Blog Tour: The Key to Everything
Welcome to the fourth stop on the The Key to Everything blog tour! I am personally very excited for this book. Paula Stokes is not only one of my favorite authors, but also one of my favorite humans. I hope y'all enjoy this post as well as the book. And to those of you who enter the giveaway, I wish you the best of luck!
About the BookCollege senior Oakland Fuller has always believed in signs and soulmates, so when both a therapist and a fortuneteller say that her repeated relationship failures are due to unresolved feelings for her high school boyfriend, Seth, Oakland tries desperately to get back in touch with him. Problem: Seth isn’t responding to her online messages.
To rescue Oakland from a pathetic Christmas break of sitting in front of the computer, her best friend Morgan books the two of them on a guided excursion of Thailand. When the girls meet a pair of American soldiers in Bangkok, Oakland takes Morgan’s advice and engages in a little harmless holiday hooking up. Sergeant Tyson Banks is the perfect mix of sexy and fun. Two weeks with him might just turn out to be the best relationship Oakland has ever had.
Until the day she spots someone familiar across a crowded temple complex—it’s Seth! Somehow the boy she’s been trying to reconnect with is in Bangkok too. If that’s not a sign, then what is?
Filed with friendship, romance, and gorgeous faraway settings, The Key to Everything is a book for anyone who's ever dreamed of finding love when (or where) they least expected it.
Purchase The Key to Everything
About the AuthorPaula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious, Ferocious, and This is How it Happened. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on Twitter and Instagram as @pstokesbooks.
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Paula: After Phuket, Oakland and the others head north to Chiang Mai, where they go hiking in the jungle, have an elephant encounter, and then ride on a bamboo raft.
I promised you an elephant, so here you go. This is a long excerpt but it’s one of my very favorite parts of the story and I didn’t want to leave any of the context out. I also love this scene because originally the group of four went riding on elephants (based on my own experience when I was too young to know better) but I decided to rewrite the scene late in revision to make it more socially conscious because riding is widely believed to be painful and harmful to the elephants. So, good news: no fictional animals were harmed in this scene :)
Ten minutes turns out to be almost a half an hour, but when we burst from the treeline into a clearing I have to stifle a gasp. There, in a wide, grassy enclosure, stand eight glorious elephants. The two smallest ones seem to be playing with what looks like an old tire, while others are drinking from a long trough or probing the ground for food with their trunks.
A painted sign reads: Chiang Mai Elephant Rescue. There are several buildings—a long hut, a tall barn-like structure, and a few smaller houses, all of them made from wood. A group of men exit from the long hut and come to greet us.
The one is front is darker than the rest. He tells us his name is Tayza and that he’s from Myanmar. Tayza gestures at the other men. “We are all trained as mahouts, or elephant keepers. That is different from being an elephant owner. Mahouts love elephants. Owners love money.” He chuckles. “Traditionally, a mahout would work with an elephant from a very young age. He’d spend years constantly at his elephant’s side to build up trust, even sleeping next to it at night.”
“That’s heavy,” Morgan says.
Tayza’s gaze settles on her. “It was a serious commitment here in Thailand to become a mahout. If a mahout left his elephant, sometimes the animal would die of loneliness. But things are not as they were anymore. Many tourists come to Thailand to ride elephants and watch them perform circus tricks. Now sometimes mahouts are given very little training. Sometimes you will see bad pictures where animals are beaten. If the elephants do not learn quickly to do the tricks, the owner might want to get rid of them. Most of our elephants have been rescued from such owners. We did not grow up with these animals, but we love them as if we did.” His face melts into a smile as he looks out at the grazing elephants. Then he turns his attention back to us. “Come, let’s take a tour.”
Our group follows Tayza from the clearing into the long hut, which he says is used as sleeping quarters for some of the men, and also for tourists who buy overnight or multi-day packages. It’s very basic inside—a couple of picnic tables at one end for eating and working and a row of cots, some with curtains that can be pulled between them for privacy.
Next we check out the barn-like building, which has four individual stalls and a larger enclosure where elephants can be housed during bad weather or if they need to be separated for any reason. There’s a huge pile of green palm fronds at one end of this building. “That’s one of their favorite foods,” Tayza explains.
Chiang Mai Elephant Rescue also contains an official office that has electricity and internet capabilities, a couple of cabins for researchers or VIP guests, and a medical building where elephants can be monitored or quarantined if necessary. Tayza leads us from one to the next, occasionally stopping to point out special features or share anecdotes about the workings of the refuge.
After we finish the tour, we return to the clearing and stand outside of the elephant enclosure. One of the other mahouts jogs over and opens the gate. Slowly the elephants begin to plod through the opening. They head in our direction.
“Do not be scared,” Tayza says. “But also do not ever approach an elephant on your own, They look cute, I know, but you must remember they are wild animals.”
A couple of people in our tour group laugh nervously. Frederik rests a reassuring arm on Staffan’s lower back.
“Today we will be going on a walk with the elephants. They need their exercise just like humans. The walk will last about an hour and will end at the edge of the Mae Taeng River. There you will take a traditional bamboo raft to a spot downstream where your bus will pick you up.” Tayza folds his hands in front of his body. “Any questions?”
“Where do the elephants sleep?” Virginia asks.
“When they are new babies, they sleep in the medical building or the barn. Once they are older they sleep in the field, just as you saw them when you entered the camp.”
“So they sleep standing up?” Clive asks.
Tayza shakes his head. “They lay down.” He pauses. “Almost like a house cat.”
Jed raises his hand. “Do they snore?”
Morgan giggles. Tyson elbows Jed in the ribs.
Tayza beams. “First time anyone asks me that. Yes, they do snore. It is like sleeping next to a tuk-tuk sometimes.”
“Oh look, another thing you have in common with elephants,” I whisper to Tyson.
He grins. “You really know how to sweet-talk a guy.”
There are no more questions so Tayza assigns each pair of us to an animal and a mahout. Our mahout is named Aroon. He’s an older man with kind eyes and flecks of silver in his hair.
I look nervously from him to the elephant. “So we’re just going to walk right next to it?”
“Very safe, madam. Give her a pat if you like.” He reaches up and rubs the elephant behind the ear.
I reach out and stroke the elephant’s shoulder. Her skin feels rough, almost like tree bark. Coarse black hairs tickle my fingertips. “Prickly,” I say, turning to Tyson. “Kind of like your face.”
Tyson rubs at his beard stubble. “Yeah it’s been nice not having to shave every day.”
The elephants turn one after the next like trained horses and head for the treeline. Aroon walks next to our elephant, one hand on her flank.
“We’re going back in the woods?” I ask.
“Yes. Trail,” Aroon says. “Elephant is skilled hiker.”
Despite hearing this, I’m still shocked a couple of minutes later when the trail narrows considerably and the line of elephants begin to navigate a path no wider than the one we hiked in on. They move with surprising grace, one foot in front of the other, dodging rocks, stepping gingerly over felled trees. The jungle closes around us, vibrant green branches muting the rest of the world. In the distance, a stream burbles. A butterfly flits by, its bright blue wings a swatch of paint against the emerald backdrop.
I pull my phone out of my pocket. Predictably, there’s no service. I flip it on airplane mode so as not to drain the battery and then snap a couple of pictures of the line of elephants.
Tyson slides his own phone from the side pocket of his cargo pants. “For old time’s sake,” he says, wrapping an arm around my waist and pulling me close. We pose with a leafy bush as our backdrop.
I smile as he takes the picture. “That was really nice, what you did earlier,” I say as we keep walking.
“What did I do?”
“Well for one you didn’t say I told you so. And you were really sweet to me without taking advantage of the situation.”
“You’re setting your standards too low if that’s all it takes to equal nice in your book,” Tyson says. “But thanks. I like to think my parents raised me to be a gentleman.”
We follow our elephant down a steep incline. At one point she stops to wrap her trunk around the branch of a tree that’s invading the trail. She rips the branch in two like it’s a toothpick and tosses the broken pieces to the side.
“Bad. Ass. Elephant,” Tyson says.
Aroon hears and turns around with a grin. “Her name is Malee. It means flower.”
“Bad ass flower,” Tyson says.
Wanna read more? Right now you can buy a Kindle version of THE KEY TO EVERYTHING for the introductory price of $2.99. The price will go up after this week. A paperback version will be available soon (if not already).
I wanted to give away something fun for this blog tour that supports actual Thai people, so enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to choose between a wooden spirit shrine and an elephant print tote bag (or your choice of bag/purse up to $16.99 from Veradashop), both handmade in Thailand.
Wow. I need to start reading my copy ASAP. What did you think? Tell me in the comments!