Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

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About the Book

Book cover for The Uncrossing by Melissa EastlakeLuke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

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Review

Four-star rating

It’s been 24 hours since I finished reading The Uncrossing, and I’m still starry-eyed over the wondrousness of this story. Usually it’s romance that makes or breaks a book for me, but in the case of Eastlake’s debut it was the world building and the tangled web of magic, secrets, curses, and complex family relationships that really swept me away.

The Uncrossing is set in an alternate-universe New York City where magic is an accepted part of everyday life. Protection spells, hex bags, magical herb farming, and the like are commonplace, and the most powerful families have carved out territories for themselves in a sort of sorcerous turf war. These families operate like magical mafias, exercising tremendous authority in their neighborhoods and vying with their rivals for control. The leaders specialize in different brands of magic and are celebrities in their own right, with the Zhangs running Manhattan, the Malcolms controlling New Jersey, and the Kovrovs holding court in Brooklyn and the boroughs.

“It was hard to name what the Kovrovs did – protection, cooperation, extortion – connecting magical suppliers and consumers across New York.”

Luke Melnyk, one of the book’s two protagonists, knows what it means to be under the thumb of such magical mafiosos. His family has been indebted to the Kovrovs for decades, and Luke himself is recruited at 17 to serve as the Kovrovs’ curse breaker. He goes into the job under strict instructions from his family to keep his head down and his mouth shut, but this directive becomes harder and harder to follow as he realizes there’s something not right with Jeremy, the Kovrovs’ cursed young protégé.

I want SO BADLY to gush about the brilliantly inventive curse at the center of Luke and Jeremy’s relationship, but I’d have to tiptoe around a minefield of spoilers in order to do so. Suffice it to say that the curse is a doozy, with fascinating repercussions both at a practical level and a relationship level. Complicating matters is a snarled mess of secrets, bindings, feuds, and blood magic, which Luke and Jeremy must attempt to unravel.

While I can’t talk about the plot itself, I can and will spend some time singing the praises of Melissa Eastlake’s character building. I was endlessly mesmerized by the Kovrovs, who are the definition of “morally gray.” While Jeremy loves them and sees them as protectors, Luke views them as self-serving monsters. It’s fascinating to see how adroitly Eastlake presents evidence in support of both of these views.

“Alexei’s bindings wove a web, and he, in the center, felt every twinge the way a spider feels her web catching flies. That was a bad metaphor, because it made it sound like an evil, stalking thing, and it wasn’t – it only meant that he knew what was happening, when his people were in trouble or pain. It took a lot out of him, too. His mind stretched in a hundred directions all the time, and the people he’d bound to him haunted his dreams. Alexei always said the Kovrovs worked hard for their people, and so they asked for very reasonable things in return: loyalty, compensation, occasional favors. He said the people they helped – he called it helping – were grateful.”

This is especially true when it comes to Jeremy’s interactions with Alexei and Sergei, the heads of the Kovrov family. Eastlake does a marvelous job of showing tenderness and affection side by side with gruffness and callousness, shouting matches and hurtful comments next to fond gestures and brotherly protectiveness. The relationship among the three main Kovrov men is a work of art, the family dynamic fantastically complicated and muddied by obligation and guilt and love.

“When you’re the Kovrovs’ people, they make it feel like a family. Except, you miss a payment? You make a mistake? You’ll find out real quick who their family is.”

There are so many other great elements of this book as well, too many to name; they include the painfully insightful explorations of identity, personal limitations, and what it means to call someone family. There are moments of wonderful humor, too, as shown in the quotes below:

“‘Hostage-taking is a valuable tool and a fine tradition.’ Alexei sat on the couch and turned on the TV. ‘I personally have been taken hostage three times. The night I spent as Linh Zhang’s prisoner remains one of my fondest memories.’”

“‘We have had adventures today. Apparently I am so evil that performing a routine cleansing on my place caused our witch doctor to swoon.’ He sounded terribly pleased with himself.”

If I had to list one complaint about The Uncrossing, it’s that I spent a decent chunk of the beginning of the book ranging from mildly to severely confused. I was completely lost at first and wasn’t able to figure out what the “rules” of the world were, nor could I immediately get a good handle on who/what the Kovrovs were and how I was supposed to view them. Everything eventually came together, but it took me a while to get a good “grip” on everything.

I also struggled with understanding the basic meaning of some of the sentences. For some reason the way certain passages were worded really confused me. I’m usually a fast reader, but I had to take my time with this novel to make sure I wasn’t misconstruing anything important. For example, Luke’s two best friends are both named Wesley, so he differentiates between them by jokingly referring to them as Straight Wesley and Short Wesley. Because this wasn’t explained until midway through the book, though, I initially assumed they were brothers with the last name Wesley, and “Short” and “Straight” were their (admittedly strange) first names. I realize that probably makes me sound incredibly stupid, but something about the way this book was presented left me really confused at times.

The ending threw me for a bit of a loop as well, and I can’t say that I fully understand what happened, why it happened, and what the significance was. (Anyone else who reads this book, please hit me up and let’s chat about it, okay? I want to hear your thoughts.) All the same, this book had me under its spell from beginning to end, and I will be eagerly awaiting more novels from Melissa Eastlake in the future.

About the Author

Author photo for Melissa Eastlake

Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dog.

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Book Blitz and Giveaway: Charm by J.A. Armitage


About the Book

Charm (A Cinderella reverse fairytale)
J.A. Armitage
(Reverse Fairytales, #1)
Publication date: September 26th 2017
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult

You all know the story of Cinderella…
The kingdom needs an heir and Princess Charmaine is quite aware that the job rests solely upon her shoulders. The problem is, she has no intention of ever getting married, let alone pushing a child out of her ladyparts. When her elder sister dies, Charmaine has to take her place at the ball designed to find her a husband. The problem is, she doesn’t want to choose between a hundred eligible bachelors. She just wants to live her life in peace and find love in her own time.
Cynder knows about the impending war between the people of magic and those of his masters, but working as an underpaid servant in the palace kitchens leaves him with little power to do anything about it. On one hand, he’s a staunch supporter of equal rights for his own kind, but he can’t deny the attraction he feels for the daughter of the king and queen he works for.
When the two meet, sparks fly and not just the magical kind…
Charm is the first in the Reverse Fairytale series by USA Today bestselling author J.A.Armitage. Take everything you think you know about fairytales and turn it on its head.

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Picture and quote from Charm by J.A. Armitage

Author Bio

Born in a small town, J.Armitage longed for adventure and travel. Age 20 she moved to Dublin, then to San Diego, then Sydney and back to California where she did a brief stint working at Universal Studios being a minder to Sponge Bob.

Once back in Britain she got married, had babies and decided to write about the adventure she was now missing out on. She works full time, is a mum to three kids and has had a surrogate baby.

She has skydived twice (and survived), climbed Kilimanjaro and hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She has also worked as a professional clown and banana picker amongst other jobs.

Somehow she finds time to write. If you’d like to get her books for free, sign up to her mailing list here.

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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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Book Blitz, Excerpt, and Giveaway: Blue Tide by Jenna-Lynne Duncan

Blue Tide
Jenna-Lynne Duncan
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: January 9th 2017
Genres: Adventure, Dystopian, Young Adult

An award-winning YA adventure-packed romance steeped in Middle Eastern culture and set in the Asian Pacific amongst dangerous oceans and tropical islands.

Seventeen-year-old refugee Lux plots her escape from the island where her family is stranded, denying that her home was lost in the Floods. Lux is determined to get her old life back by any means possible. But before her feet even leave the sand, she’s taken hostage by a vengeance-driven pirate nearly as young as she is.

Her capture is the key to his freedom…

Captain Draven’s scarf veils more than his face. Underneath, he struggles between morality and survival. When Lux sees deeper into his motivations, she’s torn. She can commit mutiny to escape to a home that may no longer exist, or she can try to help Draven escape the clutches of the person responsible for the deaths of half the world. Staying would mean entrusting her life to a pirate. Helping Draven would mean losing her heart to one.

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EXCERPT:

“You will help him, if it’s the last thing you do.”

He had to be bluffing. Lifting my chin, I met his icy gaze straight on. “You can threaten my life, but there is nothing more you can take from me that you haven’t already.”

“Oh, really?”

He stepped forward, towering over me. Wow, he was tall. I resisted every instinct to cower or curl into a small ball. His hand shot out so quickly, I hardly felt the pull around my neck. My hands flew to my chest. My necklace!

The captain held up the chain, his eyes wide with victory. It was clear he was waiting for a reaction, but, except for that first jolt of surprise, I was paralyzed.

Everything fell silent except the slap of waves against the hull and the drum of his boots as he walked to the railing. I clutched my arms to my chest. My heart sped up so fast I couldn’t tell if it was still beating. He held his hand over the side of the ship. The back of my throat ached with a pain so great I thought it would tear out.

“Stop!” One hand still clutched my chest, the other reached out toward the necklace.

“Still think I have nothing I can take from you? There is always something, Princess.”

Desperation replaced all courage. “Please stop. I can help him.”

He shrugged.

“Wait!”

He opened his palm, one finger at a time. The gold chain slid down, dipping closer to the waters below.

“Please, I’ll do anything!” I pressed my fists to the sides of my head.

He drew his fingers in, closing them around the chain. The necklace dangled safely.

I dropped my arms in relief. “Thank—”

With one slow, deliberate move, he opened his palm.

The chain slipped through his fingers.

“No,” I cried, running to the railing. My necklace had disappeared into the roaring waters below. Lost forever.

I choked on the air I strove to inhale. “That was… that was the only thing…” The sound of my heartbeat thrashed in my ears before every emotion was washed away. Every muscle in my body tightened and my eyes twitched as they narrowed. I turned mechanically to face the heartless brute. My face expressionless, my feelings numbed. He would pay for what he’d done.

“You are in no position to negotiate. Make no more requests or the next thing I drop in the water will be prisoners. One. By. One.” He dictated to me without one ounce of regret for what he’d just done. Turning just as easily, he shouted orders behind him. “Ahmed, bring her.”

 

Author Bio:

Jenna-Lynne Duncan likes to write heart-stopping, page-turning, haunting romance in all YA genres. Her current Young Adult releases are titled Hurricane, Tempest, and Aftermath (Divertir Publishing) and the forthcoming BLUE TIDE (Winter, 2017). Jenna graduated with degrees in Middle Eastern Studies, Political Science, and International Studies. BLUE TIDE was the recent winner of RWA’s Romancing the Lake contest. Besides writing, she loves traveling and children. Preferably together. She welcomes readers to contact her on social media or at JennaLynneDuncan@gmail.com.

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