Sunday 31 January 2021

Blog Tour - The Jam Factory Girls - Mary Wood


I'm always excited when I hear that Mary Wood has a new book coming out and knowing that it's the first in a new series makes it even better!

It's 1911 and Elsie is juggling caring for her siblings and her alcoholic mother, as well as her job at Swift's Jam Factory. The work there is backbreaking but having her best friend Dot beside her makes it easier to bear. The girls have known each other all of their lives as their mother's were once close but something in the past has caused a rift between them and the pair no longer speak.

Elsie and Dot are out in the park one day when they have a chance meeting with Millie, the daughter of the owner of the jam factory and an unlikey friendship blossoms between the three girls. This is a friendship which they will all come to rely on in the future.

I love Mary's books so much because I'm always immediately drawn in by her charming characters and this one was no exception! My heart went out to Elsie right from the start, not only was she struggling to look after her siblings, she had the added worry of the safety of her mum when she was out 'working' the streets to bring in money and then there was the appalling work conditions at the jam factory. I learned a lot about the social history of the time and found it truly fascinating, it was almost as if I was experiencing it first hand.

The Jam Factory Girls is a book that had me smiling one minute and crying the next. It's a genuinely heart- warming tale with friendship at it's core and a magnificent start to another trilogy from this hugely talented author. I honestly can't wait for the next one!

You can follow the tour with these fabulous blogs:

With kind thanks to Mary Wood and Philippa McEwan at Pan Macmillan for my review copy and stop on the blog tour.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Weekend Pass - Paul Cavanagh - Publication Day review & guest post


Weekend Pass is an absorbing story about addiction and the ripple effect that it has on friends and family of the addict.

Tasha has first hand experience of addiction, as her mother is an alcoholic, but Tasha is dealing with her own addiction and she's on her first visit home from the rehabilitation unit when we initially meet her. It soon becomes clear that she's had a lot to deal with recently and a potentially life threatening event has caused her to have to face up to some very hard truths. It's not just Tasha who has to come clean and  confront her demons though, there are people close to her that have issues of their own that need addressing.

What makes this book such an intense read is the fact that it's set over three days. In this time we learn about the events that led to Tasha being admitted into rehab, as well as the devastating repercussions it has on her and her family.

Despite being a relatively short book, Paul Cavanagh packs a lot into the pages which meant that I raced through it in an afternoon. The characters came across so well that it could easily have read as being a real life account of someone's journey through addiction. Either the author has drawn on first hand experience or he has done a lot of thorough research to write such a feasible story. As a result of this I was totally invested in the characters and was crossing my fingers for a positive conclusion to this hard hitting story.

Weekend Pass won't be a book for everyone, due to the potential triggers, but I found it to be a deftly written, emotional and thought provoking read. Don't be fooled into thinking that it will be a depressing novel as it's not - it's a raw, candid and even hopeful insight into addiction that makes for compelling reading. This was my first trip out with Paul Cavanagh and I will definitely be seeking out his others books now as a result.

I'm delighted to be joined by Paul today, who has very kindly taken some time out of his busy publication day schedule to chat about his path to publication.

Welcome to The Hippo Paul and Happy Publication Day! Thank you for stopping by on what must be a very busy and exciting day for you! Shall we start with an introduction?

Photo courtesy of Paul Cavanagh

I’m a novelist who’s best known for being crowned the world’s first Lit Idol at the London Book Fair several years ago. The competition attracted almost 1500 unpublished writers from across the globe. All five finalists were Londoners – but with a twist. You see, I don’t live in the UK. I live in another London, in Canada. That’s why I later adopted the moniker Not That London Writer.

Lit Idol brought me a lot of international media attention. It also got me a publishing deal with HarperCollins in Canada before I’d finished writing the manuscript of my debut novel, After Helen, a story about a history teacher struggling to resolve his feelings towards his larger-than-life late wife, Helen, in order to salvage his relationship with their daughter. The book went on to garner great reviews in Canada, the US, and the British Isles.


                              Unlikely paths to publication

Not long after I won Lit Idol and After Helen was published, I was invited back to the Humber School for Writers in Toronto to talk about my path to publication. One of the other authors on the panel was Vincent Lam, an emergency physician whose debut collection of short stories would go on to win Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize later that year. Vincent got published after pitching his manuscript to Margaret Atwood on an Arctic cruise on which she was a guest speaker and he was the ship’s doctor.


Humber’s Artistic Director later joked that Vincent and I were probably the worst people he could have invited to speak to a room full of aspiring writers about how to get published. After all, going off and winning an international talent contest loosely based on Pop Idol or signing on as a ship’s physician and cornering a world-famous author weren’t tactics others could easily follow. 

                               After the hoopla

In case you’re wondering, being a Lit Idol isn’t like being a Pop Idol. Yes, HarperCollinsCanada bought the rights to publish my debut novel before it was even finished. And yes, the international media coverage I received probably made me the world’s most famous unpublished writer for a week or so. But the publishing industry moves at a slower pace than the recording industry. After Helen was released more than a year after the fanfare of Lit Idol. And by then a lot of the hoopla had died down.

After Helen did well. It even attracted praise from critics who’d been skeptical of the whole Lit Idol idea. But it didn’t take the world by storm the way debut recordings by Pop Idols, American Idols, and Canadian Idols did. In other words, I didn’t make enough to quit my day job.

                              Unspoiled by fame

I guess you could say that I’m unspoiled by fame, mainly because fame visited me so briefly. When I publish a book these days, it doesn’t have nearly the same level of media hype behind it. That said, I still have a lot of fans. And I’m grateful that critics continue to give my work the thumbs up.

I’ve just released my third novel, Weekend Pass, and it’s already attracting wonderful reviews. I’m actively promoting the book in the UK because, well, this is where I got my big break. I feel like I owe the readers here a little something extra.

Weekend Pass is about Tasha, a nurse trying to pick up the pieces of her life during her first weekend home from drug treatment after she accidentally poisons her eight-year-old son. More broadly, it’s about struggling to rise above the mistakes that threaten to define us.

The thing that makes the book special is that it’s told from four different points of view, highlighting the affects of addiction on an extended family. It’s realistic, but it’s also hopeful.

I’m offering special Weekend Pass book launch promotions in January (including price discounts and giveaways of my earlier novels) which you’ll find on my website, And in February, the first five book clubs who contact me will get free ebooks of Weekend Pass for all their members along with a free virtual visit from me.

Having read Weekend Pass I'm sure that it would make a fabulous book club read as there are so many things to discuss. 😉

                              Keeping readers entertained between my novels

It can be a long time between my novels, so to keep my readers entertained I send them a little monthly creative morsel. I do this thing called Famous Book Titles With One Letter Missing where I’ll take a title like Moby Dick, drop a letter, and change it into Mob Dick: “A private detective is blackmailed into working for a crime boss in 1949 Los Angeles.” I also share a piece of Twitter Fiction each month, a complete story that’s no longer than 140 characters. 

Image by LOVL1KEN on


You can find samples on my website. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy word play and quirky storytelling.

I've had a quick peek at this on your website Paul and it is fun and also very clever! I'll definitely be signing up.

Purchase links for Weekend Pass - Amazon UK   Other bookstores 

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

Amazon UK
Amazon US

I'd like to thank Paul for taking the time to stop by today and to wish him a very Happy Publication Day! 

Sunday 17 January 2021

Alex Cohen Series Books 1 - 3 - Leopold Borstinski


I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this fantastic series of books by Leopold Borstinski. I've been a huge fan of fictional character, Alex Cohen, it's a series that just gets better and better with each book and the first three books are now available as a boxset.

Here's a bit about each book followed by my reviews.

Three decades in the life of Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen, as he arrives in the US and forges a life for himself and his family using the blood, sweat and tears of those who stand in his way. 

This digital box set contains the first three books in the saga of Alex Cohen's life: 

The Bowery Slugger: When Alex Cohen arrives in 1915 America, he seizes the land of opportunity with both hands and grabs it by the throat. But success breeds distrust and Alex must choose between controlling his gang and keeping his friend alive. What would you do if the person you trusted most is setting you up to die at your enemies' hands?

The Bowery Slugger is the first book I've read by Leopold Borstinski but it definitely won't be the last!

The year is 1915 and Alex and his Jewish family have travelled to America from Ukraine in search of a safer and better life. The family have very little but manage to find somewhere to live in a tenement and teenage Alex quickly falls in with one of the gangs in The Bowery. This means that he is able to support his family but he tells his family very little about his 'work' as he knows that they won't approve and will worry for his safety.

It doesn't take Alex long to move up the ranks within the gang but this is a double-edged sword as although it means that he's able to earn more money, it also means that he has to increasingly watch his back, as the higher he rises, the less people he can trust.

The other issue he has is that he thinks he could be falling for a girl who lives with her family in the same tenement as him but she views his choice of career badly and tells him in no uncertain terms that although she also has feelings for him, all the time he is a part of the gang they have no future together. Alex seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, which way will he choose to turn?

The Bowery Slugger is a captivating read, with engaging characters that creates a real sense of atmosphere as well as giving a fascinating insight into life for an immigrant trying to survive in a foreign country whilst knowing little of the language. Although this is a tale packed full of violence, I didn't feel that it was unjustified, when people are struggling to survive they will do anything they can to ensure they can put food on the table and a roof over their families heads. The pace is fast and I was completely swept away by the author's skillful story-telling and character deveolpment.

I'm looking forward to finding out what comes next for Alex and I'm eagerly awaiting news of book two in the series. If you enjoy a gritty crime thriller then I'd highly recommend that you give this little beauty a try.

East Side Hustler: Alex returns from the Great War almost destroyed by the horrors he has experienced. When he is plucked from certain death by an old friend, he commits to making so much money he'll never know that agony again. But the route to the top is filled with danger and every time he helps one of his powerful friends like Al Capone, he acquires more enemies who want to see him dead. The turmoil caused by the death of organised crime financier, Arnold Rothstein means Alex must once more fight for his life. How far would you go to seize the American dream? And could you protect your family along the way from the fellas who want to see you dead?

Alex has returned to New York from the frontline in WW1 and life isn't easy for the one-time hustler. He's begging on the streets, suffering from which we now know as PTSD and life is hard. Just when he's at his lowest, his luck changes and he reconnects with old friends which leads to him getting back into the world of organised crime.

Things have moved on in The Bowery and with Prohibition on the horizon all the gangs want the upper-hand and life is even more perilous. Some are more willing to work together than others but knowing who to trust gets more and more difficult and allegiances are tenuous. Alex is lucky that his previous reputation is still strong but could that make him a target as he could be seen as a threat.

East Side Hustler is another sharp and gritty read from Leopold Borstinski. With a great cast of characters, including an appearance of Al Capone, it's a thrilling combination of crime and history and a truly insightful glimpse of life in the roaring 20's when many people defied Prohibition and  rejected many traditional moral standards.

I still can't help being intruigued by Alex. He is a hugely likeable character, despite his hard man exterior, he cares deeply for his family and does everything he can to ensure that they are safe and secure. I'm sure that the next part of his journey will be just as captivating and I can't wait to find out what's coming next.

Midtown Huckster: Alex runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends. If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?

I'm absolutely loving the Alex Cohen series by Leopold Borstinski and I couldn't wait to dive back in to find out what was next on the cards for this exciting character.

Prohibition is coming to an end and Alex needs to find new ways to earn money. He's a member of the ominously titled Murder Corporation, carrying out hits on whoever the syndicate feels has wronged them, but he also needs a more regular source of income.

At the same time, his private life is in turmoil. His estranged wife Sarah is against any kind of reconciliation and he knows that he isn't spending enough time with his boys who are growing up fast. If that wasn't enough to deal with, there's also someone lurking in the background, determined to take Alex and the whole of the syndicate down, Special Prosecutor, Thomas Dewey. The heat is definitely on for Alex this time!

This is a series that just goes from strength to strength with each book. Alex is a strong protagonist, who, despite wanting to get further up the mobster's ladder, is loyal to those he cares about but he also shows a vulnerable side which I feel adds to the authenticity of the character.

Midtown Huckster is a compelling read that gives a hard hitting and unapologetic glimpse into the dark and disturbing world of gangster life in 1930's New York. Flowing effortlessly from chapter to chapter Leopold Borstinski knows how to write a story that will keep his readers gripped and on their toes for the duration. I'm so pleased to hear that there are several more books to come in this series - my only problem is the wait between each one!

                                                     *    *    *    *

Photo courtesy of Leopold Borstinski

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.

Follow the rest of the blog tour with these fabulous blogs:
You can find out more about Leopold, his books and connect with him using the links below:


With kind thanks to Emma at Damppebbles Blog Tours for my stop on the blog tour.