Saturday 31 December 2016

The Hippo's Top 12 books of 2016

It's that time of year again where I sit down and look back at all the books I've read over the last twelve months and what a year 2016 has been!

I've read some amazing books and it's always difficult to pick out my favourites. Having read 85 books this year it's been a tough job but after some careful consideration I've managed to whittle it down to twelve.

So lovely readers, here (in no particular order other than roughly the order in which I read them) are my favourite books of 2016. You can read my review of each book by clicking on the book title and author.

Our Song - Dani Atkins

A stunning beautiful book about two ordinary couples whose lives intertwine. Set over a period of just 24 hours this book broke me and I loved it.

Behind Closed Doors - B A Paris

A truly terrifying glimpse into one woman's claustrophobic marriage and a must read for all fans of psychological thrillers.

No Longer Safe - A. J. Waines

A tense, atmospheric and dark read about two friends reconnecting but one of them has an ulterior motive.

Bloq - Alan Jones

A nail biting book following one man's desperate search to find his missing daughter.

See How They Run - Tom Bale

A young couple and their eight week old daughter find their lives in danger when masked men break into their house.

My Girl - Jack Jordan

A hard hitting novel about an emotionally disturbed woman on the verge of collapse following the presumed murder of her daughter and her husband's suicide.

My Husband's Wife - Amanda Prowse

A woman's idyllic life when her husband announces he's leaving her and their children for another woman.

Loose Canon - Jack Steele

A hard-hitting, fast-paced crime thriller following a detective as he immerses himself in the deadly world of the London Mafia.

Sing To Silent Stones: Violet's War - David Snell

A beautiful and sometimes harrowing story of a young woman growing up in war time England.

Angel: A DCI Ryan Mystery - L.J. Ross

Two seemingly unconnected murders and a hunt for a serial killer in the fourth book in the DCI Ryan series.

The Good Enough Mother - Anoushka Beazley

A satirical look at life through the eyes of a step-mother, this book has it all.

The Puppet Master - Abigail Osborne

A first-rate psychological thriller about two seemingly unconnected people who it turns out have someone in common.

So there you have it, my pick of the best books I've read this year. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my choices, have you read any of them and did you enjoy them as much as I did?

While you're here I'd just like to thank everyone that takes the time to stop by and read my reviews and leave comments, I love hearing from you all. I'd also like to thank all of the fabulous authors and publishers that have contacted me to read their books or have written great feature posts for me. I'd also like to say a big thank you to all of my fellow book bloggers, your constant support and friendship is just amazing, so thank you to each and everyone of you, I won't name you all personally for fear of accidentally leaving someone out but I'm sure you all know who you are.

2016 has been a fabulous bookish year and 2017 is already looking fantastic too an I'm looking forward to sharing more reviews with you all, but for now I'd just like to wish you all a very Happy New Year!!

Sunday 11 December 2016

The Hippo Hands Over To . . . . Shirley Golden

Being a book blogger isn't always about sitting at home with your nose in a book or in front of a laptop writing reviews, contrary to popular belief we can be very sociable creatures! Authors have also been known to venture out from their writing caves and it's quite possible that their paths will cross. It was on one such occasion at a book launch a few weeks ago that I met the author I'm handing over to today, Shirley Golden.

Photo courtesy of Shirley Golden


Shirley Golden spent ten years working in factories, where making up stories in her head saved her from terminal boredom. She returned to education in her late twenties, gained a degree in psychology, and worked in research for a few years before deciding to dedicate herself to writing fiction full time.
Many of her stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; some have found their way on to competition long and short lists. She won the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition in 2013. She loves flash-fiction and is one of the editors for the FlashFlood Journal, created by Calum Kerr, to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day.
She is door person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing. She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies and goes for long bike rides to burn off the calories.
Shirley's latest novel is Skyjacked, a sci-fi/fantasy novel published by Urbane Publications in May 2016 and today Shirley is very kindly sharing the opening extract.
The year is 2154, and Corvus Ranger, space pilot and captain of the Soliton, embarks on a penal run to Jupiter's prison moon, Europa. It should be another routine drop, but a motley band of escaped convicts have other ideas. When Soliton is hijacked, Corvus is forced to set a new destination, one which is far from Earth and his son. Unable to fight (or smooth talk) his way to freedom, Corvus finds himself tied to the plans of the escapees, including their leader Isidore and a gifted young boy who seems to possess strange abilities. Desperate to return to Earth and the son he left behind, Corvus is thrown into the ultimate adventure, a star-strewn odyssey where the greatest enemy in the universe may very well be himself.

Earth year: 2146.  Unnamed planet in HZ 57754
The boy felt it rising inside of him, a tide that swelled and crashed against his guts. He forced back the urge to retch.
 A face drew close to his. 
‘Try again.’ The research officer gave him a prod.
The boy remembered the monster, the thing that came at him with a roar, claws slashing. He thought he would die. Instead, the feeling, followed by release - and afterwards, a sour taste burnt the back of his throat. He tried never to think of the faded image that haunted his nights. 
He remembered the woman too. He knew by instinct that she could handle this energy he couldn’t contain; she wasn’t afraid of him. He wasn’t sure what she was, not human. He couldn’t read her, but he need not fear hurting her. 
This man, bunched in the corner, arms shielding his face and vibes falling like tears, this wasn’t right. The man was inside his head, crawling beneath conscious perception: don’t hurt me, please.  The prickle of fear rose until the boy closed his eyes so tightly he thought they’d never open again. 
Another prod. ‘Just do what you did before.’ The voice was louder this time, more insistent, the prod harder. But he felt something else leaking from his tormentor, thin but present. Reluctance. 
He could no longer read from those who came to visit and demanded he do things. It wasn’t like when he’d first arrived. Then they had been kind. He sensed things wouldn’t be like that again. 
He remained mute and blank. After a few more minutes, the research operative released a heavy sigh and headed for the exit, dragging the trembling man out with him and locking the door. 
The boy slumped from the bunk onto the floor. He brought his knees to his chest and clutched them. He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t feel exhausted. He raised his head to the sound of footsteps, faint in the corridor, and growing louder. Please don’t let it be Sable, he thought. It wasn’t. 
Knowledge rushed into his head: it was a newcomer; nervous, ambitious, and wed to the cause. The boy held his head with both hands as if he might block the incoming signals. It didn’t help, so he rocked back and forth and moaned.
* * *
The girl moved like a wild cat. Sable viewed her through the one-way filter. He traced her outline on the reflector, dragging his nails along the glass as if smoothing her mane of hair. In sixteen cycles, she’d yet to experience the sort of tests the boy had been subjected to, but he needed to know if she could be of use. And it was as if she sensed what was coming. 
The buzzer sounded and Sable blackened the filter, obscuring the cell and its occupant. He glanced at the door screen and pressed release. 
Two operatives walked in, the younger man he didn’t recognise. 
‘Progress?’ He eyed the older man who shook his head, not meeting his commander’s gaze. 
‘Still nothing, Sir. I don’t think subject zero one is going to be of further use.’ 
Sable turned away, his shoulders stiffened. ‘Very well,’ he said.  His voice was clipped as if it was an effort to speak without shouting.  ‘Let’s move on. He’s out. We can test the wipe on him, and then ship him off on the next prison transport run – just to be on the safe side.’
‘I’ll see to it,’ the older researcher muttered.
Sable sat down behind the desk that dominated the room. He rested his elbows on the edge of the glass, his fingers forming a steeple. ‘Some of the others in the new batch are bound to show signs of the talent – zero one can’t be the only subject to demonstrate it.  Besides, we have the girl. Phase two of testing can begin next week.’
‘Really?’ The man shifted from one foot to the other. ‘You’re ready to start on her?’
Sable’s skin went white from the pressure as he forced his fingertips together. ‘Why not?’ His words were fired out as a challenge.
The researcher hesitated. ‘Erm, I don’t … I think … I’m not sure … is it too soon, perhaps?’
‘I’ll do it.’ The new researcher stepped forward.
Sable turned to him. ‘And you are?’
‘Operative 915-21,’ he said.
‘You understand what this will entail?’
‘I read the brief.’
Sable nodded a curt affirmation.
‘He can’t take on that level of responsibility,’ the first researcher said. ‘He hasn’t studied the backfiles. He hasn’t even got full security clearance – he can’t work without synaptic blocks.’
Sable bowed his head and began keying in letters that scrolled across a screen. ‘That can be arranged,’ he said.
The researcher’s voice rose in pitch. ‘He can’t. It takes weeks of trai…’
‘Don’t tell me what can or can’t be done,’ Sable said. His fingers stopped moving. ‘He’s in, you’re out.’ He swiped the pad under his desk, reaching beneath to an opaque section. He ordered two wipes and two transits to Europa.
A guard entered and at Sable’s direction, he raised his weapon and escorted the researcher from the room.
The door slid shut. It fell silent.
The remaining man looked tense but Sable could see he was young enough and arrogant enough to believe things for him would be different. Sable smiled. Things would be different: this time he’d ensure no one else would gain access to the backfiles.

Eight years later: 2154 Earth
Corvus balanced the image of his ex-girlfriend in his palm and resisted the urge to clench his fist. Through his apartment window he counted aerocabs, which passed with a hiss. With his free hand, he drummed his fingers on the desk as if to an imaginary beat and the tips began to feel numb.
Trudi looked immaculate as always – expensive suit, and accessorised like a catwalk model. He wished he didn’t have to speak to her.
‘I told him you’d be there.’
‘Always am.’ He didn’t get what the big deal was.
‘Three days late last year, Corvus. Know why it’s called a birthDAY?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ He hoped his image conveyed the shrug. She hated it when he shrugged. ‘Clyde gets it, Trudi; he’s old enough to understand. Runs don’t always go to plan.’
‘Nothing you do ever goes to plan.’
He tried not to grin. Plans and rules existed for one purpose – to be messed with.
She smoothed an imaginary crease in her skirt, and he knew she’d seen the shrug. He took pleasure in seeing her struggle to control her irritation. ‘What type of run is it?’
‘Junk run,’ he said.
Even in the miniature image, her eyes narrowed. ‘I thought you said you weren’t going to do another of those.’
‘Yeah well, needs must.’
‘Are you in debt again?’
‘Not your problem.’
When they’d split, she kept the house on the agreement Corvus wouldn’t have to pay maintenance. She’d always earned more than him, taking high profile cases and defending clients whose needs were challenging but who possessed unlimited resources.
‘For once you’re right, it’s not my problem, not anymore. Well, at least there shouldn’t be any hold-ups if it’s a junk run.’ She pressed her lips together, hard, as she always did when she thought he was lying. ‘Just make sure you’re here, Corvus. And make sure you’ve washed the stench off. He’s going to be ten. Remember how it felt to be ten?’ She didn’t wait for an answer but with a flicker, her image dissolved out of his grasp.
Corvus yanked the comtool strap off his hand and resisted the urge to fling it across the room. Trouble was she remembered him from when he was ten, and knew his dad never missed a birthday. But then again, his dad never piloted craft on off-world runs.
Only the run wasn’t a junk run, it was a penal run to Jupiter’s prison moon, Europa. But if he’d told her that she’d have gone off like an accelerated Fusion Propulsed (aFP) Zelta 4 shooting from the outer edges to home.
He sighed; if luck was with him and all went smoothly he’d be back in time. He didn’t see it as a lie, more a case of shielding Trudi. She worried too much, about everything. He blamed it on her profession – so close to daily misfortune, she had all sorts of warped theories about missing people and covert off-world dealings.  Not his problem anymore. He ran a hand around the back of his neck and felt the crunch of muscles. He swore he’d prove her wrong for once. He’d get to see his son’s birthday; he’d make damn sure of it this time.

Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Designated prison colony since 2127
The ship descended slowly, and Corvus hooked her up to the holding area with barely a jolt. He grinned. ‘Ain’t no one better, hotshot.’ He figured no one else would feed him a compliment so he might as well do it himself. And he was a good pilot; it wasn’t an empty brag. He switched off the engines and pulled on his jacket. He patted the console. ‘You always deliver, Soliton.’
He activated the screen and scanned the files one last time; he didn’t want hold-ups. The guards would be securing the area ahead and preparing to exchange posts. Not that he’d ever had trouble here – well, nothing he couldn’t handle. He checked the synap plug was primed and tucked it inside his jacket. The two guards had been tedious on the trip out; he hoped the company would be more stimulating on the way back.
He ducked out of the opcab door and climbed down spiral steps, bypassed the mess and cabins to enter a wide loading bay. The inner exit doors were open and he strode towards them, wondering why the guards hadn’t buzzed back. But it was no more than a passing thought.
A woman stepped in through the doors. She held a weapon. It looked old, handmade, lethal and definitely illegal: a prohib, aimed at his head…

                                              *    *    *    *

You can purchase Skyjacked from:

You can find out more about her books and connect with Shirley using the links below:
I'd like to say a big thank you to Shirley for stopping by today and I hope that our paths will cross again one day soon!

Saturday 10 December 2016

The Hippo Hands Over to . . . . Alli Sinclair

I'm delighted to be going International today and I'm handing over to the very lovely Australian author, Alli Sinclair.

Alli's latest novel Under the Spanish Stars was released on 6th December here in the UK and she's here today not only to tell us about her book but also to share some of the interesting things she discovered while researching for her book.


Amid the vivid beauty of Granada, a woman entrusted with unravelling a family secret will discover the truth about her heritage--and the alluring promise of love…

When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her--even if it means travelling to a country that broke her abuela's heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother's youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan.  

The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother's past--and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy…

                                                         About Alli
Photo courtesy of Alli Sinclair

Alli Sinclair is a multi award-winning author of books that combine travel, mystery, and romance. An adventurer at heart, Alli has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and immersed herself in an array of exotic destinations, cultures, and languages. Alli’s stories capture the romance and thrill of exploring new destinations and cultures that also take readers on a journey of discovery. 

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                                         Uncovering Spanish Secrets

I love to write books set in exotic destinations, that are rich in culture and history, and take readers on a journey into a new world. Or, if the reader has been to the place I’m writing about, I love it when my stories help them reminisce and learn something new.

My new release, Under the Spanish Stars, is set in beautiful and historic Granada in southern Spain. It gives a taste of flamenco and the gypsy culture, while delving into the turbulent history of Spain in the 1930s and 40s. It’s a multi-generational story that explores the relationships between family, lovers, and self as well romance, adventure and a twist of mystery.

Before writing this book, I had danced flamenco but it wasn’t until I interviewed a couple of flamenco experts that I uncovered how complicated and fascinating flamenco is. I could easily fill an entire book with all that I learnt, but today I thought I would share some interesting things I learned during my research.

Flamenco is made up four elements – voice, dance, guitar and the rhythmic compás. The compás is handclapping, foot stomping or heel tapping, shouts (including the famous óle!). Flamenco is emotion lead and singers often improvise the words as they sing from their heart, just as the dancer pours out their feelings through movement. If you’ve ever seen flamenco, it’s easy to see the intense emotion the performers experience.  

Flamenco stems from the Romani people—gitanos in Spanish—who originally came from northern India and around 600 A.D. started a migration across Europe, with many settling in southern Spain. Southern Spain is a melting pot for many cultures, including Jewish and Arabic, and when flamenco was born, it borrowed from different cultures. If you listen to the singing, it has a beautiful Arabic sound, the dancer’s hand movements are reminiscent of traditional dancing from India, and the rhythmic beats are similar to what can be heard in northern Africa.

The gitantos have an oral culture which means flamenco music and lyrics weren’t written down, so it is up to each generation to preserve their ancestor’s music and song, by learning and passing down on to the next generation. Over the centuries, flamenco has had moments where it has almost faded into a distant memory and been lost forever, then, through performer’s hard work and ability to adapt to a changing world, flamenco has enjoyed a resurgence. In recent years, flamenco has enjoyed a huge revival, with flamenco schools opening all around the world. In fact, Japan currently has more flamenco schools than Spain!

One thing I discovered about flamenco was its very close ties with politics, especially back in the days when General Franco ruled Spain. At the height of Franco’s rule, he appropriated bullfighting and flamenco, using these traditions in a bid to woo travellers to Spain. As part of his rule, he exerted his power over flamenco, insisting the women become less powerful in their dance style and resort to the role of seductress. He expected the men flamenco dancers to become more macho and flamenco became a water downed version of itself as it was moulded into Franco’s version. Of course, there were many who defied his wishes, but those that did and suffered dire consequences. This fascinating combination of politics and art made for an interesting thread in Under the Spanish Stars, and through my research, I was able to weave a strong storyline exploring this very important part of Spain and flamenco’s history.

Writing a book that weaves culture, history and dance throughout the story has been such a delight. It’s also a privilege to have flamenco performers and Spanish historians help me with my research. As a history buff, avid researcher, and traveller, I’m lucky I get the chance to delve into lots of different cultures and learn more about the citizens of our world. How about you? Is there a culture that fascinates you? I’d love to hear what it is! 

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Wow, who would have thought that Japan would have more flamenco schools than Spain? What an interesting post Alli, you've made me want to learn more now, both about Flamenco and Spain itself. As for a culture that I'm fascinated with, it has to be South Africa. It's a place I've visited a couple of times now and I hope to go back and visit it again one day and see some more of the wonderful sights there.

Under the Spanish Stars is available to buy now from the following places:

You can find out more about Alli and connect with her on any or all of the places below:

I'd like to say a big thank you to Alli for stopping by today and to wish her lots of success with Under the Spanish Stars 😉