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kirstymack80

kirstymack80
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      10.10.2006 16:39
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      A one night stand ends in disaster

      Holly Krauss lives life on the edge. She's an adrenalin junkie who gets by on nervous energy and lots and lots of coffee and very little sleep. So when she goes out to a bar after work one day with her colleagues, they aren't really surprised to see her stepping into an argument between a drunk businessman and the female bartender. Initially the bully man tells her where to go, but having charmed him with her audacity, she is soon drinking with him and his friends. Her colleagues, having seen it all before, leave her alone to fend for herself.

      Events after that are shady - Holly remembers going to a nightclub with the man, of drinking more and more and then drugs becoming involved. Memories fade but somewhere she remembers a shop window breaking and then a bed, and a man and another woman on it, and fingers fumbling with buttons, and blood in her mouth. '"This is so strange' she said. I said. "Don't stop"'.

      The next morning, realising what she has done, she creeps home from an unknown flat. She finds her way back to her house and gets into her own bed - the bed she shares with her husband, Charlie.

      But, as in all Nicci French's books - this isn't the end to her sordid, secret night. She's left her mobile phone behind and soon, 'Rees', the man involved, is ringing her, threatening her and even turning up at her office with her knickers (well, obviously!). Sometimes, a one night stand can be the death of you …

      * What I thought *

      Wow! What a great start to a book. I loved this right from the beginning. Holly, for me, wasn't a particularly likeable gal which gave her a certain edginess that made her stand out from other characters in these type of books. She is a successful businesswoman and isn't afraid to step on other people's toes to get what she wants, even sacking one of her colleagues just because she could. But she does seem to love her husband, which makes her behaviour seem all the more odd.

      We get to see the nasty side of her sporadically as she experiences road rage and ends up punching a man who'd tried to out-race her. She then steals a lady's leather gloves and shawl from the restroom in a nightclub, seemingly just for the hell of it. She enjoys confrontation , indeed she seems to thrive on it. This is someone who doesn't think of the consequences that lie ahead and leaves a trail of furious people behind her.

      Immediately the reader is drawn into Holly's bizarre world - the rock hard bitch on the outside but slowly unravelling inside. Crying in the bath, mixing her words up, buying expensive works of art on a whim that she can't afford. What was going on inside her head?

      As always there is a heavy sense of unease throughout the book. Rees doesn't appear too often but one does sense his presence throughout. Although he's only spent one night with Holly, he knows all her friends courtesy of her mobile phone, and even where she lives and works. There is no escape from him. Holly is finding it more and more difficult to explain the bizarre happenings to her friends and family - her only close confidante being Meg, her trusty business partner. She begs Holly to go to the police but Holly has to do things her own way …

      I must admit I found this particular story quite unnerving. Something similar happened to one of my friends - her handbag was stolen while she was asleep on the train home. The man then started to ring her and even turned up at her house in the middle of the night. This went on for months. So this story was quite 'close to home' for me and I think this probably affected me more than some of the other books by Nicci French have. This 'stalking' is frighteningly realistic.

      One can't help but think that Holly brings half the problems on herself. She goes off with strangers without a second thought, getting herself into all types of dangerous situations. It's only a matter of time before the 'big boys' get involved. Her recklessness will be her downfall one feels throughout, but at the same time she shows vulnerability and expects her husband Charlie and Meg to sympathise when things go wrong. She pushes everyone and everything to the limit and there's only one way to go for her - and that's down.

      * Verdict *

      I really enjoyed this book. Although I had planned on taking it on holiday as soon as it arrived by post I read a few pages and from thereonin was hooked. I finished it within a couple of days. It's not a long read and is very easy to pick up and put down with frequent breaks in the chapters. This is cleverly done sometimes as it helps us understand Holly's disjointed nights when her husband is away and she goes out to play.

      The reader is mostly taken through Holly's suffering, which isn't always easy to read and a lot of us will have little sympathy for a wild and reckless character who leaves her lacy knickers at complete stranger's houses and antagonises so many around her. There's a lesson to be learned here so you have been warned!

      The full five stars and a recommendation from La Mack.

      My copy was £2.99 in hardback version from Bol.com (who now call themselves Bookgiant) but it recently came out in paperback so it's worth shopping around on Ebay and Amazon.

      * Other info *

      ISBN 0141006528
      Year 2006
      RRP £6.99 (£4.99 delivered on play.com)
      400 pages (paperback)
      Published by Penguin Books Ltd (UK)

      * About the author*

      Nicci French is husband and wife duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They have written a number of books together such as The Memory Game, The Safe House, Killing Me Softly, Beneath the Skin, The Red Room, Land of the Living and Secret Smile.

      For more info: www.niccifrench.co.uk

      Thanks for reading!

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        06.10.2006 16:48
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        Good hotel in excellent location

        Mack was on the lookout for a holiday in September, and just by pure luck she saw an ad in one of the Sunday papers for half price holidays with Virgin. With frantic text and phone calls, within the hour a 10 day trip to Orlando was booked.

        Quality Inn International sits almost plum in the middle of International Drive, just past the crossroads at Sand Lake Road. If you’ve seen the world’s largest McDonalds (and how could you miss it?) then you’ve seen the Quality Inn, which is right next to it.

        * Checking in *

        After an eight hour flight, the last thing I needed was a lengthy check in but I only had to give my name at Registration and the lady had everything ready for us, including two key cards. She also gave my friend and I some little ‘extras’ including a voucher for a free drink at the bar, two free buffet breakfasts *and* a free buffet dinner. Already Quality Inn was racking up some points with me!

        * The room *

        As we entered, there were two large double beds in a large, air conditioned room. The bathroom was tiddly - just a bath/shower and a toilet and all very, ahem, compact. The sink was outside, along with a hairdryer on the wall, a safe, coffee maker and a microwave (so near the sink - a good idea?!). There was also a fridge which was most handy for cold drinks which were much needed as the weather topped 90 degrees most days.

        There’s a phone and alarm clock by the bed and also internet access which buzzed for no apparent reason.

        There was no wardrobe, only a pole which hung near the sink. When sharing the hangers, my friend and I only had three each. Pretty measley *and* they were attached so that you couldn’t nick ‘em. Snigger - who’d want to? Anyway most definitely one star off for that - I had about 5 things hanging on each hanger before I gave up and folded the rest in my (broken) drawer. Ahh .. didn’t I mention that? The runner was bust and the drawer didn’t push in properly. However there were 4 drawers so more than ample space for li‘l ole me.

        Another niggle was the outlook. The rooms are set out in three separate blocks. They don’t look too fetching, very plain from the outside but nice enough inside. We were on the second, and top, floor. All the rooms have net curtains which is just as well as we kept ours drawn most of the time. This did keep the room in darkness for most of the time though. As we had the end room and were near the stairs, people just lurve to have a gawp in if they see someone in their room, as it looks out onto the walkway. We were even lucky enough to have some jokers knock on our door in the middle of the night but it was our first night and fortunately we were too tired to go and tell them to go away. It didn’t happen again.

        * Bathroom *

        As mentioned, it was pretty small and the shower head was also rather low for me. I’m tall, but not exactly a giant, and I couldn’t stand under it as it came halfway down the wall. The towels were changed regularly and the lotions/soaps etc topped up daily.

        * Restaurants *

        As mentioned, our ‘free’ meals were just that and not too bad at all. Located in the Apothecary Restaurant, the buffet wasn’t as extensive as some of the other ‘all you can eat’ jobs but there was still a choice of bacon, eggs, pancakes, fruit and bagels for breakfast (coffee and fruit juice were included making it even better value!) and things like chicken and beef, cheese ravioli and salad for dinner. Kids also had a good choice of chicken nuggets, cakes and ice cream. How rather healthy! I did also note that when not having a free buffet, kids eat free (11 years and under) with 2 paying adults.

        Hours were 6.30-10.30am for breakfast.
        5.30-9pm for dinner.

        Unfortunately we didn’t have time to claim our free drink in the Topsy Turvey lounge but it’s worth a look as we had our welcome meeting in there the first day and it’s rather unusual in that the tables and chairs are on the ceiling! Luckily there were some on the floor for us to use too …! Happy hour is from 5-7pm and there’s a juke box, pool tables and a big TV screen. It was quite popular at night, you can sit outside and it was always packed when we walked by.

        Snacks like sandwiches, coffee and pizza are available in the Garden Café which is open from 6am ‘til midnight. I can vouch for the hot choccie in there as we had a very early morning start to get to Kennedy Space Centre and we grabbed one on the way out as we didn‘t have time to have breakfast.

        * The lobby *

        There are guest services on the left - this is where guests can book the free shuttle to Universal, Wet ‘n’ Wild or Seaworld. We used this on our last day and it wasn’t a problem. Don’t expect a limo to turn up, it’s a rickety old bus and we had to stand all the way! Guest services give you free coupons for discount attractions and is very helpful if you want maps/directions or just some ideas about where to go and what to see.

        On our last day we left our luggage as we had an evening flight and had to be out of the room by 11am. We checked out and left the cases with the lady at the Business Center who gave us tickets which we needed to claim the bags back.

        All the restaurants are in the lobby and everything is in a small space, including the gift shop. There are also 4 email terminals which cost $5 for 15 mins and 3 pay phones and an ATM so you won’t need to search to get cash out!

        * Outside *

        The grounds are beautifully kept, there’s a fountain and two outside swimming pools surrounded by gates.

        There is 24 hour security and the men were always around in the car park. Free parking is available although we didn’t have a car. The I-Tram stops outside the hotel and is very easy to use, costing $1 one way. As this is a Flagship Hotel for Virgin a rep comes in daily. Quality Inn is a ‘pick up’ hotel - ie guests from other hotels will come here and leave their car for the day and be picked up by coach for their excursion.

        * Overall *

        This wasn’t the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, but I’m lucky to have been to some excellent locations and accommodation over the years and consider myself to be a bit fussy. Quality Inn International was comfortable and near all the attractions. The location is a big plus, and we were more than pleased with our free meals as you can plan them around your itinerary.

        I think it would be a great hotel for friends, couples and families alike as there is something for everyone around here and a lot of the restaurants can be walked to.

        This is a large hotel, with around 728 double rooms, yet the staff remain helpful and friendly at all times. Despite a couple of niggles with the wardrobe space, I’m still going to give it four stars. I had no trouble sleeping and the place was fairly quiet. All in all I couldn’t really ask for more - apart from some more hangers, of course!

        Recommended.

        * Other info *

        7600 International Drive
        Orlando
        Florida 32819

        Check in: 3pm
        Check out: 11am

        Caters for customers with disabilities (roll in showers, apparatus for hearing, vision or physically impaired guests).

        Airport approx 20 mins drive away
        Wet ‘n’ Wild 10 mins walk away
        Seaworld and Universal both 3 miles away (hotel provides free shuttles there and back but you must book in advance in the hotel lobby).

        Restaurants nearby: Denny’s next door, IHOP opposite for the pancake cravings and Big Mac(k) recommended for midnight hunger pangs - just sneak out the back door!

        Walgreens drug store 5 minutes walk away. It sells Krispy Kreme donuts - say no more.

        Our holiday cost £349 for 7 days which was half the brochure price. We added on an extra 3 nights at approximately £20 extra per night. Obviously the price of the hotel is dependent on which month you travel but I did notice that when we were there in September the local rates were $50 for the first night followed by $40 for every night after.

        Hope that’s covered everything! Thanks for reading.

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          23.08.2006 13:30
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          Freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be ...

          Abbie Devereaux is in a bind. Literally. She's tied up, gagged and has a noose around her neck. She's in the pitch black with no idea of how she got there, or who her captor is. To prevent herself from going mad, she counts the seconds and estimates how long her captor has gone - and how long it will be until he next decides to give her a drink of water through a straw. Or feed her the sludge that passes for food. Or maybe he'll pull her trousers down and let her use the toilet, which is a bucket.

          Abbie tries to plan a seemingly impossible escape. With no idea where she is and weak from hunger and exhaustion, all that is keeping her going is the thought that one day she will be free. A severe blow to the head has caused amnesia and she can remember very little about the last few days. She doesn't know if she will be alive in the next minute, let alone tomorrow. Her captor is keeping her alive just to toy with her. There have been others before her, he's told her. Others that didn't make it. 'Kelly who cried and Abbie who tried. I can make you into a rhyme. Cried, tried, died. It's all the same to me, in the end'. Abbie knows she's on borrowed time.

          When she finally does escape, the real world, the one she so missed, is not as she recalls it. Everything is different now, and she can't remember parts of her life. Apparently she'd left her job and her boyfriend just days before she was abducted but has no idea why she made these life changes. Scared and alone and not knowing who to trust, she is determined to piece together her last moments.

          * What I thought *

          The start of this book reads like a nightmare. The reader is literally taken through every painful moment that Abbie is awake, and it doesn't make a pleasant read. I found this so realistic that it was quite hard to read, even though the confinement is only perhaps 40 pages of the book and I certainly wouldn't recommend reading it late at night if you're on your own. There are no chapters but there are breaks throughout, really drumming into the reader how her torture is dragged out.

          We then move onto part 2 which concentrates on the aftermath of the capture, the subsequent days when Abbie is in hospital, the police investigation and the psychiatric assessments. This is around 50 pages and then we have the bulk of the book, which is part 3.

          This concentrates on Abbie's confusion at being in the outside world. She is supposed to be 'free' but her capture has changed her forever. With little information to give the police and a history of being a victim of domestic violence and depression, her friends and family are unsure whether to believe her and Abbie is determined to find out what happened in her lost days - and to find her tormentor. A change in her appearance ensures that she remains anonymous in the streets of London. After all, he could be watching her ...

          Did I enjoy the book? Certainly the first few pages are cringingly uncomfortable to read. The descriptions of the dank, dirty rag that is forced into Abbie's mouth and the dingy dark room that she's in are so vivid that one can almost imagine oneself to be in her position as prisoner. 'I was his. He was my lover and my father and my God. If he wanted to come in and strangle me, he could.' The shock factor is definitely there and it's a welcome relief when she makes her escape. But even then the reader knows that things are far from over - this is just the beginning.

          Her struggle to find the truth, and to claw back her forgotten days makes an interesting and gripping book. This is a credible read, and all the more frightening for it.

          This is a page turner, purely because of the pace of the book. It leaves you emotionally wrung out and feeling dread the whole way through. This feeling doesn't go away either. I read the book in three days, in large chunks at a time as you will want to get to the end as quickly as possible and to find out what really happened, and why. For that I have to award this book 5 stars as it holds the attention right from page one and is a disturbing yet fascinating psychological thriller. Highly recommended.

          * Other info *

          Nicci French is husband and wife duo Nicci Gerard and Sean French. Other works include The Memory Game, The Safe House, Killing Me Softly, Beneath the Skin, The Red Room, Secret Smile and the latest novel just out in paperback, Catch Me When I Fall.

          My copy was 30p in a charity shop but obviously I was overjoyed to see that it was given away free with Eve magazine a while ago!

          It is available on play.com for £5.49 delivered but the RRP is £6.99

          ISBN 0141006501
          320 pages published by Penguin Books Ltd (UK)
          Year 2005

          Thanks for reading.

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            27.07.2006 20:10
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            Just how 'safe' is this safe house?

            As I'm slowly reading my way through Nicci French's books, I was glad to find 'The Safe House' for a mere 50 pence on one of my many hospital visits in the local shop there. At such a bargain price would I find it as good as some of the others? Let's find out.

            * The plot *

            A brutal murder starts the first chapter - Leo MacKenzie and his wife are found dead in their own home - horribly mutilated. The housekeeper that finds them makes a further grim discovery - their daughter Fiona (Finn) is in her bed, taped up and bloody, and barely alive.

            Severely traumatised after a long stint in hospital, Finn is sent to stay with Samantha Laschen, a doctor who specialises in post-traumatic stress. Sam has moved to the Essex coast with her young daughter Elsie, leaving London far behind and boyfriend, Danny, who comes and goes as he pleases. Finn is in need of refuge and, with a little push and a shove from the authorities above, Sam is asked to provide a safe house.

            * Characters *

            From the start Sam is a likeable character - the story is told in the first person and we quickly move into her life and her home and we can understand her reluctance at having a house guest when she is still getting used to a new routine and is about to start a new job. Sam is an unconventional heroine, described as lanky and with shaved bright red hair who can‘t cook and enjoys a game of chess. Her love for her daughter, Elsie, is evident throughout the book.

            Finn is a quiet character, nervous and meek. We learn that she went from being an obese teenager to an anorexic in a short time. With Sam, she is silent and withdrawn and spends as little time as possible in the same room. Progress is slow but soon she lets down her guard and starts to interact, befriending Elsie first. She also refuses to attend her parents’ funeral. She begins to depend on Sam a little too much, her intensity becoming a burden and at the same time Danny starts to pull away, brooding. Soon, things start to go horribly wrong.

            Sam arrives back one day to a note left by Danny - a goodbye note. Beside that is a note from Finn ‘It’s a madness, I know … We couldn’t live without each other’. Their bodies are later found in a burnt out car - an apparent suicide. But the story is far from over.

            * What I thought *

            The book is easy to read - the first day I started it I read 100 pages. The chapters are usually less than 10 pages and also have frequent breaks enabling the reader to easily pick it up for just a few minutes or as long as you wish. I found I did read huge chunks at a time, eager to find out where the story was going.

            For the most part, this doesn’t read like a typical thriller. After the initial murders the story calms down to introduce the Finn character to her new environment and we get to learn more about Sam. I felt like this could be a red herring - give the reader a sense of stability and then hit them with the bad stuff.

            Michael Daley, Finn’s doctor, also starts appearing at regular intervals to ‘check on’ Finn but does he have feelings for Samantha? What exactly is his involvement with the MacKenzie family?

            There are lots of twists and turns in this book - the last 100 pages are especially tense and gripping. However for those that are familiar with Nicci French books, this doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seats as previous works such as ‘The Red Room' have done (Mack got shut in the train so engrossed was she in that book!). In fact the beginning is rather slow and it only heats up towards the end even though by then we’ve kind of worked out what’s happened. With French's books we know there are still some surprises to come and I haven't given too much away with the bare bones of the plot.

            * Overall *

            The story covers a range of emotions - grief, betrayal and love. The shock factor wades in around half way through the book as the reader is almost lulled into a false sense of security with the cozy surroundings Sam has made for herself. The betrayal of her lover and friend forces her to take drastic measures and find out what really happened. Finn still remains, in the most part, a mystery. Sam is determined to find the answers.

            I did enjoy the story - I read it in three sittings because the writing does draw you in and the people are realistic up to a point. I had to ask myself how much influence would the police have over a young mother when trying to force her hand into taking into her home a complete stranger who is the target of a murderer?

            So I am going to take one star off because I really didn’t like the ending. Plus Sam’s one woman army to find the truth makes the police involved look *really* silly and that just didn’t come across too well. I like to see the gal win and all but, to me, it wasn’t a satisfactory conclusion and there were some events that were skimmed over, leaving me feeling a little cheated.

            So to sum up. A taut psychological thriller with a plot which will keep you guessing up to the last page. I’ve read a few books by Nicci French and have yet to be disappointed. Four stars and a recommendation from La Mack.

            * About the author *

            For those that don’t already know, Nicci French is the pseudonym for a husband and wife team called Nicci Gerard and Sean French.

            Other books include Killing Me Softly, The Memory Game, The Red Room, Beneath The Skin and her latest, Catch Me When I Fall.

            * Extra info *

            The RRP of this book is £5.99 but, like I said, I found it at a practically giveaway price, making this a real steal.

            It's available on play.com for £5.49 with free delivery.

            ISBN 0-14-027036-1
            362 pages

            Thanks for reading.

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              21.07.2006 17:15
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              Cheap and cheerful hair dye with easily achievable results.

              I blame Julia Roberts. Ever since I saw her in ‘Pretty Woman’ and she took off her blonde wig and her long hair came tumbling out and said “Red” and Richard Gere said “Better” KM decided she had to have *that* hair on her head. So she’s been dyeing it that colour since she was 19 years old. And yes it’s curly like Ms Roberts’ too - shame I don’t have her bank balance but we can’t have everything.

              So La Mack is always on the lookout for a new and cheap alternative to keep her copper locks a lovely reddish colour. She’s tried nearly every brand on the market and was fed up with forking out up to £6 every couple of months when her roots started to show through.

              Red is notorious as being the worst colour for fading fast and boy is that true! Having spent the best part of 15 years on and off with this colour, I have watched many of my favourite brands disappear off the shelves never to be seen again. However as I was perusing the aisles of Superdrug, I captured a coy looking gal peeking at me with one eye beckoning ‘come hither’ behind her perfect, straight, red hair. Aha! I grabbed the package, paid my £2.89 (bargain!) and off I went to try it out.

              * The package *

              The box I chose was shade 7/34 which is Warm Copper Gold. There are a couple of red shades to choose from (the other being far brighter for those that are brave enough). In the box there are 5 items:

              A bottle of crème developer
              Crème Colour
              Intensive Conditioner
              Rubber gloves
              All important instruction leaflet

              * Application *

              I was doing a ‘touch up’ job which basically means re-doing the roots rather than the whole head. As my hair is very dark at the top and light at the bottom, the idea is to keep the dye on the roots for the longer part of the procedure and just touching up the ends towards the end of the time to ensure an even colour. My hair is just below shoulder length and one box of the dye just about covers it but if your hair is very thick or much longer then I recommend buying two boxes.

              So …

              Make sure you put an old towel around your shoulders. To start, empty the crème colour into the crème developer bottle - then shake until the two are mixed. Remove the top of the bottle and then apply.

              You are advised to part the hair into sections but I just ensured that all the brown parts were covered. This took about 10 minutes. I did clip my hair up after so that it didn't make my towel *too* mucky!

              The smell is pretty horrendous - bleachy and nasty but that is typical of all dyes and I don’t think this is worse than any other one I’ve tried.

              * Waiting time *

              Again, dependent on which application you are doing, if it’s a full head of hair then waiting time is 30 minutes but for regrowth it’s just 20 mins.

              After my 20 minutes are up, I then distributed the rest of the mixture over the ends of the hair. I didn’t have an awful lot left - less than a quarter of the bottle - but I wasn’t concerned as it does blend in easily and as I mentioned previously, the ends were very light anyway.

              The remaining dye is then left on another 10 minutes.

              * Shower time *

              When the time is up, then starts the tedious process of washing the dye off. It always goes everywhere and I haven’t managed to perfect the art of a clean bathroom just yet (make sure you get it all up the tiles, gawwww on, you know you want to!). Once the water starts to run clear then you know you’ve reached your goal and the dye is all down the plug hole. After that the instructions recommend that you shampoo your hair.

              * After care *

              You can then apply the intensive treatment conditioner. This is just a small sachet which should be left on for 2 minutes then washes out. I must admit I don’t always use this as I usually use a leave-in conditioner. I have curly hair and any other conditioner tends to make my hair sleek and smooth which just screams horror to me as it takes the curl out of my hair.

              Anyway .. whichever conditioner you decide to go with, you can then dry your hair as normal.

              * Result *

              From start to finish (including 20 minutes drying time) took about one hour and 15 minutes. Not bad for a whole new look!

              I hadn’t realised how brassy my hair had been - the red had all but gone and I was left with golden ends. After dyeing it my hair has gone back to its even red/brown colour and I love it! Think … Grace from Will and … yes Grace!

              * What I liked *

              I think the fact that you apply this on dry hair makes things *so* much easier. I have used dyes in the past where you have to wet your hair first. Speaking of my nearly black hair when it’s wet, this is a nightmare! You can’t see where you’re putting the dye as even a red dye is very dark when it’s applied. So from the very beginning this is easy to apply and the instructions are simple and easy to understand. There aren’t pages to wade through - there are just 2 sets to look at which are first time applications or regrowth.

              Also you don’t have to be too ‘precise’ with the application. I admit I’m fairly slapdash with it and don’t tend to worry too much about whether the underneath bits are done. I find it blends in really easily with my natural hair colour and as long as you stick to the times stated, you can’t really go wrong.

              Finally the price is right. OK so this doesn’t have a groovy young gal on the front of the box. But really why do we pay extra just because of the brand name or a well known celeb advertising it? I’m sure all the colours are very similar and frankly if I’m going to save 3 pounds every couple of months then I’m not going to complain. I admit I took a chance - I didn’t like the red colour when I tried ‘Nice and Easy’ but all I did with this Superdrug colour was lift the box up and take it over to my old brand and compared the colours on the back. They were almost identical and yet one was so much cheaper!

              * Overall *

              There are around 21 shades from light to dark to try in this range - seven in the blonde range alone. The back of the box will tell you which shade you will get when used on your natural hair colour.

              I am fairly pale and find that the Warm Copper Gold really lifts my colour and suits my complexion. I’m happy that I have found a cheap and cheerful colour that I really like. I’m always pleased with the result from this product and will continue to use it.

              I have to award it five stars. It’s quick and easy to apply and a new colour is very easy to achieve in a short time without spending a fortune. What more can you ask for?!

              * Points to consider *

              A strand test is recommended before application.

              Do not use anywhere near your eyes so don’t try dyeing your eyebrows/eyelashes or *ahem* any other body hair! (Eh?!).

              Always ensure any unused product is disposed of by diluting with water and pouring down the drain.

              Keep out of reach of kiddies.

              This dye contains Resorcinol, lanolin and hydrogen peroxide and has been tested under salon conditions. For a full list of ingredients please check underneath the box before purchasing.

              For more advice:

              Write to:

              Customer Relations Department
              Superdrug Stores plc
              Admail 838
              Croydon
              CR9 4WZ

              Thanks for reading!

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                24.05.2006 16:58
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                A local murder shows us that something might happen

                Tess and her husband Mick, live with their four children in a small seaside town in Suffolk. One winter's night a local woman is brutally murdered - she is later identified as Tess's best friend. The whole town is horrified - after all, Lennie just isn't the type to have something like this happen to her.

                And so begins an investigation. But this isn't a thriller, or a crime story. This book tells of Tess's struggle to hold onto all that is dear to her. Suddenly her mundane routine changes as police intrude on her family's lives. The rock solid relationship is shaken and starts to reach rocky ground as false testimony, clues and tantalising sightings butt into their every day lives.

                Who killed Lennie, and why? And how can Tess help her grieving neighbour, Alex, and his two sons? As the funeral approaches, the connections that Tess has formed are tested as she takes a step back from the horrendous nightmare. Looking at her own life, she realises that sometimes there's no one out there to help you.

                * What I liked *

                Gosh. Well this is the first Myerson book I've ever read and I was not disappointed. This had me hooked from the start. It's very easy to read, with frequent breaks and chapter changes. It's unbelievably realistic, from the very first pages the reader is literally sucked into the grim reality of what's happening and we feel as if this is true - that Lennie is *your* best friend. It's shocking in its honesty and doesn't pull any punches.

                'I think she's dead, he says. He takes a deep breath, corrects himself. No. I mean - she is - oh Tess - she is dead.

                Dead. Lennie is dead. The air around my head blooms into a massive, soft silence. Everything stops and my ears are velvety with it.

                Tess?

                I am about to answer him but instead the floor comes zooming up to meet my face.

                It's OK, I can hear him saying, it's OK.

                With my head between my knees and him holding me, I breathe. Big, hurting breaths, in and out'.

                Myerson doesn't use quotation marks at all throughout the book. As a stickler for punctuation I would normally find this annoying but it was an interesting way of relating the story - as if all the conversations that take place are being narrated to the reader in conversation rather than written down in a book. This somehow makes it seem very personal.

                The story is told from Tess's point of view, through her eyes we see that her marriage isn't perfect. A late baby in life came as a surprise, perhaps something they had not planned for with 3 older children. There's a history with Alex, Lennie's husband, and Tess feels obliged to watch over him as best she can even though everyone is racked with grief. Tess also forms a close friendship with Lacey, the young police liaison officer brought onto the case. He seems to understand what she's going through while Mick, Tess's husband, starts to pull away as bereavement sets in and divides them.

                * Overall *

                I read my fair share of rubbish. But deep down I love a good book with what I call 'proper writing'. It's easy to read a chicky book, lightweight and airy and forget it immediately. But this novel is deep and powerful, making it instantly memorable. The fact that there are only four main characters - Tess, Mick, Alex and Lacey allow the reader to really dive in and see how they behave and interact when faced with disaster.

                I loved this story. OK so it wasn't the most cheerful book I've read, but Lennie's death, although the basis of the story, is not the sole point in the book. Myerson cleverly shows us from every character's point of view what might happen were you in their shoes. It is told in a simple way, but the reader is left in no doubt what the author wants to convey. She switches from the children fighting to Tess's furtive meetings with Lacey in a smooth transition - mixing the normal routine of Tess's life with a new and secret time away from her family on a windy beach. This shows us how a single momentary lapse in concentration can result in further tragedy, and it will leave the reader feeling emotionally wrung out.

                I have to award it five stars. I read this in a matter of days. Funnily enough the murder aspect does tail off and not seem that important towards the end of the book. By then the reader is so involved in this family and its complexities that it's just a matter of winding things up. This book shows how one random act of violence can change so many lives forever.

                I'll be keeping a look out for more books by Myerson. I was blown away by this one. It's so convincing it will leave you reeling.

                Thanks for reading.

                * Other info *

                328 pages
                RRP £6.99 (£5.49 on play.com)
                ISBN 0-099-45352-5
                Published by Vintage UK, Random House

                * About the author *

                Julie Myerson was born in 1960. Her previous works include Sleepwalking, The Touch, Me and the Fat Man, Not a Games Person, Laura Blundy and Home.

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                  30.04.2006 11:46
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                  Is a life swap just what the doctor ordered?

                  Vicky Townsley is a 35 year old singleton living in London, a features editor for ‘Poise’ magazine.

                  Amber Winslow is a Yummy Mummy, living the American dream in Connecticut. She has a rich husband, the kids and the dog - and yet *still* she feels less than satisfied. Sometimes not even her Manolos can cheer her up.

                  While having a throwaway conversation with her sister-in-law, a plan is hatched by Vicky for a new idea. Why not offer one lucky married reader a ‘life swap’ for a month, trading places with Vicky, a sort of ‘real life Desperate Housewives’?

                  I don’t think it will take a genius to realise who the lucky ‘married’ woman is. Yup. But what happens when they attempt to live each other’s dream?

                  * Characters *

                  Firstly I took a while to warm to both characters. I found Green focused mostly on Amber and immediately I didn’t like her much. Although she wants for nothing and spends all her time shopping and deciding which expensive outfit to buy next, she’s still not happy and spends all her time trying to keep up with the Joneses. Spoilt and annoying springs to mind.

                  Green also uses many ‘English’ sayings which frankly don’t work on an American character - primarily “Rubbish” which as far as I know is not used at all over there. Again this irked me. She also spent far too much time waffling on about money/wealth/riches/spending which wasn’t necessary as the reader can gather what kind of lifestyle Amber has pretty early on in the book.

                  Vicky was slightly less annoying luckily. I say slightly for a reason. She gets ’involved’ with a sleaze ball actor who treats her like dirt and she keeps running back for more. *sigh*

                  * ‘Larfs’ *

                  Sadly a character called Hugh Janus is brought into the book which causes much *ahem* mirth. Does he have a brother called Lar or a cousin called Sor? Oh dear. Maybe my sense of humour is on the wane but really it wasn’t *that* funny. It's just as well then that his name is pronounced Jan-us to make him a respectable someone or other who's fairly important on television's Channel Four.

                  The book does have its amusing moments - some of the bitchy Americans who judge Amber on her décor rather than personality have to be seen as sad creatures with nothing better to do than check their nail polish. Amber spends far too much time trying to impress these people and, I think, that's why she comes across so badly.

                  * Story *

                  The premise is good - is the grass always greener on the other side? However the actual ‘life swap’ seemed ages in coming and doesn’t occur until half way through the book. It’s all very well introducing the reader to the characters but after a little too much of Amber’s wealth shoved down my throat, I felt a “Get on with it” coming on. There is very little in way of a sub-plot - the whole book is based on the ladies trading lives with each other.

                  Once the Life Swap begins things did liven up somewhat and it was like a peak into reality tv. That’s more like it!

                  * What I liked *

                  Jane Green didn’t ‘big up’ the swap in that she tells of Vicky’s struggle with her new found position as Mom. You can identify with the character when both children are crying because they miss Amber and she doesn’t really know what to do to comfort them. Amber’s husband, Richard, is also weighed down by a secret that can threaten to tear apart the family he cherishes. Does this have something to do with Vicky?

                  Meanwhile Amber seems to fit into Vicky’s role at the magazine very well. She is invited out nearly every night as the single gal and even manages to turn a few heads along the way. She is a different person when taken out of her own environment and realises that she missed working and wasn’t happy with her shallow existence. She needed a new challenge and Life Swap gave her the chance to do just that.

                  Probably my favourite character was Kate, Vicky’s sister-in-law. She lives in the country with Vicky’s brother, and their three kids. She’s run off her feet but loves her role as cook/cleaner/agony aunt and seems to be the most genuine woman in the whole book.

                  * What was bad *

                  There are two characters called Deborah which I found confusing. Perhaps it was supposed to be clever - the fact that both characters had a best friend with that name, and indeed even more strangely Amber’s best friend in America called Deborah is, in fact, English. Once I’d read this I was a bit baffled and had to flick back a few pages to see if she *was* actually one and the same person.

                  The story is told in the present tense, which I always find a bit off-putting. Chapter one is voiced as if we’re peering into Vicky’s life, sort of like Mary Alice’s commentary on ‘Desperate Housewives’ - perhaps this was what Green was aiming for.

                  * Overall *

                  I did like the story. It didn’t keep my attention solidly for large chunks at a time, unlike some of her previous offerings. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m older now and am not enjoying the books as much or whether the storyline wasn’t really engaging enough. I’ve read all of Green’s books and if you’re a big fan of hers you won’t be disappointed. This is a good book and despite its flaws I did enjoy it. The idea is clever and the characters will hold your interest, even if you do find them irritating. However it’s not her best offering - ‘Bookends‘ is still my favourite and ‘Babyville‘ I didn‘t think much of at all. This sits in between the two.

                  It’s a 3 star effort which is just an average middle-of-the-road type of rating.

                  * Other info *

                  Previous books by Jane Green are Jemima J, Bookends, Straight Talking, Mr Maybe, Babyville, Spellbound and The Other Woman.

                  This particular book, Life Swap is currently available in either a metallic pink or turquoise jacket and has an ISBN of 0-141-02172-1 and is published by Penguin. The RRP is £6.99 but I got it in good old Tesco for £3.73 (Asda have it too at this price).

                  464 pages.

                  www.janegreen.com

                  Thanks for reading.

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                    12.02.2006 17:54
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                    Elray's mystical journey into adulthood

                    Elray is celebrating her sixth birthday when her parents die in a freak accident at the fairground's Tunnel of Love. Elray only escapes because she has reached up to touch the moon.

                    She is then sent to live with her two unconventional uncles - Harwood the macho photographer and 'Aunt' Ajax, the cross dresser. Her life completely changes as Elray adapts to her new surroundings, with feuding uncles that don't agree on how to raise their niece.

                    Then Irish lawyer Rena appears, ready to mount a lawsuit against the fairground where the accident occurred. She plays an important role in the unconventional family unit, determined to win her case and unearthing a few skeletons in the family closet along the way …

                    * Characters *

                    Ajax obviously makes the most interesting study. Thirty-four years old 'she' is a drama queen with strange ideas on how best to deal with Elray. She thinks feeding her the putrid water from vases after the flowers are long gone will lead Elray to immortality and perfection. Hmmm …

                    Harwood is the quieter uncle, unrelated to Ajax and a character who remains very much in the background. He travels the world on business and is quite often absent from his niece's life. But Elray and Harwood share a special bond.

                    Rena is the feisty Irish lawyer, plain speaking and quick to take charge. She fits into the family's strange lifestyle easily and becomes close to both uncles.

                    Elray is a trusting and polite child. She too has flights of fancy - the scar left on her arm from the accident is her link to the spirit world and through this she 'talks' to her dead parents. All this is related to an eager Rena, a pale Ajax and a gloomy Harwood, who don't quite know what to make of it all …

                    * What's good *

                    The characters are brilliant, diverse and so different in every way that it's impossible to see how they fit together. Yet they do. 'The good times were gathering. We were beating down the sadness. I could feel it'.

                    Each chapter is a story in itself - part of Elray's childhood and it's told in a quirky and original way, as only a child sees the world.

                    A minor character, and one of my favourites, is Hansueli. He is appointed as Elray's 'doctor' and their relationship is quickly developed as they conduct their sessions in various different languages. When he speaks English, the accent goes haywire as he gets upset!

                    Elray is a dreamer and her stories blur into reality. She worries about this but Hansueli tells her "Typical escape fantasies uf adolescents suffering dee unbearable trauma uf every day life. Nutting to worry about".

                    Delightfully told, this is a kid's story for grown ups. Elray is immediately likeable and an accomplished storyteller. We follow her from a child to a teenager, meeting her friends and long lost relatives along the way.

                    Stories are interwoven with letters from various family members, found years after Elray has grown up, and secrets are revealed.

                    This is a very colourful book - descriptions are vivid and emotions laid bare. Elray's friend Raoul flits in and out of her life, firstly as a child when they practice the 'art of dying' to give them immortality and then as he grows older their friendship flounders as he finds a girlfriend.

                    Elray is a loner and because of this, her friendship with Raoul is very special to her. She experiences loyalty, trust and then separation and jealousy as they grow older and their lives take different paths.

                    Her life is filled with love from her makeshift family and her imagination is allowed to blossom through her love of making home movies.

                    While parts of the book are fantasy like, other sections are painfully realistic and as Elray gets older she realises her relatives are as vulnerable and confused as she is and she becomes their protector.

                    * Negatives *

                    I recently read a review from 'The Guardian' that pretty much panned this book, saying that none of the characters suffered any consequences and nobody is affected by events - that 'nothing really happens' (it does!). I actually found this to be a positive, rather than a negative as I do read my fair share of depressing books! It makes a welcome change to see people that don't dwell on past events. Besides, sheesh, this * is * a work of fiction and it's something you can easily get lost in … if you want to.

                    Well I always say I'm not fussy. There wasn't much I didn't like about this story. Yes the characters do have silly names (Elray's parents included) but this is all part and parcel of a book that is obviously trying to make its mark. Would 'Aunt' Ajax have worked with a name like John? .... Exactly!

                    * What I thought *

                    I loved it. Chapters aren't overly long and are broken up frequently so it's easy to read. The narrative writing style flows distinctly. For a debut novel it's original and the reader really gets a feel for the characters and their unusual home life.

                    I received this as a birthday gift a number of months ago but would have gladly picked this book out for myself, just from reading the few sentences on the back cover.

                    * Other info *

                    415 pages
                    ISBN 0-552-77190-2
                    Transworld Publishers Ltd (UK)
                    RRP £6.99 (£5.49 play.com)

                    * Verdict *

                    Escape into Elray's imaginary world and decide for yourself what is real and what is not. Remember: anything is possible!

                    5 stars to Leslie Marshall. Be sure to look out for this one.

                    Thanks for reading.

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                    • Multi Lights Kit / Hair Care / 41 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                      16.01.2006 18:58
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                      If you want to try subtle highlights, check this out.

                      Always on the look out for a new hair product to use, KM has had her eye on this Garnier kit for some time. I'm a redhead (albeit a fake one) and kit number 3 had my name on it. A quick flip over of the box gave me a rough idea as to how my hair would look after applying the colour. So into Savers I went, as it was 50p cheaper than Boots, and the final sale price was a meagre £3.49. At normal price these do retail at around £5 and are available also in Superdrug and supermarkets.

                      * The kit *

                      It's in a fairly small box, and tells you that you can add lighter tones to your existing hair colour. I read on the back beforehand that you can use this kit fairly soon after you've dyed your hair so I waited 2 weeks and then decided to have a bash.

                      For those of you with other hair colours, there are four kits to choose from:

                      Kit 1 - blonde for coloured or uncoloured medium blonde hair
                      Kit 2 - golden blonde for coloured or uncoloured light brown hair
                      Kit 3 - copper for hair coloured copper, red or auburn
                      Kit 4 - auburn for uncoloured brown hair

                      * Inside the box *

                      There is a plastic rectangular mixing bowl, complete with a sachet of multi-lightening powder, a bottle developer of mix, an applicator brush (which looks much like a white mascara wand) with a spatula at the other end for mixing. The instruction leaflet is placed on top of the box and there are a pair of plastic gloves attached.

                      * Mixing it up *

                      Empty the bottle of developer mix into the plastic tray and then add the sachet of powder. Use the spatula end of the wand to mix carefully until it becomes a thick paste. It's white and doesn't smell offensive, surprisingly!

                      * Applying *

                      After throwing an old towel around my shoulders, I dampened my hair as required. My hair is curly and immediately becomes longer on getting wet, so I parted it into the usual style and started from the middle. There are handy 'hints' on the left hand side of the instructions, there are four different 'examples' you can refer to. One is for a 'bob' cut, one for long, curly hair (that's me), a layered cut and for short, cropped hair.

                      My example told me to take a good 5 or 6 thick chunks of hair and apply mostly to the top layers, which is what I did. I started off using the mascara wand but it started to get caught up with the other curls so I gave up and just put the mixture over my gloved finger and put it through my hair that way. I wanted thicker highlights rather than thin, puny ones!

                      Time taken: around 15 minutes. Just be sure to apply the mixture evenly on both sides of your head.

                      * Waiting patiently *

                      Once you've finished, remember to discard all the unused mixture (I still had over half left). I just put everything back into the box and threw it away. Remember to keep the instructions though - you will still need them!

                      Waiting time can vary - it's 20 minutes from the time you finish the last application and 30 minutes at the very outset for a strongly contrasted result. I split the difference and waited 25.

                      * Rinsing *

                      Put the gloves back on and rinse off with warm water. You can then shampoo your hair and style as normal.

                      * Results *

                      Well the results weren't earth shatteringly different. My hair was a bit lighter where I'd applied the mixture and it definitely looked more 'sun kissed'. The best place to see the difference is under fluorescent lighting. My hair was more a copper blonde where the highlights had taken.

                      * Ease of use *

                      I'd say this was pretty easy to use. It does say on the packet to try and get a friend to help. Not very helpfully, all my friends seemed to have 'other things to do' rather than help me but bah, who cares? KM tried it herself and got the top layer covered, which is what she wanted. I think if you wanted all over highlights then some of the back and underneath hair would need a helping hand.

                      The whole process, including drying time, took about an hour so it's not particularly time consuming or as messy as when I dye my whole head of hair, which always looks horrendous with an awful mud brown dripping from my head into my new white bath. *sigh*

                      * Verdict *

                      This is a quick, easy and cheap way to update your current hair colour. As summer is just around the corner (ahem) it would be a good time to try out the kit then or if your image needs an update now, what better way to start the New Year? You can be as sparing (or daring) as you like with the mixture so it's entirely up to you (or a handy passer by) as to how you much you apply and how radical you want your highlights.

                      I do recommend this kit although the results were a bit subtle for my liking. I really couldn't get on with that applicator wand, which, I am sure, is designed to be used on straight hair! So four stars as it is good value for money. I will use this again and perhaps pop a few more highlights in next time!

                      * Warnings *

                      Do not use on eyebrows or eyelashes (obviously!)
                      Do not use if your scalp is sensitive or itchy.
                      Do not place hair in front of the eyes during development time.
                      Do not use on straightened hair, or just after a perm.
                      Keep out of reach of children.
                      This kit may cause severe allergic reaction so always read the instructions beforehand very carefully.

                      * Other info *

                      www.garnier.com

                      Garnier customer careline:

                      0845 399 0104 (UK)
                      1850 604 104 (ROI)
                      086 010 2492 (RSA)

                      Thanks for reading.

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                        06.01.2006 21:13
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                        The course of love never runs smoothly.

                        Jess Monroe is a 34 year old singleton. She’s fairly happy being alone but, alas, her friends do not share her opinion. So as a birthday ‘treat’ they buy her an advertisement on an internet dating site.

                        Not at all happy with her gift, she is at first angry at the intrusion into her personal life but eventually relents and agrees to give it a try. Unfortunately the men she meets appear to be a little ‘economical with the truth’ – whether it be the fact that they are married or the fact that the photo they submitted on the site is 20 years old!

                        So begins the task of meeting Mr Right. From the one who escapes through the kitchens of a well known Covent Garden restaurant leaving her saddled with the bill to Mr Obnoxious who complains about *everything* on the menu (at full volume), Jess is tested to the limit in her quest for lurrrrrve.

                        * What I thought *

                        I had never read any books by Jane Moore and probably wouldn’t have chosen this. Only at the time this book was published, I heard the author on Radio 2 talking about Dot.Homme and it sounded like my kind of thing. It’s an interesting outlook, at times hilarious and what’s so good about it is that it’s laughably realistic. It’s set in London, which I can strongly identify with (not to mention the fact I’m *ahem* around the same age as the 'heroine' of the book) and Moore has the misgivings and apprehensions of Jess down to a tee.

                        The book did grab my attention from the start. The chapters cleverly start with the ad that Jess has responded to – and of course, in true Hollywood style, they don’t ever go smoothly or according to plan. Nine out of ten times the men look nothing like their photograph, which always happens to be blurred. And one guy she meets is so dishevelled and strange looking that when he turns up at the designated meeting spot, Jess pretends to be someone else and runs away!

                        To start with I felt Moore was trying a bit too ‘hard’ with the funnies. Jokes like ‘he was more P&O Cruise than Tom Cruise’ and ‘more Pig Penn than Sean Penn’ did irritate me slightly as it reminded me of Kathy Lette’s style of writing, which I really don’t like. However this was a minor quibble that didn’t ruin the rest of the story as I found it very amusing and at times had a few chuckles to myself.

                        She then redeems herself with quotes like ‘Someone remove the butter knife before I throw myself on it’. I think any gal that reads this will probably identify with Jess on some level!

                        * Other issues *

                        Far from being completely lightweight, this does tackle a more serious issue which is dealt with in a surprisingly sensitive way. A family illness brings Jess’ problems into perspective as she has to face the prospect of losing someone very close to her. So from being highly amusing, the tone takes a sombre turn and Moore cleverly manages to balance the two stories very well without one ever overpowering the other.

                        Plus great other characters are introduced – Jess’ bitchy boss, her friends the gay couple Richard and Lars, and the delightfully sullen Kara, who once saved Jess’ life and has been a thorn in her side ever since!

                        If you like chick lit, fluffy stuff in a similar style to Jane Green or Sophie Kinsella, this is probably for you. This will be a great read for the beach and has a very eye catching front cover (according to Moore, in two different colours!). I spotted the alternative cover in Woolworths, with bright red lips and a scarlet fingernail in a ‘shhhh’ pose but my cover is the more neutral make up with the pouty glossy lips and nude colour nail polish (shown above).

                        * About the author *

                        If you’re wondering where you heard the name Jane Moore, she is a columnist for The Sun and also writes regular articles for the Sunday Times. She also regularly co-presented the ITV lunch time show ‘Loose Women’. And I’m pretty sure I recognise her from appearing on ‘The Weakest Link’ at some point!

                        Her two other novels are ‘Fourplay’ and ‘The Ex Files’.

                        * Other info *

                        ISBN 0-09-946502-7
                        452 pages
                        RRP £6.99

                        * Verdict *

                        OK so this is a little predictable. I could see how the book was going to finish and who she was going to end up with pretty much half way through. However there's enough distraction with the 'other' storyline to lay down the foundations for a smooth, if unsurprising, ending.

                        This is an excellent and enjoyable holiday read. It’s almost like peeking in on someone else’s unsuccessful love life, and while we can at least snigger at Jess’ bad luck with the men, we can also relate to the support she gives her family and friends in a time of crisis. She comes across as a likeable character, funny and loyal.

                        Recommended with the full five stars. There’s a fair amount of swearing in it if you’re particularly offended by that. I usually am – but in this instance it’s all done in good part.

                        Thanks for reading.

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                          29.12.2005 17:40
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                          One night can change your life forever ...

                          It's the 60s, and overweight Carole and her friend Naomi are desperate to lose their virginity before graduation. The two girls decide who will be first, on a dare. The winner gets to bed Eddie Lindbaeck, an older boy who has been expelled from several of the better schools on the East Coast.

                          After outwitting her rival, Carole is the eventual victor. She arranges to meet Eddie in a secluded cabin, deep in the snowy woods. Carole is afraid - she is, after all, meeting a total stranger. Eddie is experienced, handsome and a little dangerous. After the drunken fumbling encounter is over, Eddie demands Carole's silence, threatening to tell her parents what they have just done. He blackmails her into giving him one of her parents prized possessions - a silver cigarette case.

                          Already sensing that something isn't quite right with Eddie, Carole decides to leave. But at that moment there is a knock at the door. An older woman called Rita enters the room and soon Carole is experiencing the worst night of her life which is going to haunt her forever. Naomi, returning to check on Carole, witnesses the aftermath and soon there is a tragedy which must be covered up.

                          * What I thought *

                          I picked this book because I had seen it advertised and reviewed in two magazines. I immediately started bidding for it on Ebay and eventually won it. The spiel on the back more or less says what I have told you above, yet from the start this is gripping stuff. Carole is shy, a little put upon but after 'that night' she is a changed person. She grows sullen and withdrawn, she can't sleep and starts to lose weight rapidly with the worry.

                          Thinking she'll never see Eddie again is a mistake. He's a loose cannon, someone who is always going to pop up in her life to demand money, or to deliver a slap or a threat. He's a nasty bit of work and the author paints an excellent description of the bad boy with a chip on his shoulder. From the start he's blamed Carole for the events of that night and he's not going to let her get away with it. He intimidates her at every opportunity.

                          I loved the way that the girls go from being close friends to almost deadly enemies. Naomi 'lost' the bet so why is she seen kissing Eddie shortly afterwards? Once they're at college Naomi and Carole barely speak - all three present that night have sworn never to talk about what happened.

                          On the front cover of the book Wally Lamb, the author, has said 'Sits comfortably alongside Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' and Patricia Highsmith's 'The Talented Mr Ripley'. I think this is a very apt description. The whole book centres on an 'accidental' crime - something that was never meant to happen and the reader is taken in with the accomplices and swept along with their deception.

                          Some of the chapters are fairly lengthy, one was around 30 pages although there are a fair amount of breaks in between. The book takes us through Carole's university life and her solitude because she can't get close to anyone. We see how she changes, robbing her family to keep Eddie's silence, and seeing Naomi only sporadically and finally, running away to start afresh. Will the past catch up with her?

                          This is a taut psychological thriller. Eddie appears menacingly throughout and the reader starts to dread his next entrance, almost as much as Carole. Covering the 11 years after the fateful night, Carole is forced to carry a secret throughout her teenage years and in doing so, alienates herself from her family, who cannot understand why she has become so withdrawn. But won't she have to confront her demons at some point? Secrets never stay buried for long …

                          'If the three of us keep our mouths shut, nobody will be the wiser'.

                          * Verdict *

                          This is an excellent debut novel, which encaptures a soured friendship, with Naomi continually betraying Carole, even years later. The three central characters are very well developed, and Pam Lewis brings in a surrogate family for Carole - her friend Rachel, with her hippy boyfriend and free spirited children, and Will, Carole's boyfriend. These new friends know nothing of her past life, and Carole has played her part well, giving very little away about herself.

                          I really enjoyed this book. It lived up to its expectations and indeed surpassed them. I could see this being made into a film (although this kind of thing has been done before) - the characters are intriguing enough to get a really clear picture in your head of what they're like. We see Carole's change in personality, a shared secret that should never surface, and friendships new and old, which show that sometimes the past can come back to haunt us.

                          Disturbing. A page turner. This one will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

                          5 stars and a hearty recommendation from KM.

                          * Other info *

                          RRP £7.99 (play.com £5.99 delivered but listed under the name of Pamela Lewis)
                          Paperback
                          448 pages
                          Headline Book Publishing Ltd (UK)
                          ISBN 0755309537

                          * About the author *

                          Pam Lewis lives in Connecticut, USA. She has written short fiction which has appeared in the New Yorker.

                          Thanks for reading.

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                            23.12.2005 17:33
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                            Wet Hot Suckers

                            Recently KM had to have a little laugh to herself. She signed up to test a few beauty products and what plopped through her door but these L'Oreal cellulite buster thingies. Why did she laugh? Because she couldn't care less about her flabby ass and dimpled thighs. After all, she can't see them! ;-)

                            OK so that's perhaps not the *entire* truth. Being of a certain age I do, in fact, possess a certain amount of dimply flesh on the leg area, and stretch marks too if you're asking. And I haven't even squeezed a sprog out of my body. But I did put on weight, then lost it, and I'm guessing that's how I got the extra etchings on my skin. Because I'm not overweight. In fact I'm only just over 8 stone which, for a tall gal, is borderline for being underweight. So ... stop laughing at the back! You'll get it too one day! However, thanks to L'Oreal, apparently there's a way to stop the orange peel look ...

                            * The product *

                            Well it comes in a box and there are six individually wrapped sachets in beautiful metallic turquoise paper. You can use them no more than twice a week but at the princely sum of £10.99 (Boots prices) I'd limit it to once a week. They are occasionally reduced so it's worth shopping around - Superdrug sell them too.

                            * The patches *

                            They contain caffeine Cx which is 'a powerful lipo-reducer which works to break down the fatty build up'. Eh?

                            * What they're supposed to do *

                            Reduce the orange peel effect, target stubborn areas and after 3 applications leave skin visibly smoothed.

                            * What they look like *

                            They are rectangular in shape with a clear self-adhesive strip over the main white background that contains the gel. They are fairly 'weighty' once free from the turquoise sachet.

                            * Instructions *

                            Basically you rip open the sachet, peel off the back and slap it onto your dimpled area, ensuring the skin is dry. This wasn't easy as it's *behind you* (sing in pantomime style) but I managed to place the strip and then rub over it a few times to make sure it's in place and won't shift. You are then free to go about your business.

                            It's recommended you keep the patch on for the maximum eight hours.

                            For the experiment, we were told to just use the product on one leg, so we could guage the results and compare the results to the untreated leg.

                            ***** Diary of events *****

                            * Patch One *

                            So to the first step. I'd been out on a Friday night to a concert at the Albert Hall and arrived back at approximately 11.30 pm. I decided to try out my first patch that night as they are supposed to stay on for a maximum of 8 hours. Worried I'd oversleep, I set my alarm. The patch went on easily enough but I immediately felt a 'wet sensation' followed very quickly by a burning sensation.

                            And it was *not* nice let me tell you!

                            My skin grew hotter and hotter. I was a little worried about this but thought that it must be working and got into bed. I lay there for a little while. Or so I thought. By 1am I was getting a tad teed off and counting sheep didn't help. The back of my right leg felt like it was on fire and I was *this* close to ripping it off. I felt that sleep was impossible but in the end I placed my hand over the strip and eventually nodded off. My theory was that my leg would think it was my hand warming it up rather than artificial methods. Clever, eh? *ahem*

                            Next morning ...

                            I woke up as soon as that alarm beeped at me and RIPPED IT OFF PRONTO!

                            Results: Ehm ... no change.

                            * Patch Two * (9 days later)

                            This time I tried to use it during the day as I thought maybe it would be easier as I'd be moving about. The patch had wrinkled up slightly and as I put it on, I felt the immediate wetness again. This time it was really bad and I was quite concerned the gel was leaking. I then had to go to the bathroom to check it was still in place. It was, but it was peeling off quite a bit at one of the corners. Grrr. The jeans went on but again I was very aware of the heat. Sitting in my chair reading I couldn't concentrate and ended up putting my hand over the area. So my hand was under my botty. Very fetching. Not!

                            Patch two stayed on for one hour and ten minutes before I got very annoyed, felt the wetness because it wasn't sticking properly, and I then went back into the bathroom and ripped it off and it went in the bin.

                            Results: After one hour, are you kidding?

                            * Patch Three * (5 days later)

                            As you can probably tell, by this time I was dreading using the next one. However, my experiment was only half way through and I was determined to keep on with it. So it was time for another 'night time' experience. This time before I applied it I made sure it wasn't wrinkled and smoothed it on over the same patch of skin.

                            I got into bed and guess what? Yup you got it, wet, burning, heat. I tried to go to my 'happy place' but in the end the hand went over the patched area and I eventually got some zzzzzs. I woke up a couple of times in the night and by 7am the 8 hours were up. I woke up, ripped it off, threw it at the bin (missed) and went back to sleep.

                            Can I just say at this point that I'm seriously beginning to wonder if the caffeine that gets into your bloodstream gives you an extra shot of double espresso coupled with a large Coke?

                            Results: Ehm well I felt maybe there was a *slight* improvement on the skin, a little softer. Dimples still there though. Of course.

                            * Patch Four * (7 days later)

                            Ugh, can you sense my reluctance? Yes patch four got slapped on the lower butt/thigh area just before bedtime again (glutton for punishment, ya see) and … could it be that it went on, I got in bed, and … nothing happened? Well for about 5 mins I lay there and didn't feel the searing heat thing but it was my mistake. A few seconds later the patch started getting hot and KM started to get annoyed. However I must be getting used to it as I slept right through the night, did my usual trick of waking up after 8 hours, ripped it off and threw it in the bin (it went in this time).

                            Results: Went running to the big mirror the next morning thinking that as I was over half way through the patches surely *this* time I'd see a difference? Skin still felt a bit smoother on that side but dimples still laughing at me.

                            * Patch Five * (7 days later)

                            Nearly finished! KM eagerly slapped the patch on this time - during the day. I decided to wear a skirt this time, they really don't work very well with wearing trousers when you err … go to the little ladies room they do loosen. The effect wasn't too bad, as you're moving about you're not as aware of the heat effect, although again it felt very wet and at first I kept having to check whether it was peeling away at the edges (answer: yes). I was very aware of it all day though - I just felt it was going to fall off and plop at my feet in front of everyone. Instead, the general public were probably more concerned why I kept lifting my skirt up to peek under it! It had to come off with still an hour to go before 'time was up' - it was literally hanging three quarters off by then. Bah. No change in KM's attitude towards these, thank gawd I've only got one left now …

                            Results: Skin still felt smooth and a little tighter, dimples oh yes, they are still there and always will be.

                            * Patch Six * (5 days later)

                            Ahh, the last one! Relief. KM's torture, I mean experiment, is almost over. I slapped it on at midnight and went to bed. It came off twice in the night and twice I attempted to stick it back on my leg whilst half asleep. *sighs* It had unfurled at the edges and had lost most of its stickiness. After the 8 hours were up I didn't have too much trouble removing it as it was only hanging on by a corner by this time!

                            Results: We were told to measure our thigh beforehand (mine was 21 inches) and after 6 patches worth (or five and a bit at any rate!) it was *drum roll pur-lease* 20 and a half inches! Woo. Hmm well it seems they do work then. Sort of.

                            Call me cynical but I never thought for a moment these patches would get rid of my dimply bits. Once cellulite attaches itself to you, it's there for life. And I have other things to worry about. So - are these worth the money? Do they live up to their promises?

                            Answer to those questions would be no. There is absolutely no way I'd fork out good money for these unless I wanted to be an insomniac with a wet, hot leg. £11 buys you roughly five and a half cups of Starbucks coffee which is a far more enjoyable way to stay awake all day (and night).

                            * Caution *

                            Don't leave on for longer than 8 hours.

                            There is a warning about overheating/prickling sensation. I'm pointing out now I'm not particularly sensitive to any type of cosmetic so if any of you are, I wouldn't even *think* about using these!

                            If redness persists, stop use.

                            * Verdict *

                            Two stars and that's for my smoother skin and the half inch weight loss. To get this effect on both legs I'm sure you'd need 2 packets of the PerfectSlim Patch, making it an even more expensive beauty 'treat'ment. Apart from the fact they didn't make a difference to my cellulite (which I don't have a great deal of anyway), they feel horrible, keep you awake and don't stick to your skin very well. It's just not practical to use these during the day as you're going about your business either, they only work if you're stationary (or don't ever need to use the .. ahem … restroom!).

                            KM doesn't approve. These are truly a nasty invention.

                            Thanks for reading my diary.

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                              20.12.2005 10:15
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                              Have family, Will travel

                              Mary has just given birth. She is in hospital in Africa and has no interest in her baby. He was born prematurely and is in an incubator. And she doesn't want to touch him. The doctor, concerned about her, goes to another patient, Julia Lament, who has also recently given birth. He thinks if Mary touches another baby, she will get used to it and this will lessen the chances of rejection.

                              Reluctantly, Julia agrees. Anything to help another mother. But once Mary sees Julia's baby, she falls in love with him. He's so unlike her own weak, frail child. And when it's her turn to leave the hospital, she decides she wants to take him with her….

                              And so begins a bizarre tale of children switched at birth. Because Dr Underberg, however misplaced his intentions were, decides to make things right. He tells Howard and Julia Lament "A fine couple, ideal parents, who have lost a baby, on the one hand, and an orphan, abandoned by his parents, who insists on surviving". A plan brews - the Laments will take Mary's abandoned baby and bring him up as their own.

                              And let him be called Will.

                              * Humour *

                              Well this is a strange book, make no mistake! But from the start it's likeable and displays large amounts of black comedy, which I loved. The back of the cover suggests it's a 'close relative to that greatest of all American family stories, The Simpsons' which I'm not sure I agree with. I find the humour is subtle compared to the slapstick comedy that Homer and Marge exude.

                              One example I particularly liked is when the Laments are at their first home after Southern Rhodesia - they move to the Persian Gulf and befriend an American couple, the Howitzers. 'Trixie' is a glamour puss, hard drinking and wearing sunglasses all day long to hide her black eye. Chad, her no-necked husband is a loud talking, no nonsense kinda guy that says what he thinks and doesn't care who he insults. Before a dinner party, Will (who is three years old at this point and used to his nanny emptying his potty) pees into the carafe of olive oil to be served to the guests that evening.

                              "Say,", said Chip. "I love this bread!"

                              Trixie took the crust from his hand and tasted it.

                              "It's not the bread, honey, it's the olive oil. It's fabulous! Tangy!"

                              I found this highly amusing - the couple are an unlikeable pair and to see them get their comeuppance is oddly satisfying.

                              With the birth of Will's twin brothers, Marcus and Julius, Julia's maternal affections switch to the newborns. Will is now the 'older brother' and it's his job to keep them out of trouble as they grow into naughty toddlers. This sometimes means taking the blame for their mischievous pranks.

                              And so the reader is taken through events such as JFK's assassination and Winston Churchill's funeral as Will and his brothers grow up into young men. We see Will's bid to dig a hole to China, we see him dealing with the school bully in England (and adopting a semi-cockney accent with full on swearing technique!) and of course his first love, who is so vain that she carries a biscuit tin lid around with her to admire her reflection.

                              Will is a most likeable character. He is caring and decent to everyone he meets. The other Laments have their faults but Will is always the peacekeeper and the saviour, sometimes at odds when his twin brothers form a united front against him and fighting his own demons, especially 'The Midnight Chinaman'.

                              * Enjoyment factor *

                              I guess my main reason for reading this would be the travel aspect. Having been to a fair number of countries it's always enjoyable for me to read about other places and cultures and this book certainly dotted about the world. After reading the blurb at the front of the book regarding the author (see below) he obviously has a fondness for these places as he's spent time there. The characters that he introduces are different - some funny, some loud and some plain weird! This makes for an interesting read as we are taken on a journey to Africa, Bahrain, England and the good ole USA.

                              The countries are very well described, from the dusty Arabian medina and mysterious Arab man in the white suit, who seems taken with Julia to the rainy, British weather and 'trying' to enjoy a family holiday on a shingle beach with a spoiled picnic and crying children. Everywhere they go, the Laments attempt to fit in to their new life, but it's not always easy. Just because you live in a place, it does not mean it's your 'home'.

                              One cannot help thinking that the author perhaps pokes fun at some of the way the inhabitants behave in their countries - the American characters seem brash and loud, the English bullying and cockney but this is not done in an insulting way and indeed, may even raise a smile or two!

                              I did identify with this book quite strongly. As a child I moved around with my parents every few years and didn't live in the UK until I was about seven years old. I could understand the family's upheaval, the parting from childhood friends and the excitement of living in a new house with adventures still to come.

                              I felt quite sad each time the Laments moved - the characters that they meet are so well written about that one almost feels as if we know them. We know that Will has to leave his friends (again) and make new ones, but at the same time we know that wherever the Laments go, they will make a new life there.

                              * Other info *

                              RRP £7.99
                              ISBN 0-340-83274-6
                              371 pages (paperback)

                              * About the author *

                              George Hagen was born in 1958 in Southern Rhodesia. He later moved to London and New Jersey and studied film at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. After that he spent several years in Los Angeles as a screenwriter and he now lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

                              * Verdict *

                              And so to the awarding of the stars. Well it has to be five, of course! This is a Richard and Judy summer read and I have been lucky to find a few of their chosen books at bargain prices in charity shops, and this one was no exception. I paid 99p for it which I'm thrilled with - I enjoyed every page. At a cover price of nearly £8 I would suggest trying to find it cheaper, Ebay and Amazon are always good bets for current books.

                              This book provides all the right ingredients to make an enjoyable read - smiles, clever anecdotes, engaging characters, childhood games and laugh out loud belly laughs. Among the humour, there are also touches of the problems the Laments encounter on their travels - keeping that all important secret of Will's parentage, racism, unemployment and battling depression. There are some moments of real heartbreak and tragedy. The balance of the comedy with the serious is just right, and for that some credit should go to Mr Hagen.

                              This is an amusing and touching story of a family's struggle to find themselves. Sometimes you have to travel to many places to find your wish. Go with the Laments and enjoy the ride.

                              Thanks for reading.

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                                16.12.2005 22:01
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                                A day out ends in tragedy ...

                                My fascination with this book started some time ago. Set in Australia, I had no idea of the background to the story until a few years ago when my friend and I went to Mount Macedon one night. While making our way steeply down in the car from the mountain in the pitch black, we came across a silhouette standing at the side of the road. I don't know who was more scared - the kangaroo or us. KM let out a girlie high pitched scream. The reason for this was that my friend had just decided to tell me the tale of what had allegedly happened at Hanging Rock. I think I was a little bit spooked.

                                When I went to Melbourne in March this year, we were again heading for Mount Macedon and took a wrong turn. And guess where we ended up? Yup, you got it, Hanging Rock. So now I've been there (and returned) - I shall now enlighten y'all to this tale of terror …

                                * The plot of the book *

                                Set in 1900, a school outing at Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day for the pupils of Appleyard College for Young Ladies ends in tragedy.

                                That morning starts well. It's a hot and sunny day, perfect weather for a picnic. The girls are excited to be heading out even though their destination is a fair distance away. After they arrive and have lunch four of the girls decide to go for a walk and they are seen crossing the river. Two boys, Mike and Albert, spot them and Albert lets out a low wolf whistle as the girls lift their skirts to prevent them from getting wet. Mike, an English boy only three weeks into his stay in Australia, is hypnotised by the pale blonde beauty of Miranda. Marion, Irma and Edith, the school 'dunce' follow closely behind.

                                What happens then is a mystery. At the end of the afternoon a teacher and three pupils have disappeared, and Edith returns, screaming and incoherent. She cannot remember what's occurred and reluctantly, after a fruitless search for the missing ladies, the rest of the school party head home without them.

                                * Spooky sightings *

                                Firstly, Joan Lindsay has not made it clear at the start of the book whether this is a true story or not. We are told to decide for ourselves. According to the place that I visited, this story is fiction. But my goodness, when you read the book you will re-live all the horrors and guilt that various members of the school, staff and the witnesses go through.

                                Some of the questions that go unanswered are tantalisingly laid before the reader.

                                Why were only two of the party wearing watches, and why did both watches stop during the day?

                                Why was the area they disappeared in, which was small, not disturbed and why were no footprints found?

                                Where was Miss McCraw, the prudish teacher, and why did she set down her book and her kid gloves before she disappeared without a trace? Did she follow the four girls? And more importantly, why was she last seen only wearing her pantaloons - where was her dress?!

                                Even though there was an eyewitness (the intellectually challenged Edith), she remembers nothing and is left traumatised and bedridden for days after. Ignorance really *is* bliss!

                                The two boys, Mike and his coachman, Albert, are obviously the last people to see the girls and are questioned by the police. Mike is still haunted by the lovely Miranda. Even though he's only had a fleeting glimpse of her, he decides against everyone's wishes, to return to The Rock and conduct his own search. Exhausted and dehydrated he collapses, but his efforts were not in vain. His trusty pal Albert follows him and that's when he makes a startling discovery ….

                                * What I thought *

                                I loved this. OK so I had an interest in it anyway having been to the location and climbed that rock on Good Friday (there weren't many people about either *shudder*). It's a beautiful setting and one can see over the vineyards for miles. However, it's steep and treacherous and while I was there I could imagine the girls in their long dresses, exploring and giggling but what did they find? And what did Edith see that terrified her so?

                                I had already seen Peter Weir's film from the '70s and that is a perfect version of events. But I tried to put that out of my mind while reading the book even though the two are very similar. The girls actually play a very small part in the book but the reader is left with the aftermath of the people who were closely involved. The anguish, the tears, the time passing and the continual nightmares that haunt the staff are very real.

                                Once the gossip starts, Mrs Appleyard, the headmistress, has to take action and let the parents and guardians know what has happened to the missing girls. In fact, she is so worried herself that she has to take 'a nip or two of brandy from the cupboard behind the desk'. These three girls were among her finest students and this doesn't look good at all - for her *or* the school. Her desperate attempts to cheer the girls up by painting the boarder's sitting room 'a ghastly shade of strawberry pink' and installing a grand piano go unnoticed by many.

                                We get the impression at the start that the pupils are very connected. They kiss each other goodnight (?) although I can't remember ever doing that at *my* boarding school. Heck maybe things are different in Oz. <snigger> Anyway there is a definite hint of suppressed sexuality throughout, from the rustling dresses and the discarded clothing that is found after the disappearance to Albert and Mike's 'friendship' which is also very close. The film explores this a little better with the visual dreaminess but it is still apparent in the book.

                                It's hard to say which genre this book fits into but I'll settle for crime as the main story is the disappearance of the girls and a crime does occur - although it isn't what the reader may expect. But it also explores many other avenues such as class, friendship, loss, helplessness and grief. There is also an unrequited love story thrown in for good measure so this does keep the pages turning although it's all too brief and, at less than 200 pages, will be finished before you know it.

                                What I loved was the simple story that just laid down the foundation for a really good mystery and then expands into concentrating on the suffering of those left behind. Mike's dreams are disturbed by visions of Miranda and even after his accident, he thinks he sees her in odd places. After a while the reader doesn't know what's real and what's imaginary.

                                'He had just turned his back on the retreating dog-cart and was walking rather unsteadily across the lawn when his ear caught the splash of water coming from the direction of the lake, where a girl in a white dress was standing beside a giant clamshell that served as a birds' bath, under an oak. The face was turned away, but he knew her at once by the poise of the fair tilted head, and began running towards her with the sickening fear that she would be gone before he could reach her, as invariably happened in his troubled dreams'.

                                I loved my book. It was from the olden days, an ex-library copy with thick pages and lines that were typed round the wrong way, which just added to the general confusion of the story! I got it from Ebay and I've bid many a time for it over the past few years and not won it but it just goes to show that perseverance does pay off!

                                * Verdict *

                                Well it has to be five stars. I've had to search for this book but I'm so glad I finally got a chance to read it. This is a really different type of book, it's not a James Patterson violent read or a ghostly Dean Koontz or a Stephen King spectacular. Indeed, this book is out there on its own, different from anything else I've ever read.

                                It's a slow moving mystery which is subtle, rather clever and quaint. And it has largely gone unnoticed. I certainly had not even heard of it until a few years ago even though it was published in the late '60s. The language is a little stilted but because of the era, it fits in rather well and there are even a few little jokes and swear words that will keep you amused.

                                There are also excellent descriptions of the countryside, scenery and wildlife to set the mood and ensure you remember this is Australia we are reading about.

                                'Presently the possums came prancing out on to the dim moonlit slates of the roof. With squeals and grunts they wove obscenely about the squat base of the tower, dark against the paling sky'.

                                Whether the disappearance is ever resolved I shall not reveal. But to read about Appleyard School and the black cloud that lingered over it for years after was an enjoyable yet sinister read. The sense of eeriness remains throughout, right until you turn the final page. Highly recommended.

                                * Other info *

                                RRP £6.99 (play.com £5.49 with free delivery)
                                Publisher: Vintage (UK)
                                Paperback
                                192 pages
                                ISBN 0099750619

                                * About the author *

                                Joan Lindsay was born in St Kilda, Melbourne. Her husband is Sir Daryl Lindsay. She died in 1984.

                                Thanks for reading.

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                                  12.11.2005 22:19
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                                  tropical setting, comfortable hotel.

                                  While on my recent tour around New Zealand, we stayed in 12 different hotels. Yes indeedy folks, it wasn't even worth unpacking in most of them. The Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel is situated in the Bay of Islands, on the North Island. This was our base for two nights while we visited 'nearby' Cape Reinga, which was, in fact, about 4-5 hours drive away at the very northernmost tip of the island. But that's nothing to the New Zealanders!

                                  * The hotel *

                                  Well from my title you can imagine the décor, yes it's got a pale pink exterior. But don't let that put you off. Our tour bus was greeted by the owners, who pointed us in the right direction to our rooms. There are three blocks of accommodation which are all tiered. Our block had two levels and there are fairly steep steps up to your room if you're not on ground level, so it's not for the very infirm.

                                  Facilities include a free sauna, gym and sunbed (bonus!) and the hours are generally around 8am to 8pm. There is a laundry, car park and conference room. Reception is not open 24 hours - 7am to 9pm. As such we did not have a check in as our tour guide went in to collect our room keys, which had already been allocated.

                                  * The room *

                                  The bathroom was situated on the left as we entered, and the room was spacious. There was one double bed and one single by the window (we tossed and guess who ended up with the single? Yup, li'l ole me). There was also a sofa and table.

                                  After a quick inspection there were a few minor gripes. There was no mirror in the main room - this was situated inside the wardrobe (which wasn't immediately obvious). Also the lighting was pretty poor in there - the room appears dark most of the time and if I was reading or writing I'd have to sit on the sofa which was underneath one of the two ceiling lights. I had no light at all over my bed which meant I couldn't read or, in fact, see the tv. The double bed, on the other hand, had attached table lights on either side of it and prime view of the television. Hmph!

                                  On the plus side there were some good points about the room - tea and coffee making facilities, a fridge and plenty of space so we didn't get under each other's feet. There was also a table fan and a heater to cater for all weathers. Let's just say the heater got used a fair amount!

                                  There's a direct dial phone but if ringing home I recommend purchasing a phonecard as hotels always charge a hefty amount! Phonecards start at $5 and my friend and I both had around 15 minutes each of phone time with this - bargain!

                                  The outlook was fairly pretty too - out of the window we could see other houses and palm trees and from the door we could see lots of shrubs, trees and rose bushes.

                                  There are 13 air conditioned superior rooms, 23 standard rooms and 2 rooms with facilities for the disabled.

                                  * Bathroom *

                                  Again fairly large. There were lots of towels which were changed daily (believe me, this isn't always the case in hotels!), a box of tissues, the handy little useless freebie of the washing up liquid, I mean shampoo and the piece de resistance, a hairdryer.

                                  The shower was a little temperamental too - gushing out *extremely* hot water when you least expected it! That sure used to wake us up!

                                  * The restaurant *

                                  Situated up a few steps above the reception, this is a *major* plus to the hotel. The Volcanic Stone restaurant is the 'hottest place to eat in the Bay'. Why? Because it's served on your own sizzling hot stone that is heated to 400 degrees celsius so your meal stays hot right up to the last bite!

                                  We ate here both nights, as did most of our tour group. If you don't want to go the Stone route, there are other main courses such as chicken, salmon, fish and steak all around the $25 mark (£11). However the stonegrill specialties I have to highly recommend - they come with potatoes and vegetables and you can have practically anything you want on there. I had steak but there's also chicken, lamb, surf 'n' turf or a mixed grill. It's absolutely delicious and one of the owners will even give you 'instructions' on how to cook the steak to your own preference. My friend likes hers cremated but I like mine medium, so it's up to you as and when you take it off the heat and start to eat! Yum.

                                  We also had breakfast here and the guys very kindly laid on our very own 'early' breakfast as we had to be out of the hotel at some ungodly hour for our tour. The continental breakfast is $13.50 and is served buffet style but there are cheaper options available and hot alternatives if you're a bit hungrier.

                                  Room service is available.

                                  * What's nearby *

                                  The beach is just 150 metres away. There are also other restaurants, bars and shops along the waterfront within easy walking distance of around 5 minutes. There are banks nearby plus a Kingfisher convenience store which is located in the same road as the hotel, around 150 metres away. This is open from 7.30 am to 9 pm.

                                  We were also very near the port which took us to Cape Brett the following day, which is a fun cruise to see The Hole In the Rock and you get a chance to visit the nearby island of Russell and go up on deck to admire the view. Lots of fishing, scuba and sailing around this area if you're keen, plus kayaking and generally anything to do with the water!

                                  * The staff *

                                  This is where the Paihia Pacific came into its own. The two male owners were fab and were very 'hands on'. We saw them many times throughout our short stay and they were always on hand with a joke and were very friendly and helpful.

                                  There are a couple of other staff, a lady and a young guy that work in the restaurant. Again they are very friendly and asked us about our day and always told us about the specials in the restaurant and were very pleasant.

                                  * Reception *

                                  This is a small area with wicker furniture and plants - the whole place feels tropical with a cozy feel so why not sit here and sip on a cocktail? There are information leaflets with ideas on where to go/what to see which are free to pick up.

                                  * Check out *

                                  Is at 10 am. Prices of rooms vary according to which month you book but it's worth checking out the internet for deals as sometimes a free breakfast is included or a suite upgrade is available for a small surcharge.

                                  * Other info *

                                  Part of the Mainstay group.

                                  27 Kings Road
                                  Paihia
                                  Bay of Islands

                                  Phone 64 (0)9 402 8221
                                  Fax 64 (0)9 402 8490

                                  www.paihiapacific.co.nz
                                  email: info@paihiapacific.co.nz

                                  * Overall *

                                  I loved this hotel. Many of the others we had stayed in on our tour were large and impersonal. They were literally a room for the night. With the Paihia Pacific Resort the owners were fantastic, very patient and always had time for a chat which really makes a difference to an enjoyable stay. This is a small, relaxed hotel, and a bit out of the way compared to some of the others we stayed in, but it was my favourite. It's quiet and comfortable for a short stay - perfect. If you do go to New Zealand and pass this way, I definitely recommend popping in.

                                  Thanks for reading.

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