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Saturday, 25 February 2017

** Blog Tour** Secrets We Keep - Faith Hogan


Having 'seen' author Faith Hogan around on Twitter and various bookish Facebook groups I was thrilled when she asked me to be a part of the blog tour for her latest novel Secrets We Keep. Not only have I got a review for you all but you can whet your appetite with an excerpt as well! So let's get to it!



It was nine o’clock before Kate set off walking towards the keep. It was hard to believe she had spent one precious week here already. Lyndon Tansey told her to take as long as she needed. Maybe he knew, maybe they all knew. Maybe everything she bottled up for the last decade had been blatantly obvious to the people around her while she remained blind to it. She had her heart broken long enough ago for her to have moved on. The public humiliation was harder to shake. Bad enough to be jilted at the last minute. It seemed to Kate that being reminded of it each time her ex-fiancĂ©’s love life featured in the celebrity gossip columns made it into an ongoing nightmare from which there was no escape. Other people unfriended their exes on Facebook and cut their photos in half. That was not so easy when your ex was in the national newspaper every other week.
‘The important thing is that you come back safe and sound, old girl,’ Lyndon had said, patting her hand with sincerity. He had taken the helm of the law firm when he was almost fifty. He was old enough to have learned from the mistakes of others and he knew when someone was worth holding onto. Kate had raked in millions over the last decade for the practice. She had represented the spouses of rock stars, royalty and the ridiculously rich and managed to pull hefty and healthy settlements every time. People knew her in the divorce courts by reputation, and if they did not fear her exactly, they advised their clients that she was particularly adept in aspects of family law.
She looked around her now. This place with its vastness and intimacy cuckolded into the cold of the climate mixed with the warmth of the people, it was just what she needed. It was a five-mile round trip to the bathhouse and the keep, which would bring her along a track kept clean by a scurrilous pack of sheep and goats. She drank in the clean air greedily; the only sound here was the crashing of water to her right and the call of the gulls across the empty strand to her left. She walked slowly, surveying from her high middle ground the austere beauty of the place at this time of year. She stopped and sat on a rock that seemed to have moulded into her shape long before she ever knew she would be coming here. She knew now that she would come here again, it was as sure as the air she breathed. Perhaps this was the first step on that crossroads.
In the distance, she watched as a middle-aged woman made her way across the strand. Even from here, she recognized her. She saw her many times walk through the town, always with a shopping bag in her hand, sometimes wheeling one behind her. Today, she was making her way energetically with a yapping dog in her wake. Her face was puce despite the cold that must surely be biting into her. She rounded towards the ridge where Kate sat and stopped short as she neared her, surprised to see anyone out on such a cold day.
‘Hi.’ Kate did her best to smile, remembering that she was not in London now. It was okay to make eye contact; people here wanted you to talk to them.
‘Hi yourself.’ The woman panted and seemed to take the greeting as an invitation to join Kate on her rock. ‘I’m wrecked,’ she said and she plopped her considerable weight down awkwardly. ‘Hot flushes,’ she said and she fanned herself with gloved hands. ‘Phew, who knew, hah?’
‘Your dog doesn’t seem to mind,’ Kate watched as the little black and white terrier skipped out after the tide and then scudded back towards them as each new wave arrived. He was yapping happily, enjoying the chase of something he’d never catch.
‘Ah, Barry. Yes, I got him from the rescue – best thing I ever did. I wanted one for years, but you know, you need to put the time into a dog and my Duncan is allergic to anything with a coat, so…’ the woman smiled enigmatically as if his discomfort might actually please her in some odd way. The dog, as though he heard his mistress, came running across the beach towards them, digging up sand as he came.
‘You’re a super little fella,’ Kate said and she rubbed his head affectionately as Barry licked her fingers and danced a greeting frenzy up around them.
‘You’re lucky, he likes you,’ the woman said, reaching out to the little dog. ‘Not everyone he takes to, he’s nipped my Duncan more than once when he’s not expecting it. He had to have a tetanus jab, the works, didn’t he Barry?’ She nuzzled into the dog’s neck. ‘You’re such a good boy.’ She looked across at Kate. ‘You can’t beat a terrier to judge character, no fooling our Barry.’
‘No, I suppose not,’ Kate said, thinking of the unfortunate allergic husband upon whom he’d been foisted.
She turned to study Kate now. ‘You’re not from around here?’
‘No. I’m just… taking a little break.’

                                           *    *    *    *

Kate is a very successful divorce lawyer living in London who has become disenchanted with her life for various reasons. Meeting her Great Aunt Iris at a family funeral gives Kate the perfect opportunity to get away from her lonely life in London and take stock in the quiet village of Ballytokeep in Ireland.

Staying with Iris and Archie in their guest house Kate falls in love with the nearby abandoned Bath House and decides that Ballytokeep is somewhere she could relocate to and start a new more relaxed life and put her past well and truly behind her.

But Kate isn't the only one who is trying to forget the past, Iris also has skeletons in her cupboard but are they as hidden as she thinks they are?

I'm a huge fan of dual time-frame novels and Secrets We Keep is no exception. I loved the way that the story hopped from Kate's to Iris' stories seamlessly, without detracting from the story and keeping my interest right from the very start. I usually find that when I read this type of book I find myself leaning towards one time frame over the other, but it's a testament to Faith Hogan's writing that I was completely engaged by both in this book.

Iris and Archie's story was so beautifully told, from when they first met back in the 1950's, their highs and lows but it was the present day that brought a tear to my eye as we realise that Archie is suffering from memory loss and Iris is reluctant to face the truth.

Kate was a delightful change to the usually downtrodden heroines of this type of novel. She's such a strong character who knows her own mind and what I wouldn't have given to have sat with her as she watched the sun go down outside the Bath House.

The other thing that I enjoyed about this book was the descriptions of Ballytokeep itself. Right by the sea with rugged cliffs, quaint tea shops and friendly locals I was disappointed to find out that it was a fictional place but I've heard that there are real places just like this in Ireland so I think one of them could be a future holiday destination for me.

Secrets We Keep is a wonderful tale of family, friendship,hope, love and second chances and one that will warm your heart.

                                                About Faith Hogan

Photo courtesy of publishers Aria (Head of Zeus)


Faith Hogan was born in Ireland.  She gained an Honours Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Degree from University College, Galway.  She has worked as a fashion model, an event’s organiser and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.
She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair – an international competition for emerging writers.
Her debut novel, ‘My Husband’s Wives,’ is a contemporary women’s fiction novel set in Dublin. It was published by Aria, (Head of Zeus) in 2016.   ‘Secrets We Keep,’ is her second novel.

You can find our more about Faith and her books by using the links below:

Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Website

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Google Play
iBooks

Be sure to check out all the other great stops on the tour on these fabulous blogs!






With kind thanks to the publishers Aria for the review copy.



Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Wrong Turn - NC Marshall



Megan Cooper is involved in a car accident that leaves her trapped in her burning car. Luckily for Megan someone comes to her rescue and gets her out before it bursts into flames.

Waking up in the hospital and lucky to be alive she has a vague recollection of a tall man carrying her in his arms but she soon finds out that no-one knows who he is as he left the scene once help had arrived.

After a few days in hospital and a couple of visits from the police who are investigating the accident, she's packing her bag when she finds an unfamiliar jacket in her locker. Realising that it must belong to her rescuer she decides that she's going to try and track the man down to say thank you for saving her life in person.

The police uncover some worrying information about a well-known criminal and Megan is forced to revisit her past.

The Wrong Turn is another cracking psychological thriller from author NC Marshall that skillfully combines crime and mystery with a light sprinkling of romance thrown in. Although the prologue was a little longer than most, I think that it needed to be to enable the reader to experience every aspect of the whole terrifying event. Once again this author has created a strong cast of believable characters within a story that is well written and kept me absorbed from start to finish.

This is NC Marshall's third novel and in my opinion her writing is going from strength to strength with each novel she writes and I would highly recommend that you give The Wrong Turn a go.

With kind thanks to author NC Marshall for the review copy.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

**Blog Tour** No Safe Home - Tara Lyons


Tara's debut novel In The Shadows was a cracker of a read so I was thrilled to be asked to review No Safe Home and be a part of the blog tour.

 I made the mistake of starting this book late one night when I was in bed. Why was that a mistake? Well for two reasons, firstly it was already late and after reading the prologue and the first few chapters I didn't want to put it down and the second reason. . . . it freaked me the hell out! Sleep wasn't going to come easy once I put my kindle down that was for sure.



DI Denis Hamilton is investigating the case of a young girl's suspected overdose but her parents don't believe that their daughter would commit suicide and they're certain that she was murdered. This is something that's too close to home for Hamilton to deal with and he finds himself being haunted by his past, something which he has tried to keep hidden from his colleagues.

Katy is a single mother with a young son, Frankie, and it's evident that she's scared of something or someone. Her home should be her sanctuary but she doesn't really feel safe and she trusts no-one. Working as a barmaid in a local pub gives her a small sense normality but she rarely lets her guard down.

This is a worthy and assured second novel from Tara, who in my opinion is going from strength to strength with her writing. I think that DI Hamilton is a great character and I enjoyed finding more about his back story and finding out a little about what makes him tick. All of the characters are believable and the introduction of rookie cop Rocky, who has quickly made a big impression on the team, seems like he could be an interesting addition to the team.

All in all No Safe Home is a fast-paced, at times breathtaking novel, which although is the second book in the series could very easily be read as a standalone. With short, punchy chapters, it's definitely one of those books where you constantly find yourself muttering 'just one more chapter' and I'm already filled with anticipation for the next book in the series!

You can follow the rest of the blog tour on these great blogs:




With kind thanks to Helen Claire at Bloodhound books for the review copy.


Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Breakdown - B. A. Paris


Twelve months ago I was gripped by B. A. Paris' debut novel Behind Closed Doors, so much so that it made my list of top books of 2016 so I couldn't wait to read The Breakdown. I was eager to find out if her second book would be as good as her first, but it wasn't. . . . . it was even better!!

Cass is on her way home, it's a filthy night and all she wants to do is get home. Deciding to go against her husband Matthew's advice she takes the shortcut down a dark, wooded and lonely road which will cut a few minutes off her journey, not knowing that it will be a decision she will very quickly come to regret.

Spotting a car in the lay-by she pulls up level with it to see if she can help the driver, but although she can make out a female sitting in the drivers seat, the woman makes not attempt to communicate with Cass. Not  wanting to drive off and leave the unknown woman possibly stranded, she pulls over infront of the car to see if that encourages the driver. In the short time that Cass patiently waits her thoughts run away with her and she starts to think that maybe it's a trap and that maybe someone will steal her car if she gets out. With no movement from the car behind and no mobile signal she decides that the best thing to do would be to carry on home and make a call once she's there.

Cass never makes the call and is horrified to find out the next day that the female motorist has been murdered. Understandably she is absolutely riddled with guilt, going over and over the previous night in her mind - what if she had got out of her car, what if she hadn't forgotten to make a call when she arrived home, what if she had got out of her car, she might have been killed too - the list is endless but of course none of this will change the fact that a woman has died.

When the police find out who the mystery woman is Cass realises that she knew her and had lunch with her just a few weeks before. Her husband Matthew is supportive but he's worried when Cass starts to forget things and even more worried when she voices her fears that the murderer is making silent phone calls to the house.

In my opinion The Breakdown is an exceptional book and B. A. Paris is an exceptional writer. The further I read, the more palpable the tension got and at one point I could almost feel Cass' heart racing as she struggled to make sense of her life and battled the demons inside her head. No character was safe from the finger of suspicion being pointed at them and I was totally gripped, wanting to read faster to find out how it was going to end but at the same time not wanting to finish such a compelling book. As the ending was getting nearer I could feel my lips curling into a smirk and then growing wider into a grin as I realised what was happening and for me the ending couldn't have been better, but don't worry I won't spoilt it for you all.

This book raises the bar in the psychological thriller genre and although it's only January I'm pretty confident that The Breakdown will be one of my favourite books of the year. If you only read one book this year. . .make sure it's THIS one!

The Breakdown is released on February 9th and available to pre-order here.

With kind thanks to NetGalley and publishers Harlequin UK for the review copy.


Saturday, 28 January 2017

High Force: A DCI Ryan Mystery - LJ Ross


When I finished reading Angel back in September of last year I was left on tenterhooks by the author LJ Ross. That book ended with the mother of all cliffhangers so I was thrilled to be asked to read and review copy of High Force, book 5 in the outstanding DCI Ryan Mysteries series.

As High Force picks up where Angel finishes it's difficult to know where to start my review as you might not be up to speed with the series and I'd hate to ruin it for you, so I'll tread carefully.

DCI Ryan is back on the trail of his nemesis Keir Edwards, also known as The Hacker and once again it's personal. Edwards is on the run and he's more determined than ever to make Ryan pay for his part in putting him behind bars and clearly sees him as unfinished business, but he also loves the thrill of the chase so he's not going to make it to easy for Ryan and his team.

Desperate not only to find their missing colleague and Edwards himself, but also to find out who was behind the elaborate prison break, time is definitely against them and they are left wondering how long it be before they find a body.

I take my hat off to Louise for writing such a superb series, where each book surpasses the dizzying heights of the one before and High Force is no exception. I've read several crime series where it seems that the author has run out of fresh ideas or the endings become rushed, but that is definitely not the case here. I finish each book eager to know what's coming next for this brilliant cast of characters that I've come to know and love almost as if they're real people. 

High Force is a book that will have you holding your breath on more than one occasion and you probably won't be aware that you're doing it until the danger has passed and you breathe a sigh of relief. Once again set in the North East (High Force is an actual waterfall on the River Tees, google it!) the descriptions of the stunning scenery really jump out from the page which just adds to the feeling of being right there in the thick of the action.

I absolutely loved this book and with each new book in the series I fall a little bit more in love with DCI Maxwell Finlay-Ryan (yes, I've experienced the 'Ryan Effect' Ms Ross!) and I'm not ashamed to admit it.


High Force is released on the 31st January and is available to pre-order here.

                                       *    *    *    *

I'm delighted to welcome the very lovely LJ Ross to The Hippo today with a guest post.


Photo from Goodreads





My publishing journey


My publishing journey really began in the summer of 2013, when I was heavily pregnant with my son (now aged 3). Having studied and worked as a city lawyer for years in London, I had taken the decision to change career, although I wasn’t entirely sure what that new career would entail. I considered re-training as a forensic psychologist and even completed a postgraduate diploma but it wasn’t until I was eight months’ pregnant during the summer heat wave that I really allowed myself to imagine becoming a writer (while sitting in front of an enormous desk fan). 

          Too competitive, too risky, too impractical. That was what I had always thought, even while ideas for stories would run through my head. And then, one day, I thought: what if?

          In those stolen moments while my baby slept, I started ‘Holy Island’, which would eventually go on to become an international #1 bestseller. Once my son started attending nursery, I was able to make some real progress and I found that I loved my new work. I was insecure and nervous about how it would be received but with the encouragement of family and friends, I decided to send it to a few agents and publishers accepting direct submissions. I was shocked and delighted to receive positive feedback and a couple of offers, but then the practical side to my brain kicked in once again. 

          Would taking the so-called ‘traditional’ route suit me? Particularly when there were no guarantees of distribution and a requirement that I relinquish much of the control over my work? I felt uneasy with the prospect and it was my husband who suggested that I think outside of the box and consider using the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing platform instead. I decided to take the plunge and after releasing my first novel on 1st January 2015, it reached #1 in the UK Amazon Kindle chart in May of the same year. Less than two years later, I have released three other novels, all of which have been #1 bestsellers, alongside audiobooks and a German edition and have never regretted my decision to publish independently. 

          It takes hard work and a willingness to manage the ‘business’ side to the industry, but this never overshadows the pure joy I have found in writing stories and finding that there are people out there who enjoy reading them. 

                                        *    *    *    *

Thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting post and for stopping by today Louise. It must have been a tough decision to make, venturing into the unknown and I'm so pleased that all of your hard work is paying off.

If you want to find out more about LJ Ross' books or connect with her you can use the links below:

Facebook
Website
Amazon
Twitter
Goodreads   

With kind thanks to author LJ Ross for the review copy.

 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir - Lesley Allen


The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is a heartbreaking story about bullying told through the eyes of the victim. Biddy's mum walked out when she was a baby leaving her to be brought up by her emotionally withdrawn dad who doesn't really know where to start bringing up a young girl. Although her dad loves her dearly he's not good at expressing himself and talking about feelings and emotions so the pair spend most of their time in silence.

Biddy is an intelligent little girl but lacking in social skills so her peers choose to avoid her rather than trying to befriend her, until Alison Flemming arrives at her school. Being the new girl, Alison is out to impress and to be popular and she decides the best way to do that is to start picking on Biddy. No-one used to take much notice of Biddy, just accepting that she was there on the sidelines, not bothering anyone, just not fitting in, but when Alison starts calling her 'Bloody Weirdo' it doesn't take everyone else long to catch on, to the point where even poor Biddy herself thinks that she's a bloody weirdo.

Being unable to confide in her father and having no friends Biddy suffers in silence and focuses on her drawing and her love of birds.

In the second half of the book Biddy is older but still socially awkward, preferring her own company and still believing that she's a weirdo. Her father's doctor is concerned for Biddy and visits her often. On one visit he asks about the painting of a local house called Cove Cottage which Biddy did for her father, telling her that his friend Terri Drummond would love to see it as she lives there and trying to encourage her to visit but  not divulging that she's also a therapist.

Given the subject matter, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir isn't a comfortable read by any means, but it's written in such a hauntingly beautiful way it makes for compelling reading. Lesley Allen writes in such a way that makes it impossible for the reader not to empathise with Biddy, I was living every moment with her and willing her reach out and open up to the few people who genuinely wanted to help her. I wanted to reach into the pages and be her friend, to tell her that her life meant something and that although her scars would never completely heal, they would fade over time and she would find reasons to smile again. Biddy Weir is one of those rare characters that will stay with me for a very long time to come. I can't recommend this book highly enough and I hope there will be more coming from this highly talented author very soon.

With kind thanks to NetGalley and publishers Bonnier for the review copy.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Hippo Hands Over to - Andrew Smith


Today I'm delighted to welcome Andrew Smith to The Hippo to chat about his journey to being published.

Andrew Smith’s first novel, Edith’s War, won a gold medal at the Independent Publishers’ Book Awards, U.S.A. His short fiction has been included in the Journey Prize Anthology and shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards. His travel writing has garnered a Western Magazine Award. He has published two non-fiction books: Strangers in the Garden, the secret lives of our favorite flowers and Highlights, an illustrated history of cannabis (co-author). Smith’s next novel, The Speech, has been published in October, 2016 by Urbane Publications, U.K.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith

                                            MY PUBLISHING VOYAGE

My publishing voyage started with a journey of a completely different nature, on a ramshackle Indian bus rattling its way northward, through the Himalayas from Kashmir to Ladakh. Before I left for India, a friend of mine, who was editor of an adventure travel magazine, exhorted me to "make notes, keep a diary." My copious scribblings, made during that truly awesome bus journey, became the basis for my first published piece of writing. To my complete surprise, my magazine article won an award for travel writing. I was hooked.

Although I took to writing as naturally as a duck to water, I realized I needed direction to navigate the literary shoals that lay between me and my goal to publish short fiction. I enrolled in a creative writing course. I spent the next ten years content to keep my day job as a book designer, but writing short fiction in my spare time. Rejection letters arrived with unwelcome regularity. I'd say that on average I received ten rejection letters for every acceptance. Thick skin is a necessity for an aspiring writer. I'm happy to say that everything I wrote eventually found a home.
(You can read three of my award-winning stories here: http://andrewsmithwrites.com/?page_id=6)

It was a mixed blessing when a literary agent acquaintance blithely said to me one day, "You'll never get anywhere with short fiction, you need to write a novel." Afterwards I couldn't stop thinking about my short story about two middle-aged brothers meeting their ageing mother in Venice and the family dynamics and secrets that emerged during their encounter. I began to wonder what events in childhood shaped the brothers. I pondered on what their mother's experiences might have been. With this in mind, I embarked on a tentative expedition into novel-writing territory. Once I started, I couldn't stop. Especially when I learnt about the little-known hardships of Italians interned in Britain during World War II. It's the ruthless writer talking when I say that, as well as the obvious sympathy that underdog characters evoke, they also make for interesting plot devices. The novel-writing expedition ended four years later in 2008 with a finished manuscript for my first book, 'Edith's War.'

The literary agent who'd suggested I write a novel wasn't interested. It was my first experience of the risk-averse nature of literary agents, which was borne out after I approached several other agents. The few who responded claimed to like the manuscript but were also of the opinion that I was too much of an "unknown." Until then I'd naively believed the job of an agent was to make an author "known" — silly me. 

After a year of frustration, I decided to self-publish. But I wasn't completely self-delusional, I hired an editor. Every manuscript, no matter how accomplished, benefits from a second pair of eyes. It was relatively easy to plonk an e-book onto several e-book sales sites, but distributing the printed book proved to be a monumental hurdle. I eventually found a distributor willing to represent a self publisher. Which is when the excruciatingly hard work of promotion began. Eventually 'Edith's War' did quite well. I covered costs and earned a modest amount.
(You can read more about 'Edith's War' here: http://andrewsmithwrites.com/?page_id=2)



While I'd learnt that agent representation is rarer than a four-leaf clover, I also knew that self-publishing is definitely not for the faint-hearted. So what the hell made me write another full-length fiction? Because by then I was as hooked on novel writing as an addict is to crack cocaine. Some days the prospect of the difficulty of the process, or maybe it's the fear of failure, is just too overwhelming. Excuses are made and another twenty-four hours slip by without a word produced. But sometimes the sentences fly in a delirium of creativity, during which endorphins potent as LSD are released.

My inspiration was the similarity of socio-political events happening at the time with those that occurred when I was an art student in Wolverhampton in the late 1960s. Immigration was a growing 'concern,' ensuing prejudice and racism was rearing its ugly head. I  remembered the ever-fascinating Wolverhampton M.P. Enoch Powell and his infamous Rivers of Blood speech. I was fairly sure I could write a novel about him to include more everyday characters, but which would be relevant to present-day events. Two years later I had a final draft. 

I can't remember where I heard about Curtis Brown Creative, the workshops run by Curtis Brown literary agency. It was hinted that the workshops were a net to 'catch' promising properties for Curtis Brown agents. But it was also made clear there was no guarantee of representation. By the end of three months of workshops, my manuscript had improved considerably, but in the final one-to-one seminar an editorial change was suggested that would involve six months more of intensive work. Although reeling at the idea, I knew in my heart of hearts, the suggested revision would improve the book immensely.
 
Six months later my revised manuscript was presented to a Curtis Brown agent. It was turned down in the nicest possible way. The second rejection was as complimentary, which made it all the more frustrating. A third agent turned the book down with a similar refrain to the others — "brilliant but impossible to 'place.'" Which meant, I was told, that it didn't fit into any obvious genre, nor was there any 'likely' publisher to sell to.

I firmly believe that any success is a combination of good fortune and talent. I was fairly certain I had the talent, the good fortune came in the person of Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications. I was referred to him by Nick Jones, a man I'd interviewed in the course of researching the book. When I poured out my tale of woe about agents' rejections, Nick suggested I contact Matthew, who'd published Nick's most recent book. What followed was swift and wondrous. I e-mailed Matthew with an outline of the novel. He replied almost immediately asking to see the manuscript. Twenty-four hours later he e-mailed a proposal to publish with a draft of a contract attached. Some months later I held a copy of 'The Speech' in my hand, confident I was published by an experienced and supportive publisher whose principle is one of collaboration. I'd reached an enviable destination in my publishing voyage.






 You can find out more about Andrew and his books and connect with him using the links below:


I'd like to thank Andrew for stopping by today and for taking the time to write such an interesting post.