlightening. It is a powerful testimony to the urgent need for every nation in the world to abolish nuclear weapons. If Fat Man and Little Boy were that bad, imagine the destruction wrought about by current nuclear arsenals around the world comprising of nuclear missiles and hydrogen bombs. We need to know how horrible this kind of destruction is because it might happen to us, and by reading a book like The Cherry Blossom, we can become convinced why we must strive for world peace.

The Last Cherry Blossom is truly one of the most beautiful, most chilling, most real books I’ve read this year. I would even go as far as to consider it one of the best written novels I have encountered. (For reference, its writing rivals that of Salt to the Sea, and that was a beautiful book.) This book is very important and very relevant in today’s society, a society where nuclear annihilation remains a looming threat in our near future. Certainly, Burkinshaw’s debut novel is a candle illuminating good into the world. I believe it should become a classic that will withstand the test of time.


About the AuthorKathleen Burkinshaw

Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja.  Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle and high schools, as well as at education conferences for the past 8 years. She has carried her mother’s story in her heart and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.” — Kathleen Burkinshaw

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Author Interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, MG Historical Fiction Author of The Last Cherry Blossom

Hi guys! As a nerd who loves to learn more about the history (particularly the stories) behind the world, World War II has to be the time period that captivates me the most. It horrifies me to think how war-torn countries became and how much persecution was rampant, yet I get inspired by the stories of hope, survival, and perseverance that arose from the fight against evil. World War II is something I wish would never ever happen again, but I find myself fascinated by stories set during this period, from the Holocaust to the Pacific Front. However, there aren’t very many fictional stories that explore the viewpoints of civilians from Asian countries such as China, Japan, and the Philippines; yet I was able to meet online Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom, an MG novel set in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb landed in the heart of the city. I am super excited to read this book, and I’m very honored to share this story with y’all by having Kathleen here on the blog to talk about it.


About the BookThe Last Cherry Blossom

Following the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Goodreads

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


Kathleen Burkinshaw Interview.png

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

Kester, thank you so very much for interviewing me for your blog! It’s an honor to be asked. 

I loved to read any kind of book as a child. As an introvert, I loved writing because it took me to a different world where I participated in the story instead of being too shy. I especially love it now because it helps me to escape from my pain -at least lessen it for a little while. I started writing poems for birthday cards from the moment I could hold a pencil. Then as I got older, I loved doing book reports (I think I was in the minority at school). After I was asked to write a high school honor speech, I thought I could really enjoy doing this for a living. But life after college led me to writing business contracts instead. After being ill for a while, I happily rediscovered my love for creative writing.

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

I love reading historical fiction, and mysteries. As a child I loved reading Nancy Drew Mysteries, and anything by Judy Blume. I was an adult when I read WEEDFLOWER by Cynthia Kadohata and it was the first time I read about a Japanese-American as a main character. So, she influenced me greatly. Also, local NC authors (state I live in): Joyce Moyer Hostetter (historical fiction), as well as Lisa Williams Kline (historical fiction and fiction).

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

Well, 17 years ago I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a debilitating chronic pain condition. I had to give up my health care administration career. So, I guess you could say, writing is probably less than part time. It depends on the daily pain. I do try to write in the morning if I can. I like to read or listen to audio books when I’m not able to write. I enjoy visiting schools and meeting students!

4. Your debut novel The Last Cherry Blossom follows a young girl who witnesses and survives the atomic bombing at Hiroshima during World War II, and the story is loosely based on your mother’s accounts of the tragedy. Would you like to share with us a bit about your mother’s experiences before, during, and after the bombing and how they shaped your story?

The Last Cherry BlossomIt’s interesting that my mother’s life events that I based the book on stalled my writing for a bit. I had to get past the actual timeline of events in her life since the book only took place during the last year of WWII. My mom was born in 1932, so she grew up with war in the background (the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931). She was very well off, but she saw the giving heart of her Papa. When she was five, she and her friend Machiko used to put on shows for the injured soldiers. She hated all the air raid drills, black out curtains, and being in the bomb shelter. However, she felt with her Papa she could endure anything. The chapters that deal with the day of the bombing-were exactly as she told me. These were the most difficult chapters to write, because I could see the tears in her eyes and hear the pain in her voice when she told me about that time. I can still hear her voice whenever I read these sections to students. In the months following the atomic bombing, her feelings of loneliness, guilt, and anger consumed her. It took her a long time to not feel guilty for surviving and feel that she was worth having happiness again. I’m so grateful that she did.

Continue reading “Author Interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, MG Historical Fiction Author of The Last Cherry Blossom”