BLOG TOUR: Take A Chance on Me by Beth Garrod

I am so excited to be kicking off the blog tour for the new sunny, feel-good romantic comedy Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod, published by Scholastic.

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Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod

Meg’s first kiss was a disaster…but this summer she will have a perfect, swoony, just-like-in-the-movies kiss with a hot boy – and what better setting than the sun-drenched Greek island she’s holidaying on? But with three very different boys vying for her attention, resetting her first kiss may be more complicated than she bargained for…

Just in time for summer, this fun, feel-good story will strike a chord with young people hoping for holiday romance! Beth Garrod is the author of the Super Awkward series and has worked for broadcasters including Radio 1, Blue Peter and MTV.  She now concentrates on social impact campaigns, working with charities and broadcasters around the world to make content that can help empower young people. I am delighted to welcome Beth to the blog today for a Q & A on this first stop on the blog tour!

Describe Take a Chance on Me in five words

Can I do six?! Holiday hotties, best-mate missions, superstar surprises.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?  Well, a few years ago I visited a small Greek island for the very first time – I was so lucky. We had to catch a plane and a boat to get there, but when we arrived it was like something from a postcard! The water was like a giant warm bath, the sea and sky were the brightest blues, and everyone there was super friendly. And oh my goodness THE FOOD. The whole island was so good that it ended up being the inspiration for Meg’s surprise holiday in Take A Chance On Me.

Lots of the action in Take a Chance on Me takes place on a film set. Name your dream cast for a movie adaptation of the book. This is a hard one! Hmm… Can I dream big?

Meg – can Joey King from the Kissing Booth do it?! Or Lana Condor. Or Jessica Barden who is totally amazing. Or Amandla Stenberg.. sorry I need to stop now.

Anita (her best mate) – Manpreet Bambra from Free Rein. I love that show, and she seems super fun. Barbara Ferreira is also a total boss.

Meg’s Dad – Stephen Mangan. But he’d have to get really into health and safety. And could Jodie Comer get older to play her mum?

Billy – Maybe Ncuti Gatwa, as he brings all the laughs and all the feels in just one look. Or Lewis Capaldi, if he fancied acting?

TJ – I mean I’d love Noah Centineo to be in it, but he’s too Noah and lovely to be TJ right? Right?!

And can a young Miles Teller/ Shailene Woodley be in there too? And Marsai Martin – she’d star in the film AND keep TJ in check.

Can you share the cringiest thing that’s happened to you on holiday? Oh wow. Lots of things have happened. It’s hard to choose a winner. I think the time I did my dissertation in Ibiza on… biodiversity, was pretty excellent. Everyone else was on holiday, and glamming it up on the beach, but my uni needed video evidence I was following procedure so my friend had to document me on the beach, clutching a 1m square quadrat (a giant wooden and metal grid thing) in full high vis safety wear and non-slip shoes.

Any top tips for going on holiday with your friends? If you’re going somewhere on a plane then pack a spare swimsuit or bikini in your travel bag. I once had a case go AWOL, and let’s just say the clothes my friends lent me were all at least 4 sizes too small. It was all quite a lewk. And always have a stash of chocolate. It tastes extra good on holiday, especially if it’s fridge-chocolate. And remember a speaker. Music is a must – then you can come back and re-listen to the playlists and try and pretend you’re still there.

And something to remember if it’s your first holiday together, living with someone is harder than just hanging out, so allow everyone the space to be  a grumpy morning person, or to be sleep deprived, or a bit hot and sweaty one day. One day it’ll most likely be your turn.

Oh, and is it wrong to mention I never regret packing Marmite?

What are your favourite YA reads of 2019 so far? There have been so many! I wasn’t surprised at all that I loved Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green so so much. Just like his Noah books it had everything in that I love – big laughs, awkward moments, and a really beautiful mega-crush. Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard was another one I loved – it’s also very funny and contemporary, but with a real twist to it. Jemima Small Vs The World I adored, and wished Jemima would pop out of the pages and become real. And I’m about to go on holiday (to the non-imaginary Greek island I mentioned just before) and I can’t wait to read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon and Scar by Alice Broadway. I’ve been dying for the third book in the Ink series for ages!

Find out more about Beth at www.bethhgarrod.com.  With thanks to Scholastic for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour this week:

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BLOG TOUR: Starfell by Dominique Valente

Starfell Jacket lowresToday I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Starfell by Dominique Valente. I’m delighted to welcome Dominique to the blog with a guest post on writing – even when you are feeling least inspired. Many will identify with the dreaded writers block, but Dominique has some great tips for getting past it.

Starfell is Dominique’s debut middle grade fantasy series published by HarperCollins and I can safely say it’s absolutely gorgeous! I spent a large amount of time smiling at the wonderful storytelling and thinking about how my younger self would have been totally enthralled.  The first book entitled Willow Moss and the Lost Day introduces a likeable young witch called Willow, who feels less than special even with her special powers. Whilst she might be able to find all sorts of lost things, compared to her beautiful sisters and mother, it’s all rather boring. If it weren’t for Willow’s eccentric grandmother, also a witch and whom Willow adores, life would be very dull.  As we soon discover, all that is about to change when the most powerful witch in Starfell arrives on her doorstep, asking for help.  So begins the most marvellous – and dangerous – magical quest where Willow finds that even the most unlikely of powers can save the world.

Starfell is the most enchanting story with a perfect balance of magic, heart and imagination.  Willow and the friends she makes are a delightful cast of characters and Starfell feels like it could be just over the hill, so good is the world-building – although watch out for the trolls, wizards and Brothers of Wol! There’s also plenty of humour largely from Oswin, Willow’s somewhat begrudging sidekick; a sort of cat in a carpet-bag! Full of positive messages around believing in yourself and being selfless in the face of great difficulty, Starfell will have you hooked from the first page. Brought to life by Sarah Warburton’s brilliant illustrations, this book sings inside and out!

Read on for fantastic writing tips from the author herself, perhaps showing just how she created Starfell magic!

Writing with the handbrake up by Dominique Valente

dom“When I first discovered my love for writing I’d sit down for hours happily creating a magical world, never once wondering what an end reader would think. And then I started writing for a living. Having to expose my thoughts and ideas for someone to judge or correct, was tough. I’m not going to lie. But it was good for me. I learn the hard way, which isn’t good – and so often, the only way I improve is with tough love.

And while that has helped with making my writing more polished – and I now pay a lot more attention to things like grammar and structure. (There’s nothing quite like a newsroom and an editor who will call out your mistake in front of all of your colleagues to make you pull up your socks, fast!) It can take a bite out of your confidence, particularly if you allow it more room than it deserves.

It’s a bit like writing with the handbrake up. You’re able to write but it’s hard going because you’re having to try ignore that annoying voice – the one that tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough … and still haven’t grasped the comma at the age of thirty (just me?) . That voice is not always there. Some days the words come easy and I delight in every one. But others the FEAR arrives and it’s like wading against a current.

When that happens, this is what I do to get myself through it:

Write first thing in the morning, just after I wake. There’s something about an early morning start, before my brain has fully woken up that really helps. You’re still in that sleepy state and the self-doubt hasn’t had a chance to truly kick in, so by the time you’re fully wake you’ve already knocked out a few hundred words and you’re already half-way there…

Writing sprints. I set a timer and write for as long as I set it – usually ten minutes. There’s something about the ticking timer that focuses the brain not on the fear of a writing a bad story but on the fear of not putting down all the words, which really works. I learnt this great tip from the author Sarah Painter, and her excellent book on the subject of fear and self-doubt – Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

Just keep going. If the scene doesn’t work, I just work around it – I can always come back and fix it later. Or with a little distance I might find that actually that scene is great. It happens. The trick is to keep moving forward. The Jodi Picoult quote: ‘You can’t edit a blank page’ is so true. I’ve put that up on my chalkboard more than once, because I sometimes need a daily reminder of this.

Write the story for yourself first. I used to follow Stephen King’s advice which is to write for an ideal reader in mind – now I just write the story I want to read. For me it’s about creating something that I enjoy, I figure if I’m bored or moved or excited – maybe someone else will be too, and if not, at least I had fun doing it. For a while, when I was journalist and was trying so hard to write for someone else, I forgot about the joy – and that’s where the magic really lies.”

STARFELL: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente out now in hardback (£12.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Follow Dominique on twitter @domrosevalente, #Starfell

 With thanks to Laura and HarperCollins for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

 

I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens. I was delighted to be invited to do so, having been a huge fan of Rebecca Stevens previous novel, Valantine Joe. This latest middle grade novel Lily and the Rockets, published by Chicken House, is a fantastic story that celebrates girls and women in football and serves as a poignant reminder of how the first World War impacted the lives of so many. Not just those serving in conflict but those left at home, who had to totally transform their way of living whilst the men were away.

Lily and the Rockets Jacket lowresIt’s 1918. Lily spends her days working in a munitions factory, her nights picking metal out of her hair, and her lunchtimes kicking a ball with her workmates. Together they form a football team, the Rockets, and a league soon follows. But when the war ends, the girls lose both their jobs and their football. Not Lily. If her only chance of being a goalie is to play with the men, then that’s what she’ll do.

Lily is a wonderful heroine, determined to live her dream of playing football. Such is the narrative and quality of the writing, the characters leap off the page and you feel that their story could be true. It was in fact is inspired by the Woolwich Arsenal Rocket Ladies FC, who were one of several female-only teams that thrived while the Great War raged on. Despite their success, once the war was over, a ban was put in place by the FA that was to last fifty years.  Thankfully women’s football is now in a much better place and perhaps without girls and women like Lily and her friends, who were brave enough to stand up to convention, we wouldn’t be about to celebrate the FIFA Women’s World Cup which begins next month (7 June- 7 July 2019).

I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca Stevens to the blog share more about her inspiration for the book!

‘Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’  Football Association spokesman, 1921

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“Lots of people know about the munitionettes of WW1. They’ve seen the propaganda posters of the time, urging women and girls to ‘do their bit’, to fill the jobs in the factories left empty by the men and make the bombs and bullets needed for the war. What fewer people know is that the women and girls started to play football;  they formed their own teams and leagues and then, when in 1915 the Football Association suspended the men’s professional game for the duration  of the war, they started to play on their grounds, attracting crowds as big – and sometimes bigger – than the men’s game.

 

The most successful team of all, the Dick, Kerr Ladies from Preston (the comma isn’t a typo – it was originally a team of workers from a factory owned by a Mr Dick and a Mr Kerr), drew huge crowds. The biggest was a crowd of 53,000 inside the ground with over 14,000 locked out – a record for a women’s match that wasn’t beaten until the 2012 Olympics when England played Brazil. Ladies’ football was a success.

So what happened?  

Well, the war ended. The men and boys needed their jobs back. The women and girls got kicked out of the factories. And the gentlemen of the Football Association decided they didn’t like the idea of females playing football after all and announced that they would expel any club who allowed ladies’ teams to play on their grounds.

And that was that.

But what, I wondered, if it wasn’t. What if there was one girl who refused to give up, who found a way to carry on playing?

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved stories about disguise, people pretending to be someone else and actually becoming more like themselves in the process. Mulan, Sweet Polly Oliver, so many of Shakespeare’s heroines.  Even Cinderella is able to become somebody else just by putting on a different outfit (perhaps that’s why we all love makeovers!).   So, in Lily and the Rockets, I decided to do the same and write a girls’ own story about football, friendship and feminism in the hope that it would encourage readers to follow their own star, whatever that star might be.”

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Rebecca Stevens on twitter @rstevenswriter. With thanks to Chicken House for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour here:

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BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


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The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Children’s Book Award BLOG TOUR! Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

CBA-no-date-3-300x219I am hugely excited to be participating in the Children’s Book Award official blog tour in the books for older readers category again this year.  It’s the only national book award to be voted for entirely by children from start to finish and as such makes the award even more noteworthy.

Today I’m championing Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, published by Barrington Stoke.  Tom has written some fantastic historical fiction titles and this is no exception.

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Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

Lily has lots of worries. Sheʼs struggling to compete in her fell-running races and, worse, sheʼs losing her gran to Alzheimerʼs. But then she discovers her great-great-grandfatherʼs diaries from the First World War. Could his incredible story of bravery help her reconnect with her gran and even give her the inspiration she needs to push through and win?

Lily is really fed-up with always finishing her beloved fell-races as a runner-up.  At the end of every race, she just can’t seem to breakthrough the final barrier and push forward for the win. Endlessly frustrated, Lily’s worries are compounded by a visit to her grandparents and being faced with the reality that her wonderful grandmother is suffering with dementia.  The impact her grandmother’s illness is having on her family becomes all too real – even Lily’s irritating little brother can see how different everything is and looks to her for comfort.  A surprise discovery about her great-great-grandfather, Ernest, provides an unexpected escape and incredible connection with the past, offering Lily the inspiration she needs.  For he too was a fell-runner and faced huge pain and suffering during the course of World War One.  As his experiences come to life in the pages of his diaries, Lily starts to see that maybe she can get through her struggles and be like Ernest.

First and foremost this is a fantastic story – moving, engaging, thrilling, insightful – brilliant storytelling at its best. Bringing together two narratives, Armistice Runner provides an amazing insight into the fallen heroes of World War One alongside the experiences of Lily, whose family situation is causing great suffering.  With themes of conflict, family, rivalry and perseverance you can’t fail to be moved.  I knew nothing about fell-running prior to reading this story and found this aspect completely fascinating.  I have read many stories set in World War One, but Armistice Runner brings a new perspective on the horrors of trench warfare and the suffering endured by those on the Front and those at home. Tom Palmer captures this brilliantly and the empathy that Lily feels for Ernest, perfectly mirroring her own sadness as her grandmother slowly fades through dementia. It was particularly moving to see how this horrible illness affected the whole family and the moments where Lily sees her father’s response to his mother’s decline will have your heart aching. As Lily reaches the end of Ernest’s diaries, she finally discovers what happened to him and is given the best example of perseverance, kindness and friendship.

Armistice Runner offers opportunities for readers to truly relate to the themes of conflict through the parallels drawn with fell-running and the determination, bravery, and grit required to complete a race.  Endurance takes on new meaning as we see Ernest running through the trenches to save his fellow soldiers and escape the horrors of war. However, at no point is the story inaccessible to readers, on the contrary, it will help them gain a new understanding of World War One through the understanding it generates.  With a great female protagonist in Lily and an inspirational hero in Ernest, Armistice Runner is the best combination of story, hope and empathy. I would highly recommend it and its place on the Children’s Book Award shortlist is thoroughly deserved.

You can reading the first chapter of Armistice Runner here and find out more about Tom Palmer here. As a Barrington Stoke title, Armistice Runner offers a truly accessible read, with a super-readable layout and typeface so that even more readers can enjoy it.

CBA-no-date-3-300x219The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. Any child up to the age of 18 can visit to vote for their favourite books from the top 10. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by the Testing Groups. Previous winners of the award include, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, Quentin Blake, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Rick Riordan.

Follow the award on Twitter @cbacoordinator and use #fcbgcba19 to stay up to date!  And don’t forget to check out the rest of the CBA Blog Tour and the other books in the Older Reader’s category:

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With thanks to  the Children’s Book Award for inviting me to participate in this wonderful award blog tour. Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of Armistice Runner to review.

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BLOG TOUR: She Wolf by Dan Smith

Published by Chicken House earlier this month, She Wolf by Dan Smith is an enthralling historical adventure set in the Dark Ages.  This is Dan’s sixth novel for children and I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour today and sharing my review.  Historical reads were always really popular when I was in school libraries and I’m certain this will make a fantastic addition to any bookshelf, particularly with a such brilliant heroine at it’s heart!

 

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She Wolf by Dan Smith (cover illustration by Jill Calder)  

Northumbria 866. Washed ashore on a frozen English beach, Ylva’s survived. She will not cry. She’s meant to be strong. She’s a Viking.  But when her mother dies at the hand of a three-fingered man, and the wolves of the forest circle closer, Ylva will need more than the memory of her mother’s stories to stay alive. Can she shape her own legend? Will it end in revenge – or is there another way?

Step into the Dark Ages and experience the harsh landscape and even harsher reality of life as a Viking; but also discover courage, bravery and true heroism! Full of nail-biting action sequences, She Wolf will keep you enthralled as Ylva seeks revenge on the three-fingered man who murdered her mother. With her most trusted companion Geri by her side – with whom she shares a unique connection – Ylva’s search leads her on a quest of discovery – not just for a murderer but perhaps for her true self. As she navigates the icy terrain, Ylva must decide whether to continue alone or accept help from a kind-hearted stranger – even though she is not sure who she can trust.

The story brilliantly brings to life the sheer grit and determination of Ylva and her companions as they do their utmost to survive and stay alive, in amongst the treachery and violence of Viking traders.  Great character building and a well-paced plot are added to the historical detail, making She Wolf a compelling as well as interesting read. Even though not based on a true story, you certainly feel Ylva’s story echoes what Viking life could have been like.  For readers who love a real adventure, She Wolf will have you hooked from the first page and I expect create a whole new fan base for Dan Smith!

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Find out more at www.dansmithsbooks.com and www.chickenhousebooks.com.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour with guest posts by the author and more reviews!

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BLOG TOUR: The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne

If you’re looking for a gripping read with a storyline that will keep you on tenterhooks, then look no further than The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne, published last week by Scholastic.  Paula Rawsthorne is an award winning author of YA novels and passionate about enthusing teenagers to get reading. She is writer-in-residence in a secondary school for charity First Story.

With believable characters, endearing friendships and a very scary and utterly disturbing bad guy, The New Boy is a real page-turner. And today on my stop of the blog tour for this great new YA novel, you can have a sneak peek of the story!

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The New Boy by Paula Rawsthorne 

New boy jack is clever, handsome and popular. At first Zoe is immune to his charms, but she soon falls under his spell. As their romance grows, disturbing events arise – and Zoe doesn’t know who or what to believe. Until she discovers a secret so shocking it will leave her fighting for her life…

Described as a Black Mirror-esque, The New Boy is a psychological thriller exploring ina totally unique way the facades people create for themselves and how social media and our disregard for privacy can have a devastating impact on our lives. Alongside this narrative is a quite touching picture of a group of teens navigating their way through college, expressing themselves and finding their personalities.  With intriguing cover art rather brilliantly reflecting the intriguing plot, The New Boy will keep you hooked right until the totally shocking reveal!  I read this book in one sitting.  To give you a taster, here’s an exclusive extract……

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Find out more at www.firststory.org.uk/writers-schools/paula-rawsthorne/ and follow Paula on Twitter 

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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