ARC Review: Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky — A Powerful Testimony to the Ever-Growing Need of Women in STEM

Hi guys! Happy November! I am starting to really catch up on reviews and review copies. As I’m writing this, I’m down to five books excluding galleys that are to be read next year. It’s so great not being behind! Today’s review is Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky, a YA contemporary novel featuring archaeology, women in STEM, backstabbing, betrayal, fashion, and fun. I hope you enjoy!


About the BookMammoth

The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

Mammoth will release from Turner Publishing on November 6th. Pre-order today!

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3 Stars

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

To be honest, Mammoth is one of those books for me that I liked but not loved, if you know what I mean. When I first started this story, I knew I was in for a special treat–the writing style automatically clicked and the next thing I knew I just wanted to keep on reading. There were many times when I could not put it down, and there were many times where I could feel the anger or betrayal that Natalie felt. Certainly, Mammoth will transport you to a summer of internships and archaeology as Natalie tries to manage her feelings regarding her weight, her relationships, and her dreams. Mammoth is definitely a powerful testimony to the ever-growing need for women in STEM. 

Continue reading “ARC Review: Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky — A Powerful Testimony to the Ever-Growing Need of Women in STEM”

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Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus

Hi guys! Today, Lauren Gibaldi is here to talk about Autofocus, a book that I won in a giveaway and really enjoyed. I met Lauren back at the SE-YA Book Festival in March, and she was super nice and sweet! I’m so glad to have her on the blog, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


About the BookAutofocus

From the author of The Night We Said Yes comes a fun and heartfelt YA contemporary tale. When Maude decides to search for information about her birth mother, she finds out more than she expected. Perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Susane Colasanti.

Family. It’s always been a loaded word for Maude, whose birth mother died after giving her up for adoption. With her best friend, Treena, in college in the same town where her birth mother grew up, Maude decides to visit and explore her past. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena doesn’t seem to have time for her—or for helping with her search. Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude, she starts to realize that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

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

I love writing because it transports me. It’s the same reason I love reading, too. It’s an experience, even when it’s hard. I started writing young, in a diary, with zero pressure. And I think that’s what made it great for me- those early years when I was just given a dairy and able to write whatever I wanted without fear of it being bad.

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

Along with being an author, I’m a librarian, so it’s pretty impossible for me to choose favorites! I read a lot of YA, obviously, and a lot of picture books due to having young children. I listen to adult fiction audio books because I like being inspired on my way to work. And I mostly read graphic novels whenever I’m writing. (I don’t like reading novels when writing.) I think three books influenced my writing the most – Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read them all in college, and they helped me understand what I wanted to write.

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

I’m a full-time librarian!

Autofocus4. I really enjoyed your sophomore YA romance novel Autofocus, which follows high school senior Maude, who was adopted as a child, as she explores deeper into her mother’s past and discovers the true meaning of family. How do you explore adoption throughout your novel? For readers were or are adopted, how do you want them to be impacted as they read Autofocus?

Thank you! The main idea behind Autofocus is wondering if who we are is determined by birth (nature), or if we can change as we grow (nurture). Maude has no clue who her mother was, so she’s not sure if this person she’s becoming as she finishes up high school is inspired by her birth mother, or by her mom/dad/friends. (She differentiates mother vs. mom.) I think, even though it’s an experience very specific to adopted teens, the feeling is pretty common for any teen–figuring out who you are, apart from influences. As for readers, I’m just happy they’re seeing themselves in a book. To see that their experience, though unique, can also be universal.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Lauren Gibaldi, YA Contemporary Author of Autofocus”

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

Hi everybody! (I know, my greeting is different today.) I hope you are having an awesome start of the week! What are your favorite genres? My top two are historical fiction and fantasy, so whenever I see a historical fantasy come out, I know that I have to read it. Books that combine multiple genres intrigue me, and one such book is What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra, which infuses thriller, suspense, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction all into one story. Today, as part of the blog tour, Katya is here on the blog to talk about “exploring the subconscious” with her debut novel. I hope you enjoy and check out this amazing book! (Thanks so much to Tale Out Loud for hosting this tour! Karlita’s an amazing person, so go check out her blog!)

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About the BookWhat the Woods Keep

Title: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Published by: Imprint Macmillan

Publication date: September 18, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Thriller

Synopsis: What the Woods Keep is the stunning debut of Katya de Becerra, who combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible—something that threatens reality itself.

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Pre-order What the Woods Keep today!

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Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep

What scares you?

Is it that moment when your eyes adjust to darkness and you begin seeing shapes that don’t belong there? Or perhaps it is the sound of rustling dry leaves underfoot that keeps on long after you’ve stopped moving? Or maybe, like me, you break into cold sweat at the very idea of hearing your name spoken when there’s no one in the room but you?

Innocent sounds that take on a new sinister meaning, shapes that materialize in the dark just as the eyes adjust and the viewer regains her equilibrium – all of it plays on our strings of perception in hopes of triggering that disturbing sensation of uncanny. Uncanny is exactly that: what happens to our perception when reality is distorted. It is a type of emotional and cognitive dissonance you might feel when you stumble upon something that used to be familiar but not anymore. It might still look right, but it feels decisively wrong.

The horror genre has been known to play on the idea of uncanny by utilizing all of the above (and more!) as techniques designed to set the reader’s (or the movie goer’s) nerves on fire, to provoke a visceral response.

My debut YA novel, What The Woods Keep, doesn’t shy away from its own tribute to the uncanny phenomenon, though I hope that it offers its own genre-bending take on it and its associated horror genre tropes.

In the novel, the protagonist, science-minded Hayden, at some stage fatefully states: “We are attracted to mysteries. Our perpetual drive to solve the unsolvable, to know the unknown, makes us human. The unknowing bothers us.” And so, true to her words, in one of the novel’s early key scenes designed to signal the uncanniness of what’s yet to come, Hayden ventures into the dark to investigate, possibly to help someone’s in trouble. It is then, for the first time, that she experiences the moment of extreme irrational fear. It is so intense that Hayden’s rational mind wavers for a moment, pushing her to give in to primal fear. In that moment, familiar objects are distorted, Hayden’s sense of smell is assaulted by the raw stench of the upturned earth, her skin ripples in the cold draft… And then there’s the pinnacle of her journey into the dark: what was once familiar morphs into something strange, unsettling, as if possessed by an otherwordly force. It triggers Hayden’s fight-or-flight response and even someone as cool-headed as she finds it hard to resist.

I did scare myself a little while writing that scene. But it also helped me to analyze what I found particularly scary and why. I’m glad I’ve woven my darkest fears into my YA debut.

After all, the act of telling (or hearing) a spooky tale brings about a form of emotional catharsis allowing us to experience fear in a controlled, safe environment and by doing so, hopefully, get over it.


About the AuthorKatya de Becerra

Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology. What the Woods Keep is her first novel.

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Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule on Tale out Loud

SEPTEMBER 10 (MONDAY)

Karlita — Tale Out Loud (Review, Q&A)
Kester — LILbooKlovers (Guest Post)

SEPTEMBER 11 (TUESDAY)

Salwa — Voguish Perusal (Review, Favorite Quotes, Guest Post)
Amanda — MetalPhantasmReads (Review)
Laura — Bucks, Books & Beyond (Review, Favorite Quotes)

SEPTEMBER 12 (WEDNESDAY)

Liv — Liv’s Wonderful Escape (Review, Creative)
Sifa — Sifa Elizabeth Reads (Review)

SEPTEMBER 13 (THURSDAY)

Austine — NovelKnight (Review, Q&A)
Imogene — Amidst the Pages (Review, Favorite Quotes)
Mari — Andico Mari (Review)

SEPTEMBER 14 (FRIDAY)

AJ — Diary of an Avid Reader (Review, Novel Aesthetic Board)
Justine — Bookish Wisps (Review, Favorite Quotes)
Nikole — A Court of Coffee and Books (Review, Q&A)

SEPTEMBER 15 (SATURDAY)

Jamie — PrincessofPages (Excerpt)
Preethi — Young Adult Media Consumer (Review)
Crimson — Crimson Talks Books, Mostly (Review)


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for What the Woods Keep? Do you YA thrillers?

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

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Two Dark Reigns Blog Tour: Author Interview with #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Kendare Blake

Hi guys! I have a really special guest on the blog with me today. I actually met Kendare Blake at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival back in March, and it is my pleasure to be hosting such an amazing and epic author today as part of the blog tour for the third book in her Three Dark Crowns trilogy, Two Dark Reigns. I am very excited to share with you this special interview, and I hope you all enjoy!

Two Dark Reigns Blog Tour


About the BookTwo Dark Reigns

#1 New York Times bestselling author Kendare Blake returns with the highly anticipated third book in the Three Dark Crowns series! And while Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katharine all have their own scores to settle, they aren’t the only queens stirring things up on Fennbirn Island.

Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead—or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.

Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the minland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn.

Jules, too, is in a strange place—in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.

This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed—or expected.

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Two Dark Reigns continues the Three Dark Crowns saga as Katharine sits on the throne of Fennbirn, Mirabella and Arsinoe stay alive in hiding but are visited by the Blue Queen, and a disguised Jules considers leading a rebel army against Queen Katharine. After writing two novels and two prequel novellas, how does it feel like continuing your series with Two Dark Reigns? What are your thoughts and emotions seeing all of the excitement for book three’s release?

Hello again, Kester! Thank you for having me on the blog! 🙂 To answer your question, it’s wonderful to see the excitement! And as a side effect of being so late finishing Book Four, the excitement is all I’ve had time for. I haven’t had time to worry! I’m really thrilled, and grateful, to have the opportunity to continue the queens’ stories. As I near the end of the last book, I’m happy to say that I’m still not really ready to leave. I love these girls.

You’ve stated before that Three Dark Crowns was inspired by bees and their matriarchy revolving around the queen bee. Could you describe to us more about how did this idea first come about? Were there any real-life matriarchal societies that you also drew inspiration from, too?

Queen bees lay several queen eggs, and the new queen babies hatch out and kill each other to see who gets to take over. I learned that when I was at a book event in Oregon and a ball of bees was stuck to a nearby tree. Thankfully, there was a beekeeper also there to put us all at ease. The bees were only concerned with protecting their queen, you see, in the middle of the ball. Anyway, after I learned all this stuff about bees, I had to find a way to do it to people. And on the drive home, the three queens were born. Aside from the original inspiration though, the culture of Fennbirn went on to become its own thing. That was one of the best parts: learning about the naturalists and the poisoners, the elementals. I’m particularly happy to be writing the third and fourth books, because they let me go to Bastian City, home of the war gifted, and to Sunpool, the city of the seers.

As the author, did you ever root for a specific queen to succeed (like you wanted one of them to take the crown)? Or did you remain impartial and instead let the characters duke it out themselves without your intervention?

I definitely tried to remain impartial. The decision to write it in third person, and in relatively dispassionate, removed prose, went toward that purpose. I mean, these girls are in a bad enough situation already without me taking sides. Truthfully, I didn’t know who was going to win the crown until the midway point in One Dark Throne. And even so close to finishing the last book, I don’t know everyone who’s going to die.

Was Three Dark Crowns originally intended as a duology or a quartet? What is the hardest part about writing and continuing a series, considering you’ve written two other series before this one?

It was intended as a duo, and nothing really changed about the end of One Dark Throne when the series was extended. Those books are the arc of the Ascension. These next two are the arc of the reign. I think the hardest part about continuing is knowing how it ends. Now I know. Before, at the close of One Dark Throne, I just had hopes. I hoped that the survivors would make the best of it. But now I know, for better or worse.

Did you or your characters ever surprise yourself as you progressed through the series? Would you consider yourself to be a plotter or a pantser?

My characters constantly surprise me. Elizabeth surprised me by turning a walk-on role into a recurring supporting one. Pietyr surprised me by chucking Kat down that hole. Natalia surprised me by dying. Arsinoe surprises me about every five minutes. It’s not uncommon for me to have no idea what they’re doing, or for me to actually say out loud, “What are you doing?!” So I’m firmly a pantser.

Thank you so much for coming onto the blog today, Kendare! I’m so happy to have you and help share the love for Two Dark Reigns!


Book Trailer

Watch the official book trailer for Two Dark Reigns here!


About the AuthorKendare Blake

Kendare Blake is the author of several novels and short stories, most of which you can find information about via the links above. Her work is sort of dark, always violent, and features passages describing food from when she writes while hungry. She was born in July (for those of you doing book reports) in Seoul, South Korea, but doesn’t speak a lick of Korean, as she was packed off at a very early age to her adoptive parents in the United States. That might be just an excuse, though, as she is pretty bad at learning foreign languages. She enjoys the work of Milan Kundera, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Linklater, and the late, great Michael Jackson, I mean, come on, he gave us Thriller.

She lives and writes in Kent, Washington, with her husband, their cat son Tyrion Cattister, red Doberman dog son Obi-Dog Kenobi, rottie mix dog daughter Agent Scully, and naked sphynx cat son Armpit McGee.

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Did Someone Say… Giveaway?Two Dark Reigns Giveaway

2 Winners will receive a Copy of Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

1 Winner will receive a $25.00 Amazon/PayPal Gift Card

Open to International

Must be 13+ to Enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Tour Schedule


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Two Dark Reigns? Do you like YA fantasy?

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

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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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A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton

Hi guys! Today I am taking the third of my AP exams, AP Biology, and I am ready for them to be over! Also, I am having the end-of-school blues, especially since many of the seniors — who I’ve gotten acquainted to over this past year — are going to leave. I’m very sad about that. On the bright side, next week I am off to the TN Boys’ State, which is going to be tiring but worthwhile. During that time, I will be offline for the whole week, but in the meantime, here is the LILbooKtalk for the month of Mer-May: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton!


About Cry of the SeaCry of the Sea

Juniper Sawfeather is choosing which college to attend after graduation from West Olympia High School next year. She wants to go to San Diego to be far away from her environmental activist parents. They expect her to think the way they do, but having to be constantly fighting causes makes it difficult to be an average 17-year-old high school student. Why do her parents have to be so out there?

Everything changes when she and her father rush to the beach after a reported oil spill. As they document the damage, June discovers three humans washed up on the beach, struggling to breathe through the oil coating their skin. At first she thinks they must be surfers, but as she gets closer, she realizes these aren’t human at all. They’re mermaids!

Now begins a complex story of intrigue, conspiracy and manipulation as June, her parents, a marine biologist and his handsome young intern, her best friend, the popular clique at school and the oil company fight over the fate of the mermaids.

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About EmergeEmerge

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. Ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped Mer of their immortality, war has ravaged the Seven Seas. Now Lia lives in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions and attends high school with humans. To protect everyone around her, she must limit her contact with non-Mer. No exceptions. But when the new girl sets her sights on Lia’s crush, she will risk exposing her deadly secret to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

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LILbooKtalk May 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Tobie Easton, who I met last year at the SE-YA Book Fest! I loved the first two books in The Mer Chronicles and I cannot wait for the third installment in the series! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?Emerge

Tobie: Hi! It was so wonderful meeting you, too, Kester!  Your enthusiasm for the series has really meant a lot to me.  The Mer Chronicles series follows the descendants of the Little Mermaid and offers a peek into a world where Mermaids aren’t just real but live among us on land.

As for me, I like to think I write modern fairy tales.  I like books that feel magical whether that means they actually feature magic or just really immersive world- building. And, I’m a sucker for romance. 😉

Kester: That’s so awesome, Tobie!!! Thanks so much!

Today we also have the amazing D.G. Driver, who is a local Tennessee author living in Nashville! I devoured her Juniper Sawfeather series and loved the books! Would you like to share with us a bit about yourself and your books?

Cry of the SeaD. G.: Hi, Thank you for inviting me to be part of this chat. My series The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy is about a teen environmentalist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage. In book one, Cry of the Sea, she finds real mermaids caught up in an oil spill. I mostly write young adult and middle grade. I tend to favor contemporary fantasy stories.

Tobie: That sounds so cool, Donna!

D. G.: Thanks. Yours sound great too.

Kester: Here’s my first question for both of y’all: The Mer Chronicles and the Juniper Sawfeather series paint two very different images of mermaids, along with their characteristics and their culture. What inspired you to display mermaids the way you presented them in your book? Could you describe your process as you created your own “spin” on a beloved mythical creature?

D. G.: In Cry of the Sea, I wanted to make the mermaids come across as real creatures that would exist in the ocean today. They are more like fish than the fairy tale creatures in other mermaid stories. It was important to the story, because June and her family feel like people would help their fight against oil pollution if they found out mermaids lived in the ocean.

Tobie: I used the original Hans Christian Andersen version of the Little Mermaid as a jumping off point, but was also very influenced by the Malibu, California setting I chose for the story.

D. G.: I used to live in L.A. Very familiar with Malibu.

Tobie: So, my series has a sparkling, sunlit, ocean mansion-y feel but also addresses some of the darker, more haunting aspects of the original story.  With a healthy dose of siren mythology.  ‘Cause you gotta have mythology.

D. G.: Mythology is key. My books take place in Washington State, and they use American Indian mythology from the Pacific Northwest.

Kester: I loved the mythology in yours, D. G.. It was all so mesmerizing!

Tobie: That sounds really fascinating!

D. G.: Thanks. The mythology becomes more involved in books 2 and 3. No mermaids in book two, though.Whisper of the Woods

Tobie: Can you share which creatures will be in book 2, or is that hush-hush for now?

D. G.: No secret. The books are out. There’s and ancient tree spirit in book 2 that traps Juniper 170 feet up in an old growth tree. In book 3 the mermaids are back, along with shapeshifting orcas, and a monster made of stone.

Tobie: I love the idea of a tree spirit! So cool!

Continue reading “A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton”

ARC Review: Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett — A Masterfully Crafted Tale and World that I Never Wanted to Leave

Hi guys! May the 4th be with you! Next week, my AP exams are going to start, so I will be offline a lot this week because I am preparing really hard for them. It’s crazy when you have 5 to juggle with, and the pressure is slowly building up, haha. I am really sad that my junior year is about to end, and with that many great experiences are coming to a close. It’s very heartbreaking, especially considering that I am off to college in a little more than a year! It’s so crazy! Today I have for you a review, and it’s on Onyx and Ivory by the wonderful Mindee Arnett, whose Street Team I am on! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookOnyx and Ivory

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king of Rime. Cast out of the noble class, she now works for the royal courier service. Only those most skilled ride for the Relay and only the fastest survive, for when night falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with forbidden magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan mysteriously massacred by drakes in broad daylight—the only survivor Corwin Tormane, the son of the king. Her first love, the boy she swore to forget, after he condemned her father to death. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin uncover secrets, both past and present, to face this new threat of drakes who attack in the daylight and the darker menace behind them.

Acclaimed author Mindee Arnett’s stunning new novel thrusts readers into a beautiful, expansive, and dangerous new world—one where trust is rare, magic is commonplace, and little is as it seems.

Onyx and Ivory releases from Balzer and Bray on May 15th!

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5 Stars

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

Onyx & Ivory is one of those novels that you do not want to finish because you just want to savor every single word. From page one, I fell in love with Mindee Arnett’s beautiful storytelling as she weaves a masterfully crafted tale of love, magic, action, and intrigue. This book is a prime example of why I love fantasy novels: They create worlds that you never want to leave, characters you want to become acquainted with, and adventures that take you on the wildest rides. Onyx & Ivory exceeded all of my expectations, and I could not put it down at all. The deeper I went into the story, the more emotionally attached I became. Seriously, I will fanboy about this book, and I want to have an Onyx & Ivory collection because it is that epic.

The biggest thing that I look for in fantasy stories is the world-building. As a high school teen who is dealing with so much going on right now (actually AP exams are literally right around the corner), I need an escape from the outside world. I need a book that I can nestle in and forget about my troubles, stresses, and worries. The magic system in Onyx & Ivory was truly fascinating. From the Magists’ runestones to the Wilders’ control over the world around them, my imagination swirled with enchantment. I did not want to rush the story at all. I saw the drakes attack from all sides. I could feel the mystery and tension slowly build. I watched as the romance between Kate and Corwin slowly burned (go slow-burn romances!). My heart wrenched when Kate was humiliated or Corwin was verbally attacked. I felt such a great connection between me and the story that I loved every single second of my experience.

I love the characters so much! They are truly complex yet understandable. They hold secrets that once revealed will shock you (or maybe they are never revealed). My two favorites are Kate and Corwin. After her father’s death, Kate has been labeled as a Traitor to the kingdom even though she has committed no crime. She is ostracized and misunderstood by even those who she once loved and who loved her. Corwin (her ex-boyfriend) cannot forgive her father, and she is treated as an Untouchable in society. I am very sure we’ve all felt ostracized and misunderstood in many ways, where we’ve been blamed and taunted and bullied for no reason. Truly, you instantly relate with Kate and become sympathetic to her struggles from the first chapter. Corwin, on the other hand, has to deal with the deaths of his mother and his friends, and he constantly blames himself for them. He does not want to become king, but he truly knows the struggles of the lowly and destitute. While he does have his errors, he is a good guy, and he treats his people as humans rather than subjects or numbers. Both Kate and Corwin are inspirational characters that will move us to become better people, to understand the plights of those who are suffering, and to continue to fight for what is right. I wish I could actually meet them in real life — that would be epic.

Onyx & Ivory takes you on the adventure of a lifetime. As readers travel into the world of Rime, they are faced with danger from all sides, whether it be inside the castle or outside of the kingdom. Betrayal, secrets, and evil plague the characters as they fight against multiple conflicts, from surprise challenges to an underlying rebellion. Mindee Arnett is a talented storyteller and world-crafter, and I will look forward to reading more of her novels. I just want more from this world! Onyx & Ivory is the spectacular start of an epic fantasy series that you do not want to miss.

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the AuthorMindee Arnett

Mindee Arnett is the author of the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Avalon as well as the Arkwell Academy series and the upcoming Onyx and Ivory. An avid eventer, she lives on a farm near Dayton, Ohio with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. When not telling tales of magic, the supernatural, or outer space, she can be found on a horse, trying to jump anything that will stand still.

A literacy advocate, Mindee is available for school and library visits, both in person and online, as well as writing workshops for both teens and adults. For more information on available presentations, click here.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Onyx and Ivory? Do you like YA fantasy?

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

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Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild”

Hi guys! Today on the blog, I am hosting one of the kindest and most supportive authors I have ever met, Melissa Ostrom. Melissa is the author of the YA historical fiction novel The Beloved Wild, which I loved and you can see why in my review here, and I am very honored to have her on my blog to talk to us about her debut novel! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please check out The Beloved Wild! (By the way, Ruta Sepetys blurbed it, in case you didn’t know.)


About the BookThe Beloved Wild

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.

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Melissa Ostrom Header.png

1. Your YA historical fiction debut The Beloved Wild, which released in March from Feiwel & Friends, follows Harriet Winter as she disguises herself as a boy to venture into the Genesee Valley as she overcomes prejudice, nature, and eventually love. As a local resident, what do you love most about living in that region? How did the valley allure you to use it as the setting of your debut?

I’m originally from Chautauqua County. The teaching position at Kendall High School brought me to this area, and I fell in love with its gentle landscape—the sweeping orchards, Lake Ontario, the cultivated fields that alternate with woodlands, and the historical features, like the Erie Canal and cobblestone houses. I felt like a pioneer, traveling to a new place and making it my home. The families of my students warmly welcomed me. Writing Harriet’s story (and recognizing the significant role the Genesee Valley played in our country’s initial wave of westward expansion) became a way for me to show my gratitude for that welcome and my appreciation for this location.

2. The Age of the American Frontier is a time period that is often overlooked in historical fiction. How did you first stumble upon the exodus of New Englanders flocking to the uncharted wilderness of New York? What are some of the most interesting things you learned from your research?

I’m fortunate to have some dear friends who happen to know a lot about our local history. Three in particular—Diane Palmer, Adrienne Kirby, and Sharon Root—shared significant stories about the early pioneers (to whom these women can trace their own ancestries!), and those tales definitely stirred my interest. My friends also shared family memorabilia, access to the archives of the Orleans County Chapter of the DAR, and powerful reading materials, like the settlers’ reminisces, compiled by Arad Thomas. These firsthand pioneer accounts proved quite useful and remarkable. Most of the early settlers were young—just teenagers with little money and few tools—but they possessed a great deal of gumption. They worked hard to eke clearings out of the wilderness and faced incredible trials while starting their farms. Their stories inspired me. I remember reading about one young man who had nothing but the clothes on his back and an axe in his hand when he broached the wilds of his purchased lot of land. He started with practically nothing and yet made something of himself. Amazing.

3. What would be your dream adventure? Where would you go and what would you do?

Oh, I’d like to travel around our country and visit other parts of the world. But lately I’ve been thinking about walking the length of the Erie Canal—simply packing a backpack and taking off for a while, breaking up the hike with stays in inns and visits to the waterway towns. I love going for long walks and usually cover around eight miles a day. It’d be fun to set out—and just keep going! My family (when my kids get a little older) would probably enjoy this adventure, too. The Beloved Wild

4. Before you wrote The Beloved Wild, you wrote many short stories for various journals. Could you describe to us the transition you made from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel? What are the specific benefits and challenges of creating a short story versus drafting a novel?

Actually, about nine years ago when I initially decided to try fiction writing, I started with a novel, not short fiction. The novel became the first in a series of four. I finished the entire quartet before shopping around the first book. When querying this piece didn’t win me an agent, I set aside all four and got to work on another novel (a standalone). Concurrently, I began to craft short fiction.

My initial reasoning behind the short-fiction enterprise was I need to beef up my credentials! I just held a couple of degrees in English lit and my teaching certification. I couldn’t mention publications, conferences, retreats, or even an MFA in a query letter because I hadn’t accomplished any of these things. Publishing short stories would rectify that, I figured. And I have managed to find homes in literary journals for many of my stories.

But something else (something more wonderful) happened as a result of this foray into short fiction: my writing skills improved. Perhaps due to their sparer frame, stories (those admirable ones written by others and the ones I endeavor to create) showcase precise language and an attention to detail. A word must earn its place—or out it goes.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild””

ARC Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne — A Fast-Paced and Brilliant Retelling of Jane Eyre Full of Intrigue, Mystery, Secrets, and Lies

Hi guys! Today, in my hometown, we are celebrating the World’s Biggest Fish Fry! What is that, you might ask? Well, in Paris, Tennessee, (yes I live in a town that is named after the city in France… and yes, we do have a miniature Eiffel Tower), the town fries up literally tons of catfish and we celebrate that by having a week-long celebrating full of eating, going to the fair, and fish-related activities, including catfish races (yes, we race catfish, and we’re not ashamed of it). While I’m watching the parade today, I hope you enjoy this review of one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne!


About the BookBrightly Burning

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

Brightly Burning releases from HMH on May 1st! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

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

It feels so great to finally find a YA novel that I literally could NOT put down; in fact, I finished Brightly Burning in just one weekend, tearing through it like a slice of cake. Brightly Burning is a brilliant and imaginative retelling of Jane Eyre thrust among the stars and full of intriguing mystery, dark secrets, and jaw-dropping technology. Honestly, I tried to read Jane Eyre but never had time to finish it (though I’m determined to read it this summer), but comparing the synopsis of the novel with Donne’s debut, I have got to say that Brightly Burning keeps the essence of Jane Eyre while spinning it into a dystopian and aristocratic space society. It is such a stunning and marvelous book that I fell in love with everything about it from page one.

While I did enjoy the romance and found it to be swoon-worthy and charming (I was rooting for Hugo and Stella the entire time), I was more captured by all the mystery and deception surrounding the Rochester. Curiosity swelled through my body as Stella attempted to learn more about Hugo’s dark past that lies beneath his brooding exterior. The climax took me by surprise, and I did not expect it at all. Every shocking revelation, every plot twist was a punch to the gut. Brightly Burning throws at readers everything from surprise visitors to mysterious secrets to heartbreaking betrayals, and each twist and turn will slowly wrench your heart until the very end.

Alexa Donne is a master at world-building. Brightly Burning is set in a dystopian future where an Ice Age took over the Earth, and only a fleet of space ships holds the remainder of the human race. The deeper I went into the novel, the more I became fascinated by this history. I wanted to know more about the ships, the people, and the politics. I craved answers to questions like “Are there people on Earth? Is it inhabitable?” The author elegantly describes the technology and the ships so well that you feel as if you were on them. I could imagine myself reading in Hugo’s library or walking through the decks of the Rochester or the Stalwart. I even felt the urge to live on a space ship myself! Brightly Burning will enrapture readers so much that they will never want to leave! I know I did not.

You cannot help but fall in love with all of the characters, regardless of their personality. From the strict yet caring Officer Xiao to the kind-hearted best friend George, each character had his or her own complexities that make them memorable, lovable, and relatable. Even the supposed antagonists (I use “supposed” very lightly) will surprise you in many ways when the time comes. However, Stella has to be my favorite character. Firstly, her love of books is one of the best parts of the entire novel. There are so many references to amazing classics and authors that the avid reader will rebound in joy at each one. I now want to re-read some of my favorite books because the novel emphasizes the power of literature. Secondly, she’s one of the strongest characters I have read. She would rather risk her joy and her life to save the lives of others, and she won’t give up searching for answers. Stella’s perseverance and self-sacrifice throughout the novel inspires readers to keep on fighting and moving regardless of the risks.

Brightly Burning is the perfect book for science fiction and mystery fans alike! It is one of the best Young Adult novels I have read in a long time, and I did not want it to end. I became so snuggled up into the Rochester that I did not want to leave. Alexa Donne outdid herself in her debut, and I loved every single aspect of it. Although Brightly Burning is a standalone novel, there will be a companion novel to it in the future, which is so exciting. I know I want to get my hands on it as soon as possible!

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the AuthorAlexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, fan convention organizing, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Visit her at http://www.alexadonne.com or on most social media spaces @alexadonne.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Brightly Burning? Do you like YA sci-fi?

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

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ARC Review: Fighting Fate by Shaila Patel — Full of Heartbreak, Betrayal, Love, and Secrets!

Hi guys! Man, April has flown by so fast. When testing season is almost here and there’s so much end-of-the-year stuff going on, time literally is thrown out the window. I am currently in Washington, D.C., right now with my choir, and we are going to be singing and having the time of our lives (pun not intended, haha). Because of this (and since exams are literally just a couple of weeks away) I will be less active, but please do contact me if you need anything and I will do my best to get to you. Today I have for you a review of Fighting Fate by Shaila Patel, who is a very great author friend of mine. I hope you enjoy.


About Fighting FateFighting Fate

Empath Liam Whelan is determined to protect Laxshmi “Lucky” Kapadia, the girl he loves, at all costs–even if it means breaking her heart to keep her alive. Stopping the joining cold means Liam’s life is in danger from the Soul Seekers and the ruthless Minister Gagliardi who now has designs on Lucky. Liam has no choice but to find the strength to fight his desires, fight the joining, and fight fate.

After the unthinkable happened, Lucky’s “hallucinations” have been working double-time. Heartbroken and plagued by doubts, she meets a man who gives her a mind-blowing explanation for her predicament. Her apparent savior provides her with an escape from her hell: run away with him or return to her drab existence and watch Liam move on with her heart in his hands. All Lucky ever craved was to be in control of her own fate, but when her only choices fight against her heart, can she find the strength to battle for what she wants?

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3 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the author for providing me a free electronic ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Soulmated was one of my favorite romantic reads last year, and I was very eagerly awaiting the sequel these past few weeks. I was very ecstatic to have the opportunity to finally read Fighting Fate after that crazy cliffhanger the author left me at in her debut. Fighting Fate takes readers to the next level from Soulmated, adding more heartbreak, betrayal, revelations, and shocking secrets that will get readers hooked. Unfortunately for me, this sequel disappointed me a bit in the sense that it just did not suck me as much as I had wished to. With such high expectations from Soulmated, I was hoping for a stunning sequel, but it fell short.

I have got to say that all the action and conflict was upped in book two. There was so much more tension between basically everybody! You could literally feel it as you stepped through the story. I fell in love with Lucky and the Whelans so much that I just kept on rooting for them (along with Lucky and Liam’s relationship–just get together already, haha) no matter what happened. The Empath world and system was also very fascinating, too. As Lucky learns more about what being an Empath is like, readers see not only more Empath abilities but also escalated action and tension throughout the plot. There are Empaths fighting each other mentally! It’s very awesome, and I kind of wish I had that power. It was a very interesting mix of fantasy and romance in a contemporary setting.

However, I just did not get into Fighting Fate as much as I did with Soulmated. I really tried to become immersed in the book, but it did not happen. I did have to set it down for a bit because I had to finish other books and things, but I expected myself to be immersed in the writing. While the first half was really well-written, and there were so many times where I just wanted Lucky and Liam to finally get together again, by the halfway point my interest waned. I didn’t like all the deeply romantic sections very much (since I prefer reading clean novels without a lot of profanity or obscenities), and they dominated the middle chunk of the book. By then, I didn’t feel very connected to the story and the plot didn’t move too much for me (as a reader who likes faster-paced plots). The ending (after the 80% marker) did pick up and had many surprises that I did not expect, but overall, my reading experience was not at where I had hoped to be.

Even though I did not like Fighting Fate as much as I had wanted, I will still be on the lookout for book three. Liam and Lucky’s story is not done in this installment, and once you get to the end, you will know why I really want to complete the series. Soulmated and Fighting Fate are perfect for readers whose hearts get warmed from YA romance, whose imaginations soar from magic and fantasy, and whose sense of thrill craves action and intrigue. Certainly do pick up both books! Lucky and Liam is a couple that you do not want to miss.

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the Authora-shaila

As an unabashed lover of all things happily-ever-after, Shaila Patel’s younger self would finish reading her copy of Cinderella and chuck it across the room because it didn’t mention what happened next. Now she writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of stories with epilogues. A member of the Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she’s a pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night. SOULMATED, her debut novel and the first book in the Joining of Souls Series, was the winner of the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews Paranormal Awards for Young Adult. Book 2, FIGHTING FATE releases April 2018. She loves craft beer, tea, and reading in cozy window seats—but she’ll read anywhere. You might find her sneaking in a few paragraphs at a red light or gushing about her favorite books online.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Fighting Fate or Soulmated? Do you like YA contemporary romance?

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

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