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J. Duducu (Ruislip)
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Bloody British History: Plymouth (Bloody History)
Bloody British History: Plymouth (Bloody History)
Price: £1.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All killer...no filler, 21 Oct 2013
This takes you on a whirlwind tour from the stone age into the 20th century of this important English port. The book is dripping in illustrations and photos so is a really easy and enjoyable commuter read. As it's about a place rather than time or person, all the info is therefore in easily digestible chunks perfect for that time on the train going to work.

If you are looking for an in-depth social history of the South Coast of England you will be disappointed as this book (as the title suggests) focuses in on war, prison, slavery, pirates, ship wrecks and pretty much everything else that makes a good history book interesting.


The Devil Comes to Dartmoor: The Haunting True Story of Mary Howard, Devon's Demon Bride
The Devil Comes to Dartmoor: The Haunting True Story of Mary Howard, Devon's Demon Bride
by Laura Quigley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody good fun, 21 Oct 2013
This is the story of Mary Howard and how she probably didn't murder ALL of her four husbands...just some of them. I am a big fan of books that deliberately go out of their way to highlight people who don't get a lot written about them (do we NEED more books on Hitler or Henry VIII?).

Mary is a great story full of plague, scheming and lace. While the documentation on Mary can't sustain an entire book, all the back story, setting and other swirling affairs of England in the 17th century merely add to the body count and it's quite remarkable how many aristocrats seemed to have serious gambling and drinking problems- seriously, it seems to have been endemic.

Mary is even now alleged to be a ghost haunting the area of Tavistock in a spectral carriage and after reading this book you can see why this, initially obscure, aristocratic lady ended up finding a rather sinister niche in local history.


The Popes: A History
The Popes: A History
by Viscount John Julius Norwich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect book on the subject, 29 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Popes: A History (Paperback)
A while ago I read "Saints & Sinners" which was a history of the Papacy written by a Catholic. It was interesting, but all too often refused to mention anything negative and to do a proper history of the Holy See you have to accept that for every Gregory the Great you have someone underwhelming like Benedict IX. No one but the most myopic believer can seriously believe the medieval papacy was whiter than white, some Popes bought their position, many had a string of mistresses and others led armies- the muddling of spiritual and temporal matters led to corruption that simply cannot be whitewashed away.

But to write exclusively on the dark politics of the Papacy would be just as wrong as making out that it's always been run with nothing but the noblest values in mind. What this book does is show the good and the bad. Add to that some wry asides and a story that is masterfully summarised (most Popes could warrant their own books) and you have an essential book that covers 2,000 years of Western history.

If you liked this review, you can find me on Twitter as @HistoryGems


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Jay Oliva
Price: £6.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive, 8 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Batman is now an old man, retired for 10 years, mourning the death of Robin. The plot is essentially a man cannot escape his destiny and a chance to conclude unfinished business. In the 1980's there are two towering graphic novels that rewrote the rules of comics in the West. One was Watchmen which a few years ago was turned into a very good (although not perfect) live action film. The Dark Knight Returns (DKR) is the other, in one epic graphic novel Batman was turned from camp, costumed, kid friendly hero into a bitter, noir, menace. Prior to DKR Adam West was the definitive onscreen Batman, after DKR we have had much more intimidating and serious versions of Batman peaking perhaps with the Dark Knight.

Therefore bringing such a key graphic novel to the small screen can lead to worry. There are two areas that bringing it down from 5 star to 4 for me. Firstly the animation while better than the average Saturday morning cartoon is still a little bland for such a distinctive looking graphic novel. Frank Miller's scratchy pen work gave the whole thing a feral look which is now gone . Secondly The inner monologue is also gone so some great lines are absent and there's more silence in this film than you'd expect. I appreciate the animation choice is probably for both technical and budgetary reasons. Similarly Seeing a moving image version means you see just how bleak and sinister some of the scenes are and if a growling voice over had been added it may well have made the whole thing feel positively nihilistic. It shouldn't have been all thrown out, but I can understand why it wasn't added.

So with those two exceptions you have a very loyal animated version of one of the greatest graphic novels ever made. This is thoughtful, classy, grown up stuff and thoroughly recommended to both batfans and lovers of a good noir story. I lent it to my brother-in-law who had never read DKR. He texted me a one word summary "impressive".


Boardwalk Empire - Season 3 [DVD] [2013]
Boardwalk Empire - Season 3 [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Steve Buscemi
Price: £12.90

64 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More top quality drama, 16 Dec 2012
After the epic ending of series two with the demise of one of the key characters the question was where can the series go from there?

The answer is of course into an area of even greater quality. With hindsight there was the argument that Nucky Thompson in series two was so slick that you never thought he was in peril. Series 3 very much puts him in the firing line (at times literally). Saying that while he is the core of the series its the ensemble cast that makes the show so compelling. Margaret, Al, Chalky etc are all here again, scheming and keeping things entertaining in the sumptuous 1920's setting.

Personally my favourite character is Richard the disfigured veteran now grieving over the loss of his best friend and the only woman who had shown him any kindness. His faith in humanity is now symbolised in Tommy the 6 year-old son of Jimmy, can he save this child from the world he inhabits? It's a great story thread leading to moments of sweetness and sheer terror.

Yet more key characters over the series die, sometimes in completely unexpected ways making the storytelling ever more compelling. Like Game of Thrones, just because you like a character or are an interesting character doesn't mean they won't be taken out in an explosion or a hit gone wrong.

And finally step forward "Gip" Rosetti Nucky's new nemesis and amazing character who is so full of fury you have no idea in any secene if it will end with a laugh or someone's murdered corpse on the floor. One scene where he is having a very kinky encounter and is then shot at leads to a scene worthy of an oscar- amazing camera work, direction and screen writing make it the most cinematic scene I have viewed on the TV. He is the villain you love to hate and adds some much needed danger to Nucky's occassional air of invulnerbility.

If you haven't seen the other series go back and start there, if you're wondering if the quality continues, the answer is an emphatic yes.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2013 3:26 PM GMT


The Master [DVD]
The Master [DVD]
Dvd ~ Philip Seymour Hoffman

41 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A VERY aquired taste, 9 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Master [DVD] (DVD)
As the 5 star review points out this film is not for everyone and while this is a 1 star review I am not going to say things that are palpably untrue. The director knows how to frame beautiful shots, and create a truly unique story. The acting is convincing and intense so why 1 star?

Because this is self-indulgent cinema at its worst. While not every film should be about black hats versus white hats, nor is a film automatically improved with a car chase; this film wilfully breaks every rule of storytelling or characterisation just because it can.

When making a feature length film it's never a good idea to make the two central characters unlikeable. Ok so Joaquim Phoenix is a tortured soul but he's so repellent, invariably doing the wrong thing every time that you know what, I don't care if he gets better. Then you have Philip Seymour Hoffman as a cult "leader" with a veneer of charm but a strong undercurrent of megalomania who also is someone you wouldn't want to spend 2 minutes with rather than 2 hours.

I am sure everyone slapped themselves on the back after each scene declaring how clever it was, or how intense it was but from the point of view of an actual audience this is unrewarding viewing experience.
Want to see an angry miserable man remain angry and miserable? Check
Always wanted to see Amy Adams masturbate Philip Seymour Hoffman to orgasm over a sink? Check (that's obviously cinema gold)
The main character's life is in a mess so let's make the actual score discordant and hard to listen to- Check.

Just because it breaks the rules does not mean it's better than the formula it is challenging. This film teaches you no,thing about anything and has nothing interesting to say. Life has no easy answers or neat endings so why should a film? Well a film is still a story and seeing this doesn't really have a strcuture or a point or much of a conclusion it's not in short, a very good story. This is the sort of film that gives indie movies a bad name.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 2, 2013 2:48 PM BST


City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
by Roger Crowley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another triumph, 9 Sep 2012
Roger Crowley has done an excellent job filling the blanks for the general history reader of 15th and 16th century Mediterranean power politics. His book on the siege of Constantinople in 1453 was breathlessly written, his second book took the larger canvass of Ottoman expansion after the siege and being halted at Lepanto. Here Crowley unpicks from these other two tales of the rise and fall of Venice.

Venice is a unique city, its waterways instantly define it to anyone in the world. Its economy is also unique a mono culture of trade where the meagre local resources drove the inhabitants to scour the known world for business and trade. This led to one of the world's most sophisticated republics.

Crowley is excellent at giving a flavour of the technical issues needed to understand how Venice worked without get too bogged down in detail. You are never far from a salacious tale, sea battle or financially motivated tale of treachery (the fourth crusade being a stand out section).

It all ultimately goes wrong for Venice and the latter sections of the book describing a death by a thousand cuts is just as riveting as the glory days too.

This is another class example of how to write popular accessible history.

If you liked this review, you can find me on Twitter as @HistoryGems


Star Wars  Clone Wars - Season 4 [DVD]
Star Wars Clone Wars - Season 4 [DVD]

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best series so far...and that's saying something, 6 Aug 2012
Season one of the clone wars was very impressive, series two was even better. I have to be honest and say series three was patchy with some great episodes but some noticeably average ones too. Now it's time for series four, so is it the law of diminishing returns or is it back on track?

There isn't an average episode amongst them, whether it's the whimsical R2D2 and C3P0 stories referencing Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz and Gulliver's Travels to the epic Battles on Umbara to the highly original Kenobi stories this is the most ambitious and edgey collection of Star Wars stories since Empire Strikes back (there I said it).

The opening conflict with a Mon Calamari and Quarian civil war feels epic (with the only grumble of the whole series being the rather underwhelming new young king being the only annoying character). Later you are treated to an epic "war is hell" story seen from the point of view of the Clones in the eternal night time of Umbara. The second half of the series get very dark frequently dealing with the bounty hunters and their dangerous jobs but this adds a much needed sense of moral ambiguity to the sometimes predictable "brave Jedi versus a dozen droids" with some great cameos along the way too.

If you liked the other series this has some great pay offs/character development and if you haven't watched any of these maybe start here and realise how adult "kids animation" can be.


Prometheus [DVD] [2012]
Prometheus [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Noomi Rapace
Price: £3.00

45 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Alien meets 2001, 16 Jun 2012
This review is from: Prometheus [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
The title references two of the greatest sci-fi films of all times and visually this film is their equal. Set design, costumes (love the space suits) and special effects should all be Oscar nominanted. However that's where the positive comparisons end. The film does touch on big topics but the script can't handle them. Either there should have been bigger and better discussions about "what does this all mean?" or less script and make it more enigmatic, allowing your brain fill in the blanks like 2001.

As for frights and gore, theoretically there is a lot more danger for the crew of the Prometheus than for the Nostromo but because the film doesn't quite know which audience it's playing to, the suspense is minimal and the action while great when it happens is too infrequent.

The collection of acting talent is awesome and the themes they could have been allowed to play with could have made this really special but instead most find it hard to get past Hollywood Cliche- for example Idris Elba can be so much more than a gruff pilot. Michael Fassbender is the only one to walk away having achieved his potential as the android David.

Would love to see the directors cut but as it is, it's a daring but flawed blockbuster.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 19, 2012 1:06 PM BST


Game of Thrones - Season 2 [DVD] [2013]
Game of Thrones - Season 2 [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Lena Headey
Price: £17.70

26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HBO do it again, 30 May 2012
Modern TV drama assumes you are diligently watching so series 2 assumes you've seen the previous series and if you haven't, you will get lost so start there.

If you have seen the excellent first series and want to know can the quality be maintained the simple answer is "yes". By the end of series 2 some of the characters have developed in the most unexpected of ways (like dying) and to top it off this series is even sexier and bloodier than the first.

Once again you see the various houses of Westeroth slowly circle each other like hungry sharks ready to devour each other. With a bigger budget the canvas on which the tale is told is now even more ambitious. John Snow and the Black watch head north of the Wall into some truly spectacular mountain scenery. To counter balance this frozen landscape there's the Mediterranean type King's Landing and Qarth but also new to the mix there's more happening with navies amassing and going to war.

To track all the characters and all the plots would be folly in a review but it's enough to say that the regulars turn up and a new layer of characters are added. Special mentions must be made of Tyrion the dwarf who is still one of the most charismatic creations on TV and King Joffrey the teenager you just love to hate and in this series the power has really gone to his head. I have not read the books but I am aware that there are many more to get through and R. R. Martin hasn't finished the series yet so consequently some of the plots move at a glacial pace- the aforementioned sections in Qarth are interesting but it's a lot of talking with not a lot of developments. However the series does build towards a truly epic siege of King's Landing. I won't go into details but due to budget restraints so far in the series battles have basically been nonexistent with men arriving covered in grime talking about what has just happened off camera. It's turned into a bit of a joke in some forums. However apparently sensitive to this, the producers give us a siege that would be worthy on the big screen and there's an explosion that could be the largest ever made for TV. It promises epic and this time it delivers.

This series doesn't need to end on cliff hangers, there are so many plot threads that there's always a reason to come back and find out who is killing/sleeping with whom. In short HBO does it again, it's this and Boardwalk Empire at the front of the pack at the moment and everything else looks a bit anaemic by comparison.


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