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

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

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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”

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

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


About the BookThe Dollmaker of Kraków

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

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

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

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

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R. M. Romero Guest Post

Remembrance and Return

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

A part of me never left.

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

Until I finally did.

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

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

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

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

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


About the AuthorR. M. Romero

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

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

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

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

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This Month’s LILbooKtalk!: “The Importance of Historical Fiction for Young Readers” with Linda Williams Jackson and Gwen C. Katz

Hi guys! Today starts off the first full week of school for me, so I’m going to be a bit less active on social media since this semester is going to be hectic. Already, I have my DECA District Career Development Conference next Tuesday, so wish me luck in my competition! Today, I am also sharing with y’all my second ever LILbooKtalk (this will be a monthly post, so look out for February’s soon!), and I am so excited to have Linda Williams Jackson and Gwen C. Katz here to talk about “The Importance of Historical Fiction for Young Readers.” Historical fiction is my favorite genre, so I am super stoked to let you all read this discussion. Enjoy!


About Midnight without a MoonMidnight without a Moon

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. For now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

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About A Sky Full of StarsA Sky Full of Stars

After the murder of Emmett Till, thirteen-year-old Rose is struggling with her decision to stay in Mississippi. Torn between the opinions of Shorty, a boy who wants to meet violence with violence, and Hallelujah, her best friend who believes in the power of peaceful protests, Rose is scared of the mounting racial tension and is starting to lose hope. But when Rose helps Aunt Ruthie start her own business, she begins to see how she can make a difference in her community. Life might be easier in the North, but Mississippi is home and that’s worth fighting for. Mid-Century Mississippi comes alive in this sequel to Midnight Without a Moon

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About Among the Red Stars30122938

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

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LILbooKtalk 2

(Questions are in bold; HF = Historical Fiction)

Kester: The first author we have today is Linda Williams Jackson, who wrote the stunning Rose Lee Carter series, which comprises of Midnight without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars. A Sky Full of Stars just released last week on January 2nd! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novels?Midnight without a Moon

Linda: Hi Kester. Thanks for doing this chat. I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, which is where my novels take place. It is also where the Emmett Till murder occurred. That murder and the swift trial and acquittal of the accused are the historical part of my “historical” novel.

Kester: Thank you so much, Linda! I really loved both of your novels, and I am super excited to have you here today! Alongside Linda, we have the wonderful Gwen C. Katz, who I had the pleasure of interviewing back in October about her debut novel Among the Red Stars. Would you also like to share with us a bit about your book and your background?

Gwen: Hey Kester. Thanks for having me. I’m Gwen Katz and I wrote about the Night Witches, an all-female bomber regiment who served on the front in Russia during World War II. It’s one of those really cool yet inexplicably neglected historical topics and I just wanted more people to know about it.

Kester: That sounds awesome! I’m really looking forward to reading Among the Red Stars! This month’s LILbooKtalk theme is “The Importance of Historical Fiction for Young Readers.” Why do you both believe that it is critical for children and teens to be exposed to history through literature? How do your novels achieve the purpose of enlightening readers on the struggles of the past while conveying themes that could inspire generations?

Linda: I think it’s a more intriguing way to learn about history rather than in a textbook. As far as young readers are concerned, I think they would probably prefer reading a novel over reading a biography or a nonfiction book. HF also lends itself to tell stories that might get overlooked, such as the story Gwen has unfolded in Among the Red Stars. There is only so much space in those history books, so it’s up to us to tell the stories that get left out. And we can do this in an engaging way via HF.

Kester: Right. I definitely agree with you! Sometimes it’s hard to connect with history when I’m reading it from a textbook rather than a fiction novel.

Gwen: I think it’s important to expose young people to historical fiction because it allows them to make a personal connection to history. Historical events like wars and battles are often taught as a dry list of dates and locations and it’s easy for it all to feel very distant. Fiction helps us remember that every one of those war casualties was a real person with their own life, their own family, and their own dreams.

Linda: I love that answer, Gwen.

Gwen: And I definitely agree with Linda that a novel feels a lot more accessible to young people (and, for that matter, readers of all ages). Why shouldn’t learning about history be entertaining as well as informative?

Continue reading “This Month’s LILbooKtalk!: “The Importance of Historical Fiction for Young Readers” with Linda Williams Jackson and Gwen C. Katz”

Exclusive Interview with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Newbery Honor Author of The War that Saved My Life

Hi guys! Today marks the last day of the last full week of school for the semester! I am finally so glad that it’s almost over–I can finally take a big breather from all the busyness of the holiday and finals season. I am planning on relaxing, reading, and blogging more over the break and catching up on some needed-to-be-written posts and reviews. Today, I have for you an exclusive interview with another author I met back at the Southern Festival of Books (let me tell you, after book fests, I usually invite many of the authors I meet onto the blog–look at all the SE-YA author posts!). Funny story, I actually met Kimberly in the line for a Korean food truck there and noticed her name badge and realized that she was having a panel with Alan Gratz. I loved meeting with her, and she’s a Tennessee author, which is awesome! Here is our exclusive interview, and I hope you enjoy!


About The War that Saved My LifeThe War That Saved My Life

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

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About The War I Finally WonThe War I Finally Won

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

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Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Interview

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

Wow, a tough question right off the bat. Why does anyone love anything? I was born loving both stories and books—I definitely loved reading before writing—but honestly, it’s just who I’ve always been.

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

I like to think I have my own style. Childhood favorites included Madeleine L’Engle and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Right now I’m loving Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Laura Amy Schlitz, among others. When I’m not reading children’s lit I like historical fiction and oddball nonfiction.

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

Writing is the only job I have, so in that sense it’s full-time, but I don’t physically write 8 hours a day. There’s lots of research, for one thing. And I write best in 2-3 hour spurts. I work one afternoon a week at a local social justice center, and I ride my horse (and take care of our barn) and read a lot.

4. The War That Saved My Life is one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read, and I loved following Ada as she discovers her strength and potential when she and her brother Jamie are evacuated to the English countryside and placed in care of Susan Smith, who at first does not want to take them in. How did you first stumble upon the mass evacuations of children in the United Kingdom at the start of World War II? What are some of the most interesting or surprising facts you’ve learned from your research?The War That Saved My Life

For me it wasn’t something I stumbled on—it’s a background fact in novels I read as a child, including Bedknob and Broomsticks and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Interesting facts—mmmm—well, I discovered why British people used to commit suicide by sticking their heads in gas ovens, but Americans never did and British haven’t since the 1960s—before that, British stoves ran on coal gas instead of natural gas, and coal gas is 10% carbon monoxide.

5. Ada was born and grew up with clubfoot. Why do you believe it is important to realistically portray characters that are going through both physical and mental challenges and their trials in MG and YA fiction?

Because children are going through physical and mental challenges.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Newbery Honor Author of The War that Saved My Life”

November Reading Re-Cap!

Hi guys! Can you believe it’s December already? I’m already so surprised that this year has flown by so much! Yesterday I auditioned for the All State Honor Choirs (hopefully I made it–I already know but I’m writing this the day before, haha), and in just a few hours I am going to perform as the concertmaster for my county’s arts council’s concert of Handel’s Messiah, and I’m very looking forward to it! I also have a reading re-cap for you today, and I hope you enjoy this!

November


5 Stars

A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson

A Sky Full of Stars

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Continue reading “November Reading Re-Cap!”

Exclusive Interview with YA Historical Fiction Author Gwen C. Katz on Among the Red Stars

Hi guys! Today’s interview is the first one I have done is a while, but don’t worry- we’ll have some more amazing authors and fellow book lovers talk about their novels and other literature-related topics! Earlier in September, I had the wonderful opportunity to ask YA historical fiction author Gwen C. Katz a few questions about her debut Among the Red Stars, which I want to read so much because it’s set in World War II! I wasn’t able to get it posted last month, but I’m so glad I have the opportunity now to do so. I hope you enjoy!


About Among the Red Stars30122938

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.


Gwen C. Katz

1. Your debut YA historical fiction novel Among the Red Stars, which released last week on October 3rd from HarperTeen, follows the story of Valka as she joins the Night Witches, one of the Soviet Union’s all-female aviation groups. How much research did you have to do to make your book as historically accurate as possible? What are some of the most surprising facts that you have stumbled upon?

I think what surprised me the most was just getting a full sense of how narrow our traditional view of World War II is. The vast majority of American media is about white men from either America or Britain. We saw that this summer in Dunkirk. They ignored Britain’s South Asian soldiers; they ignored the nurses, both of whom were present in large numbers. But the war was much bigger than that. China, for instance, lost 20 million people, but when are we going to get a movie about heroic Chinese soldiers?

IMG_45302. World War II historical fiction is one of my favorite genres! What inspired you to set your book in that time period? How did you find out about the Night Witches?

I found out about the Night Witches from my father-in-law. He’s a big World War I aviation buff and one time when we were playing Wings of War, I asked him if any female pilots had flown in World War I and he told me that Russia had female pilots. Naturally I had to go look them up, and I learned about their much more famous WWII counterparts. The rest, as they say, is history.

3. What was your character-building process for creating the three main protagonists—Valka, Iskra, and Pasha? Did you reflect any of their personality traits off you or anyone you know?

Valka’s attitude is definitely based on me! A lot of pilot/navigator pairs had this “odd couple” dynamic where the pilot was the daring one and the navigator was the sensible one. So that’s where Valka and Iskra came from. As for Pasha, I think YA really needs more boys who are quiet and gentle and not traditionally masculine. I’m very interested in all the men and boys who went to war who weren’t badass action heroes. What happened to them?

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with YA Historical Fiction Author Gwen C. Katz on Among the Red Stars”

#1 Favorite (Tie): Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Hi guys! I know what you’re thinking. “Kester hasn’t posted a review in forever! What has taken him so long?” Well, if you’d like to know, I’ve been busy with homework. As I write this (I’m writing this Friday night) I’m planning to write an essay on Animal Farm and do a video for FBLA. Now, the wait is finally over, and with a 4-day weekend, I’ll be catching up on some necessary reading, blogging, and reviewing! Enough talking, let’s get onto the review! And I love love love love love this book! It has changed my life!!!

Synopsis: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Overall Thoughts: I didn’t think I’d find a book that would rival The United Continuums, but I did. This book is now tied with TUC as my favorite book of all time because it changed my life. This was the first book that has actually changed how I view the world, and that means that this book is special. Ruta Sepetys is such an amazing author! How do I love thee? By writing this review! (Did you get that reference?)

Continue reading “#1 Favorite (Tie): Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys”