Giveaway and Excerpt of Nightengale's Nest, The New Book by Nikki Loftin

Nikki Loftin's new novel, The Nightingale's Nest, is a powerful novel about friendship and family that calls to mind Bridge to Terabithia.

Twelve-year-old John Fischer Jr., or "Little John" as he’s always been known, is spending his summer helping his father with his tree removal business, clearing brush for Mr. King, the wealthy owner of a chain of Texas dollar stores, when he hears a beautiful song that transfixes him. He follows the melody and finds, not a bird, but a young girl sitting in the branches of a tall sycamore tree.

There’s something magical about this girl, Gayle, especially her soaring singing voice, and Little John’s friendship with Gayle quickly becomes the one bright spot in his life, for his home is dominated by sorrow over his sister’s death and his parents’ ever-tightening financial difficulties.

But then Mr. King draws Little John into an impossible choice—forced to choose between his family’s survival and a betrayal of Gayle that puts her future in jeopardy.

Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, Nightingale's Nest is an unforgettable novel about a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a girl with the gift of healing in her voice.

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Gayle leaned against me, and I felt her hair brush my arm. I reached down and petted her, my hand stroking once, twice, the way my mom used to do when I was little. The way she hadn’t done in almost a year.
But Mama had told me I was the size of a man, now, and I should expect to be treated like one.
I was glad to be so much stronger, most of the time. My muscles were harder, and so were the calluses on my hands from helping my dad with the business. It was just… I didn’t know getting big meant the end of anything soft. Maybe if Raelynn hadn’t died, I’d still have one person who would hug me.
Gayle leaned in closer and said, “I’m not supposed to sing. But Mrs. Cutlin hurt herself on the stove, and I thought if I sang, it would help her. But… it didn’t.”
I wasn’t sure what Gayle meant – that she thought her singing would help. Maybe she imagined it would cheer Mrs. Cutlin up. I could have told her that wouldn’t work. Just last year, the woman had refused to let two other foster boys attend their own fifth-grade graduation swim party. She said they’d been acting up, and she wasn’t going to reward bad behavior.
I remembered Jeb’s slip of the tongue and wondered. Maybe the foster people knew Mrs. Cutlin wasn’t all that nice. Maybe something had happened with those two boys. Maybe Mrs. Cutlin -- or Jeb -- had marked them up, and didn’t want anyone to see the signs of a beating. Gayle’s face had grown so sad and closed off, I knew it was time to change the subject. But first... “Gayle? Why did Jeb say your name was Suzie?”
“That’s what they call me,” she said and shrugged. She pulled three pieces of tall Johnson grass up and began to braid them together, winding blossoms from the pink evening primroses that sprinkled the lawn into the braid. “But it’s not my real name. I just pretend, so they’ll leave me alone. Sometimes I forget.”
“What is your real name?” I paused. Maybe Susan was her middle name, or something. “Your whole name, I mean.”
“I’m not supposed to tell,” she whispered. “That’s what got me in the most trouble yesterday, when the preacher came with the extra clothes.” She looked down and picked at the shirt she had on. It was a different shirt, I noticed, red and blue striped. Not nearly as worn-out as the one from yesterday, even if this one didn’t fit her as well. “First he told Mrs. Cutlin I shouldn’t be so dirty. He’s the one who called the caseworker to come out today. Then he asked my name, and Mrs. Cutlin got so mad.”
Gayle shrugged again, and ran across to the base of the sycamore. “She says if I act crazy, I’ll have to live somewhere worse. She said to keep my mouth shut.”
I knew why Mrs. Cutlin didn’t want Gayle to act crazy. If she did, they might take her away and make her foster some other kid, a bigger one that ate more, maybe even one she couldn’t shove around. Or they might not let her foster any more at all, and then how would Mrs. Cutlin pay the cable bill?
“Come on,” I said, standing up and pulling stray dandelion clocks off my shirt. “You can tell me your name. I won’t say anything.”

“I’ll give you a hint,” she said. Then she opened her mouth and sang. It sounded like bird song, almost exactly, but some kind of bird I’d never heard before. I could tell the difference between dozens of different calls – cardinals to crows, meadowlarks to mourning doves. But this? It was more beautiful than any bird I’d ever heard. 
Nikki Loftin
Nikki Loftin is a writer and native Texan who lives just outside Austin, Texas, with her two boys, two dogs, nine chickens, and one very patient husband. She writes Middle Grade novel-length fiction as well as personal essays, puppet plays, articles, poems, and short stories. She is the author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy and Nightingale's Nest. Nikki is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin graduate writing program (MA, '98). She has been a popcorn seller, waitress, bookstore employee, Music and Gifted/Talented teacher, and a Director of Family Ministries. Her favorite food/obsession is ice cream, preferably Blue Bell Moo-llenium Crunch. On very good days, she prefers writing even to ice cream.

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