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


Fire Maker

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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BLOG TOUR: The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

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I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage. A brilliant story set against the backdrop of 1940s UFO sightings and featuring a wonderful cast of quirky characters, it’s packed full of Melissa’s trademark warmth and wit.  You can read my full review here. Melissa is a writer and therapist for children and families and today joins the blog to share a wonderful post with her thoughts on the healing power of stories. Welcome to the blog Melissa!

Story for Healing Hearts and Souls

By Melissa Savage 

In today’s everchanging world, anxiety is an increasingly prevalent diagnosis happening in our children. Which is why developing coping skills is more important today than ever before. How do we develop adaptive coping skills to traverse life’s difficulties and even more important make positive change in the world around us? There are many ways, one of which is through story. Story is who we are and how we heal. It is how we process being human on our journey through life and it always has been.

As a former child and family therapist, I’ve always been a proponent of bibliotherapy as a tool to use with children of all ages. It is the use of story for insight, growth and healing. I think as parents and protectors of children our first instinct is to shield them from all the negative things that go on in the world. However, in this information age, shielding them has become a somewhat impossible task. They live in a world that is anything but predictable or controllable or even stable or safe at times. How do we prepare our children at an appropriate age level, yet continue to protect them from what they are not ready to know? Stories can provide a safe environment to learn the challenges of finding solutions to our problems, coping with change or even standing by someone else who may be going through it. And story can inspire us.

In third grade I ordered a novel from the Scholastic book order form in school. It was called Don’t Hurt Laurie and it was a book about child abuse. I didn’t know about child abuse up until that point and the book reached me to my soul. In fourth grade I became a tutor for young children in our elementary school and in sixth grade I became a peer counselor. It was this story that also inspired me to become a child and family therapist later in life where I specialized in trauma and abuse of children.

I believe that through the safety of story, children can be exposed to life lessons in such a way that they are given the opportunity to gain insights, build coping skills, assist others and even be inspired to make a difference in the world. I see this concept being grasped by teachers, librarians and the publishing industry as well. Both Random House Children’s Books and Scholastic Books have developed resources for teachers to help enhance the learning experience when sharing issue driven books with the young reader. Whether it’s book clubs, book trailers and even empathy bingo, these resources are aimed at acceptance, insight into the differences of others, healing from loss, standing up to bullying and many other issues kids face.

I wish we lived in a time in which children didn’t need to know the things they do, however, they are exposed more now than ever. And it’s up to us to make sure they have the best tools in their toolbelt to endure, overcome and even be inspired to create positive change in the world around them.

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and melissadsavage.com

Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange – Guest Post

 

ocbs blog tour bannerI’m so excited to be hosting this stop on the blog tour for the brilliant second novel by Lucy Strange, Our Castle by the Sea. In a thrilling adventure set in wartime Britain, Lucy brings to life unforgettable characters against the backdrop of World War 2 and the mysterious Daughters of Stone.  You can read my full review here.  I am delighted to welcome Lucy to the blog today with a fantastic guest post reflecting on how parents are made absent in children’s literature. Welcome to the blog Lucy!

The Significant Absence of Parents in Children’s Literature by Lucy Strange

our castle by the seaIn order for children in fiction to be brave and free and have endlessly exciting escapades, it is often necessary to get their parents out of the way. In my new book, Our Castle by the Sea, the absence of Petra’s parents is at the very heart of her story. Growing up in a lighthouse with her mother, father and big sister Mags, twelve-year-old Petra has never had to face anything more frightening than the storms that sweep across the Channel and Pa’s stories about sea-monsters. But it is 1939 and the Second World War has just begun. As the local community turns against Petra’s family, accusing Mutti of spying for the enemy, and Pa and Mags become caught up in dark secrets of their own, Petra is suddenly plunged into a new lonely world in which no one can be trusted.

From the tragic to the surreal, from locking them up to bumping them off, children’s writers have found a wealth of different ways to remove the parents from the larger part of their narratives so that the protagonists can pursue their adventures unencumbered by bedtimes, naughty steps and reminders to brush their teeth.

1. Orphaned The classic choice. Being orphaned not only removes the parental safety net for a young protagonist but it also creates sympathy for their plight from the very first page. Notable orphans in children’s literature include Harry Potter, Sophie in The BFG, the Baudelaire siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Anne (of Green Gables), Bod in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (and the inspiration for his character, Mowgli), and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, to name but a few. A particularly strange and surreal favourite here has to be James (of Giant Peach fame), whose parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros.

2. Holidays! Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were forever heading off for the entire summer armed only with their wits, a box of matches and a bulging picnic hamper. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have caught quite so many thieves and kidnappers if they’d been cooped up with Mother and Father in a Center Parcs chalet. I loved these stories when I was young – probably largely because of the extraordinary feelings of freedom and adventure they evoked.

3. Boarding school This situation offers a protagonist a degree of structure and safety along with some independence, and plenty of opportunities for rule-breaking (pranks on teachers, midnight feasts and battling three-headed monsters in secret dungeons). Malory Towers was always a favourite of mine, along with Delderton Hall in Eva Ibbotson’s beautiful book The Dragonfly Pool, Deepdean in Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series, and of course we can’t forget our beloved Hogwarts. I would argue that Louis Sachar’s brilliant book Holes also fits into this category – though Stanley is sent to a juvenile disciplinary facility rather than a boarding school, the setting works in a worryingly similar way . . .

4. Dreams From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, dreams allow our young heroes and heroines to escape from reality (and their families) into a strange new world in which just about anything could happen. Magical portals such as wardrobes, Faraway Trees, Wishing Chairs and Phantom Tollbooths offer the same opportunities for adventures into other, more surreal and dangerous realms.

5. The Great Outdoors Oh, for the old-fashioned freedoms of a childhood spent sailing across lakes, getting lost in the woods and falling into quarries… The books of Arthur Ransome spring to mind, but also E Nesbit’s lovely classics involving bands of intrepid siblings who spend their days roaming around the countryside, such as The Railway Children or Five Children and It.

6. Evacuees With the Second World War as a backdrop, a child being sent away to live with complete strangers provides the starting point for many powerful and extraordinary stories, such as Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, and The Magic Bed Knob by Mary Norton (adapted into the musical film Bedknobs and Broomsticks). More recently, Emma Carroll’s wonderful Letters from the Lighthouse follows the story of young Second World War evacuees who set about untangling a rather wonderful mystery surrounding the lighthouse to which they are billeted (you can’t beat a lighthouse story, folks!).

7. Dotty Old Aunts Who Can be Hoodwinked Some children’s authors choose to pack off their young heroes to stay with helpfully neglectful relatives whose lack of supervision allows them to get up to all sorts of high jinks. Tom, of Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, is staying with his aunt and uncle while quarantined with potential measles, and Minty in Helen Cresswell’s fabulous Moondial lives with her aunt while her mother is in hospital following a car accident. Perhaps aunts are actually the secret to time travel, as both these protagonists end up discovering magical portals into the past . . .

8. Invisible Parents In the Mary Poppins books by P L Travers, the parents, though present, are not really fulfilling the role of parents, so that there is room for a magical nanny to step into the breach. Roald Dahl’s Matilda also has two perfectly healthy parents, but they are so grotesquely unlikeable that we are delighted when at last they abandon our fabulous heroine, leaving her to be adopted by the heavenly Miss Honey. Sick and pre-occupied parents also fit within this category, such as those in Eloise Williams’ thrilling new ghost story Seaglass.

9. A Mission There are some things that a youngster must do alone, like fighting to the death in a gladiatorial reality show . . . The Hunger Games trilogy has been hugely successful, but lots of other children’s literature features a protagonist on an inspiring lone-quest, such as Tanya Landman’s immensely powerful Buffalo Soldier or Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s beautiful, lyrical myth, The Girl of Ink and Stars.

10. And finally… A World Without Parents! Padraig Kenny’s brilliant debut Tin, features a loveable cast of mechanicals who want nothing more than to be ‘proper’ children with real souls and families of their own. Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series features a post-apocalyptic world in which all adults have become infected with a horrible zombie-fying disease, so that the children are very much in charge of their own survival. For some young readers, an adult-free world may sound like paradise, but whether it ends up like Neverland or like Lord of the Flies depends, I imagine, on the nature of the children in question . . .

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Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Guest blog: The Heart of Humour by author Kate Scott

I am delighted to welcome to the blog author Kate Scott, whose books Giant and Just Jack are two fabulous examples of funny books for children. Both stories explore important themes through humour and are hugely entertaining, but full of heart.  Kate is sharing today why she thinks funny books are one of the best ways to engage children in stories.

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BLOG TOUR: The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton

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I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for the fantastic debut The Truth About Lies thriller by Tracy Darnton, from Stripes Publishing.

tracy-darntonTracy won the Stripes YA Short Story Prize in 2016, run in partnership with The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize.  Her story The Letter was published in the short story anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  This is her first novel and I can assure you it is a gripping, brilliant read full of suspense,exploring the issues around memory and what happens when everything you do is built on lies.  Tracy joins the blog today with a very special guest post- welcome to the blog Tracy!

Unforgettable memory tips from The Truth About Lies

“I’ve always been interested in memory and writing my YA thriller The Truth About Lies was a great opportunity to explore it further. I can still remember the poems I learnt by heart when stuck at home with measles, the sickly smell of Impulse body spray from my teenage bedroom and definitely the shock of a near accident age 11. Why do I remember those things but not where I left my keys this morning?

In writing the book I became obsessed with all the little memory techniques that you can use to improve your powers of retrieval. I wove some of them into the book by using memory games as chapter headings. These hold their own clues or hints as to what has happened in the past.

I use the teacher character Mr Desai to set memory tasks too. He quickly learns all the students’ names using a classic technique of association. Give it a go: Imagine you’ve just met my character Dan at a party. Picture him with a famous Dan – Daniel Radcliffe maybe – sitting on his shoulders. Now ‘put’ Dan in a judo suit as dan is a ranking in martial arts.

To help further, add some emotion or general silliness – Dan Radcliffe blowing you kisses or raspberries – and how you would feel about that. And boom – Dan will be very impressed that you remember who he is next time you meet (though he won’t realise the role played by Daniel Radcliffe and some kisses).

Mr Desai teaches a memory palace or loci technique, placing items to remember along the route they know well around Dartmeet College. Making the images as whacky as possible helps to engrain them.

Lastly, the class develop their own mnemonics, for instance taking the first letters of something they need to remember to make a new word or phrase like BIDMAS in maths or Richard of York gave battle in vain. I dragged myself through theory for piano with a huge set of mnemonics. But, spoiler alert, Jess receives a rather sinister one tacked to her noticeboard…

The Truth About Lies conveys some of my fascination with how we can improve our memory. Don’t forget to try it.”

 

The Truth About Lies will be published by Stripes today! You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton #thetruthaboutlies

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and sending me a review copy of this book. 

Check out the rest of the blog tour at these brilliant blogs!

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