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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Review: The Lady in Blue by Kimberly G. Giarratano

The Lady in Blue Book Cover The Lady in Blue
Kimberly G. Giarratano

The Lady in Blue stole a car and fled Ash.
Out on Devlin Road she emerged from a crash.
She wandered the woods with her head dripping blood.
Then drowned in the river in water and mud.

All her life criminology student Liz Bloom has heard this rhyme, meant to scare young campers. When she’s about to take on her first cold case, Liz learns the eerie song is about her great aunt Lana. Liz isn’t big on studying, but she does have one advantage most criminologists don’t — she can speak to the dead.

In 1955, Lana Bloom was an eighteen-year-old beauty with Hollywood dreams who fell in love with a stranger. When Lana died in a bloody car crash, all signs pointed to the mysterious man who was never seen again.

As Lana unravels the details surrounding her last week of life, the tale she weaves for Liz is one of desire, betrayal, and murder. But if Lana can’t identify her killer, not only will a murderer escape punishment, but her ghostly form will cease to exist. And Liz will have failed the most important assignment of all – family.

Review:

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

There’s something about a good ghost story that’s impossible to resist. We’ve all listened to a friend spin a spooky tale as we sat entranced with goosebumps on our arms and pleasant shivers down our spine. We’ve all recited the rhyme about Lizzie Borden and her axe, or chanted the “Bloody Mary” mantra in a darkened room, waiting with bated breath for her spirit to come shrieking through the bathroom mirror. For better or worse, there’s something alluring about mysterious, tragic stories that makes you want to know more.

In Kimberly G. Giarratano’s fictional town of Ash, the ghost story of choice is that of the Lady in Blue, a teenage girl who died on her prom night, supposedly murdered by her lover. Little do the town’s residents know that the Lady in Blue is more than a legend – her ghost really does haunt the town, and will continue to do so until she either brings her killer to justice…or fades into oblivion.

Criminology student Liz Bloom is one of the only people in town who can see the Lady’s ghost, and she’s determined to help the Lady track down her murderer so that she can finally find peace and move on. With Liz’s assistance, the Lady slowly begins to piece together the events leading up to her death.

Back in the 1950s, before her murder, the Lady in Blue’s name was Lana Bloom, and she was the darling of Ash. Gorgeous, popular, and beloved by all, Lana led a charmed life – or so it seemed. In reality, the pressure to be perfect – the obedient daughter, the doting girlfriend, the beautiful prom queen – left no room for Lana to be herself. Every time she tried to voice an opinion or forge her own path, someone stepped forward to push her back towards the “acceptable” route. And eventually, one of those someones killed her.

My favorite aspect of The Lady in Blue, hands down, was the authentic 1950s feel. The pages are peppered with slang like “necking” and “skedaddle” and nicknames such as “kitten” and “dollface.” When reading a scene in a beauty parlor or a description of a housewife retrieving her cigarettes from a decorative case, I felt like I had actually stepped back in time. Giarratano does a great job of portraying the social norms of the era, subtly but clearly demonstrating how different the world was just 60 years ago. For the first time, it really struck me how limited options were for women back then, how trapped they were by cultural expectations. It was a time in which no one batted an eye at teenagers getting married right out of high school, a time when young women were expected to dream of nothing more than being a dutiful wife and mother, when it was normal for girls to not know how to drive a car. This book made me infinitely grateful to be alive today and not in the 50s, poodle skirts and malt shops aside.

Something else that I really enjoyed was Giarratano’s writing. She has a smooth, pleasant style that is lovely without being showy or distracting. Her use of similes and other literary devices are spot-on, too. Here a couple of my favorite examples:

“I might’ve been a Bloom by name, but unlike the plants in my yard, I couldn’t flourish here. My mother, whether she meant to be or not, was like a black canvas laid down to smother the weeds.”

And:

“I heard Henry say, ‘You caught the best-looking girl in town’ as if I were a prized trout ready to mount to the wall.”

Now, on to the one part of the story that didn’t quite work for me: the romance. I like to fall in love along with the characters in the books I’m reading, and that just didn’t happen here. This is largely due to the fact that the romance develops much too quickly. When Lana meets Andrew, a soldier who seems to appreciate and understand her more than her own family and friends, it makes sense that she’s intrigued. What doesn’t make sense, though, is how quickly she becomes comfortable with him, comfortable enough to not find it weird that he’s always turning up wherever she is, lurking in her backyard or at the house where she’s babysitting. Lana barely knows Andrew, yet she instantly feels a connection with him and can’t stop thinking about him. It didn’t ring true to me, and this was the main reason I couldn’t give the book a full 4 stars.

In fairness, The Lady in Blue is a novella rather than a full-length novel, which doesn’t provide as much page time for a meaningful, believable relationship to develop. Still, I really would have liked to have gotten to know Andrew more, to fall for him the way I fell for Danny in Grunge Gods and Graveyards, Giarratano’s debut novel.

Even though I wasn’t loving the romance in The Lady in Blue, I do still recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, interesting read with beautiful writing and a charming protagonist. I think it would be especially good for those who are interested in mysteries or ghost stories but are looking for subject matter that’s not too heavy or dark.

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Click here to read my interview with Kimberly G. Giarratano and enter for a chance to win a copy of The Lady in Blue!

The Lady in Blue: Giveaway and Interview with Kimberly G. Giarratano

Around this time last year, I participated in a blog tour for Grunge Gods and Graveyards, Kimberly G. Giarratano’s debut novel about a girl being haunted by the ghost of her high school crush while trying to solve the mystery of his murder. The book features solid writing, a tragically romantic love story, and a swoon-worthy male lead, but it was a relatively minor character that really sucked me into the book. This character, known as the Lady in Blue, was the spirit of a girl who’d been killed in the 1950s on the way to her senior prom and had been haunting her hometown ever since. Although the Lady in Blue didn’t get a ton of page time, I found her fascinating and wished I could have learned more about her backstory.

And then, lo and behold, I got an email several months later from Kimberly. She gave me beautiful, wonderful, spectacular news: she had written a spin-off of Grunge Gods and Graveyards, and it was all about the life – and death – of my favorite ghostly prom queen.

Kimberly is here with us today to introduce this new book, talk about plans for her next series, and discuss all things ghostly. She’s also giving away an electronic copy of The Lady in Blue to one lucky reader, so make sure to sign up for a chance to win at the end of this post!

About The Lady in Blue

Book cover for The Lady in Blue by Kimberly G. GiarratanoThe Lady in Blue stole a car and fled Ash.
Out on Devlin Road she emerged from a crash.
She wandered the woods with her head dripping blood.
Then drowned in the river in water and mud.

All her life criminology student Liz Bloom has heard this rhyme, meant to scare young campers. When she’s about to take on her first cold case, Liz learns the eerie song is about her great aunt Lana. Liz isn’t big on studying, but she does have one advantage most criminologists don’t — she can speak to the dead.

In 1955, Lana Bloom was an eighteen-year-old beauty with Hollywood dreams who fell in love with a stranger. When Lana died in a bloody car crash, all signs pointed to the mysterious man who was never seen again.

As Lana unravels the details surrounding her last week of life, the tale she weaves for Liz is one of desire, betrayal, and murder. But if Lana can’t identify her killer, not only will a murderer escape punishment, but her ghostly form will cease to exist. And Liz will have failed the most important assignment of all – family.

Interview with Kimberly G. Giarratano

Welcome to Angela’s Library, Kimberly! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?

As to be expected, I love to travel and go on haunted city tours where I walk around the city and hear ghost stories. I’ve done these tours in Rome, Italy and Key West. I want to go to Gettysburg and do this, but I can’t take my kids – they’re too little to scare. I also love cemeteries and graveyards. When I was a kid, and someone died, my grandma would take me on a tour of the cemetery and tell me about my relatives who were buried there. I always found it so interesting. There’s so much history in cemeteries. I’m always fascinated about the people who are buried there. What were their lives like? How did they live? Where are their descendants? Do they visit? I’m always thinking of story narratives.

Summarize The Lady in Blue in one sentence.

A beautiful 18-year old ghost recounts her murder in an effort to uncover her killer.

Book cover for Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. GiarratanoThe Lady in Blue is a spin-off of your debut novel Grunge Gods and Graveyards. What made you decide to return to the fictional town of Ash to tell the story of its long-time resident ghost?

I had always intended to write the Lady in Blue’s story because there was no way I was going to be able to fit her narrative into Grunge Gods’ story arc. Also, Lana’s history is interesting because of the time period in which she lived – the 1950s. In addition, readers were asking me to expand on her story. I felt like I couldn’t NOT write this book. To me, the series wasn’t complete until I told Lana’s story.

Everyone reading this post has probably heard at least one ghost story told around a campfire, whispered in the dark at a slumber party, or circulated as part of local legend. In your opinion, what is it that makes ghost stories so pervasive and appealing?

I think everyone likes to be haunted. There’s something to be said about the dead not being done with us.

If you were able to see and talk with ghosts, who would you want to be haunted by and why?

I actually think about this often. I want to be visited by my dad’s paternal grandmother. She died an old woman, but she was an interesting figure. She survived pogroms in the Ukraine. She emigrated through Ellis Island. She lived in tenements in the Lower East Side. Her husband disappeared off the face of the earth – he may have been a bootlegger. I want to interview her and find out about who she was. There’s so much history in my family and I know none of it.

The Lady in Blue is set in the 1950s, with each chapter named after a song from that decade. The same is true in Grunge Gods and Graveyards as well, but with songs from the ’90s instead. What role has music played in your life and why is it important to you?

I’m a teenager of the 1990s, so in that sense, alternative music represents my youth. For me, listening to a Tori Amos song makes me feel like I’m 17 again and reminds me of the person I used to be. I think I read somewhere that your music tastes are formed in your teenage years – which makes sense. I still listen to Radiohead, Tori Amos, and U2, but I’m more inclined to listen to the olders albums from my teenage years, rather than the new stuff.

One of my favorite things about The Lady in Blue is its authentic 50s vibe; the vocabulary, clothing, and social norms in the book paint such a clear and fascinating picture of what it would have been like to live in the 1950s. How much research did you have to do to bring this era to life on the page?

I don’t know if I can quantify the amount of research I did, but I did a lot of work. I read books set in the 50s and I purchased an actual text written in the 50s for teenagers. I bought a book that was all about 1950s clothing. I also crowd-sourced my Facebook friends. Often, I’d jump on Facebook and ask people to name cigarettes their parents smoked. My friend, Georgene, gave me a detailed description of a 1950s movie theater. My dad described how to drive a stick shift for a 1950s car. My author friend, Elizabeth, read my manuscript and clarified some 1950s expressions. For some reason, I have a fascination with the 50s and it’s nice to be able to talk to people who lived in that time period – they’re my primary resources.

Do you have a favorite 50s saying or slang word? If so, what is it?

I don’t have a favorite slang word, but I did learn the expression, “don’t have a cow,” originated in the 50s and not on The Simpsons, like I thought it did.

In addition to writing, you also review books for School Library Journal and BookPage. Have you read anything recently that you highly recommend?

I reviewed Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee several months ago for BookPage and I really enjoyed it. Set in 1849, a Chinese-American girl and a runaway slave, who are fleeing the law, meet a trio of friendly cowboys. It’s a feel-good read and the author does an amazing job of making the reader fall in love with the characters. I also read an ARC of Lauren DeStefano’s middle grade book, A Curious Tale of In-Between, which was spooky, ghostly, and all those things I love. If you want a fun, page-turning YA mystery, I suggest Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor. If you love historical YA mysteries, I loved Dianne K. Salerni’s The Caged Graves. And if you want beautifully written, compelling historical fiction, read The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett. *I used to be a librarian; so offering up book recommendations is in my DNA.

What can you tell us about your next writing project? Can we look forward to more mysteries / ghost stories in the works?

YES! My next YA mystery, Dead and Breakfast, will be out this fall. Two seventeen-year-olds must solve a sixty-year-old murder before a malevolent ghost destroys a family-owned bed and breakfast. It’s set in Key West, Florida, which is one of ten most haunted cities in America. If anyone wants to be notified when the book is released, feel free to sign up for my reader club: http://eepurl.com/bn21-X.

Dead and Breakfast is the first of a three-book series. I’m hoping the entire series will be out in summer 2016. Then I’m embarking on a new series, which is a mash-up of Veronica Mars and My So-Called Life. I hope to release the first book in late 2016.

Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Kimberly! We hope to see you back again soon!

About Kimberly G. Giarratano

KimPhoto of Grunge Gods and Graveyards author Kimberly G. Giarratanoberly G. Giarratano, a forever Jersey girl, now lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. A former teacher and YA librarian, Kimberly adores Etsy, Jon Stewart, The Afghan Whigs, ’90s nostalgia, and (of course) everything YA. She also speaks Spanish, but is woefully out of practice.

Kimberly always dreamed of being a published author. Her other dream is to live in Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway.

You can visit her blog at kimberlyggiarratano.com or tweet her @KGGiarratano.

Giveaway

Kimberly has generously offered to give away an e-book copy of The Lady in Blue! Simply fill out the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win. This contest is open internationally.

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Check back later this week to read my review of The Lady in Blue!