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22 Jump Street [DVD] [2014]
22 Jump Street [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Channing Tatum
Price: £10.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dude, Its Awesome!, 7 Jun 2014
This review is from: 22 Jump Street [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
Having (surprisingly) loved the first film, I went into this one with some trepidation. So, I was delighted to find that the film plays on this anticipation, and the general crappiness of sequels (cue 'no-one thought it would work the first time, but you surprised everyone, and they decided to double the budget.') Of course there will be reviews that completely miss the joke, and I expect numerous 'the plot is identical to the first film.'

This is definitely a film for those who remember the films of the 80s and 90s the first time round, and I lost count of film homages (Ace Ventura, Police Academy to name two.) And I did enjoy the digs Tatum took at himself: Schmidt: Maybe we could joint the CIA and infiltrate the White House. Jenko: Well, I thought it was a good idea. (There's also reference to Amanda Bynes (She's The Man) and Step Up franchise.) I'm glad that the dropped the gross-out jokes, and went for a more satirical line.

I also have gave a mention to Ice Cube, who stole every scene he was in.

I suspect that this will be the last Jump Street film, but I hope not, it's too good. And make sure you watch the credits, the montage is brilliant.

Sacred Treason
Sacred Treason
by James Forrester
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2.0 out of 5 stars A Tudor Da Vinci Code, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Sacred Treason (Paperback)
I bought this book because it was written by historian Ian Mortimer, and was hoping for something better than the usual HF fare, and it's impossible to criticise the history (which makes a change!)

However, this book demonstrates all the worst qualities of genre fiction. The characters weren't fleshed out, and just vehicles for the plot. The plot was derivative, hackneyed, and clichéd, as though it was straight out of Dan Brown's note book, using codes and ciphers that weren't that clever. Nothing really happens, just the two leads running from one part of London (via Sheffield at one point), there's a lot of torture, implied rape and murder (much of which could have been left to the readers imagination). The villains are of the dog-kicking variety, and I think Mortimer does a disservice to Walsingham who was much more clever and interesting a character than is seen here. The character of Rebecca also concerns me, as she isn't there to serve the plot, but just to be a victim (even Sophie in DVC was better developed than Rebecca.) The only character I did like was Lady Percy (by the way Mortimer, the Earls also have Warkworth Castle as well as Alnwick in Northumberland.)

I was also expecting a bit more Scottish history, with maybe a bit of complicity from Mary, Queen of Scots.

If you liked DVC you'll probably enjoy this. If you don't, best to avoid and stick with Shirley Mackay or CJ Sansom.

White House Down [DVD] [2013]
White House Down [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Channing Tatum
Price: £5.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smarter Than You Average Blow-em-Up Fest, 26 Jan 2014
I'm going to admit it, the only reason I watched this film was because Channing Tatum was in it. I went in with really low expectations, mainly because I do like a good action flick, but most which involve blowing things up and killing people end up being dumb 'idiot male' movies.

But, I actually really enjoyed this film. Far from taking it seriously (unlike Olympus Has Fallen, which takes itself far too seriously), if you go in expecting a parody then it an enjoyable film. What made it a four-star for me - rather than a three - was its sharp observations of US-Arab-Israeli politics, and really loved the way it subverted the automatic response 'its the Arabs.' It was a clever touch to see the US as the aggressors, rather than the 'others' (whether that be the Middle East, Korea or Britain.)

Highly recommended.

Life After Life
Life After Life
Price: £3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Life after Life, 25 Jan 2014
This review is from: Life After Life (Kindle Edition)
Its been a while since I've read a Kate Atkinson novel (having discovered her at university), and I couldn't put this down. If you've read Behind The Scenes at the museum, you'll enjoy this. If you're better acquainted with her crime fiction, its a far more challenging read, but stick with it (it does require you to fill in the gaps.)

Rome's Fallen Eagle (Vespasian)
Rome's Fallen Eagle (Vespasian)
by Robert Fabbri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.29

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please!, 24 Jan 2014
One thing you can't deny is that Fabbri knows how to write a page-turner. So, far I have to admit that book II has been the best of the series. I think Robert Fabbri's advantage over other writers of Roman HF is that he can get under the skin of the Romans, and really evoke the ancient world in the same way that Christian Cameron does for Athens. He has an extraordinary talent for getting to grips with Roman politics and writing it in a way that is accessible to the non-academic. Book II showed Fabbri at his height.

Another reviewer has commented that Fabbri seems to be growing constrained by history. I disagree, this where he excels (and I think he should stick to it more, rather than adding his fictions.) I would argue that he is becoming constrained because he is covering the same territory as many other recent authors (Simon Scarrow, Manda Scott, Douglas Jackson.) Which leads me to a second problem I had. As I neared the end of the novel I asked myself 'would it have mattered if the plot-strand of the Eagle of the XVII wasn't there, would it matter? My answer was no, and it would have been a stronger novel to forgo the boys-own antics and concentrated more on the actual invasion of Britain. It actually ended up ludicrous the idea that Vespasian could go trampling through Germania with several cohorts, and a legion in pursuit without causing another massacre by the Germans. And that's Fabbri's problem, he's now become reliant on a formula: (1) The book starts off with an historical event, sending the hero fleeing to some far-flung province; (2) Hero gets involved with boys-own antics, which is sabotaged by competitor/spy; (3) Back to historical event, ending on a hook. It made me wonder how many more lost eagles could possibly be out there waiting to be found in fiction-land?

The other major problem was that the characters seemed to spend more time standing around talking about the plot, than actually getting on with it. A few times is fine, but when it's constant, you end up feeling had the author removed these scenes there would have been a lot more plot to enjoy (and a four-star review.)

I was disappointed that Fabbri opted for the typical portrayal of Druidism 'as blood-thirsty priests,' which is neither supported by history or archaeology. I am no apologist, and do believe they committed human sacrifice, but it was hypocritical to vilify them as child-murders (in a book that starts of with a child having its head smashed against the wall), and burying virgins alive (Vespasian's own son is documented as doing this to a Vestal.)

It's a decent pot-boiler, but in the end I finished it thinking how superb a writer Rosemary Sutcliff was . . .

The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb
by John Henry Clay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brazier-Embers, 2 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Lion and the Lamb (Hardcover)
I bought this book after a visit to Vindolanda, and was persuaded to buy this because the author is an academic in Anglo-Saxon history at Durham University.

I'm a great admirer of Alex Woolf, but I have to strongly disagree that Clay is the 'New Rosemary Sutcliff.' You can certainly draw parallels between The Lion and the Lamb and The Eagle of the Ninth certainly: Roman soldier travels around Britain accompanied by his slave in search of redemption; he visits many of the same locations as Marcus Aquila (passes through the wall at Vercovicium/Housesteads, Trimontium/Newsteads), and Silvanicum is close enough to Calleva for it not to be coincidental, the antagonists are the Scottish tribes, and he ends up with the tribal-girl in the end.) All that's missing is a wolf-cub and a lost legion.

This is not however the reason that JH Clay can't hold a brazier ember to Sutcliff. Sutcliff is a joy to read, her books are full of charm and warmth. She had a way with language too, it was evocative and textured, where Clay is simplistic and downright clumsy at times. Clay claims to be an admirer of Coetzee's uber-pared down language, however the language in this book is not something that can be compared to Coetzee. My main problem with this book is that everyone, and I mean every one is brutalized, there's no joy to be found even in hearth and home. As for Amanda and Patricia, they just walked out of a Jane Austen novel (namely Northanger Abbey.)

In an interview, I discovered that Clay had started writing this book as a 19 year old, and I think this could be its problem. Although beautifully researched, the plot lacked the maturity you would have expected from a scholar. It deals far too simplistically with the Picts, and the Barbarian Conspiracy is not explained well enough. The plot was just too weak (and absurd to be honest), and lacked any kind of arc.

A disappointing 3*.

After Flodden
After Flodden
by Rosemary Goring
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.69

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Clash of Kingdoms, 27 Sep 2013
This review is from: After Flodden (Hardcover)
When I found this book, I was excited to find a novel set in Medieval Scotland that didn't involve either William Wallace or Robert the Bruce. The early Stewart kings are a richly under mined period in historical fiction, lying in the shadow of England's Plantagent and Tudor dynasties.

However, I felt that this books was a novel of the two halves. It starts off very well, reminding me of the Scottish novels of James Robertson. The best written parts where from Paniter's POV, the descriptions where textured and evocative.

However, the book began to fall apart around p.150. The plot itself is full of holes. This first rears its head when Louise leaves Leith, for some inexplicable reason she travels down a route that would be best now explained as the stretch of the A1 from Edinburgh to Berwick. Surely, to travel to Flodden, the quicker and safer route would have been along the old Roman Road (which was still in use), through towns and villages such as Dalkeith, Pathead and Melrose and fortifications such as Craigmillar castle? The biggest plothole of all was the motivation of the spy (I'll not give any spoilers), he's never given any solid motivation apart from wanting to pick a fight.

Another perplexing moment was how the travellers managed to travel from the Scottish Borders to Durham in two days. 100 miles in two days in 1513? It would take a Roman courier two days to travel that kind of distance, and he would have required changing to fresh horses. I think four or five days would have been more realistic. Another bugbear was Goring's description of Northumberland and County Durham, I assume she's never visited the region. Her knowledge of Durham Castle was particularly poor. The 'castle' by this time was actually a Bishops Palace (today it is University College, home to students at Durham University), and Durham Gaol was located in the North Gate (now demolished.) Another annoyance was the use of 'Jeddart.' It wasn't until the author mentioned an abbey, that she meant Jedburgh.

Most surprising, is that the author is a literary critic. The story is populated with hackneyed tropes and clichéd characters. Louise is a weak character in constant need of being rescued, and would fit into a Medieval Perils of Pauline. The spy turns out to be mad and would fit better into a Victorian shilling-shocker. Neither am I convinced by the constant shifts in POVs, mainly of characters who appear and disappear never to reappear again. As I was reading, I was trying to workout why the story was so familiar, and I finally realised that it was a reworking of Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White. Some of the turn of phrase was clumsy, shifting to downright cringeworth.

I finished reading the book, thinking its okay and nothing more. The overwhelming feeling was that it read like a writer's first attempt at a novel, that should have really stayed shut away in the bottom drawer.

Poseidon's Spear (Killer of Men)
Poseidon's Spear (Killer of Men)
by Christian Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poseidon's Spear Review, 18 Sep 2013
As a history of Ancient Greece, it's hard to fault Poseidon's Spear, but as a historical novel it is deeply flawed. Maybe that is what lies at the root of the novel's problems, that the budding academic in Cameron forgot he was writing fiction, when what he really wanted to write was a book on trade in Classical Greece.

Firstly, my big problem was of the literary flavour. The jacket carries the tag 'an epic quest for revenge,' which would give the reader the idea that this book is going to be a story driven by a revenge plot, a storyline that is not resolved in this volume. It is nothing of the sort, rather a travelogue of trading in the Mediterranean and Iron Age Spain, France and Britain (which bizarrely jumps between the Greek and Roman names of places), leaving the story drifting along, and lacking the plot to thrust it forward. The novel really struggles to get going, and I struggled to get excited about it, nothing really gripping happened until page 150, but even then it was like a beached-whale. The book did improve near the end, but it could have really ended twenty pages earlier, which would have left it with a much stronger conclusion. Plot wise, it repeated the same motifs of previous Cameron books (even the same turn of phrase), and its starting to make the author predictable. What was most disappointing is the brief slavery storyline, I had enjoyed this in Killer of Men, and thought that Cameron's return to the theme would have been a deeper exploration of slavery and the exploitation of human life in Ancient Greece, but disappointingly it turns out it was just a plot device. And this is what I finished the book feeling, that this was not a novel in its own right, just a way for Cameron to manoeuvre Arimnestos into position for Artemesium and Thermopylae. But to be honest, you can skip this book and pick up where you left off with The Great King.

What I loved most about Cameron's previous books is his ability to world-build, and bring Ancient Greece to life, but was sadly lacking in this book. His portrayal of the still tribal Romans was a bit too knowing, and the Estrucians should have been the powerful Italic tribes (and I'm doubtful Roman culture was as developed as it is here.) Disappointingly, the Britons are described pretty much as the Keltoi, instead as a separate peoples, which they where; and Cameron falls back on cliché and doesn't seem to have researched as in depth as he would have. Ultimately, leaving this reader feeling he had bitten off more than he could chew.

Three stars, which may seem harsh, but I am judging this book against the standards of Cameron's previous work, and find it wanting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2013 4:52 PM GMT

Empress of Rome (Rome 3)
Empress of Rome (Rome 3)
by Kate Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars (Inaccurate) Historical Fiction, 23 July 2013
I picked up this book from my local library, because of the story of Hadrian and Sabina, which is my favourite period of Roman history. Hadrian is a fascinating character and his mark is still seen today in northern England, in Rome and Tivioli. He was a philosopher, a humanist and lover; but he was also a soldier-emperor, with a vicious temper, and didn't think twice if he had to purge Rome of political enemies. So it is quite bizarre to see him cast as a 'cold fish' in this novel. He was charismatic, and a tyrant. Sabina herself is one of history's most maligned women, and again, she is portrayed here as a whore (rather than a maiden) making no attempt to rectify her reputation. I think Elizabeth Spellman had it closer to the truth describing her as a 'disappointed woman.'

The story is a pretty straight forward (and clichéd) chick-lit, full of anchronisms (Sabina telling Plotina to 'get stuffed'.)Strangely enough, the most interesting character in the novel was Hadrian. Although, I don't know how anyone had anytime to run an Empire, considering how much sex was going on in the novel. Quinn had a good opportunity to dispel the sentimentally of Youcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, but failed to take it.

What ruined the book for me was the depth of the historical inaccuracies. Firstly, Quinn is obviously deeply confused about the organisation of the Roman Army, as well as the Cursus Honorem. The research she has carried out on Hadrian is of the most basic variety, Hadrian was never Legate of the Tenth. The idea that Hadrian slept his way through his officers is laughable (any officer who was known to have been the 'submissive' partner in a sexual relationship, could say goodbye to a political career.) Nerva has been completely written out of history here, and Trajan is portrayed as a benign father figure. The truth is that he overstretched the army, which Hadrian recognised and correctly reduced the territories. Sabina did indeed have her own money separate from Hadrian, and used it for charitable works. The land in Tibertina that Hadrian built his palace, came from Sabina. It was an interesting idea to make Shimon Bar-Kokhba a legionary, but it was quite impossible as Jews were excused service in the legions on religious grounds. The final straw for me was Antinous as the son of a camp follower, again we know that his father was one of Hadrian's huntsmen in Bithynia, where Hadrian met him.

A reasonable beach read, but if you are a fan of Simon Scarrow or Robert Fabbri, and know your Gladius from your Spatha it's best avoided.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Women's Fiction Than Thriller, 15 May 2013
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
I should have stuck to my rule about avoiding the hype, but on seeing that it was on a award long-list alongside Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith I threw caution to the wind.

Firstly, this is not a thriller, but 'women's fiction' (and before you start screaming sexism, I'm female.) The plot focuses on a couple who really shouldn't be together, thinly disguised as a thriller by a 'disappearance' which seems to be an afterthought. If you like Sophie Hannah's psychological thrillers you'll like this, but has nothing on Nikki French.

The character of Nick was well written, and had it been solely from his POV I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I didn't find Amy's voice as a convincing thirty-something, she sounded more like a sixteen year old ('I met a boy!) never mind an independent, career woman.

As for the big 'twist', if you read a lot of thrillers or crime it's a big let down. I had guessed it by page 10.

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