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Mumentous by Amy Schultz takes us into the heart of Southern high school culture and gives us a warming glimpse into the tradition of the homecoming mum. But is this tradition something worth continuing? What does it truly represent? Is it just a showcase of modern consumerism? Or does it stand for something much deeper? No matter where on the spectrum of thinking you fall into, taking a deep dive into Southern United States culture can be an enjoyable ride. So let’s take a dive into the stunning photos and unique commentary writing of Amy Schultz in Mumentous!

When we’re talking about the focus topic of Mumentous, we are discussing someone’s local culture, and as I am not immersed in that culture, it can be hard to understand the infamous tradition. This charming book of fascinating stories takes readers into the culture that embraces homecoming mums with gusto. One of the highlights of this unique book is the black-and-white photography showcasing modern high school culture; it has a profound effect on the book as a whole. It made the book feel more immersive and was the added touch that sent this book from an average diary-like piece to an almost Joan Didion-esque piece of journalism. Additionally, I enjoyed the artistic spins on true stories that Schultz openly admits to. Her quote about being an artist and not a historian was cheeky and admirable. I could relate to the sentiment as a fellow writer who enjoys writing about real life. I will say that if you’re looking for some big ah-ha moment that is going to somehow expose unheard-of news, this book is not for you. It is simply an artistic and heartfelt view of a popular piece of Texan culture. It’s real everyday stories.

Mumentous by Amy Schultz is a well-written book about the history of the homecoming mum in Texas. It’s a book that I enjoy having on the shelf to simply pull down and flip through every now and then, to slowly pick through when you want something lighthearted and intriguing. But, if anything, simply buy it for the photographs; they are beautiful!

Pages: 178 | ISBN : 163988565X

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Who They Really Are Inside

Patrick R. F. Blakley Author Interview

Drummond follows a young boy who struggles with fitting in and joins the marching band where he starts learning who he is inside. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Well, I was very much inspired by the illustrations for my Drummy Drum Joins Marchy Band children’s book. Emily Hogan, my illustrator, did a fantastic job depicting Drummy as a drum among humans. I kept asking myself why is he a drum and everyone else is human? I quickly realized that his outward appearance was actually who he was on the inside! I had to expand on that idea, and the most logical place was for the next oldest readers, young adults. Although this is a work of fiction, Drummond is very much myself. In fact, most of what happens throughout the story are events that occurred when I first joined marching band. Some chapters are completely made-up storylines, but the feelings conveyed are genuine feelings we’ve all experienced in our young lives, musicians or not. Drummond, the title, gives the implication of drums, which is who he is on the inside. He just needs to find that out for himself!

Drummond goes through a lot of normal teenage troubles, but music becomes his safe haven. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Drummond’s character development is the same as what I went through as a young adult, which is what drove this story home. My hope is that most young readers find who they are in similar ways! I want people to understand that nobody knows who they really are inside until they truly seek that information out. Don’t let life happen to you by accident, young readers. Forge a path if at all possible. I know, I know, it’s so much more easily said than done. But sometimes you have to look deep, and often it takes until you’re in your forties before you find it. Drummond doesn’t know who he is, the name gave him a clue, but it was up to him to seek it out and find out who he was inside. Lucky for him, he found himself in the music at age 13, but please don’t stop until you also find something within yourself!

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

There are so many themes and literary devices that I utilize and lean on throughout the book. The primary theme is about trusting who you are inside, and that you don’t need to change who you are to fit in. It also goes deeper than that too since older readers can also relate to this theme when finding themselves in new situations throughout life. I love the idea that readers can see that Drummond is destined to play the drums, it’s in his name! Yet Drummond doesn’t see that for himself for half the book, and it takes the other half to actually believe it. This is exactly the same concept as my children’s book Drummy, except using words to portray Drummond as a drummer rather than images. In fact, it might be the case that his name isn’t even Drummond, that’s just the way the reader portrays who he is on the inside! Drummond has a gift of talent, but he still needed to fail in order to realize that gift. Had Drummond not failed he may not have been as successful. You need to find out who you are, and fail along the way, to truly succeed in life.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

My book projects tend to pop up sporadically, but I’ve always wanted to write a book about toasters! I could get into a whole song and dance about my obsession with toasters and how it was all bestowed upon me. Instead, I’ll just note that I’m a member of the Toaster Collectors Association and have a huge collection of antique toasters, parts, and accessories. If I were to ever write a book about toasters, it would have to be something like a book of recipes from simple to advanced and would all revolve around the toaster as the only appliance needed. I’m imagining delectable simple dishes like lightly toasted bread, perfect toast with butter, and burnt toast. Then all the way to advanced dishes like London broil using only a toaster, is that even possible? We may just have to find out. Stay tuned!

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

Drummond, a thirteen-year-old C student in middle school, is steered into joining the high school’s marching band. He’s far from ready, and his friends help him make several attempts to learn new instruments to try and fit in better. With a little unexpected guidance from the drummers and their instructor, he realizes how well he already fits in. He discovers who he is inside. Home life deteriorates behind him and pushes him forward into the arms of his new family, the marching band.

A Topic I Know Well; Swimming

Carla Albano Author Interview

Soul of a Swimmer is the true story about a high school athlete that dies in a school shooting and the legacy he left behind. Why was this an important book for you to write?

Many believe that America has come to normalize mass shootings; often the seriousness of the crime is measured by a body count, and that’s it. No matter the breadth or depth of one’s life, every person who passes on in a mass shooting is worthy of their story being told- they were in the process of dreaming, and living for the future when they died. Few stop and ponder “Who were these people who died? What talent is our society never going to realize?”

This was my first book, and I chose to write about a topic I know well; swimming.

I am a lifelong competitive swimmer, and I implicitly understand Nick. We are of the same breed (so to speak), his passing deeply affected me and indelibly rocked swimmers worldwide. Even though swimming is an individual sport, swimmers share a kinship like no other, and myself and countless other swimmers deeply mourn Nick; a lost member of our school of fish.

Shortly after the tragedy I became acquainted with Nick’s story through several memorials and fundraisers for his charity Nick was and still is a phenomenon. I hadn’t planned on writing a book, but Nick found me and I had to tell his story. It was a pleasure and honor to forever memorialize Nick in this way.

Lastly, I came to learn about the other 16 souls we lost in Parkland. They each were remarkable people; I wish I had the bandwidth to write their stories too.

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

By far the prologue was the hardest 2 pages I’ve ever written and probably ever will write. I’m still emotional and often choke up when I think about the interview with Annika, Nick’s mom, which led to the finalization of this passage.

Each interview as hard in its own way. There was always a balance of grief and joy during the interviews. There were lots of tears; yet openness among all of the interviewees. Resounding respect for Nick resonated throughout the interview process.

What is your favorite memory of Nicholas?

During the writing process, every way I turned, there was a remarkable new” favorite” memory. My favorite is when Mitch, Nick’s dad, described Nick secretly teaching his younger brother to drive. Mitch’s facial expressions during this conversation were priceless. The story of Nick comforting his friend Carlos through a family tragedy was profound and unexpected. This is a story which Nick’s parents never knew before I wrote the book.

I love the memory of Nick visiting Daria’s mom, unannounced. I also love the memory of Nicholas consuming most if not all of the “Fika” snacks.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from Nicholas’s story?

Nicholas Dworet was a remarkable human being. His was a “Life Well Lived.”

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

Soul of a Swimmer is the true story of Nicholas Dworet, a champion swimmer from Florida. Through interviews with his family, friends, coaches, and teammates, the book fondly describes the lifelong process of nurturing a child who has extraordinary talent and ebullient dreams as he develops into an elite athlete. As Nick matures, a young man with a remarkably humble and genuine character emerges amid his athletic successes. When he was a senior in high school, Nick found his Olympic dreams within reach. But tragically, his life was cut short in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Nick’s story will resonate with the reader forever.

The Last Alignment

In The Last Alignment: Cry of the Scorpions, we follow along with five teens as they all come together with their families. Awbrey, Hudson, Androse, Zander, and Natalye discover their family secrets and learn about how their families are connected. The teens not only have to grapple with the new responsibilities placed upon them, but they also must navigate their teen hormones. Learning to work together is challenging as it is, but adding in teen hormones adds a whole new level. Can they learn to work together and get along before their lives are changed completely?

The author, Nathaniel Stewart, did a fantastic job in this first book. It is a quick read but perfectly sets up the story for the second book. The story starts out very strong and makes you want to keep reading. Readers discover that each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. This makes it easy to see how each one feels and reacts to the new situations they are placed in. There was enough information to envision the teens, their families, and their surroundings.

The personalities of the teens are diverse. This will allow readers to find one they can connect with and start building an attachment. Stewart’s writing style is unique as he slightly alters his style for each character, so their individual personalities come out. Being a teenager is hard enough without finding out your family has been keeping secrets from you your whole life and discovering they have magical abilities on top of all that. The author does a great job making them relatable to readers.

The Last Alignment: Cry of the Scorpions is a riveting coming-of-age novel for young adults, those looking for a new fantasy and magic series, and those looking for some action and adventure. This first novel in the series sets readers up for future installments that are sure to be exciting.

Pages: 130 | ASIN : B0092C6XD0

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Camp Afterlife

Camp Afterlife by [Zachary Ryan]

Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan offers a new twist on an age-old question! Gus’s teenage years haven’t been easy; the loss of his brother and the demise of his relationship leaves him in a downward spiral. The spiral comes to a sudden halt when Gus wakes up near a summer camp, where he learns he has passed away from a drug overdose. Camp Afterlife is where troubled souls like his go-to reconcile and come to terms with their life and passing. Will Gus be able to let go and have peace?

If I could use one word to describe Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan, it would be innovative. Let me delve deeper into why that is. For starters, I appreciated the stylistic touch of using song titles as chapter titles. It helps immerse the reader between the author’s fictional world and our own. If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to the songs as you read along. It adds Ryan’s personal touch to your overall reading experience. Bonus, the songs are actually good. The author has incredible taste in music. Secondly, I enjoy the beautiful but simplistic writing style. I feel that Ryan truly captured the essence of his teenage characters and had a firm understanding of how they talk and interact. It was refreshing. Oftentimes, when adult authors write younger characters, it is evident that they are far removed from the generation. But Ryan was flawless in his approach. The story was also super easy to follow. Despite the beautiful writing style, Ryan did not fill up sentences with fluffy poetical adjectives. It made the story easy to follow without skipping over any crucial details. I never had to reread a sentence to grasp what it was saying. And last but not least, the story was fast-paced and never dull. I read the book in a little less than three days. Although the subject matter could be heavy at times, I still had a relaxing reading experience. It was a much-needed break from this very busy season.

If you are looking for a relaxing but thought-provoking read all-in-one, you need to check out Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan. I do not have a single complaint about this book and give it a glowing five out of five stars. Now go and add Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan to your bookish wish list!

Pages: 235 | ASIN: B09JGVQDQ3

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Unlikely by [Wynsome Peters]

Every abandoned building holds a bit of mystery. At one time or another, all of us have had that moment when we imagine the life that used to inhabit the old homes and businesses in our communities–it’s just part of their charm. On the other hand, those same buildings can be homes to some truly sinister activities. When Nate and his friend, Zachary, notice something amiss with the abandoned building in their neighborhood, they make it their mission to discover the truth. What begins as an innocent exercise in eavesdropping quickly turns into an adventure neither of the boys will soon forget. 

Unlikely, by Wynsome Peters, is the realistic urban fiction story centered around two middle schoolers making their way into high school and finding adventure along the way. Nate and Zachary, curious and eager to prove themselves, begin their own investigation after seeing shadows and overhearing a disturbing conversation behind the walls of a dilapidated building. The young boys make it their mission to solve the mystery and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Peters has managed to create an engaging story which will appeal to adolescent readers who enjoy mystery plots with relatable characters. The move from middle school to high school is one that causes mixed emotions and a host of opportunities to meet new people. The author has given young readers two main characters who both feel and act like them and have their own unique families full of quirks. Readers will find themselves just as invested in Nate and Zachary as they are the mystery unfolding before them.

While I enjoyed this adventurous romp, I noticed a few grammatical errors which affect the flow of the story. With a bit of proofreading, and an editor to keep the story focused, this could easily be an exceptionally fun novel.

Unlikely is an intriguing middle school adventure story that builds up and unravels a mystery in entertaining fashion. The author’s choice of characters and storyline work well and provide a relatable and engaging story for younger readers. 

Pages: 137 | ASIN: B07MRF18HH

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To Navigate Life

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Paul Richardson Author Interview

Run Taylah Run follows a runner who must use her skills and tenacity to rescue her team from disaster while avoiding danger herself. What were some sources that informed this novel’s development?

After many years working in schools and officiating at athletics meets, I had the background to engage the characters in the competitive sections of the story. The story takes place in Queensland, Australia, and the vehicle accident takes place on the Atherton Tablelands of North Queensland which is a “local area” for me. By keeping the content and context local I believed I could add authenticity to the story.

Taylah is an inspirational and invigorating character. What were some ideas that were important to personify in her character?

The key attribute I wanted Taylah to show was humility. Individuals are good at different things and excelling in a field of endeavour should not take away the level approach one needs to navigate life. Because Taylah is the “best” does not distract from her ability to see good in, and encourage, others. With determination comes achievement. With achievement comes confidence. It is that confidence that guides Taylah in all she experiences in the story.

I enjoyed the authenticity of the story. What experience do you have with school sports?

As noted above, I have worked in schools for many years and officiated at many athletics meets. I have seen the high and the lows of students’ participation in interschool sports.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your book?

I hope readers will gain an insight into the everyday world of a group of high school students and a chance to relate to the characters. I also hope readers will gain a sense of perseverance when face with adversity whether you are young or old.

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Website

The school relay team had won the right to compete in the regional trials in Atherton. Success there led to the team being invited to represent Far North Queensland at the State Championships in Brisbane. However, the celebrations were short lived when, on the trip back to Cairns, the team bus came to grief after a close encounter with a cow on a remote dirt Tablelands backroad. With people injured and no immediate help available, Taylah Bingham, the school’s best athlete, runs for help. Not far from the accident site, she finds a house. But its occupant is not the type to provide the kind of help she seeks. He too is a runner. With Taylah at the mercy of an escaped prisoner, she finds herself in situations that leaves her future uncertain. However, because of her resolve, tenacity, goodwill, and ability to run, Taylah manages to find her way to safety. She also manages to find justice for the one who imposed on her. Despite the ordeal and the unexpected events that confront her, Taylah is still needed to anchor the regional relay team in Brisbane and is expected to perform at the highest level. Nothing is simple for Taylah, but her talent, and the people around her always manage to see her through.

Through Hard Work and Tenacity

Will Hallewell
Will Hallewell Author Interview

Driven follows a young man who fights to achieve his dreams while trying to pull his dad out of his depression. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

I was asked to participate in the Legacy Series of teen sports novels by my publisher and gladly accepted. At that same time, my wife and I were on the phone with my stepson who had played high school sports, and I asked him to help me develop a theme. He had gone through what Gabe had to go through with the rich kids in school getting playing time over those who had played hard for their four years and felt thrust aside because of wealthy parents. The theme was established.

The depression arc with Gabe’s father was based on my depression and the struggle I encountered to even get up off of the couch some days. Even though I didn’t drink my way through it, the struggle is very hard. Whenever I get the opportunity to talk about it or help others through it, I do. The white fleece jacket that Gabe’s father wore was the same one I wore each and every day of my depression. It was my security blanket, keeping me mentally safe.

Gabe is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Every story has to have conflict and a hero to fight through it. Realizing what was going on in his town and that he was the only one who could help himself achieve his dreams, I wanted to use Gabe to bring focus to teenagers the concept that life isn’t handed to them, they have to go out and get it on their own through hard work and tenacity. In today’s world where so many young kids fall into that “me” mentality, I also wanted to stress the importance of family. No one is more important than family. And although I realize that not everyone has the same core family of mother and father, they still have parental role models. And, good or bad, we all need to be there for our families and friends.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The fact that money can’t buy you everything, the importance of family and helping those in need, and the possibility that life can be lived and conflict can be resolved with “No Hate in the Heart”. Those were the main themes.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I have written a series of mid-grade books called The Gazore Series, which is an older kid’s tribute to Dr. Seuss, and am currently working on turning that into a podcast with 9 episodes completed so far. My current sports book is a hockey book entitled Blindsided. The Gazore Series and Podcast are available now and Blindsided I hope to get finished soon. I am approximately two-thirds of the way through that.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Good or bad, money can be a major factor in everyone’s lives. In the lives of Charlie Shaw and his family, however, it’s what makes them happy and what makes them popular.
When they move into the small town of Falls Creek, divisions of people who have known each other for years begin to occur, and the town becomes split by the creek that bears its name. On the north side resides the Shaws and those who have latched on to their money to try and better themselves, their social status, and their baseball team’s bottom line.
On the south side, there is no influence, only layoffs at the factory. Layoffs and sadness and depression.
Gabe “Honus” Wagner is a senior at Falls Creek High school, and his family is feeling the crunch of the layoffs, his father slipping deeper and deeper into depression. All Gabe wants is a chance to get to the regional game where he and his senior friends will get to display their talents for the scouts of the nation’s biggest schools, but Nate Shaw – Charlie Shaw’s freshman son – has other ideas.
Can Gabe overcome the misguided lure of money as well as help his father out of his depression, or will he lose his chance at a scholarship and his dreams? Driven to succeed, he has to do whatever it takes with no hate in his heart.
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