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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

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. 


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Into The Shadows - Marie Jones





Blurb
Arriving home from a short holiday in Dingle, Lily Crossways makes a staggering discovery – on one of her photos taken on 'Inch' beach, a woman's desperate face is staring directly at her. Yet Lily knows she was alone that day on the beach.

Who is she, is she even real, and why has she appeared to Lily?

Unable to let the woman go, Lily makes the uncharacteristic decision to leave behind her safe world in England and return to Dingle to try and find her. Her search eventually leads her to cafe owner David Carson, this woman's brother, who hasn't seen his 'missing' sister in five years.

Lily must now convince him to trust in her, taking bold steps to prove herself to him, and together track down his sister before it’s too late.

Yet are either prepared for the hidden secrets they are about to uncover in their earnest desire to find her, and the impact it will have on those they love?
 


When I was contacted by the author, Marie Jones and read the above blurb for her book Into The Shadows, I knew that it was something I wanted to read. I like books that have an air of mystery in them and this one didn't disappoint.

Protagonist Lily  can be described as a control freak. She goes through her day-to-day life with her head down, trying to avoid confrontation but never really experiencing life due to her shyness. When she returns from a short break in Dingle she's looking through her photographs and as she's flicking through them she's stunned to see a woman staring straight at her in one of them. The reason she's so shocked is that Lily is convinced that she was the only person on Inch beach that particular day.

No matter how hard Lily tries to put the image out of her head, she just can't shake the feeling that there's a reason behind why this woman chose to appear to Lily and that the mysterious woman is silently asking for her help. Lily decides that she needs to throw caution to the wind and heads back to Dingle armed with the picture of her mystery lady in search of answers.

After a few false starts Lily shows the photo to cafe owner David, whose sister disappeared five years ago. Thinking that it's an elaborate hoax, David is angry and demands answers that Lily doesn't have but she manages to convince him that she has no reason to lie to him and so the two of them set out to try and solve the mystery.

I really enjoyed reading this book and thanks to the author's wonderful descriptions of Dingle and Inch beach it's a place I want to visit. Into The Shadows is beautifully written with just the right mix of romance and mystery to enable the story to flow nicely and the little touch of supernatural kept me guessing. I found Lily to be an endearing character and I liked the way she talked to herself, which was a lovely way to give the reader a glimpse into what's going on in her head so that you can understand her insecurities.

This is the perfect book for reading snuggled up on your sofa or in your favourite chair, with a big mug of hot chocolate and maybe even a few biscuits, while you let yourself be transported to the picturesque Emerald Isle by this talented author.

If you'd like to find out more about Marie Jones or connect with her, you can use the links below:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

With kind thanks to author Marie Jones for the review copy.