Monday, 5 April 2021

The Halfpenny Girls - Maggie Mason

 

 

I'm always excited to hear that Maggie Mason has a new book coming out - and to know that it's the first in a new series is even better!

Best friends Alice, Marg and Edith work together at Bradshaw's Biscuit factory and grew up on the same poverty stricken street in Blackpool. It's not just money that the girls have to worry about, each one of them is dealing with family issues, but their friendship is so strong and they know that they can rely on one another during desperate times.

On a rare night out at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, courtesy of Marg's Uncle Eric, the girls meet someone who has the potential to change their paths in life forever. Will they be brave enough to grab these opportunities and if so, what impact will it have on their families?

This is another fabulous book from Maggie Mason with friendship, family and loyalty at it's very core. Despite the fact that these people have very little, they are always willing to share and help to ease the burdens of others as and when they can, something which I think is sadly lacking in this day and age. As always when I read one of Maggie's book's, the descriptions of Blackpool are so vivid, I can almost smell the sea air for myself. The characters seem so real and it's easy to get immersed into their lives, sharing their highs and lows and wanting only the best for them as if they are genuine friends. I was reluctant to put this book down and get back into the real world and I read it in about three days.

I felt a sense of sadness when I turned the last page, not because of the story, but because I know that I'll now have to wait a little while to find out what comes next for this heart-warming trio of girls. I would highly recommend The Halfpenny Girls and I feel that it's a must read for fans of historical fiction and / or saga's.

With kinds thanks to Francesca Banks at Sphere Books for my review copy.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Looking For Lucy - Jane E. James

 


Happy publication day to the lovely Jane E. James! Her latest chilling book, Looking For Lucy is out today and it's a corker!

Lucy Valentine has been missing for a month and she wants nothing more than to go home. Her parents, John and Jane, are so desperate to find their daughter they enlist the help of reluctant psychic Cindy Martin. 

Cindy has used her clairvoyant abilities before, but despite her good intentions, things didn't end well and she's been labelled as a charlatan. This is why she's so hesitant to help them, but the Valentine's are prepared to go to any lengths to find their beloved Lucy - including blackmail and Cindy's own young daughter, Grace.

As soon as Cindy arrives at Moon Hollow she is on edge, this doesn't appear to be a welcoming family house. John and Jane are definitely hiding something but will Cindy be able to unearth all of their secrets and discover the truth to find out what happened to Lucy?

Looking For Lucy has it all, tension, intruigue, mystery and suspense. Right from the start I was hooked, wanting to know more about Lucy and her family, what had happened to this little girl who would be eight on her next birthday and just wanted to be in her treehouse playing with Heidi, her favourite doll. She comes across as such a little sweetheart, I already wanted her to be safely back at home - little did I know what was to come!

This is no straight forward missing child story - there are so many hidden secrets and lies, some of which I had my suspicions about and others which completely blindsided me! I spent a lot of time swinging from feeling empathy for a particular character one minute and then being absolutely stunned and even horrified by what they did or said next.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this dark and atmospheric tale and I couldn't read it fast enough! Another superbly written and fabulous book from this great author.

 

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Blog Tour - Rosie Shadow - Louise Worthington

 

I'm just going to put it straight out there - 6 year old Rosie made my skin crawl and gave me a severe case of the heebie jeebies! What young child would threaten to rip off their mother's arm and beat them with the stump? It's not only what she says either. She likes to dig graves and bury herself in the garden, she has seemingly super human strength for a small child and she's definitely smarter than average. I'm getting the shivers just thinking about her again!

Rosie's mum Elly is terrified of her child and so she reaches out for help but is it a case of too little too late? More worryingly, was Rosie responsible for what happened?

Nearby at Shortbury Prison, Clare works as a guide at what is now a visitor's attraction. Giving tours around the former prison, Clare thinks she knows the full history of the building but her boss Archie knows much more about the place than he's letting on - and with good reason. He has a very dark secret, his life depends on him keeping it well hidden but could Clare have discovered what it is?

Rosie Shadow is the kind of book that should be read whilst hiding behind the safety of a cushion and definitely not at night before you go to sleep!  Rosie's character was reminiscent of Damien from The Omen books and just as, if not more horrifying and I was apprehensive every time her name appeared. There are a few places where you do have to suspend your belief, but isn't escapism why we read in the first place?

Louise Worthington has written a compelling story full of strong, well developed characters that build a good foundation for the start of The Black Tongue Series. It's a series that I'll be watching out for in the future and if you enjoy horror / zombie novels I would recommend that you give this one a try.


                                                     About the author


Born in Cheshire, England, Louise studied literature at the University of Essex. As a teenager she read until the small hours, enjoying the darker worlds conjured by Stephen King and Daphne du Maurier.

Louise’s first novel, Distorted Days, was described by Kirkus Review as ‘a formidable work’. Her chilling blend of the lyrical and the dark is the most gripping in her thrillers and, forthcoming, horrors.

When Louise isn’t reading or writing, you’ll most likely find her outside enjoying the Shropshire countryside with her husband or messing about with her daughter, and furry and feathered friends.

 

You can follow the blog tour with these fabulous blogs:


 

With kind thanks to Helen Lewis at Literally Public Relations Ltd for my review copy and my stop on the blog tour.

 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Simon Van der Velde

 

 

I'm thrilled to welcome Simon Van der Velde to my blog today as it's publication day for his new collection of short stories, entitled Backstories. These aren't just any short stories though, as they each contain a hidden famous person, and Simon is challenging his readers to identify them all in his Backstories Challenge - but more about that later as I want to introduce you all to Simon first.

 

Photo courtesy of Simon Van Der Velde

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) at The University of Northumbria in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short-story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition - establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and their two tyrannical children.

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Welcome to The Hippo Simon and happy publication day! Please pull up a chair, make yourself and home and let's chat.

What book/books made you cry and why?
So many.  Peter Carey’s Oscar & Lucinda, and Theft: A love story, were both brilliant – deeply emotionally honest – and that’s where the treasure lies - in emotional honesty. 



What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better write?
Nobody knows it all.  There’s no substitute for honest, constructively critical feedback from people you trust.  That’s why, for the past few years I’ve been a member of Gosforth writers, along with Trevor Wood, John Hickman, Karon Alderman and Ben Appleby-Dean.  We’re all very different writers and all bring something different to the table.  There is no doubt that without their advice and support Backstories would never have been as good and successful as it is.

What’s your favourite motivational phrase?
If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.  Worry about doing it too well and you may be crippled by your ambition. 



What advice would you give your younger self?
Smell the roses.  Don’t be in such a hurry. 



Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing etc come from?
I’ve read since I can remember.  My mum, I guess.

What did you edit out of your last book?
Three-quarters of the words.   Backstories is a short story collection with a famous person hidden in, and revealed through every story, and unfortunately, sometimes the stories just lacked that emotional power and truth I was looking for – so out they went.  I’ve learned never to short-change my readers or myself with anything less than my best, the long-term cost outweighs the short-term gain  every time. 



What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
My writing is all about character, and my reading too.  The point of a story, (for me), is to have my readers care as deeply as possible about the protagonist.  The plot, whilst important, is merely a vehicle to allow us to expose different aspects of the character, and, once the relationship is established, make the reader anxious for them.  In the end though, if the character isn’t real and vivid, the greatest plot in the world means nothing.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I’m pretty good at kicking tennis balls, after years of practice with Barney the dog. 

Awww, Barney looks very excited to get his paws on another tennis ball in this photo! 🥎

Which literary character is most like you?
I’d like to think I have something in common with many of Graham Greene’s semi-autobiographical characters.  I do mean well, even if I don’t always make the best decisions.

You get a brilliant idea/thought/phrase at an inappropriate moment (eg in the shower or driving) what do you do?
Stop what I’m doing and make a note.  Always.

Do you have any bad habits?
Absolutely not.  And don’t ask my wife. 


Disclaimer: Nicola was unavailable for comment! 😉 🤣

What is your guilty pleasure?
I do like a glass of single malt whisky.  Or two.  Or three…

I'm guessing you might have a glass or three to celebrate this evening Simon! Cheers 🍾

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Now that we all know you a little better, let's talk about Backstories Simon. Can I just start by saying that I think the cover is absolutely stunning! The colours just pop right out at me and I would definitely pick it up if I saw it on the shelf in a bookshop.

 


Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us.  But can you see them?  Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

 

This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

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I'm quite partial to a short story as I think they're great to dip into when you're short on reading time. Yours sound a little different though with their hidden characters. I briefly mentioned your Backstories Challenge earlier Simon, would you care to tell us more about it?


                                                BACKSTORIES CHALLENGE

Find this lost little boy to claim your reward

The Guitar: No doubt about it, he was a bright kid, talented even.  He was quick on his feet and with his mouth too, and he could smack a baseball out of the park.  But he was a Jew, and he was short.  I mean like really short.  The kid was the size of your average third grader when he was twelve years old.  When he was taking those first steps towards manhood.  When it mattered most. And this was back in the fifties, with Sinatra top of the charts, John Wayne High and Mighty on the big screen and New York thrusting itself into the heavens, one skyscraper taller than the next.  It was a one-size-fits-all sort of time, but it didn’t fit him.


Think you can name this guy?

Then enter the Backstories Challenge on my website for your chance to win a copy of this brilliant new collection.

Not sure? No problem. Visit my website to claim the rest of this story for free. The Guitar is available in both print and audio formats, to enjoy as you please.

 

That sounds like a fun challenge and I hope that you get lots of people accepting it!

Thank you so much for joining me here on The Hippo today Simon. I'd like to once again wish you a very happy publication day and I hope you have lots of success with Backstories. I can't wait to dive in to try and sniff out the truth for myself! 🧐

You can find out more about Simon, his book and connect with him using the links below:

Website
Amazon
Goodreads
BookBub
Twitter
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