Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: Counting Wolves by Michael F. Stewart


About the Book

Counting Wolves
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: August 14, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

The Breakfast Club meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward.

Milly’s evil stepmother commits her to a pediatric psych ward. That’s just what the wolf wants. With bunk mates like Red, who’s spiraling out of control; Pig, a fire-bug who claims Milly as her own—but just wants extra dessert—Vanet, a manic teen masquerading as a fairy godmother with wish-granting powers as likely to kill as to help; and the mysterious Wolfgang, rumored to roam for blood at night; it doesn’t take long for Milly to realize that only her dead mother’s book of tales can save her.

But Milly’s spells of protection weaken as her wolf stalks the hospital corridors. The ward’s a Dark Wood, and she’s not alone. As her power crumbles, she must let go of her magic and discover new weapons if she is to transform from hunted to hunter.

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Review:

Four-star rating

I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the review copy!

Counting Wolves was a pleasant surprise for me. When I requested an ARC of the book, I was anticipating a dark fairy tale set in a creepy psych ward with sadistic nurses and tormented teenagers who aren’t crazy but can’t convince anyone of that fact. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve loved a book like that, but I ended up loving what Stewart actually delivered – a look at mental illness and recovery through the lens of a fairy tale – even more.

Fifteen-year-old Milly Malone, the book’s protagonist, knows that fairy tales are more than mere stories – after all, she’s being stalked by a creature from one of the tales, a ravenous wolf that’s out for her blood. The only way to keep the wolf at bay is a magic spell, which requires Milly to count to 100 every time she wants to speak, enter a doorway, take a bite of food, etc. Although Milly knows the spell’s necessary to keep herself and her loved ones safe from the wolf, no one else understands her motivations, and she ultimately finds herself locked away in a pediatric psychiatric ward.

Stewart does a fantastic job of imbuing his novel with symbolism, and the role fairy tales play in Counting Wolves is one of the things that appeals to me most about this book. Milly’s mother raised her on these tales as a way to teach her important lessons, and so fairy tales are how Milly views the world. There are myriad references to these stories – “What big teeth you have, Doctor” – and several of the fables Milly’s read over the years are interspersed throughout the book. The people she meets in the ward are the embodiment of various stories, like the comatose “Sleeping Beauty,” and it’s fascinating to see all of the fairy tale threads woven into the tapestry of this novel.

“This is how every fairy tale starts. With the storyteller explaining to the reader just how it is. There once was a girl named Milly who was the wolf’s coveted meal. Whose father left her in the clutches of an evil stepmother. Whose stepmother imprisoned her with monsters.

At first, Milly’s compulsions are exasperating to read about, in that waiting for her to count all the time can be frustrating and tedious. Her counting consumes her and alienates her from everyone, including the reader. After a while, though, as I grew used to Milly and more information was uncovered about the root of her battle with the wolf, I found myself less annoyed and more intrigued/sympathetic. I was especially enthralled by the sections of the story that focus on Milly’s respective relationships with her deceased mother and new stepmother.

I really appreciate how Stewart approaches mental illness in this book. As much fun as I admittedly have reading psychological thrillers and books about eerie asylums, it’s gratifying to see a positive portrayal of mental healthcare. It’s so rewarding to watch Milly gain strength and courage and to watch her personality emerge once she stops letting her fears define her. The progression of her treatment strikes me as believable and realistic, though I’m not an expert and can’t say for sure.

One of the only negatives about this book for me was Milly’s fellow patients. It’s not that they’re poorly written; it’s just that I didn’t really connect with them. They’re very intense, and while they’re memorable, they’re not especially likable. The times when they exhibit endearing traits are overshadowed by really bizarre, off-putting behavior, like masturbating in plain view or mentioning that they once slit a goat’s throat as part of a Satanic ritual. The characters did grow on me a bit by the end of the novel, but I still wouldn’t say that I felt comfortable around them.

That aside, I greatly enjoyed Counting Wolves and will likely seek out more of Stewart’s work. While this story wasn’t the dark, twisty psychological thriller I originally anticipated, I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve read those kinds of books before and will almost certainly read them again, but I haven’t come across many books about mental illness that use fairy tale symbolism effectively.

Author Bio

Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.

He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.

For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.

Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.

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Blog Tour, Excerpt, and Giveaway: In A Gilded Cage by Mia Kerick

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for In A Gilded Cage, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours! As a fan of fairy tale retellings, I’m happy to be able to share an excerpt from Mia Kerick’s modern twist on the story of Rapunzel, which is set in present day and features a male/male romance. Following the excerpt, at the bottom of the post, you’ll see a Rafflecopter form to enter a giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card. Enjoy!

About the Book

In a Gilded Cage
Mia Kerick
(Evernight Publishing)
Publication date: October 21st 2016
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance

Lucci Grimley is indeed alluring—crowned with a mane of long blond hair, and blessed with an enchanting musical talent that draws a brave rescuer to a high tower hidden in the forest.

However, this modern-day Rapunzel is a young man, sold as a child to the wealthy and childless Damien Gotham for the price of a fast car and a pile of cash. And Lucci’s heroic prince is William “Prin” Prinzing, a handsome college student and star soccer player, hired to care for the grounds of the lavish Tower Estate. Prin climbs an extension ladder rather than a long golden braid to gain access to Lucci’s second floor bedroom window, ultimately penetrating the secrecy surrounding the cloistered young man.

Friendship, and soon romance, blooms. The tower captive eagerly gives his loving innocence to his brave rescuer, which sends the strict and reclusive Gotham into a frenzy of jealous rage. With Prin, Lucci gets a taste of real life, and he wants more. Together, the young men must face Gotham’s ruthlessness and pay the price of liberating Lucci.

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Excerpt

Father pushes forward his untouched plate of eggs, toast, and sliced melon. It is rare that he does not break his fast with enthusiasm, and I am further perplexed. “Last night, when I held you, I did not miss the stiffening of your back. You did not relax against me … your hands did not curl into mine.”

He is correct.

“Your behavior … insulted me.” His glare burns the skin of my face. I keep my eyes averted, as is expected.

Again, I am unsure how to reply so I do not.

“Your diet will be severely restricted until I feel that you have changed your attitude.”

Guilt floods my mouth with illicit strawberry sweetness. I swallow deeply. “My attitude, Father?”

“Yes. You will improve your response to … to me … in the same manner you improved your attitude toward your music.” He looks distinctly uncomfortable. “I will provide proper motivation to help you accomplish this.”

We are moving onto disturbing new ground in our relationship. Where controlling my behavior has satisfied Father to this point, he is now making an attempt to manage my emotions. I am shaken by a cruel premonition of what I will be forced to endure in his effort to correct my apathy.

“Can you think of several words of affection to start us on our path toward increased emotional intimacy, son?”

I am literally unable to speak. My throat is dry and parched, and I reach for my glass of water.

“No water. I will tell you when it is time to drink.”
“Yes, sir,” I croak.
“I believe I requested a verbal expression to prove that you are open to making this necessary change in our future interaction.”

I swallow deeply and scramble for words to express that I am eager to be emotionally extorted.

Shall I tell him I missed him when he was away? I did not.

I could assure Father that I enjoy our physical closeness while we sleep. A blatant lie that would likely encourage more of the same.

I search the dark corners of my mind, but come up with nothing that will not further my suffering. My hands tremble on my lap.

“You are finished with breakfast, Lucas.” This is no loss. My plate is nearly full, but I have no appetite for eggs. “Return to your suite and consider what we have discussed.”

A tiny voice in my mind suggests that we had no discussion at all. It tells me that once again, Father has attempted to impose his will upon me, and I have failed to respond appropriately, for which I will pay a high price.

“Yes, Father. Am I excused?”


He nods, but refuses to look at me. I have disappointed him. 

Author Bio

Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

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Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

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About The Midnight Sea

Book cover for The Midnight Sea by Kat RossThey are the light against the darkness.

The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.

And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…

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Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

three stars
(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

The Midnight Sea is a tale of magic and forbidden love, set in ancient Persia. Let me repeat that. Magic. Forbidden love. Ancient Persia. Need I say more?

For those of you who need just a little more information before you run off and grab a copy of this book, allow me to set the stage. The book’s protagonist is Nazafareen, a young nomad whose life is forever altered when her sister is possessed and killed by a Druj, a kind of demon. Devastated, Nazafareen devotes her life to eradicating Druj from the land and joins the Water Dogs, a special force that harnesses the powers of chained Druj – daevas – and uses them to fight their evil brethren.

“It had been five years since the wight took my sister, but the flames of my guilt and hatred had not dimmed. If anything, they burned hotter than ever. I had fed them everything I was, everything I had. In many ways, they were all that was left of me.”

Nazafareen is assigned to a young and mighty daeva named Darius. The two are bonded to one another so that Nazafareen can wield his power, a necessity that both parties resent. It facilitates a flow of thoughts, emotions, and sensations between the two that’s disorienting at best and panic-inducing at worst.

“I wasn’t alone anymore. Floodgates opened in my mind, releasing a torrent of alien emotions. Next to me, Darius drew a sharp breath as the same thing happened to him, although I barely heard it. Panic surged through me, followed by an aching loss so deep it tore a hole in my heart. I didn’t know if it was mine or his, or both feeding off the other. And I felt his power, a deep, churning pool of it, held tight in my fist.”

As you can guess from the book’s synopsis, the intense dislike Nazafareen and Darius feel for one another eventually morphs into acceptance, then into grudging respect. They begin to see each other as more than vicious daeva and tight-fisted master, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’ve been taught about the conflict between their races. Their doubts are further amplified when the Water Dogs are dispatched to track down a group of escaped, rampaging daevas, a journey that brings several unpleasant revelations.

I thought I would be most captivated by the forbidden romance in The Midnight Sea, but what ended up being even more compelling was the theme of repression that runs through the book. Darius has been raised in captivity, conditioned to believe he is twisted and sinful, redeemable only through discipline and control. He must suppress his “wicked nature,” just as he and Nazafareen must reject their “unnatural” feelings for one another. These two aren’t the only ones battling against themselves. Ilyas, the Water Dogs’ captain, is also waging an internal war, one I found endlessly fascinating and that made him one of the most interesting characters in the story.

“We all had our ghosts, I thought. People we had loved – or hated – so much that they had become a part of us. No one’s choices in this life were really their own. Even our brave captain was driven by desires and insecurities that had more to do with the accident of his birth than anything else.”

I was enamored of the book’s setting as well. The story takes place in a fantasy version of ancient Persia, a backdrop to which I haven’t had much exposure. Not everything is historically accurate, and in her author’s note Ross admits to placing real people and events in contexts that aren’t necessarily factual, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment. It was refreshing to read descriptions of religious practices, scenery and climates, dietary norms, and other cultural matters that I haven’t seen a thousand times before. Hurray for originality!

All in all, The Midnight Sea is a promising start to this new series, and I have high hopes for the sequel. Ancient-Persian fantasies with conflicted characters may not have been my standard fare in the past, but I’m thinking I need more of them in my future!

Author Bio

Author photo of Kat Ross

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

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Xpresso Book Tours is giving away a $30 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner. The giveaway is open internationally and can be entered via the Rafflecopter form below.

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Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: Temper by Beck Nicholas

Tour banner for Temper by Beck NicholasAbout Temper

Book cover for Temper by Beck NicholasFREEDOM COMES WITH A PRICE.

Free from the spaceship and reunited with Samuai, Asher should be happy. But thoughts of her dead family weigh heavily on her mind.

Things worsen when temper problems in camp lead to a murder. When Asher volunteers to get the drug needed to calm people down, tension ignites.

Loyalties are questioned.

Jealousy rears its head. Sparks fly.

And when rumor of a second ship hits close to home, all bets are off.

Have the aliens returned? Is this the end of everything Asher has ever known?

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Review

three stars

 


*This review contains spoilers for Lifer, the first book in Beck Nicholas’ Lifer series.*

Ever since I finished Lifer in 2014, I’ve been checking Goodreads and Beck Nicholas’ website for news of a sequel. After continually coming up empty-handed, I began to despair that Lifer had been a stand-alone novel instead of the start of a series. Then, lo and behold, I got an invitation from Chapter By Chapter to participate in the Temper blog tour. Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus!”

Temper begins several weeks after the Lifers’ and Fishies’ escape from The Pelican. The camp the Lifers, Fishies, and Green Robes have established together is a simmering cauldron of fear, distrust, and tension. As Samuai notes, “Freedom sounds great, until people who’ve always lived a certain way are dragged kicking and screaming into a new way of life.” Not only does each group have a very different opinion about how to proceed in their fight against the Company; they’re also dealing with strange after-effects from the experiments the Company performed on them. Violent outbursts erupt and tempers flare at the slightest provocation; the camp is a simmering cauldron ready to boil over.

In hopes of finding a cure for the strange behavioral changes, Asher and Davyd set off on a mission into the heart of Company territory. Samuai is left behind to keep the peace among the camp’s factions until his brother and sweetheart return. This is a hard enough task in and of itself, but it proves even more challenging when Samuai discovers that the Green Robes have been keeping secrets, secrets that could change everything for the people in the camp.

Something I really enjoyed about Temper – as terrible as this is going to sound – was watching Samuai shift from the bright, optimistic boy that Asher first fell in love with to a more practical, somewhat cynical young man. He’s still the great guy I fell for in Lifer, but he develops a harder edge in Temper, growing more suspicious and more disenchanted, his faith in people shaken by the secrets he’s unearthed. It made him an even more interesting character than he’d been before.

Davyd, too, remains one of my favorite characters in this series. He’s just as unpredictable and fun as he was in Lifer, and I loved his role as instigator, charmer, and manipulator. You never know for sure which side Davyd is on or what his motivations are; what you do know is that he’ll always keep things exciting.

One complaint I had with Temper is that there wasn’t quite as much romantic drama as I anticipated. One of the aspects I liked most about Lifer was the love square that developed between Megs, Samuai, Asher, and Davyd; to be perfectly honest, I was more concerned with their relationships than the rest of the plot. That being said, I couldn’t wait to see what would transpire between the four of them when they were all brought together in Temper. I was hoping for some fireworks, or at least some confrontations and awkwardness. There was a little of this, but I can always use more relationship angst!

Temper also suffers from a mild case of second book syndrome. At times I felt like its primary purpose was to set up events for Fighter, the next book in the series, and serve as a bridge between books 1 and 3. That being said, it was still an engaging read, and I remain a big fan of this series. I’m anxious to find out more about the mysteries of the Company, the direction the characters’ relationships will take, and what the heck will come of Temper’s cliffhanger ending!

I received a free copy of this book from Chapter By Chapter in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Beck-Nicholas-head-shot-248x300

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

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Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Excerpt: Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

Tour banner for Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle TaylorAbout Nora and Kettle

Book cover for Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle TaylorWhat if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?

Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

Set in 1953, Nora and Kettle explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world.

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Excerpt

I snort, push my sleeves up, and lean back on my forearms. She watches me, her eyes on my bare skin, and I wonder what she’s thinking. “Dances. Really? What’s to miss?” My experience with dances was one forced event in the camps where we watched the grownups awkwardly shift in lines to scratchy music. It didn’t look very enjoyable.

She releases the button she’s been playing with and smirks. “Says someone who’s clearly never been to one.”

“How do you know that?” I say, raising an eyebrow and touching my chest, mock offended.

She laughs. It’s starlight in a jar. I blink slowly. “Oh, I can tell just by looking at you, the way you move. You,” she says, pointing at me accusingly. “Can’t dance.”

The candlelight twinkles like it’s chuckling at me. “I can dance,” I say, not sure why I’m lying to defend myself. I’ve never danced in my life.

She stands up and beckons me with her finger, and I think there’s something wrong with my heart. It’s hurting… but the pain feels good.

She looks like a pirate’s cabin boy, shirt billowing around her small waist, ill-fitting pants rolled over at her hips to stop them from falling down. She points her bare foot at me. “Prove it!”

Shit!

I cough and stand nervously. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I put them behind my back. She giggles. Touches me. Runs her fingers lightly down my arms until she finds my hands. She grasps my wrists and I gulp as she places one on the small dip between her hips and her ribs, extending the other out like the bow of a boat. Her hand in mine.

I follow her small steps and we wind in circles, avoiding the clumps of debris, painting patterns in the dust.

I stare at my socks and her narrow bare feet, listening to the swish of them across the dirt. “You know, this is pretty weird without music,” I mutter, looking up for a moment and suddenly losing my balance.

She exhales and brings us back to equilibrium. She starts humming softly. It’s a song I’ve heard before, but I pretend it’s the first time. Her voice is sweet, cracked and croaky, but in tune as she gazes at the ground and leads us up and down the back of the tunnel.

This moment is killing me. I don’t want it, but I do. Because I know it won’t be enough and it’s all I’ll get.

The end of the song is coming. It rises and rises and then softly peters out. We look at each other, understanding that something is changing between us, and we have to decide whether to let it. Please, let it.

She sings the last few bars. “And if you sing this melody, you’ll be pretending just like me. The world is mine. It can be yours, my friend. So why don’t you pretend?”

Her voice is like the dust of a comet’s tail. Full of a thousand things I don’t understand but want to.

She stops and starts to step away. She’s so fragile. Not on the outside. On the outside, her body is strong, tougher than it should have to be. It’s inside that’s very breakable. I’m scared to touch her, but I don’t want to avoid touching her because of what she’s been through. That seems worse.

So I do it, because I want to and I don’t think she doesn’t want me to. Her breath catches as I pull her closer. I just want to press my cheek to hers, feel her skin against mine. There is no music, just the rhythm of two barely functioning hearts trying to reach each other through miles of scar tissue.

She presses her ear to my chest and listens, then she pulls back to meet my eyes, her expression a mixture of confusion and comfort. She breathes out, her lips not wanting to close but not wanting to speak. She settles on a nervous smile and puts her arms around my neck. I inhale and look up at the ceiling, counting the stars I know are up there somewhere, and then rest my cheek in her hair.

I don’t know how she is here. I don’t know when she’ll disappear.

We sway back and forth, and it feels like we might break. That we will break if we step apart from each other.

I can’t let her go.

I think I love dancing.

About the Author

Author photo for Lauren Nicolle Taylor

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Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.

She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.

She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.

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Giveaway

Clean Teen Publishing is giving away a mystery box full of swag, books, and more! To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends March 10, 2016.

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You can also get a free gift by taking a picture of Nora and Kettle, sharing it on social media, and sending a URL of your post to publicity@cleanteenpublishing.com! For full details, please visit www.cleanteenpublishing.com/contests

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