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Vbiger Men's Leisurable Leather Male Belt with Automatic Belt (49.2 inches, Reddish Brown)
Vbiger Men's Leisurable Leather Male Belt with Automatic Belt (49.2 inches, Reddish Brown)
Offered by HelloLady
Price: £21.25

4.0 out of 5 stars VERY GOOD QUALITY, 29 May 2016
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I have always preferred ratchet belts rather than the more traditional belts with a tongue and hole for a buckle but, most often, the belt itself gets nibbled away until, finally, it needs renewal. That's because the very end of the belt, where it fits into the toothed slot that fixes the buckle to the belt, slowly softens until the leather gives way and 15mm of leather has to be cut off to make a fresh connection. Eventually (but only after many years), the belt is too short.

So this time, while ordering a new belt (just the leather without the buckle), I ordered a whole new belt too. This one designed to go with my brown and tan clothes as opposed to my black leather belts, arrived very quickly and looks as smart in real life as the picture portrays. Everything looks to be of very good quality and I look forward to years of service!


The Spider's War: Book Five of the Dagger and the Coin
The Spider's War: Book Five of the Dagger and the Coin
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars JUST THE BEST, 20 April 2016
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Ah, the end of the series! This Dagger & Coin series has been one of the best and most satisfying set of books that I've ever read in this genre; easily up there with GRR Martin and Mark Lawrence etc and, in my opinion, better than Tolkien. So, although I'm glad to reach the grand finale, it's saddening to think that there won't be any more of Cithrin or Marcus or Yardem. Or will there? Revealing why there is scope for another book here would be a spoiler so I won't do that but, if it ever occurs, then I'll be downloading it with the speed of a plummeting dragon.

I'd like to wax lyrical about the virtues of this book and this series but I know that, as reviews go, this one is fairly pointless. If you haven't read any of the earlier books in the series, then you won't be starting here, with the final book. And if you have read the others, then you already know just how superb they are and you don't need me to tell you and I doubt that anything I could say here would deter you from burying yourself in this, the last in the series, whatever I said. And quite right too!

As an ending, it is pretty good. Not great, but still good enough to not disgrace the previous novels. My heart was warmed by parts of the ending and I confess to having been fooled by the, most welcome, plot twist at the end. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ambiguity with which the scaled 'villain' was written out; I'm not a fan of entirely neat endings.

I'm going on to another book now and I don't envy that author as, having just put down The Spider's War, it has an awful lot to do to impress me
now. That sound you can hear is me, sighing with contentment.


The Man in the White Suit: The Stig, Le Mans, The Fast Lane and Me
The Man in the White Suit: The Stig, Le Mans, The Fast Lane and Me
Price: £6.49

3.0 out of 5 stars TAME RACING DRIVER : TAME STORY, 20 Mar. 2016
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Before I bought this, I didn't fully understand what lay behind many of the comments of other reviewers about needing to be a real 'racing fanatic' to fully enjoy it. Now I do.

As one of the army of Top Gear fans (and also a closet admirer of Jeremy Clarkson's written work), I've read a couple of the books about the series and Richard Porter's 'And On That Bombshell' is quite good, although still a bit reserved. Reviewers said that The Man In The White Suit was better. Well, in my humble opinion, it's neither better nor worse, it's just tame in a different way. The book follows the life, quite loosely, of Ben Collins, through his racing career to date, an attempt at a military career (I remain unconvinced on this) and his weird life as The Stig. Oddly, I found the detailed story of his army recruitment training the most interesting although, of course, his tales of the stars that he met in 'a reasonably priced car' are also entertaining.

I struggled to form an opinion of the real nature of Ben Collins, switching from thinking him a narcissistic egomaniac to a thoughtful yet driven (no pun intended) man, and back again, The problem is that, although the odd self-deprecating remark or anecdote is thrown in, they aren't convincing and all of them seem carefully intended to fabricate an image of humility. At no point does Ben Collins consider himself to be anything less than an action 'He Man' and hero. With very few exceptions, whenever Mr Collins doesn't win a race or appears to fail in his aims in any way, there is always an extenuating reason that means that it isn't his fault.

I'm lead to believe that every word here was written by Ben Collins and not by a ghost writer. I can believe that, but that's not a criticism as, in general, the writing style is quite good and in a vernacular that I would expect from Mr Collins. There's certainly nothing screaming "amateur" about this style. That's hardly surprising given that, although barely given a mention in this book, Ben Collins has been writing for magazines and journals for years.

My biggest gripe, and why I now understand the warning of "for race nuts only" is that the whole book is laced with every race that BC has ever undertaken, in excruciating detail. That's every gear change, every touch on a pedal, every slide, every emotion. And for every race. If Ben Collins really can remember how he took the third corner, for the fourth time (what gear, what racing line, what the track surface was like, what the tyres were like, the pressure required on pedals and lots more), in a race that he entered ten years ago, then either the intensity of racing burns all of this onto the memory forever or BC kept an unbelievably detailed diary. Or he's making it up now. I just didn't care how he remembered all of this stuff, it simply isn't interesting. And there's lots and lots of this.

Like Richard Porter's book,Mr Collins never mentions anyone in any negative way at all. All of the TG crew are phenomenal, the three presenters are awesome and every star met is simply wonderful. Absolutely no shocks then. Then there's the ending of the book. I was hoping for an honest account of how the unmasking and revelation occurred and the immediate aftermath of that, but I was disappointed. The book falls mute at the point at which BC 'moves on to a new and better life'.

I did enjoy many of the anecdotes about the making of TG and I did learn a little bit that corrected some of my earlier assumptions. My main enjoyment came from the descriptions of working with the stars in the 'reasonably priced car', especially those sections that contrasted one of my all-time heroes, Ranulph Feinnes, with the full showbiz entourage following Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz and the Formula 1 team machine that make an appearance by Shumaker into a state visit.

It seems strange that some parts of Ben Collins' life are simply skimmed over or not mentioned at all. His childhood in America and his studying for a law degree, for example. This book has lots of sections about his army training but almost nothing about his four years service in the AArmy Reserve, and I would have liked much more on his job, in the Army, training driving techniques to Special Forces. The link between Collis' own company and his unveiling as The Stig isn't mentioned at all (it began with a journalist examining the annual accounts of Collins' company and seeing where the income came from).

I very nearly gave this book four stars as, in general, I did enjoy it. In the end, it lost a star because of the endless drudgery of the mind-numbingly identical racing detail. And, if I'm honest, perhaps a little because I just didn't warm to Ben Collins. I'm sure that being a successful racing driver demands a self confidence that breeds a special ego and the sections describing army selection illustrate how powerful that ego can be as a driving factor in a personality. It shows in this book. By the way, has anybody heard of Ben Collins recently? If TG has gone to Amazon in America, can we expect to see Ben Collins again?


The Deliveryman: A Lincoln Rhyme Short Story (Kindle Single)
The Deliveryman: A Lincoln Rhyme Short Story (Kindle Single)
Price: £0.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MARIAH CAREY OF A BOOK, 6 Mar. 2016
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This is a Mariah Carey of a story; short but a proper Deaver. I was hooked on Deaver books, many years ago, because he had something unique; a device so powerful it could latch onto a reader and change that reader forever. Not only was/is this device utterly addictive, but, almost uniquely, it couldn't be replicated on a TV or movie screen because it could only be realised in the imagination of a reader of text. Odd, given Mr Deaver's connections to the TV world but, although I've seen the device used by others more recently (but never as well), it remains a Deaver speciality. Since those first books, the magic device hasn't always appeared in every book but it's certainly here, in The Deliveryman, and I loved it.

So what is this magic and wonderful device? The reader translates the print into mental images and follows the story though a sort of internal movie screen. Different for every reader but still the same process and the 'pictures' are the from the same story board. And my own mind wouldn't trick me, would it? So it comes as a huge shock when, part way through the story, everything that your mind has constructed, including lots of the images, is revealed to be false. JD hasn't fooled you; you've fooled yourself. In some of the earlier books (and the best example is in The Coffin Dancer), I felt so cheated that I went back and re-read large sections to see where Mr Deaver had lied to me. Of course, he hadn't; he'd just employed a masterful use of language to weave a false image in my imagination. These days, there are lots of documentaries about how the mind works and, especially, about how it takes just a sip of information and builds an entire picture of what it expects to see. That's exactly the mechanism that Jeffery Deaver has been exploiting for many years.

It's no accident that some of JD's books have been translated into film and some haven't. Those works that employ 'the magic device' just couldn't be filmed (at least, not without being clunky) because the eyes would reveal instantly what the mind has deceived the reader into believing. Forget those old films that only ever show the feet of someone, or only ever from the back; today's audience immediately picks up that this is someone that can't be shown because the audience would recognise him/her. And The Deliveryman is far more sophisticated than that. So don't expect to see this made into film any time soon. My delight is knowing that, even though I've forewarned you of these tricks, you'll still fall for them. That's the skill of Jeffery Deaver.

The story itself is also typical and uses characters with whom Deaver fans will already be familiar. The style of setting up tension, a surprising event, and then a bit of flash-back to reveal how the villain has been thwarted is a form with which fans will also be familiar. I once read an illuminating comment from Mr Deaver about the skill required to craft a short story; it being more challenging than a full length novel and, not only has that comment remained in my consciousness, but it is expressed very eloquently here. The Deliveryman is small yet perfectly formed; a full length novel pared down to leave only what is necessary to tell the tale.

There is a 'tempter' chapter of JD's next book here too but, as I've pre-ordered The Steel Kiss and don't want to spoil anything, I averted my gaze at that point. All of JD's novels are so immersive that I'm surprised that the publishers chose to use the 'teaser' mechanism; a Deaver novel isn't to be dipped into like a coffee table book; it's a commitment from the reader.

Not every JD book is of the same, spectacular, standard and there are a couple of 'turkeys' in there. But, short story or no, The Deliverman is up there with his very best.


The Arena (A gripping short story in the bestselling Eagles of Rome series)
The Arena (A gripping short story in the bestselling Eagles of Rome series)
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars GLADIATORIAL ACCURACY, 5 Mar. 2016
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I know that this is a free short story but, boy, it really is short. This snippet wouldn't come close to making a chaper in a 'real' book and is, really, just an episode in the life of Marcus Piso, a legionary character in the main series. So this isn't a satisfying read at all; it's a bit like having the theatre close down just as you've heard the overture.

However, the detail of life in a Roman frontier town is as pin sharp as ever from Ben Kane and it's what sets him apart as an author in this crowded field. In particular, the details of the gladiatorial combat are excellent although I was surprised, as no one really knows for sure how the signal was made that determined whether a fallen gladiator was slain or survived, that Mr Kane has opted for the traditional 'thumbs up'. Otherwise, the gladiatorial scenes in this short story were more authentic than I have seen in any mainstream novel.

There is a 'taster chapter' of the next book in the series but I didn't read that as I intend to buy the full novel as soon as it's available.

So, short then, but, hey, it's free so I'm not going to complain!


The Shrine (A gripping short story in the bestselling Eagles of Rome series)
The Shrine (A gripping short story in the bestselling Eagles of Rome series)
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A SNACK, 5 Mar. 2016
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I know that this is a free short story but, boy, it really is short; it wouldn't come close to making a chapter in a 'real' book. It's just an episode in the life of Tullus, the main character in the series. As such, it isn't at all a satisfying read. As with the other, 'real' books, the level of detail used in describing life in a roman town on the frontier is excellent and the pace moves well too.

Of the two free short stories written in this set, I prefer the other one, 'The Arena', but only because I loved the scenes of gladiatorial combat in that one.

So very lightweight then but, hey, for free I'm not going to grumble!


Gate of the Dead (Master of War)
Gate of the Dead (Master of War)
Price: £1.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE SAME BUT MORE, 29 Feb. 2016
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Like the preceding books in this series, the combination of historical accuracy and rollicking action is brilliant. In this, the third of the series, there's even more of both. The complex politics of these turbulent times is woven into the plot extremely skilfully and, although I'm sure that the eyes of many will glaze over at the national and familial links that so clouded this era in history, for me it just made everything seem so much more 'real'.

This time, there's even more action and Blackstone and his crew hardly have time to sleep between bouts of cutting a swathe through hordes of opponents. Also as before, the English archer is lauded here although, after a while, the almost superhuman prowess of some of these archers becomes a little tiresome and the phrase ' a bodkin tipped yard of ash' gets a bit overused.

Although there aren't too many surprises in the plot and you don't have to be genius to guess who the mystery assassin really is, there are some deaths that shock a little as, by then, the reader will have decided that these characters are too important to kill off. But die they do!

The end of the book seems to be a little rushed, as though this episode had been finished now and David Gilman just wanted to set his hero up for the next book. So, spoiler alert, there will be another book and that means that Blackstone must return. Minor grumbles aside, I'll be buying it.l


And On That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of TOP GEAR
And On That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of TOP GEAR
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars SHOCK-FREE FUN, 7 Feb. 2016
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There are quite a few of these books out just now and, I believe, several of them are less than brilliant. Happily, this one is really good. It very nearly got that fifth star from me; not quite. Now, I have to confess that, not only was I a fan of Top Gear, but I also really like the writing of Jeremy Clarkson and his columns are superbly humorous in that irreverent and wildly over the top manner for which he is famous. So I was delighted to find echoes of that form in Richard Porter's writing style; it's like a slightly toned down version of Clarkson himself and that's a good things as it has just the right amount of abrasion and humour.

One of the things that gives this book, among all of those jumping on the Top Gear bandwagon, real authority is that, rather than being written by someone who was connected to the TV show for a while and then moved on, the author, Richard Porter, was a key member of the team for almost the entire life of the show. In an echo of Jeremy Clarkson's book style, Richard Porter has formed this book as a series of distinct and short chapters that each deals with a separate topic with no real link from one chapter to the next. Quite a lot of what is in here isn't revelationary; most readers will know all of this, but there are genuine snippets of insight into the world of TG and, certainly, enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

So why no fifth star? Well, I wasn't expecting some explosive 'outing' declaring that one of the stars had a penchant for sexual shenanigans with a pigs head or something (oh, hang on, where have I heard that before?) but I did get a little tired of constantly hearing how absolutely wonderful everyone was. All of the presenters, not just the latest three, were paragons of TV presenting. Every member of the production crew were skilled and dedicated beyond the limits of mere mortals. Every star guest was so charming that you wanted them to be the godparent of your child. And even the BBC is expressed as an employer of such largesse and understanding as to be biblical. If you were hoping for a juicy tidbit of gossip about the private lives of any of the presenters or, for example, any of the very public 'shamings' of Mr Clarkson issued by the tabloid press with steady monotony, then you will be sorely disappointed. The harshest criticism expressed by Mr Porter is 'disappointed' and this is reserved for Ben Collins' unmarking as The Stig and Jeremy Clarkson's final attack on one of the staff that ended the show. I couldn't help thinking that Richard Porter, a freelance script editor whose 'permanent' posting to Top Gear has recently ended abruptly and who sees other, Amazon Prime, doors opening for the three presenters, would quite like to stay on the right side of folk in case there are any more jobs in the offing.

Did I learn anything from this book? You bet! For example, I never really believed that the true identity of The Stig was really so rigorously protected and I imagined that the helmet only went on for filming; but now I know that I was wrong. And I really enjoyed the chapter describing the 'Best of British' programme because it remains one of my very favourite Top Gear shows. So, all in all, I enjoyed this book and, so long as you don't expect to be shocked, you will too.


Half a War (Shattered Sea, Book 3)
Half a War (Shattered Sea, Book 3)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A BRILLIANT CONCLUSION TO AN EXCELLENT SAGA, 31 Jan. 2016
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I'm a sucker for reading reviews before I read the book and, in this case, there were a few critical reviews. So, having been incredibly impressed with the first two books in this series, I began with a little trepidation about this third and final (I think!) book in the series. I needn't have worried as this book encompasses all of the things that I loved about the first two and moves the characters and the story along, at a cracking pace, to a proper conclusion.

Having really enjoyed the first book; 'Half A King', which focussed on a main character of Yarvi, I expected the second book, 'Half The World', to continue the story with Yarvi as the main character. When, instead, it introduced a new main character in Thorn Bathu, while keeping Yarvi as a significant player, I found this writing device to be fresh, interesting and a delight. Prepared as I was, then, I wasn't too surprised to find that the story continues in 'Half A War' with a new central character and, again, Yarvi and Thorn Bathu are there too in significant roles. If I think about it, many good authors use this device but most do it through huge books, such as GRR Martin's Ice & Fire series wherein each chapter focusses on one character with almost no link to the earlier folk. Joe Abercrombie's version of this device works strikingly well.

Like the other two books, what makes these so good is the combination of a rich depth of well developed characters that move through a dynamic story filled with gory action and all backed by a thoughtful sub-text that allows heroes to 'go bad' and villains to redeem themselves. No monochrome here but infinite shades of tone and colour.

One criticism that I picked up from a reviewer was that Mr Abercrombie kills off important characters in careless fashion. Having read it for myself, I understand what was meant by this as at least two of the more significant characters (hero and sort-of-villain) die in ways that, to me, don't seem to fit their character. If, at the end of a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film the villain just died of old age or choked on a pretzel, we'd all be disappointed. And the amusing scene in the Indiana Jones film that has Harrison Ford simply shooting a sword twirling thug rather than engaging in a full-on fight only worked because the recipient of the bullet was an unknown thug and not a major character. Yet that's the tone of a couple of events in 'Half A War'. There are, however, a couple of mitigating considerations. Firstly, one of the major successes of books like this is that the reader recognises a very real possibility that the hero might, actually, die, generating a proper sense of jeopardy. I dislike fantasy books that use too much 'magic' as, even if a hero dies, he/she can simply be magically brought back to life. Joe Abercrombie always stays on just the right side of this line. Secondly is a tenuous connection to real life; a strange thing to say about a fantasy novel I know. Yet, by inserting a few mundane events, it makes the more bizarre events that bit more believable. Ernest Tidyman was a prolific and hugely successful author who, among other triumphs, wrote the series of books using 'Shaft' as his private detective hero, translated into several blockbuster films (and some less-blockbuster too). When Mr Tidyman decided that the time had come to kill off his hero, before he became stale, he did it by waiting until the very end of a novel and, after surviving yet another adventure and emerging the hero, an exhausted Shaft enters the lift to his apartment only to be meaninglessly knifed to death by a totally unconnected drug-fuelled youth in an amateur mugging. Shocking as this was, I think that it was entirely appropriate for that series of books. So I'll forgive Mr Abercrombie his brutally inappropriate ends of a few characters.

But is this the end? Part of the brilliance of these books is the slow turning of characters from hero to, well, if not villain, then at least a less attractive character. So, at the end, the monsters have been vanquished but only to be replaced with fledgling new monsters. Perhaps I'm clutching at straws but the never-actually-seen monster of Grandmother Wexxen vanished from the story in an ambiguous manner. And many of the characters arrive at the end of this book with a conclusion of one saga but looking at a beginning of all sorts of other stories. There is also the matter of villain-turned-hero characters too. Unlike other novels at least one of these survives to sail away into the sunset. Really? Is Joe Abercrombie going to leave all of these delicious inventions to fade into memory or will there be a resurrection that prevents this 'Half' series from becoming a trilogy?

I do so hope so 'cos I've loved all three of these and I would welcome another episode with open arms.


As I Was Saying . . .: The World According to Clarkson Volume 6
As I Was Saying . . .: The World According to Clarkson Volume 6
Price: £4.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CLASSIC CLARKSON, 17 Jan. 2016
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I've written reviews of all of the other Clarkson books that I've read (that's most of them) so I won't blather on again here as my comments are, pretty much, the same. These books cause a serious disharmony in my self image. I think of myself as fair, honest, reasonable and as little prone to prejudice as it's possible for an average man to be. I know that I don't the human that inhabits Jeremy Clarkson's skin and so, logically, I should not enjoy his outpourings and I should, very definitely, not agree with a single word. So it disturbs me that I thoroughly enjoy reading these books and, worse still, I actually agree with some of the sentiment within them, if not the manner of expression. I must be a bad person then!

As with other such books, this is just a collection of JC's weekly newspaper column articles and so, effectively, a way for MR C to be paid twice for the same work. But each snippet is just right to be entertaining, outrageous and enjoyable without the space to become ponderous or taken too literally. More than any other writer that I know, when I read these words, I actually hear Jeremy Clarkson's voice in my head; he writes exactly as he speaks (or the other way around but it doesn't matter). For me, that's the joy of it. The hyperbole is such that it's impossible to take much of it seriously but at the core of each article there is often a salient and thought-provoking point.

In this book, JC 'comes out' far further than previously about his fervent support for Conservatives and their policies and his hatred of all things Labour or 'leftie'. Given my own political standpoint, that makes me uncomfortable but it's still written is an engaging style to enjoy. Indeed, little here will have you rolling about holding your sides in painful laughter but just about everything is interestingly amusing. Perhaps a title of 'QI' for 'Quite Interesting' might be an ideas - oh, hang on, I might have heard of that before!

Anyone reading JC at any length knows that he is far smarter than his 'stupid red-neck lad about town' persona implies. Or he listens to a far smarter agent. Here, for example, are apparent insights into his family life, his sacking (or non-renewal of contract), his feud with Piers Morgan, the pain of his mother's death and a few other bits. Yet they aren't unguarded and the references involving his children are extremely guarded and there are no references at all to his wife, his appearances as a lothario in the press, his dealings with Amazon or anything else that doesn't fit his carefully
cultivated image.

Mr C's output, over the years, has been a bit varied in quality but this book is up to his best standard and, for me, his best standard is very good indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book; money well spent and it'll keep me going for a while until I buy the next one. Am I a bad person for that? Tough!


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