SONGWRITING TIPS AND ADVICE ON THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS FOUND IN ALL HIT SONGS

Category Archives: Rock music

SONGWRITING TIPS: David Bowie's 'cut-up' method of writing lyrics

When David Bowie released his twenty-fourth studio album, The Next Day, in 2013, a journalist asked him to explain his thinking behind the new songs, each of which featured unusual, cryptic lyrics and surreal imagery.

Bowie responded by sending the journalist a list of 42 words which supposedly provided the framework for the critically-acclaimed album. Here are those 42 words:

Effigies … Indulgences … Anarchist … Violence … Chthonicum … Intimidation … Vampyric … Pantheon … Succubus … Hostage … Transference … Identity … Mauer … Interface … Flitting … Isolation … Revenge … Osmosis … Crusade … Tyrant … Domination … Indifference … Miasma … Pressgang … Displaced … Flight … Resettlement … Funereal … Glide … Trace … Balkan … Burial … Reverse … Manipulate … Origin … Text … Traitor … Urban … Comeuppance …. Tragic … Nerve … Mystification.

Quite a confusing lyrical framework for an album that ended up including song titles such as: ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘Love Is Lost’, ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Next Day’.

Maybe the answer can be found in a 2008 interview with Bowie. In it he described how he often came up with interesting lyric lines by employing the ‘cut-up’ writing technique used by postmodernist author William S. Burroughs in his controversial novel Naked Lunch.

‘Cut-up’ is a literary technique designed to add an element of chance to the creative process. It involves taking a finished line of text and cutting it into pieces—usually with just one or two words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged to create a brand new text.

The cut-up concept can be traced back to the Dadaists of the 1920s, but it was developed further in the early 1950s by painter, writer and sound poet Brion Gysin—and then popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Burroughs.

David Bowie explained: “I used it for igniting anything that may have been in my imagination … You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections, then mix them up and reconnect them.

“You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations,” he said. “You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”

The ‘cut-up’ technique is also said to have influenced Kurt Cobain’s songwriting. And Thom Yorke applied a similar method on Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A. Yorke reportedly wrote single lines, put them into a hat, and drew them out at random while the band rehearsed the songs.

Here’s Bowie explaining his cut-up technique in the 1975 BBC TV documentary Cracked Actor

In the early 1990s, Bowie developed a more advanced version of his ‘cut-up’ technique when he teamed up with Gracenote co-founder Ty Roberts to create the Verbasizera custom program for Apple’s Mac which is now regarded as an early form of AI-based songwriting.

The Verbasizer randomized portions of Bowie’s inputted text sentences to create new ones with new meanings and moods. It would cut up and reassemble Bowie’s words electronically, much like he had done with paper, scissors and glue back in the 1970s. Bowie made use of the Verbasizer to create the lyrics and liner notes for his 1995 album Outside.

“What you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other,” Bowie explained in this 1997 documentary about the Verbasizer …

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“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.A 5-star rated book at Amazon, “How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

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“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS

“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

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Foo_Fighters_-_Rock_am_Ring_2018-5671 Andreas Lawen, Fotandi

Photo: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi

As experienced songwriters know, you only have a limited amount of time in which to grab a listener’s attention and create a lasting impression on them. If your song structure and lyrics are too complicated and difficult to understand, listeners may find it hard to grasp what you’re trying to communicate to them … and they could soon lose interest in the song.

The Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl compares this challenge to trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. “You have to try to find a melody and lyric that will braid together and create four minutes of memory that you’ll have for the rest of your life,” he explained in a recent Billboard Chart Beat podcast.

“To me, the challenge is always trying to craft a song that is simple in a way that people will connect to it emotionally,” he said. “Even just a melody … that’s a funny thing. A lyric is one thing, but there’s something that a melody can do … just the sound of a minor scale, or a major scale rising in a chorus. The notes will twist your heart.”

As Dave Grohl acknowledges, for a song to become a great song it must be able to reach out and touch listeners and stimulate an emotional response within them. It should make them feel something and take them on an emotional journey.

The great George Gershwin once described songwriting as “an emotional science”, and scientific studies have shown that a wide range of notes can imply joy or uneasiness, while a narrower range of notes can suggest tranquillity, sadness or triumph.

Major chords often convey happiness or joy, while minor chords are associated with sadness. Using a mix of minor chords and major chords can add extra depth and colour to a song. But chord progressions should not be so complicated that they don’t flow properly and end up wandering aimlessly.

And remember, a song should contain only one story, or one message, told from a single point of view. Lyrically, you can avoid confusing the listener by using the viewpoint character’s thoughts and perceptions to drive the song.

New songwriters, who are still developing their craft, often fall into the trap of believing that every line of their song has to be clever or tricky in order to make an impression on the listener. What they should really be focusing on is making sure that the structure of their song is clear, simple and easy to follow. This will make it easier for people to feel an emotional connection with the song.

As Dave Grohl suggests, even within a simple song form the use of certain chord progressions and recurring sequences of notes can have an emotional effect on the listener. The Foo Fighters’ classic song “Times Like These” is a great example of this …

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SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.A 5-star rated book at Amazon, How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


 

Paul_Weller_S4_0054_SMALLER-920x584From Paul Weller’s emergence as a songwriting force with the power punk of The Jam in the 1970s to the soul sounds of The Style Council in the 1980s—followed by many diverse solo albums since—he has continually evolved his approach to songwriting. Weller warns that writers who don’t seek new challenges risk simply repeating themselves and could start to bore their listeners as a result.

“No matter what age you are, there’s always something else to learn,” he told Another Man magazine in a recent interview. “I just want to keep finding new things—new ground. You have to keep moving forward.”

Weller believes it’s essential for songwriters to set themselves a goal with each new song. “I might have an idea, however vague it is at the time, of where I want to try and take the music,” he told Another Man. “Sometimes you get there, sometimes you don’t – and sometimes you end up with something that isn’t what you set out to do, but is something else again, and something that surprises you because you didn’t realise you could go there.”

He added: “It’s a question of setting yourself a certain amount of challenges. Otherwise it’s too easy to get caught in a cycle of doing the same things over and over again.”

When new writers achieve an important breakthrough and discover a songwriting ‘formula’ that really works for them, they are naturally tempted to stick to it on every song. The innovation could be the result of a particular chord progression—or the use of a specific climactic chord change or a musical phrase—and it helps them create a new kind of song that evokes the best response they’ve ever had from listeners.

While they may want to take advantage of this winning ‘formula’ to help them establish their own distinctive sound and style, they should be careful not to end up writing songs that are all built around the same few notes, chords and keys. Each new song may sound great on its own, but there’s a danger that a writer could end up with a collection of songs that all sound alike—especially if he or she puts them together on the same demo submission, or on a showcase album, or on their own website and YouTube channel.

Paul Weller believes that being open to collaboration with other people is one way of constantly exploring new things and “expanding your own world”. For example, on his latest solo album, True Meanings (his 14th studio album), Weller has teamed up with other talent such as Lucy Rose, Conor O’Brien from Villagers, and Erland Cooper.

It has resulted in yet another new ‘sound’ for Paul Weller, as this beautiful track, ‘Gravity,’ demonstrates …

SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.A 5-star rated book at Amazon, How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

 



MAX MARTIN

“I don’t think Max Martin is human,” says record label boss and reality TV judge Simon Cowell. “Nobody human can do everything he’s done over the years. He has helped to make and define a sound and that’s what makes him a genius.”

With record sales in the hundreds of millions, Max Martin is acknowledged as one of the most successful songwriters and producers of the 21st century. His huge back catalogue includes massive hit songs for Adele, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, The Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber, Robyn, The Weeknd, and many more …

He has had writing credits on 22 songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 (that’s about 6% of all US Number One songs since 1991), which means he’s the third most successful songwriter in US chart history behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

In this rare Masterclass interview with Swedish journalist Jan Gradvall, the usually publicity-shy Max Martin discusses his phenomenally successful songwriting process … and reveals the special ingredients that make a great pop song.

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SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.A 5-star rated book at Amazon, How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).



SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS

With more new songs being written every week than ever before, songwriters are finding it harder to sound original and find rhymes and phrases that have not already been used. Now, a new kind of rhyming dictionary—titled Surprising Rhyming—aims to make it easier for writers to avoid clichés and craft rhymes that people may not have heard before.

Built on the findings of an in-depth study of the kind of ingenious rhymes used by some of the world’s greatest songwriters and lyricists, Surprising Rhyming offers an astonishing array of alternative rhyme options. Its 624 pages contain over 150,000 rhyming solutions for some 1,400 different rhyme sounds. These rhyme types are much broader than those found in traditional rhyming dictionaries which tend to show only ‘perfect’ or ‘true’ rhymes.

Using too many perfect rhymes can sometimes make a lyric sound tedious and predictable—and prone to clichés. To avoid this, Surprising Rhyming focuses instead on off-the-wall false-rhymes, half-rhymes, slant-rhymes and near-rhymes that are less predictable than exact rhymes … and are therefore more likely to surprise an audience.

The book also includes many new words that have been added to standard dictionaries in recent years.

The thousands of ‘surprising’ rhymes crammed into Surprising Rhyming’s pages are based on analyses of the unconventional ‘imperfect’ rhymes that have been used by influential songwriters and lyricists such as: Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Sara Bareilles, James Bay, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Sia Furler, Hozier, Jay-Z, Billy Joel, Carole King, Michael Kiwanuka, John Lennon, Lorde, John Mayer, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Bonnie McKee, Randy Newman, Dolly Parton, Christina Perri, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Taylor Swift, Cat Stevens, Bernie Taupin, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Wonder … and many more.

The concept of the book was inspired by a remark made by Stephen Sondheim, the legendary Broadway composer and lyricist. In a PBS News Hour interview, Sondheim described how people’s ears have come to expect certain rhymes and suggested that writers should try to fool their audience by coming up with rhymes that will take listeners by surprise.

The ‘surprising’ rhymes listed in this book are typically formed by words with similar but not identical sounds (such as rain/blame or day/late) rather than the more predictable ‘perfect’ rhymes found in traditional rhyming dictionaries (like rain/pain or day/stay).

For example, if you’re looking for a rhyme for the word “true”, rhyming dictionaries typically offer perfect rhymes such as “blue”, “due”, “knew” or “who”. Instead, Surprising Rhyming pairs “true” more imaginatively with words like “smooth”, “tune”, “gloom”, “soon” and “groove”.

If your rhyme word is “suffer”, traditional rhyming dictionaries offer rhymes like “rougher”, “tougher” or “buffer”. Surprising Rhyming’s alternative suggestions for “suffer” include: “lover”, “brother”, “summer”, “discover” and “another”.

And if you need a rhyme for the word “gamble”, you’ll normally be offered “ramble”, “scramble” or “shamble”. But Surprising Rhyming’s solutions also include: “bangle”, “dangle”, “candle” and “handle”.

Surprising Rhyming is a new kind of rhyming dictionary that encourages writers to be more adventurous in their approach to rhyming,” explained the book’s creator and editor, Brian Oliver, author of the five-star rated book How [Not] to Write a Hit Song! 101 Common Mistakes to Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success.

He said: “Many of the cleverest perfect rhymes have been used so many times over the years that they’ve now become tired clichés and writers often struggle to find rhymes or phrases that haven’t been heard before. As a brainstorming tool,  Surprising Rhyming is designed to enable writers to challenge themselves and make their rhymes bolder and more original … and less predictable.”

The book is laid out clearly to make it quick and easy to find the perfect word to achieve a memorable rhyme. There are separate sections for one-, two-, three- and four-syllable rhymes, along with many useful tips on rhyming.

“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a free sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

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BONO

“I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that’s not good.

“When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine – I don’t care …

“In the end, what is rock & roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock & roll tends to have that, which is why the Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam …”.

Bono (in a new interview with Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone)

(Bono photo by Daniel Hazard)

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“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.
A 5-star rated book at Amazon,
How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


TAYLOR SWIFT, 2013

Spare a thought for Taylor Swift the next time you’re working on a new song and you’re going through the agony of trying to find the right chord progression, or struggling to find the right lyric line or a clever rhyme. Seems it happens to her too.

In this behind-the-scenes video, Taylor Swift provides a rare glimpse into her songwriting process. She shares personal videos of herself at the piano and on guitar when she was creating her song ‘Gorgeous’ from her sixth studio album, Reputation. The song is composed in the key of C major with a tempo of 92 beats per minute, with Taylor’s vocals spanning from G3 to C5.

She co-wrote the song with Max Martin and Shellback.

Top photo: Jana Zills

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“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE A HIT SONG! - 101 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT SONGWRITING SUCCESS” is available from Amazon as a paperback and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.
A 5-star rated book at Amazon,
How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).