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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A Sleeping Beauty Story for Every Reader

One of the great things about fairy tales is that with the variety of retellings out there, there’s guaranteed to be something to appeal to every reader’s tastes. Take the story of Sleeping Beauty, for example. Whether you’re interested in Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, or Fantasy, I can recommend a retelling for you.

If you like Science Fiction, you might enjoy: A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

Book cover for A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

When Rose Fitzroy wakes up after 62 years asleep in a stasis tube, she discovers that a virulent disease has completely transformed the world she once knew. With all of her loved ones dead, Rose finds herself alone and adrift in a new century where the technology, people, language, and even the food are unfamiliar to her.

Rose puts just as much energy into trying to forget her past as she does into her attempting to adapt to her new life. The questions of why she was sent into stasis, and why it took so many years for someone to wake her up, are ones she’s desperate to avoid. Eventually, though, Rose is forced to confront the truth of her past in order to move on and give herself a future.

A Long, Long Sleep is a fantastic retelling, and its unique concept is very well-executed. This is a story about waking up, both literally and figuratively. It’s about the implications of refusing to see what’s right in front of you, about facing your problems instead of squeezing your eyes shut and waiting for those problems to pass you by. The themes in the book, and the fact that it is has some of the best final lines of any book I’ve read, make it well worth a read.

If you like Historical Fiction, you should check out: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Book cover for Briar Rose by Jane YolenBecca grew up listening to her grandmother tell the story of Briar Rose, a princess in a thorn-encircled castle where a magical mist causes the inhabitants to fall into a deep sleep. This beloved tale takes on a whole new meaning when, on her death bed, Becca’s grandmother confesses that she was Briar Rose and implores Becca to find the castle from her fairy tale.

Armed with little more than a few old newspaper clippings and photographs, Becca sets off on a quest to uncover the truth about her grandmother’s past. This mission leads her to Poland, where various clues eventually reveal an incredible story of imprisonment and escape from a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

I didn’t love everything about this book – I wasn’t wild about Becca, and there were some moments when I was bored – but I still recommend it for its originality and the imaginative way Yolen weaves elements of the Sleeping Beauty story into a tale of the Holocaust. There’s no actual magic, but all of the elements of the Briar Rose tale are there nonetheless, in very unexpected and moving ways.

If you’re fond of Fantasy, you’ll probably appreciate: Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Book cover for Spindle's End by Robin McKinleyI credit Robin McKinley’s books – and Spindle’s End in particular – for my love affair with fairy tales. McKinley’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty is more traditional than the other two on this list – there’s an evil fairy, a golden-haired princess, an enchanted spindle, and plenty of magic – but it’s still a unique spin on the well-known story.

There’s a wonderful feminist spirit to Spindle’s End, and Rosie, the princess, is one of those delightfully strong, independent, convention-defying heroines. Gifted with blond tresses, long eyelashes, pearly white teeth, and a variety of other endowments, Rosie is also a tomboy, can communicate with animals, and prefers to spend her time caring for sick critters and playing around in the mud.

The magic in this book is temperamental and unpredictable, and McKinley does a fantastic job of building the world in which it exists. As usual, she pays careful attention to all of her settings and characters, painstakingly examining their relationships with magic and each other. I love how rich, detailed, and thoughtful this book is, and I highly recommend it.

There you have it – three very different takes on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Have you read any of the books on this list? Can you recommend any other versions of this story that I might enjoy?

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy Book Cover Grave Mercy
Robin LaFevers

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts – and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, she finds herself woefully underprepared – not only for the deadly games of love and intrigue, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Review:

I started off feeling quite enthusiastic about Grave Mercy. The beginning of the book reminded me a lot of Poison Study, and also a bit of Crown Duel, as it features a strong, capable heroine struggling to keep up with the intrigues of court; a mysterious hero who is alternately alluring and dangerous; and a treacherous plot that must be uncovered and stopped before it is too late. As I read on, however, my initial excitement faded as the mysterious hero and court intrigue failed to measure up to my expectations.

Said hero, Gavriel Duval, was probably the biggest disappointment. I had such high hopes for him, as he seemed to be a great match for Ismae, the book’s feisty assassin protagonist. He’s dangerous, sexy, and capable of meeting any challenge, the type of character who would make either a formidable opponent or a powerful ally. Anticipating all sorts of daring hijinks and near-death experiences, I couldn’t wait to discover what dangerous situations Duval and Ismae would find themselves in at the royal court of Brittany.

The reality fell far short of my imagination. Duval’s loyalty to the Duchess of Brittany requires him to spend the majority of his time debating political alliances or attending privy council meetings. While I got the impression that there is a capable, deadly side to Duval, I seldom got to see it in action, as Duval was generally acting in the role of politician rather than soldier. With the exception of one or two brief fight scenes, he paces, broods, and strategizes more than he does anything else.

Another letdown was the plot. I enjoyed the air of mystery and liked that it was Ismae’s mission to protect the Duchess of Brittany from traitors in her court. However, like Duval, the storyline stops short of being as amazing as it has the potential to be. For example, there isn’t nearly enough tension surrounding Ismae’s day-to-day life in the royal court. There is little to no cattiness, gossip, or manipulation going on, which is disappointingly unrealistic, especially considering that all of the courtiers assume Ismae to be the mistress of the most influential man in the kingdom. I had hoped for scenes in which Ismae must contend with jealous rivals, judgmental old biddies, or handsome yet wily casanovas, but said scenes never transpired.

Despite these disappointments, I did enjoy reading Grave Mercy. This is mostly because of Ismae, the novel’s saving grace. In the beginning I was worried that she might become one of those protagonists who is so strong and capable that she is impossible to relate to, but this fear turned out to be unfounded. Ismae’s prodigious talent for poisoning, disemboweling, and otherwise incapacitating foes is tempered by her lack of social and relationship skills. Ismae is closed off, has a hard time trusting people, and struggles to convincingly play the role of a seductress. She possesses fears, doubts, and a degree of self-consciousness that is at odds with her physical strength. These vulnerabilities went a long way toward endearing her to me.

Another great thing about Grave Mercy is that it’s set in a historical period with which I’m not very familiar. I appreciated reading a regency novel that wasn’t based in Tudor England, and it was a good opportunity to learn about a new era. I was struck by just how authentic the characters’ language and behavior feels and was so relieved to find that there were no jarring sentences or turns of phrase to ruin the flow and throw me out of the time period.

All in all, Grave Mercy is a decent book, and I did like reading it, even if Duval didn’t turn out to be the next Valek or Marquis of Shevraeth. Therefore, if you liked Poison Study and have come to terms with the fact that no other novel can quite measure up to it, then Grave Mercy might be a good book for you.