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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Giveaway and Book Blitz: This Is Me by C.E. Wilson

This Is Me by C.E. Wilson

A-SIST

Anthropomorphic Sentient Individualized Servile uniT

Rogan is a robot. More specifically, he is an Asist – a personalized humanoid servant that provides protection, assistance, and companionship for a lonely young woman living on her own in the city. Chloe is trying to get her big break, singing at bars and clubs all over the city at night while she pays the bills as a substitute teacher during the day. Ever since she activated him many months ago, Rogan has been her beautiful, dependable, obedient, dead-eyed security blanket.

One morning she is shocked when he disobeys a direct command in an attempt to please her and his dull artificial eyes flash a hint of something new. Is this the result of the adaptive Asist servility programming or is Rogan actually thinking? Can a robot think? Can a robot feel?

As Chloe struggles with these thoughts she is blindsided by the singular Niven Adams, a handsome, confident man with the voice of an angel who is everything she’s ever wanted in a boyfriend. He’s the perfect guy for her, except for one problem. Niven doesn’t approve of Asists and takes an immediate dislike to Rogan. As Niven charms his way deeper and deeper into Chloe’s heart, Rogan tries to convince her that he is more than a mass-produced disposable servant.

With Rogan doing everything in his power to prove that his thoughts and feelings are real and Niven trying to persuade her to abandon her robot and have a normal human relationship, Chloe is trapped between the two things that mean the most to her. Does she embrace her relationship with the blond newcomer, or face that her Asist’s feelings may be more than features of his programming?

What really makes a person a person?

Is it a ticking muscle inside their chest, or is it something more?

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Author Bio

C.E. Wilson is 32 years old, grew up in Millersville, Pennsylvania, and has been living in Pittsburgh since 2009. For the first few years living in Pittsburgh, she was an English teacher. Her first book, Oath of Servitude, was published in 2012. In 2013, she quit teaching to be a full-time author and hasn’t looked back since. She loves spending time with her daughter and husband.

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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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Giveaway

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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