Thursday, August 4, 2016

New Release: Review, Excerpt & Giveaway: COUNTING DAISIES by Nicola Haken

Title: Counting Daisies
Author: Nicola Haken
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: August 1, 2016

Dylan Roberts and Cameron O’Neil were good kids. Growing up together, they shared everything. By the age of fourteen they were more than best friends – they were in love. They dreamt of their future, of success, marriage…happiness. They were going to grow old by each other’s side.

But… “Kids are stupid.”

When tragic circumstances forced them apart, Dylan discovered that life wasn’t the fairytale he dreamed of; it was dark, difficult, saturated with pain and shame. Life wasn’t meant to be enjoyed, merely survived, but even that became a challenge.

Damaged, worthless, and disgusting, he saw no point to his pitiful existence…

Until he came face to face with the boy he used to love.

Successful, honourable, and happy, Cameron had achieved the future they planned. He was good, positive, popular…everything Dylan would never be. What would happen if Dylan let him back into his world? Would he destroy Cameron too? Would his poison push him away like everyone else?

“Everybody leaves.”

“They leave or they die.”

But what if…what if Cameron didn’t?

“This is a deep and powerful book with the main theme which is refreshing less about the path of a relationship and way more about the real life gritty obstacles that come on the way of their HEA.” - Reader Review

“This book was phenomenal. I cried so many tears. Story was heart breaking and heartwarming all at the same time.” - SiKReviews
“This was a beautifully crafted story of friendship, love, bonds, addictive behaviour and heartache. It was hugely emotional in parts, and Nicola doesn't hold back.” - 2 Girls & Their Kindles
He clung to my shirt, his knuckles turning white. “Make it s-stop.” 

“I…I don’t know how.”

F*ck this. F*ck heroin. Why the hell would someone do this to themselves? I’d never seen this level of pain before that hadn’t resulted in death, and even that was only on TV. 

Dylan sobbed into my chest and I held him while he did. My arms were all I had to offer. He remained so cold despite my palms rubbing up and down his back, and he was dirty, too - dried up vomit sticking to his skin and hair. I’d never felt so helpless in all my life.

Needing to do something, anything, I climbed to my feet, lifting his body with me. “Come on,” I encouraged, struggling to take his weight on my own. “Try and walk for me.”

He whimpered and mumbled but made little effort to move. So, sliding one arm behind his thighs, I scooped him up like a baby, carrying him towards the bath. He clung to my neck, his grip weak, while I turned on the water. I turned the temperature down to barely warm, worried the heat might burn his shivering skin, before lowering him into the bathtub, under the fine spray of the shower. 

His muscles twitched and his eyes closed as he hugged his knees to his scrawny chest. Taking a sponge and some shower-gel, I scrubbed softly up and down his trembling body, gently manoeuvring his arms and legs when needed so I could clean every inch of him.

“I’m tired, Cam,” he barely whispered, dropping his head to the side.

My heart ached, like it was trapped inside a vice that was trying to crush its ability to beat, as I lathered some shampoo into his fair hair. “You can sleep soon. Nearly done.” 

I tried not to cry as I massaged his scalp. I wanted to be strong, but I’d never felt more vulnerable. Removing the showerhead from the hook on the wall, I hovered it over his head, rinsing away the tea-tree scented suds, before doing the same to the rest of his skin. After shutting the water off, I grabbed a large towel from the heated rail next to the toilet and rubbed it over his skin in the bathtub before lifting him out and doing the same to his back.

“I-I can’t d-do it anymore,” Dylan cried as I wound my arm around his waist, urging him to take a step.

“You are doing it. It’s almost over.” I had no idea if my words were the truth, but I had to hope they were for both of our sakes. Honestly, I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore either.

This is the second book I've read by this author, and this is now the second time she's ripped me apart only to put me back together again.  Addiction is never an easy topic, yet Nicola Haken handles it with sensitivity and grace, giving readers a terrifying glimpse into the life and mind of Dylan while at the same time giving us hope and the prospect of unconditional love from Dylan's childhood best friend, Cameron.

Counting Daisies is a second chance romance filled to the brim with angst, fear, trust issues and pain, but it is also the journey of one man's addiction and recovery and another's love and support of him as they navigate that hellish path together.  Both Cameron and Dylan have strength, though at times they both falter.  But their love is what keeps them going and ultimately what helps them push through.  

This story is not one that builds to some climactic event, but instead one that follows the extreme ups and downs of an addict's journey, but also the journey of the man who loves him.  It is full of an entire spectrum of emotions, and had me bouncing from tears to smiles to worry and relief.  It's the kind of story that will take a lot out of you, and for those readers who are sensitive to the topics of drug use and addiction, be aware that descriptions of this in the book can be graphic and upsetting.

I loved both Cameron and Dylan's characters.  It is obvious throughout the story how much they care for each other, even now sixteen years after they were forced apart.  I felt so much for both of them, and I was rooting for them from the beginning.  There's also some wonderful supporting characters, and Paul and Derek were my favorites.  Paul especially stood out with his no-nonsense, tough approach.

Counting Daisies was an outstanding, emotional 4.5-star read for me, and I highly recommend it to M/M romance fans who like stories that tackle serious topics with intelligence, empathy and a good dose of love.  This story is meant for readers 18+ for adult language, explicit M/M sexual content, graphic descriptions of drug use, and discussion of sensitive topics that may be triggers for some readers.

Nicola lives in Rochdale, England with her husband and four children (six if you include the dog and cat!) She is the author the author of the m/m romance Souls of the Knight series, and is currently working on a standalone with new boys, James and Theo, due for release early 2016. When she is not busy playing with her imaginary book friends (or talking about them with real life friends!) she can usually be found carrying out her ordinary mum/housewife/all round slave duties. Oh, and if the kids ever ask, she moonlights as the Pink Power Ranger while they're sleeping...


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