Thursday 24 August 2017

Re-blog: The Sister - Louise Jensen

Today I'm thrilled to be re-blogging my review of The Sister by Louise Jensen to celebrate it's launch as a paperback which will be available in Asda, Sainsbury's and WH Smith from today and in Tesco from September 7th.

Here's my review which was originally published on my blog on 3rd July 2016.

As soon as I saw the cover for The Sister I knew I had to read it. Look at it, it's gorgeous right? Well the story inside is just as fabulous!

Grace, Charlie and Dan have been  friends since primary school but when Charlie unexpectedly dies Grace finds herself haunted by her best friends last words "I did something terrible Grace. I hope you can forgive me. . ." In a desperate bid to try and find out what Charlie did she goes back to the place where the pair had buried a memory box years before. When she opens the box she finds a wish list written by Charlie and one of the things on her list was to find her father, something her mum, Lexie, was always reluctant to talk about. So Grace decides to track him down thinking that it might lead to answers about the terrible thing Charlie felt she needed forgiveness for.

During a reconciliation with Lexie, Grace finally manages to get the story of how she and Charlie's dad met, along with his name and the fact that he was in a band. Armed with this new information she enlists the help of her long-term boyfriend Dan and they get to work on social media trying to find anyone who has information about his whereabouts.

It's not long before someone contacts them claiming to be Charlie's half-sister. Grace jumps at the chance to meet this mystery woman and they arrange to meet in a local cafe. Enter Anna. Desperate to hold onto any links to Charlie, no matter how tenuous, Grace takes to Anna instantly and moves her into the home she shares with Dan.

Soon after Anna moves in Grace's life starts to spiral out of control. She's convinced that someone is following her, Dan is becoming more and more distant and her life is threatened on more than one occasion but who is responsible for these harrowing experiences?

Told in alternating chapters entitled "Now" and "Then" the story of Grace and Charlie's childhood friendship is revealed alongside the new friendship that Grace is forming with Anna with each chapter ending in just the right place to leave you wanting more. The more I read, the more intrigued I was which is always a good sign in a thriller. I loved the way that the story unfolded and each character was given enough background to make them believable. I felt empathy for Grace, she'd lost her best friend unexpectedly and her relationship with Dan was crumbling so it was only natural that she was going to cling to Anna as a substitute for Charlie.
But everyone seems to have a secret which is cleverly concealed, so as a reader you're never sure who to trust. As the skillfully woven web of lies and deceit starts to untangle the author throws in a massive twist that I certainly didn't see coming and threw me completely off track with everything that I thought I'd worked out for myself.
The Sister is a definite must read for all psychological thriller fans and it's one of those books that deserves to be talked about. Louise Jensen has written a stunning debut novel that will have you on tenterhooks until the very end and she is definitely an author to watch out for in the future.

So next time you're out doing your shopping, take a little trip down the book aisle and drop a copy into your trolley. I'd highly recommend it with a bar of chocolate or a packet of chocolate chip cookies!

Sunday 20 August 2017

Over My Shoulder - Patricia Dixon

Over My Shoulder is a dark and deeply disturbing story about domestic abuse which won't be for everyone, but it's one that I couldn't get enough of so I'm not sure what that says about me!

What starts out as a seemingly hearts and flowers tale of girl meets boy quickly descends into a gripping and thought-provoking one of manipulation that took me on an unforgettable journey.

Freya is an average girl working and living in Manchester in the 1990's. She enjoys her job, has friends and is happy with her boyfriend Kane comes into her work one day and Freya takes a real shine to him, he's good looking, attentive and owns his own business. So when Kane starts to engineer ways for their paths to cross Freya soon dumps her boyfriend and starts spending time with Kane.

What Freya doesn't know about Kane is that he has a dark, manipulative side and its not long before she starts to notice this, little comments about her physical appearance, what she's wearing and what she's eating. It's clear that Freya isn't happy but is she brave or strong enough to leave Kane?

Patricia Dixon has taken a difficult subject and constructed a hard hitting but totally believable tale that's written with empathy. I was rooting for Freya and hoping that she could get away from Kane and his unscrupulous ways. He is the embodiment of evil and I can honestly say that I despised him with a passion which is a credit to Patricia's writing as it takes a lot for me to truly loathe a character. This is an atmospheric book and one that had my heart racing at times as I became more and more horrified at the depths that Kane would go to to control Freya. There's no graphic descriptions of violence but the threat is there and knowing that this is a situation that affects many women (and men) makes it more horrifying.

Over My Shoulder is a captivating novel and one that I would highly recommend to all fans of psychological and domestic noir thrillers.

Sunday 13 August 2017

#Blog Tour - Behind Her Back - Jane Lythell

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be today's stop on the blog tour for Behind Her Back, the brilliant new book by Jane Lythell. Not only am I sharing my thoughts on the book, Jane will be stopping by for a chat as well.

I read Woman of the Hour, the first book in the StoryWorld series, earlier this year (you can read my review here) so I was really looking forward to reacquainting myself with these characters again. Don't worry if you haven't read the first book as this can easily be read as a standalone but take it from me it's definitely worth adding it to your TBR and it's currently available to download for just 99p!

Liz has just returned to StoryWorld after a well deserved holiday with her daughter Flo, only to find a new face in the office in the shape of Lori Kerwell. Lori has been brought in for sales and marketing but it's clear that she's out to cause as many problems as she can for Liz.

Liz has enough on her plate dealing with Fizzy coming back after her maternity leave, Ledley, who has been filling in for Fizzy, the ever-changing moods of her teenage daughter and trying to pin down the elusive rogue builder, Ron Osborne, who has taken money from her without fixing her patio doors, so she really doesn't need Lori and her PowerPoint presentations stirring up trouble and trying to undermine her at every turn.

Add into this mix a hair dye meltdown, a potential new man, ego's that need stroking, back-stabbing, lies and secrets (and that's just the tip of the iceberg) I'm sure you can see why I found it hard to put down.

I loved this book because it gives such a rare insight into the world of television. So many of us watch this type of programme but very few of us would ever get to find out what goes on behind the scenes and this is what makes Behind Her Back such compelling reading. Jane worked in this environment for many years and her experience shines through in her writing. Every character is so believable that as a reader I really got behind them, either hoping things would go their way or keeping my fingers crossed that they would get their comeuppance.
This is a fast paced novel, full of drama and tension with some fascinating subplots cleverly woven throughout, which gives a greater insight into the minds of the characters involved. Jane Lythell is a wonderfully perceptive writer and it's a refreshing change to read a novel where the female protagonist is predominantly based in the workplace having to strike the delicate work/home balance that so many women deal with in today's society.

StoryWorld isn't a place that I'd ever want to work but it is somewhere that I'd highly recommend you visit by reading this excellent book!

As promised at the beginning of this post Jane took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions and I'm delighted to welcome her back to The Hippo today.

Photo courtesy of Jane Lythell

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in beautiful Norfolk, went to university in London and stayed on. I worked as a television producer for 15 years. I then moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director and did one year as Chief Executive of BAFTA which was miserable! I started writing full time in May 2011 and my debut novel, The Lie Of You, was published by Head of Zeus in January 2014. I live in Brighton now, love being by the sea but still get up to London to watch my beloved Tottenham Hotspur.

What was it that made you decide to leave the world of television to take up writing full-time?
Television is a seductive industry. You feel you are at the centre of things because you hear of news and events before most people and it is difficult to give this up. But, and this is what happened to me, it can be a burn-out industry. You are expected to work until the show is ready. The hours are never predictable and this made it difficult for me as a lone parent. I left my career in television when my daughter Amelia was nine. It took me a few more years to get down to writing, something I had always wanted to do.

How would you describe Behind Her Back to entice someone to read it?
I’d say that it has a heroine facing work and home conflicts many of us can relate to. Behind Her Back is about backstabbing colleagues at work. A new Head of Sales arrives at the TV station and she joins forces with the News Editor, who hates Liz, to undermine her at every turn. Meanwhile at home Liz has started to date again but her fifteen year old daughter deeply resents the new man in her life. So there is a lot of conflict which drives the story.
How much of your main character, Liz Lyon, is based on your own experiences?
A lot because I worked as a researcher and then a producer and I was also a lone parent. I’ve experienced the feelings of guilt about not spending enough time with my daughter as well as the self-doubt and the stress of competing pressures which make up Liz’s life.
In all my novels I deal with stuff that has happened in my life but it is transformed when it is told through fictional characters and situations.

Having worked in the industry did you ever find yourself in similar situations to Liz?
Oh yes. I worked on a three hour live show called Good Morning Britain. One morning a guest refused to come out of make-up as her hair looked a fright. I’ve also had to deal with difficult and drunk guests. I drew on these memories.

Liz and Flo both have a love of food and you included three recipes in the back of Woman of the Hour. Do you share their passion for food?
I do, especially anything with melted cheese as part of the recipe! Like Liz I am an average cook but I enjoy it. When Liz gets home she often cooks to help her decompress from the stresses of work. I think many of us find comfort in cooking after a particularly bad day at home or the office.

Are any of your characters based 100% on people that you worked or dealt with when you were in the industry?
No, though some have been inspired by people I met in my career. For example Fizzy Wentworth, the star of StoryWorld TV, has been drawn from a number of on-screen presenters I observed in my years in TV. There is something about being in the limelight every day that affects people. They do become self-absorbed with a tendency to dramatise like Fizzy.

If you had to work at StoryWorld what role or department would you work in and why?
Definitely in Features rather than in News as I’m interested in lifestyle stories: food, fashion, health, books and social affairs. At TV-am, where I worked for six years, there was a great divide between the News and the Features teams, almost a feud! 

Woman of the Hour and Behind Her Back are both set predominantly in the workplace which is quite uncommon. Why do you think there aren’t more authors setting their books in this environment?
I don’t understand why there aren’t more books dealing with women’s working lives. The drama of the workplace offers such a rich seam to mine. So many issues and moral dilemmas are thrown up by this aspect of our lives. There are power struggles, intrigue and betrayals as well as moments of camaraderie and satisfaction at a job well done.

Ernest Hemmingway, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens all famously did their writing standing up and this is how I believe you do your writing. How and why does this technique work for you?
I started doing this three years ago, actually on the advice of my osteopath, because my back was aching from leaning over my laptop. I rigged up a tray on legs on top of my desk but that still wasn’t high enough. Several fat reference books were then added to the pile. (PIC attached).  Well straight away my back felt better and I was also more alert. Now I cannot imagine working any other way. 

Photo courtesy of Jane Lythell

What book do you wish you had written and why?
I wish I could have written The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. It has everything I love in a book: a despised and hapless hero in Quoyle; a wonderful sense of place in her depiction of Newfoundland, the land of Quoyle’s forefathers and a journey of redemption for Quoyle. I do not like hopeless books. I like there to be some light at the end. 

Is there anything else that you’d like to say to the readers?
I’d like to thank warmly the readers who review my books as reviews are pure gold to us writers. I’d also like to say three cheers for book bloggers, like the magnificent Hippo, who do so much to support writers. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Jane and best of luck with Behind Her Back.

You can find out more about Jane, her books and connect with her using the links below:

Be sure to follow the rest of the tour on these fantastic blogs

With kind thanks to Clare Gordon, Head of Zeus and author Jane Lythell for the review copy.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

The Hippo Hands Over . . . . to Carol Warham

Today I'd like to welcome author Carol Warham to The Hippo and to wish her a happy publication day! Carol's debut novel Resolutions is published today so I thought it was the perfect time to invite her over so that you can all get to know her, find out about her book and find out about her journey to publication.

So I'll hand you over to Carol and let her introduce herself.

Photo courtesy of Carol Warham

I have written since childhood, having started by making small comics for my dolls, enjoyed writing ‘compositions’ in school and progressing to training as a journalist for a short while.  However life took a different turn and like most, particularly of my generation, I got married and had a family of two daughters. During that time I held down a few different jobs, from working for the taxman to working in our own businesses. Once the family had grown up I settled down to writing short stories, poems and holiday articles, many of which were published.

In recent years I’ve been delighted to be a judge in the short story section for the HysteriaUK competition and also to read for the RNA’s romance novel of the year. I am reading for them this year, ready for the 2018 awards.

In my spare time, when not helping with the grandchildren, I go to the gym, and belong to various village groups, like the reading and walking groups.  I run a small but enthusiastic writing group which meets in the village library. Last year we held a successful children’s writing competition which was sponsored by Central England Co-operative. Book tokens were presented as prizes and the entries displayed at the village library

Recently I represented the book group on BBC Radio Leeds, a number of times, talking about books and the work on my novel.

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                                        Carol's journey to publication

As the date set for the publication of RESOLUTIONS, my first novel, draws near, I have been asked lots and lots of questions by other newbie authors and many readers.

Many of the questions relate to how I came up with the idea for the novel, its name and the choice of location. Others have asked about how long it took to write and my ‘journey’ to publication.
Other questions have been more personal about how and when did I first know I wanted to write.

Neats has kindly given me the opportunity to answer some of these questions as best as I can.  

Initially I’d like to talk about RESOLUTIONS, that’s the part I’m most excited about.  Never in a million years did I believe I could write a novel, at least not one that would be accepted for publication.

So, where did the idea come from? Some years ago, we were on a family holiday to Florida and visited the town of Celebration. For those that don’t know it, it’s a master-planned community, a town specifically designed to integrate everything a community would need and developed by the Disney Corporation. 

I was fascinated by the idea of the town and the stories that could develop there. It was then my idea of a town called Resolution developed with a plot that centred around New Year. A time, we think of, for making resolutions and maybe resolving past upsets and misunderstandings.

Great, I had an idea, now all I had to do was write it! At first, I tried to set the story in the U.S. simply as I wanted to call the town Resolution. We would never have a town with that name in the U.K. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Friends, who were honest, read the first draft and said I didn’t capture the American culture or language at all. The advice I was given was to move the location closer to home. I was very disappointed and for a short while resisted the idea. However, I had to agree, eventually, this was the best way forward. Finally I decided to use the town of Holmfirth as a blueprint for the new location of Yeardon and call the local hotel, which has a prominent position in the plot, Resolution Hotel.

Photo courtesy of Carol Warham

Holmfirth is just three miles from where I live. Many people will know it, at least from watching the television series, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, which was filmed there and amidst the surrounding, stunning countryside.

Photo courtesy of Carol Warham

This all happened five years ago. Since then, there have been at least three drafts and numerous re-writes of large sections and chapters. There have been many times when I could have thrown it in the bin…had it not been a computer file! Happily, I did resist from deleting all the files.

About two years ago a good friend, a brilliant author in her own right, asked to look at the manuscript.  I was stunned when she came back to me, saying yes it needed work and editing but there was a great story there and I ought to work on it. Out it came, once more. This time I had someone, advising, cajoling, supporting and giving the occasional much needed boot.

Eventually the time arrived when it was as ready as possible to submit it to publishers. Fingers crossed and breath held I pushed the send button.  Three publishers showed interest but after listening to advice and recommendation, I signed a contract with  Kemberlee Shortland’s Tirgearr Publishing, who have also proved to be professional, supportive and always available for advice.  Their talented Elle J Rossi, is responsible for the wonderful cover, for which I have received many compliments. 

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 I can see why Carol has had lots of compliments for her cover, it certainly caught my eye! What do you think about it?


Resolutions tells the story of Carly Mitchell who returns home, to the fictional town of Yeardon, a few days before New Year. She comes back to the small town, on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, which was once her home. A year earlier, she had fled, leaving her bridegroom and friends bewildered. Her intention is to spend a couple of days to make her apologies and offer an explanation for her action.

She meets with mixed reactions, ranging from curiosity to open hostility. However when an emergency arises Carly agrees to change her plans and stay for a longer period.  Falling in love with the new local doctor, Ben Thornton, was not part of her original plan either. Especially when it appears his past is shrouded in mystery.

Complications and tensions increase during the town’s New Year celebrations and she begins to doubt whether she has done the right thing.

Will Carly find the resolution she needs to overcome the challenges facing her or will she run away again? You’ll need to buy the book to find out!

Resolutions is currently available to download for just 99p until Sunday, so, as it's Book Lovers Day why not show Carol some book love and support a new author.

You can find out more about Carol and connect with her using the links below:

I'd like to thank Carol for taking the time to stop by today and to wish her lots of luck with her novel.