Thursday, 11 July 2019

Blog Tour: Peril on Point: Writing What You Know with Helen Lipscombe

Today we are lucky enough to have with us the lovely Helen Lipscombe, author of the new middle-grade spy series, to hit the scene: Peril on Point, to talk about the ultimate piece of writing advice! 

On Writing What You Know 

When I tell people I’ve written a children’s book about ballet and spies, the first question they ask is, are you a dancer? (Luckily, they never ask, are you a spy? Because then obviously I’d have to kill them).

In fact, far from writing what I know (which is usually the first piece of advice you hear as a newbie writer), I found myself writing about something I didn’t. It was fun dreaming up impossible spy gadgets and evil ballet mistresses, but I was anxious. I wasn’t being authentic.

The truth is my ballet career went down a plug hole – quite literally – age six, but that’s another story. So what did I know about ballet?

I knew it was tough. It was technical. It had a language all of its own. Taking on the subject as a non-dancer, I felt like an imposter. I began to read books with impossibly beautiful photographs, articles on the shoemakers’ craft. I attended adult ballet classes, a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House. I went to see Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. I watched films on tutus, on ballet shoes, on rehearsals – all part of the Royal Ballet’s excellent online resource.

I still felt like an imposter.

It’s no surprise that I didn’t know much about spies either. It’s not easy to research secret agents – they’re, well, secret. My knowledge extended to James Bond movies circa 1979, reading my dad’s library books as a child, and the books my sons loved by Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore. I turned to autobiographies, journalistic accounts, stories about the incredible female spies of the second world war.

It was only when I’d finished my second draft and started thinking about the central themes in Peril En Pointe, I realised that I did know about some things – school, friends, bullies, family, fear, love – that feeling of never being good enough. Maybe if I could convey how Milly felt when she danced – the fear and excitement of being a spy – I could still make my story work?

I also had other experiences I could draw on that related to my story.

I’d lived in London.

Growing up, my grandmother and aunties all performed in the local theatre.

Who hasn’t experienced teachers who have favourites; those kids who always get to play Mary in the school nativity?

I thought back to some of my friends at school; sensitive boys, sometimes eccentric, who despite the tropes, were often best friends with the confident sporty types who got away
with everything. And I recalled an old friend who’d put me up in Singapore for six months. She was kind. She was loyal. She was tiny. She was fierce.

And even though it wasn’t consciously done, a little bit of me is in Milly. We both suffer from imposter syndrome. We both rely on our friends. We both love our mums.

My anxiety began to subside. Perhaps I’d been writing what I knew all along?

PERIL EN POINTE by Helen Lipscombe is out now in paperback 
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at and follow Helen on twitter @Helen_Lipscombe

Want to follow along with the tour? Here are the hosts for the rest of the stops! 

Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Boy Next Story by Tiffany Schmidt

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 272 
Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks 
Released: 21st of May 2019 

This is the second title in a paperback original series about a girl whose classic literary crushes manifest in real life, this time told from Rory Campbell’s point of view and inspired by the timeless classic Little Women. Rory likes Toby, but Toby likes Rory’s sister Merrilee, even though Merrilee is already dating Toby’s friend Fielding—and it’s all about to get even more complicated at Reginald R. Hero High . . . where our leading ladies’ romantic fantasies come true, often with surprising consequences. Perfect for younger readers of YA or older readers of middle grade, this squeaky-clean series is sure to charm any reader who’s ever had a book boyfriend of her own.


What I Have to Say 

I adored Merrilee's tale in A Date with Darcy and I've been excited ever since to see what will happen with Rory and Little Women. It was really great to see more of Rory, especially a new side of Rory. I don't remember much of her in A Date With Darcy other than her role as Lydia in the party scene with Merrilee's Romeo, but what was great about this book was that that we didn't just see more of Rory. We saw her side of her relationship with Merrilee. We saw her as the prickly little sister and now we get to see Merrilee as the older sister who keeps leaving poor Rory out of things. We see why Rory sarcastic and bitchy to Merrilee. We see the defences she's built up in response to the very close relationship between Merrilee and Lily. 

It broke my heart though. Merrilee's story came with enthusiasm and a love of books and a boy who you know she's misjudging from the start. Rory's story comes with a lot of loneliness and longing and a constant of anxiety about how they're going to do the bit in Little Women with Beth. I fell in love with Rory so much in this book and I wanted to cry at everything that went wrong for her. 

This book had everything. Romantic gestures, strong emotions and even references the Magic School Bus! But I do have two parts that I had problems with. The first was that I felt that Toby switched his attention from Merrilee to Rory a little too quickly. Especially considering we all knew that it was coming, not just from the plot of little woman, but because the other characters made no secret of the fact that they knew it too, I feel like we could have had a lot more little things to show the feelings that he had for Rory that he wasn't noticing because of his feelings for Merrilee. 

The second was that it spoilt the Great Gatsby for me!! I signed up for this book to read about Little Women, I wasn't expecting to get a book I hadn't read ruined for me in the process. Though I can forgive it, because it sounds like it's not something I need to read anyway. 

Looking forward to see what's more to come in this world where life imitates art! 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Amulet Paperbacks for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 320 
Publisher: Stripes Publishing 
Released: 13th of June 2019 

Drama queen
Fashion guru
Looks like Alice

Allergic to fashion
Looks like Willa

LAX Departure Lounge. Two girls board the same flight to London as complete strangers. When the plane touches down, it’s the beginning of the craziest plan ever. Can Willa and Alice really swap lives for the summer?
Things are going to get complicated...

The first in a fun new series, this summer read is The Parent Trap meets Freaky Friday and is perfect for fans of GEEK GIRL and SUPER AWKWARD. 

What I Have to Say 

This might be a new favourite series! I loved the girls so much, how different Alice and Willa were but also the way that became friends so quickly. They have nothing in common except a 
very similar appearance and the fact that they're so desperate to get away from their current plans for the summer, but by switching summers and keeping in contact in order to keep up the ruse, they become proper friends. 

I loved the way it changed the girls too. It pushed them both out of their comfort zones and made them do things differently to the way they have always done. With Alice it's an obvious change. To pretend to be Willa she has to be more outgoing and has to dress completely differently. For Willa, she has to contain her enthusiasm more and think about the people around her more. It was so interesting to see how this effects their personalities as they change and grow over the course of the book. 

Learning it's a sequel is interesting. I don't know where they have to go now, but I'm sure Cannon will come up with more adventures for them. I just hope they involve more hijinks and pretending to be one another! 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Stripes for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The Furies by Katie Lowe

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Pages: 384
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Released:  2nd May 2019 

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.

After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex - led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.

While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals - warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology - the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society - Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance - is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself. 

What I Have to Say 

Toxic friendships, peer pressure and bad girls, taken to the very extreme. Dabbling with drugs to be part of the popular crowd is something, but witchcraft and murder? This makes it so much more exciting. I loved how it was a book about friendships and trying to fit in while also being a book about murder and summoning ancient beings of vengeance at the same time. 

I loved how awful Robyn was. How toxic she was and how she just kept pushing the girls further and further into witchcraft and worse. I liked the relationship between all four girls to be honest. But Robyn's interactions with each of the girls was the most interesting. 

The only problem I really have with this isn't really a problem at all. I'd like a good witch book about nice witchcraft and real Wicca, but this wasn't it. It was a great book regardless and I'm really happy about how good it was. 

My thanks go to Harper Collins and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for reiew. 

Friday, 31 May 2019

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 304
Publisher: Head of Zeus 
Released: 11th of April 2019 

1906: A large manor house, Wake's End, sits on the edge of a bleak Fen, just outside the town of Wakenhyrst. It is the home of Edmund Stearn and his family – a historian, scholar and land-owner, he's an upstanding member of the local community. But all is not well at Wake's End. Edmund dominates his family tyrannically, in particular daughter Maud. When Maud's mother dies in childbirth and she's left alone with her strict, disciplinarian father, Maud's isolation drives her to her father's study, where she happens upon his diary.

During a walk through the local church yard, Edmund spots an eye in the undergrowth. His terror is only briefly abated when he discovers its actually a painting, a 'doom', taken from the church. It's horrifying in its depiction of hell, and Edmund wants nothing more to do with it despite his historical significance. But the doom keeps returning to his mind. The stench of the Fen permeates the house, even with the windows closed. And when he lies awake at night, he hears a scratching sound – like claws on the wooden floor...

Wakenhyrst is a terrifying ghost story, an atmospheric slice of gothic, a brilliant exploration of the boundaries between the real and the supernatural, and a descent into the mind of a psychopath. 

What I Have to Say 

This book was everything I wanted it to be. It's a great mystery, full of obsession, madness, demons and all things creepy. Paver is a master at creating an atmosphere that pulls you completely into the scene and keeps you there in suspense, unable to put the book down. 

This book really delves into the dark sides of Christianity. It shows the madness and religious fervour that can be brought on by those who would use it as a form of control, but it also explores the nature of questioning the concept of Christianity. Whilst escaping from the control of her father and his version of religion, she also questions the mortality of it all. The idea that everyone is born in sin and have to redeem themselves. I really liked to see all her thoughts and explorations while escaping from the strict rules of her father's household. 

It was really interesting to see the study of the medieval fixation on the afterlife, the fixation on the punishment and demons in hell rather than the bright happy reward of heaven. This really is a fantastic look at the history of Christianity both medieval and during Maud's time. 

A damn good mystery focused on how things went down and what actually happened. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Head of Zeus for providing me with this copy for review.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 385 
Publisher: Wednesday Books 
Released: 2nd of April 2019 

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.. 

What I Have to Say 

This had a lot of potential, but I didn't feel the hype as much as some of the other bloggers who've talked about it seem to. I think it has enough in it that it could become an amazing series, so I want to give the next book a chance. For now though, it just fell completely flat. 

I did like a lot of elements of the book. I liked the implications that the gods are not quite what they seem. How much question there was about who was really good and who was really bad. It did well about exploring the grey areas with Nadya and Serefin, both on different sides of the war but doing the best they can. 

Like I said, this series has a lot of potential and I think it could turn into something amazing. But it's just not there yet. I'll be interested to see how the next book goes. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with this copy for review. 

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Meat Market by Juno Dawson

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 416 
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books 
Released: 23rd of May 2019 

Jana Novak's history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she's uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she's unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom.

But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.

Jana is an ordinary girl from a south London estate, lifted to unimaginable heights. But the further you rise, the more devastating your fall ...

Honest and raw, this is a timely exposé of the dark underbelly of the fashion industry in an era of #TimesUp and #MeToo. It might just be Juno Dawson's most important book yet.

Trigger Warnings: sexual abuse, anorexia, bulimia, mentions of prostitution, drug use, anxiety, depression

What I Have to Say 

This book. Oh. This book. It gave me chills, it was so good. Dawson is an expert at combining a fairly casual style full of quirky metaphors and tons of pop culture metaphors with topics that are gritty and real and so, so dark. This book delves deep into the dark world of the fashion industry and does it in a way that gives you an enjoyable reading experience while still getting the point across in a way that makes you want to stand up and take action. 

I loved the way that Dawson was upfront about the darkness of the book from the start. How she put the foreshadowing front and centre, making it clear that this wasn't going to be a fairytale model story, but that things would get dark and that Jana would end up hurt. It added a creepy sense of foreboding to the whole thing and led me to pick up little things right from the start that showed the industry's core and the lies of those in charge of Jana's agency. 

Dawson also did a fantastic job of treating the issue at hand with respect and sensitivity, showing real, raw emotions without doing it to solely to shock and disturb the reader. 

My thanks go to Quercus and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review.