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The Cougar Diaries, Part I
The Cougar Diaries, Part I
Price: £0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, poetic and honest, 12 Aug 2013
When The Cougar Diaries became the most popular book on [...] and stayed there for a record-breaking five days, I set aside a weekend to read the full text.
Although it appears to be erotica, it is in fact a beautifully written slice of life. The Cougar Diaries chronicles the adventures of a Dublin housewife who, five years after being deserted by her husband, decides to experiment with casual sex.

Her trysts, which are fewer than you might think; are described with a level of honesty and humour that renders them almost innocent. We quickly take the side of Aoife on her journey to discover the pleasures which were missing from her marriage. Along the way we learn about the difficulties of raising two teenage boys on your own, while holding down a demanding full-time job and narrowly avoiding redundancy. We also learn about the value of friendship: without the support of her brother and a few close friends, Aoife would soon have been on anti-depressants.

I looked up the name Aoife (it's pronounced ee + fa and the English equivalent is Eva or Ava). It means beautiful, radiant or joyful. Known as the greatest woman warrior in the world, Aoife was the mother of Cuchulainn's (read the legend) only son, Connlach. Aoife Dearg ("Red Aoife") was a daughter of a king of Connacht who had her marriage arranged by St. Patrick himself.

This chimes with the protagonist and narrator, Aoife Brennan. We know she's beautiful because many men are attracted to her (although she never tells us that herself), and there is something brave and almost warrior-like about the campaign she wages to rediscover sex in her early forties.

This is an intelligent, carefully crafted book which tells us how the human spirit can overcome rejection and despair. Only the Mother Grundys among us will object to the graphic, but honest descriptions of sex. This novel is entertaining, poetic and honest. I look forward to part two.

Let's Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books (Let's Get Publishing)
Let's Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books (Let's Get Publishing)
Price: £2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for authors and publishers, 7 Jun 2013
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Anyone who has published an eBook will understand the problem of visibility. You are going to have hundreds of thousands of competitors, and only a handful will come to the top of buyers' searches.

My rationale for buying this was simple; it appeared on my Amazon page while I was looking for something else. The simple fact that its author was able to put it there is a testament to his skill, and I bought it without hesitation.

Amazon is famously tight lipped about the algorithms that drive sales on its website, and there are many myths about their methods. This book clearly and simply explains how Amazon works, and how they decide whose work is promoted. Using data thrown up by a dedicated group of bloggers who have patiently tested the system with their own work, David Gaughran has distilled their findings into a simple methodology.

Reading it will help you avoid the mistakes that many self-published authors (this one included) have made. Without a good grasp of eBook visibility, you are going to struggle.

This book is concise, well-written, and avoids the unnecessary repetion and hyperbole which so often spoils `how to' guides.

It's essential reading for both self-published authors, and publishers. Easily the best book of its kind that I've come across.

An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo
An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English political and social history at its best, unmissable!, 5 Jun 2013
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The 1963 Profumo affair is often described as Britain's `worst' political scandal, a turning point in the nation's sexual mores, and a precursor of the swinging sixties. None of those assertions really hold up: the Jeremy Thorpe trial of 1979 was profoundly more serious, and attitudes to sex had been changing since 1960, when an Old Bailey jury decided that D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was not obscene.

Nonetheless, Profumo holds a special place in the British psyche: a unique cocktail of stately homes, swimming pools, politicians, spies, tarts and orgies. The fiftieth anniversary has prompted a new analysis by Richard Davenport-Hines: An English Affair, Sex Class and Power in the Age of Profumo.

In the opening pages the author recalls his father driving up Park Lane in a black Alvis with the hood down, stopping at the then new Hilton Hotel, and announcing with pride that another hotel was planned next door. In this thumbnail sketch we see how the boy's reactions to the age were formed. His father was one of a breed who loved modern architecture, fast cars, leggy mistresses and the brash new showiness of the times. Today, the dated and unlovely Hilton still dominates Park Lane and reminds us of a different age.

Davenport-Hines meticulously sets the scene for his story, reminding us that it was a relaxation in planning laws by Macmillan's government which not only scarred the London skyline but created a new breed of millionaire speculators. At the same time, dilapidated Victorian terraces were being rented to the poor by slum landlords like Rachman, who kept Mandy Rice-Davies as his mistress.

The author plots, in detail, the many strands of English history which led to that fateful meeting by the Cliveden swimming pool. They include a patrician, grouse shooting prime minister who ran his cabinet as if it were a gentlemen's club in St James; a vindictive press baron who detested the Astor family and an ambitious Labour leader keen to undermine a government already weakened by spy scandals.

Into this high octane mix blundered society osteopath Stephen Ward; a swinger who liked introducing pretty young girls to his wealthy and powerful friends. He was charming, garrulous and wildly indiscreet. It is Ward, more than anyone else, who will be the victim; and his indiscretion will cost him his life. We now know, beyond any doubt, that his show trial was a sham; the police intimidated witnesses and fabricated evidence. Ward was not a pimp, and Keeler and Rice-Davies were not prostitutes. They were all promiscuous, and the girls accepted money and gifts from their lovers, but they did not sell sex. For Ward, the final and unbearable blow was the desertion of his friends and he committed suicide the night before his trial ended.

Today, the high jinks at Cliveden would barely raise an eyebrow. The Cold War is over; we have lived through worse scandals and now hold our politicians in low regard. Keeler and Rice-Davies would be reality television stars with their own brands of perfume, and Ward would have written a best-selling autobiography. Britain however, was a very different place in 1963.

The author combines impeccable research with delightful style; his prose is beautifully crafted and richly articulated. I cannot remember the last time I saw the word frottage in any book, but I enjoyed being reminded of it and did not begrudge my occasional trips to the dictionary. This is English political and social history at its best, unmissable!

My Father, The Assassin
My Father, The Assassin
by J W Finnigan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and surprising tale, 22 May 2013
A fascinating and surprising tale of intrigue and adventure in both Devon and post-war Malaya. An unexpected visit from a Malayan prince suddenly throws new light on the life and death of a roguish father. His daughter begins to discover, by degrees, that her father was significantly more than the worthless drunkard and boaster she had always taken him for. There are many surprising twists and turns in this unusual novel, and it is well worth reading.

Sell Your Books! a Book Promotion Handbook for the Self-Published or Indie Author
Sell Your Books! a Book Promotion Handbook for the Self-Published or Indie Author
by Alison Baverstock
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, practical, well written and full of that indispensable ingredient, common sense, 21 May 2013
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There are many books and websites offering to show authors and publishers how to publicise and sell their books. I have read five or six, and this is by far the best. Intelligent, practical, well-written and full of that indispensable ingredient, common sense. It also has the unmistakable ring of a work produced from long experience. If you're bewildered by the choice, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father (Kindle Single)
James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father (Kindle Single)
Price: £1.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Deighton's recall for intricate detail and his matchless descriptions of time and place, make this a delightful read., 17 May 2013
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Cold War spy novels were a product of the 1960s. No sooner had the Berlin Wall come down, than they became as démodé as flared jeans or floral shirts. But, like other ephemera of the time, the best of them stay in our minds and on our shelves.

My personal favourites are Len Deighton's. I found the James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels too coldly brutal, and John le Carré's George Smiley a little too cerebral. I preferred Harry Palmer, Deighton's bespectacled, irreverent but deeply patriotic working class hero, who was flawlessly portrayed on screen by Michael Caine (Palmer, by the way, was never named in the novels, only in the films).

Deighton is 84 and still writing. He is a polymath; in addition to novels he writes history, cookery books, and screenplays, as well as being an accomplished illustrator.

I have just read his latest work: James Bond, my long and eventful search for his father. Like his earlier spy novels, it is compulsive reading and I devoured it at a single sitting.

Deighton knew Fleming, but the main source for this book was his friendship with an Irish film producer called Kevin McClory. If you've ever wondered how the cruel, humourless, Blower-Bentley-driving James Bond of the early novels evolved into the suave, witty, hi-tech, Aston Martin-driving James Bond of the screen, this book holds the answers.

Hollywood didn't discover James Bond by chance; Fleming had approached McClory as early as 1958 to try and get a film made. McClory knew that the character could only be adapted for film with extensive changes, and Fleming became one of a group who produced a screenplay called Longitude 78 West (later renamed Thunderball) which went into pre-production. They later quarrelled and McClory was pushed out of the project. Because of the dispute, filming of Thunderball was delayed and Dr No became the first Bond movie to reach the screen. Fleming subsequently turned Thunderball into the ninth Bond novel without crediting McClory or the other contributors. The two sued each other, and the case reached the High Court. McClory won, but was ruined by the costs of the case.

From this improbable mÍlée was born the most successful film series of all time. Deighton's recall for intricate detail and his matchless descriptions of time and place, make this a delightful read. There have been many books about Hollywood's bizarre accounting practises, but this is by far the most entertaining and insightful I have come across. A great short read.

To Romania With Love
To Romania With Love
Price: £3.60

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful, entertaining and beautifully written book., 24 April 2013
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At the recent London Book Fair I joined a crowd listening to a live interview. I recognised the face and voice of the broadcaster Tessa Dunlop, and stopped to listen. She was speaking passionately and animatedly about a subject she clearly knew a lot about: Romania. I dredged up my own knowledge of that nation, and found it could be expressed in just two sentences: it had been a Warsaw Pact country under the control of a Stalinist monster called Ceauşescu, who created the most grotesque police state in Eastern Europe (no small feat). He was executed following the collapse of the Iron Curtain, at which point western television audiences began to see harrowing images of neglected orphans disowned by the state. Most of us simply shuddered and hoped that someone would care for them; Ms Dunlop decided to go there and work in one of the orphanages. The result of her travels is a book entitled To Romania With Love. Having listened to her speak for a few minutes, I knew I had to read it.

For an author to win my trust, they must first show me (preferably on the first couple of pages), that irrespective of content, they can use language well. This was quickly achieved, here's an early paragraph:

"I didn't sleep that night. Instead I tasted small country apples, learnt please, thank you and I want in Romanian and pocketed several random addresses that all looked the same. I thrilled an old woman with a Murray Mint. Her naked guns contorted with joy and for a brief second she was a child again. I talked all night with no language; soon I was showing a young woman the contents of my bag. I held up a box of Tampax. She nodded sagely and pocketed two wrapped tampons as souvenirs."

We are not spared any of the horror of post-communist Romania, but the story is told through the lives of ordinary Rumanians whom she comes to know. Against the backdrop of an outlandishly dysfunctional country is a moving story of ordinary people struggling to survive and improve themselves, notably to learn English, which is seen as a passport to prosperity. Dunlop has a clear eye and manages to be emotional without being sentimental; we know we are making this journey in safe hands.

Her friendship with a twelve year old boy named Vlad becomes so close that she persuades a Scottish private school to take him on as a pupil, and gets her family to look after him between terms. Later he will come to play a very different role in the author's life, but I've no wish to betray a surprise ending.

This is a delightful, entertaining and beautifully written book which throws light on a country few of us know anything about. Try it, if you like being pleasantly surprised.

Babette's Feast (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)
Babette's Feast (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)
Price: £2.07

5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful jewel of a story, 14 April 2013
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This afternoon I reread Babette's Feast, a short story by Karen Blixen, best known for of Out of Africa.

The theme of a shared meal, and its ability to transform events or even to change lives, is a common one in literature. Writers have always use food and wine to bring about changes in mood, confessions, confrontations, and of course, seductions. From the Last Supper to Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, meals have meant drama.

Babette's Feast is a beautiful jewel of a story set in a quiet, rigorously Lutheran village in Norway. Two spinster sisters live a life of religious observation, modesty and prayer among the congregation of their late father, who had been the minister. Babette, a refugee from the Paris Commune, arrives unexpectedly with a letter from a long-rejected suitor of the younger sister, begging to be given shelter.

For twelve years she works tirelessly and becomes a model servant. She rarely, if ever, speaks of her former life, until she unexpectedly wins ten thousand Francs in a lottery.

He parting gift to the sisters is a French meal, to which twelve of their friends are invited. General Lorens Löwenhielm arrives with his aunt, but finds himself brought low by melancholic thoughts of his youth. Returning to the house has reminded him of his unrequited love for the younger sister.

As a young officer he had spent several years in Paris, where he gained a taste for, and some knowledge of, fine food and wine. To his astonishment, the meal flawlessly recreates the signature dishes of the Café Anglais, and its celebrated chef, whose work he had once been captivated by.

This is an enchanting story, simply and skilfully told, by a writer at the height of her powers. Perhaps Blixen too, on her farm in Africa, sometimes yearned for the magic of great food and conversation.

The Girls Of Slender Means
The Girls Of Slender Means
by Muriel Spark
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving and poignant story, 22 Feb 2013
This delightfully short novella is set in the May of Teck Club, a hostel for middle class girls in post-war Kensington. Nicholas Farringdon, an anarchist poet, falls in love with Selina, the most beautiful of the club's inmates. Throughout one summer they make love on the roof, accessible only from a tiny window in an upstairs lavatory. Below them, Selina's friends look for love and marriage (not always in the same places) and share a single Schiaparelli ball gown. When a hidden bomb destroys the building and kills one of the girls, Nicholas finally sees Selina's cold heart and ruthless nature. The experience converts him to Catholicism and the priesthood. Muriel Spark's language sparkles in this moving and poignant story.

Samsung S22B300HS 21.5 inch Widescreen LED Monitor - Gloss Black (1920 x 1080 Full HD, 5ms, HDMI/VGA)
Samsung S22B300HS 21.5 inch Widescreen LED Monitor - Gloss Black (1920 x 1080 Full HD, 5ms, HDMI/VGA)
Offered by Ballicom International
Price: £125.08

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A very poor product, 15 Feb 2013
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A very poor product. The screen resolution and contrast are so poor that you cannot read normal-sized type clearly. No amount of adjustment made it any clearer. Both pictures and text are soft, lacking in contrast and difficult to read. Also, the product was supplied with a Continental two-pin plug, which I had to cut off and replace with a British three-pin plug. I'm very disappointed.
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