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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Giveaway

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Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles Book Cover The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, 'best of all the Greeks', is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Review:

Of all the characters in Greek mythology, Achilles has always fascinated me the most. Regardless of whether he’s portrayed as a hero or a villain, he is always shown as a force to be reckoned with, awe-inspiring and larger than life. I’ve yet to meet an Achilles story I don’t like, but Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles is easily my favorite. That’s right – this book is even better than the movie Troy. Those of you who’ve seen the movie, starring a blond, glorious Brad Pitt in Grecian armor, understand just how high an accolade that is.

Miller’s novel is narrated by Patroclus, the young man Achilles loves best of anyone in the world. Patroclus’ role in the tale of Achilles varies from storyteller to storyteller; in some versions of the myth he’s cast as a cousin or a trusted friend, while in others he isn’t present at all. In Miller’s tale, Patroclus is Achilles’ lover, which is the role in which I like him best. Patroclus bears witness to Achilles’ life, growing up as his steadfast companion and remaining at his side during Achilles’ rise to greatness as a hero of the Trojan War.

Through Patroclus’s eyes, you get to see a different side of Achilles. He’s still a warrior, an almost bloodthirsty man-among-men, but at the same time there’s a boyishness to him, an innocence. This is what draws Patroclus to him, but at the same time it makes Patroclus incredibly afraid for Achilles. No matter how talented a fighter he is, he’s guileless, a dangerous quality when surrounded by men like Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Odysseus.

I fell for Achilles and Patroclus as they fell for each other. They’re just so right together that witnessing their relationship feels like a privilege, like you’re a part of the specialness of their love, with all the joy and heartbreak this entails.The love that they share is so pure and tender and true that reading about it is almost like looking directly into the sun – it’s so bright that it hurts, as painful as it is beautiful. 

The blissful agony of The Song of Achilles is that it’s the epitome of dramatic irony. The story of the Trojan War is well known, so you go into the story fully aware of the fate that awaits Patroclus and his beloved. They have no idea what’s in store, but you do, and it’s a dark cloud over the happy couple. They’re so blissful, so hopeful, that it breaks your heart to know how it’s all going to end. It makes for a very intense and emotional reading experience.

The best example of this is when Achilles’ allies try to convince Achilles to kill Hector, the opposing force’s champion. Achilles brushes this off with a smile, saying lightly, “What has Hector ever done to me?” This line was enough to give me goosebumps – and bring tears to my eyes – because I knew what would eventually come to pass.

Besides the gut-wrenching irony, another thing that’s really neat about The Song of Achilles is that it draws on aspects of the Achilles legend that I hadn’t heard before. Based on some research I did after finishing the book, it seems Miller drew on older versions of the myth for the source of her material as opposed to the relatively modern versions. There are a lot of events and characters in the book that I hadn’t heard of before, and certain elements are notably absent. For instance, Miller makes no mention of Achilles’ heel being a point of weakness, which I’d thought was pivotal to the story. According to the Internet, however, Achilles was not invulnerable in any of the older legends.

I loved everything about The Song of Achilles and would definitely recommend it to anyone who appreciates stories of ancient Greece, especially the Trojan War. This stunning love story, tragic at times yet ultimately hopeful, is one that will remain in my heart for life.

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Blog tour banner for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

I’m so excited to be today’s stop on the blog tour for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen!  This book is completely, utterly wonderful, and I’ve been dying to talk about it ever since I finished it last month. So, without further ado, here are a synopsis and review of I Heart Robot. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of the book!

About I Heart Robot

Book cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.01.47 PM
A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I Heart Robot is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far. It’s got wonderfully realistic characters – including a lovable protagonist – and raises fascinating questions about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.

The book is set in a world where robots are utilized for everything from housekeeping to childcare to intelligence operations. They cook food, serve in the military, and even provide “companionship.” The most advanced robots are capable of thinking, feeling, and creating, but in spite of this they are still treated as nothing more than machines to be used – and in some cases abused – by their owners. It isn’t long before the robots begin to demand rights, and protests, uprisings, and violence abound.

Caught up in this civil unrest are the book’s two narrators, Tyri and Quinn. Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and the expectation that she follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue a career working with robotics and technology. Quinn is a run-away companion droid whose dearest wish is to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy.

I loved just about everything about I Heart Robot, but my favorite part would have to be Quinn. He’s such a sweetheart: adorable, shy, and vulnerable, with an air of innocence about him. Suzanne van Rooyen possesses a remarkable ability to demonstrate Quinn’s humanity without ever letting the reader forget he’s an android, and I enjoyed seeing how she translated human needs, wants, and habits in robots. Getting “drunk,” for example, involves a robot inserting a flash drive in their USB port and downloading a code that scrambles their electronics and leaves them with a pleasant buzz. Becoming tired is caused by a fuel cell that is running low on hydrogen, and forgetting something is due to a software glitch or processing error. Even feelings are a result of programming, and Quinn spends most of his money on emotion upgrades, “complex code packages unraveling emotions in [his] core and throughout [his] circuits.”

“The uncertainty in my voice sounds so natural, so human. Sometimes I forget that under the layers of synthetic flesh, I’m a snarl of electronics.”

This begs the question: Can a robot really be considered a person if their emotions and abilities are dictated by coding and programming? Does this make their feelings less valid? Aren’t humans also dependent on a kind of programming – DNA? How do personality and choice factor in? What exactly does it mean to be human? I loved exploring the answers to these fascinating questions!

“We have shared something more than a smile, but I cannot name it. A glitch in my software or some intangible human thing my AI simply cannot process.”

Something else that makes this book a stand-out is how believable and multi-dimensional the secondary characters are, especially Tyri’s boyfriend and best friend. They’re not the perfect friends or the asshole friends but the real friends, the ones who mess up and disappoint you and anger you but also love and support you. They’re insensitive and hurtful at times, caring and helpful at others. Life and friendship aren’t black and white, and I like that this book reflects that.

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About Suzanne van RooyenAuthor photo for Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.

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Giveaway

Want to win a copy of Heart Robot? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to be one of five readers who will receive a digital copy of Suzanne van Rooyen’s book.  The contest is open internationally, and winners will be selected on April 27, 2015.

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Review: FML by Shaun Hutchinson

FML Book Cover FML
Shaun Hutchinson

Tonight’s the night: Simon’s big chance to finally get with Cassie. Cassie, who he’s loved for ages. Cassie, who is newly boyfriend-free. Cassie, who just happens to be throwing the biggest party of the year. Simon’s plan is simple: He’ll go to the party, she’ll fall in love with him, they’ll make out like crazy, and the night will be a complete success.

But things don’t ever go as planned…especially when it comes to Cassie.

In two alternating plotlines, Simon goes after the girl of his dreams and stumbles toward his destiny. It’s one night, one party, and a thousand ways for things to go wrong…but a million ways for them to go right.

Review:

I never went to any real parties back when I was in high school (yeah, yeah, I was a dork), but if they were anything like the party in FML I really missed out during my teenage years.

If you’re in the mood for a fun, clever story featuring unique characters, a wild party, and a dose of alternate realities, FML is the book for you. Simon, the protagonist, has had a crush on Cassie, one of the most popular girls at school, for years. When he hears that she’s having a senior year blowout – and that she’s newly single – Simon decides to use the opportunity to finally profess his love for her.

FML starts as one story but quickly diverges into two separate storylines, showing the different ways the party could unfold based on Simon’s decisions as well as events that are out of his control. It’s almost like one of those old “pick your adventure” books in that it allows you to see how different decisions affect the outcome of the story.

At times it was a little confusing trying to keep the events of both storylines straight, but doing so was well worth the effort. It was really cool watching how the same events and interactions occurred in both plots but in very different ways. Plus, everything came together perfectly at the end – I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting resolution.

I had such a great time reading FML. There are a lot of wild, entertaining stunts going on at the party, from contact Scrabble to a poolside re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet. There’s also the really fun aspect of the party being a “barter” party, which basically means that all of the party-goers are running around the whole night trying to come up with crazy schemes to trade one object for another until they end up with a specific target object. The revelers and their zany antics serve as a great backdrop for the story; in a way they’re almost like part of the setting more than they are actual characters.

The characters who do serve a purpose beyond being part of the background aren’t your normal teen scene stock characters. Cassie isn’t conventionally beautiful, nor is she confident and bold like many popular girls in books and movies. She has depth, flaws, and unique personality traits, and I could see why Simon likes her. Likewise, Cassie’s ex-boyfriend isn’t a tool, but a good guy who legitimately loves her and is nice to her and others, even the less-than-cool kids at school. Simon’s gay best friends are popular, not the objects of ridicule, and there’s not one big, bad bully but several, each of whom is very distinct.

Again, I may not have gotten to go to any actual parties as a teen, but reading about the one in FML is the next best thing. If you’re up for a crazy, unexpectedly fun read, check out FML today.

Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

When the Sea is Rising Red Book Cover When the Sea is Rising Red
Cat Hellisen

In Pelimburg – city of storm and sea and spray – magic is power. Both are controlled by an elite class, who inhale scriven dust to enhance their natural talents.

As the only daughter of the city’s founding family, Felicita has a luxurious but narrow life, one that is ruled by a list of traditionally acceptable and appropriate behaviors. When her dearest friend, Ilven, throws herself over the cliffs and into the sea to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own suicide and escapes to the slums, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, including the means to practice magic. Soon she’s living in a squat, working as a scullery girl, and falling hard for charismatic renegade Dash while also becoming fascinated by the strange, thrilling magic of vampire Jannik.

Then translucent corpses begin to wash up onshore. As it becomes clear that Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic that the upper class with their scriven are powerless against, Felicita must decide where her true loyalties lie – with the family she’s abandoned, or with those who would harness this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it.

Review:

At first glance, When the Sea is Rising Red may strike you as a story you’ve seen countless times before. Felicita, the protagonist, is the daughter of one of Pelimburg’s wealthiest and most powerful families. As such, she is expected to be dutiful and obedient, doomed to enter into an arranged marriage and live within the bounds of Pelimburg’s patriarchal society. Sounds pretty familiar so far, right?

Don’t be fooled. As standard as the beginning of this novel may seem, it’s really just a façade. You start off thinking you know where the story is headed, and that’s when Hellisen grabs you by the throat and takes off in a completely different direction.

Beneath the veneer of predictability and propriety lies the real story, an entrancing world of magic, revenge, passion, and power. There’s drug use and LGBT relationships, casual sex and contraception, murder and betrayal. This isn’t a story that’s been sanitized to the point of dullness. The characters are vivid and flawed, the plot full of unexpected twists and turns. This book took me completely by surprise, and I was mesmerized it.

The turning point from same-old-story to “wait, where did that come from?” occurs when Felicita’s best friend Ilven, also rich and destined to marry a stranger to advance her family’s position in society, throws herself from a cliff. Felicita, devastated but inspired, decides to fake her own suicide in order to defy fate and escape her family’s clutches.

After Felicita’s supposed demise, she trades the cool, stately halls of House Pelim for dirty, noisy streets that reek of fish and are peopled by beggars, prostitutes and gangs. It’s not long before she flings aside her mantle of propriety and timidity, taking up with a group of urchins and becoming as brash and bold as the rest of them. In no time at all she’s guzzling liquor, telling people off, and falling into bed with near-strangers. She’s a protagonist with bite, and I had so much fun reading about her life that I was practically giddy.

While living in disguise, Felicita meets a host of fascinating characters, the most interesting of whom is the mysterious Dash. Shrewd, clever, and charismatic, Dash is one of those dangerous types who you don’t entirely trust but find yourself attracted to anyway. He becomes one side of the book’s explosive love triangle – and boy, what a love triangle it is! Even if you don’t normally care for this sort of thing in fiction, I promise you this – the one in When the Sea is Rising Red will knock your socks off.

Another thing I love about When the Sea is Rising Red is the setting. I’ve always been a fan of books that take place near the sea – there’s something about the rocky cliffs, the smell of brine, and the wildness of the ocean that sends a thrill through me when I read about it. What’s especially cool about Pelimburg, though, is that it’s not just any seaside town; it’s a seaside town where remnants of magic linger. Unicorns, vampires, selkies, and other enchanted creatures coexist with the non-magical beings, and some members of the ruling class even have the ability to wield magic. This collision of ocean and enchantment makes for a fascinating backdrop indeed.

As Felicita tries to adjust to the town and its inhabitants, she learns that escaping her old life and cutting ties with her family won’t be as easy as she’d hoped. Strange red tides, diseased ocean life, catastrophic shipwrecks, and mysterious corpses beget fear among the working classes of Pelimburg, who believe that Ilven and Felicita’s suicides have brought a curse upon the land. This belief compounds the people’s long-held resentment towards the ruling Houses of Pelimburg, Felicita’s family included, and incites sparks of rebellion that are quickly fanned by those who wish to bring down the Houses.

This is the part of the book where things got a bit murky for me. The connections between Ilven’s death, House Pelim, the eerie behavior of the sea, the revolutionaries, etc. are hard to keep straight at times, especially towards the end. I wasn’t clear on all of the cause-and-effect relationships, even after rereading the book.

Still, the characters, unexpected turns, magical seaside atmosphere, and that mind-blowing love triangle are more than enough to compensate for a little confusion towards the end of the novel. I definitely recommend When the Sea is Rising Red and am already on the hunt for the second book in the series.