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P. Ralph (Wales, UK)
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White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare's Histories
White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare's Histories
by Nick Asbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bold, brilliant, brave, bonkers and quite, quite wonderful., 31 July 2013
After really enjoying Nick Asbury's previous book, Exit Pursued By A Badger, detailing his experiences as a member of the RSC Histories company, I was intrigued by the premise of his follow up: ostensibly a road trip where Nick and some of his fellow Histories cast members would visit the sites and places featured in Shakespeare's cycle of plays. But the book itself surpassed all my expectations and then some...
Like a mash up of the very best of Bill Bryson, W.G. Sebald and David Starkey, White Hart Red Lion is an astonishing book. Heartfelt and passionate about his subject, Asbury takes us on a rich and detailed journey into history that will leave the reader unable ever to look at this country in the same way again. The tone veers from farce to elegy and everywhere in between and the swirl of Dukes and Earls, Kings and Queens leaves one dizzy. Asbury's extensive knowledge of his subject means he is able to convey in rich detail the internecine politics and chicanery of the Wars of the Roses as well as the bloody, brutal and visceral realities of battle. His evocation of the - now largely forgotten - Battle of Towton, where 28,000 men lost their lives, the single largest loss of life on English soil, is heartstopping and heartbreaking in equal measure.
The book also provides a fascinating insight into the world Shakespeare was writing for and the pragmatic and commercial decisions he made in `being creative with the truth' in his History cycle. It gives one even more reason to revere him and is one in the eye for the nonsense brigade who argue that a poor lad from Warwickshire couldn't possibly have written the greatest plays in the English language.
Underlying all of this is Nick himself. As with W.G. Sebald's The Rings Of Saturn, we are never quite sure if the `Nick Asbury' who undertakes this journey is the `real' Nick or a deftly fictionalised version. Certainly, if he is real, then I fear for his liver! The number of pubs he visits is staggering! But Asbury uses this version of himself to make some wonderfully moving and passionate points about the loss of our land and culture to the ravening forces of commerce and globalisation. This is not empty eulogising but a deeply felt desire for a simpler, more connected way of living and it infuses the book with another, wholly unexpected layer of emotion.
This is a quite wonderful book. Highly recommended for Shakespeare fans, history buffs and anyone who wants to know more about what happened in this country only a few hundred years ago that is now hidden beneath car parks and out of town shopping centres. I look forward to the next book with great interest. Nick Asbury - real or fictional - is a writer to watch.


Amity & Sorrow
Amity & Sorrow
by Peggy Riley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.24

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing debut novel about love, sex, farming and so much more!, 16 April 2013
This review is from: Amity & Sorrow (Hardcover)
Amity and Sorrow, the debut novel from Peggy Riley, is, without hyperbole, one of the most hypnotic, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable books I have read in quite some time.

Many of the reviews here have commented on the dark and uncomfortable aspects of the story Riley is telling but it's important to note that she writes with exemplary compassion for all her characters and never forges a judgement against them on behalf of the reader. The experience of reading it, therefore, is of being thrown around by emotional upheaval and desperate need to find a place called Home.

The story is compelling. I found myself thinking about the characters during the day and could not wait to reunite with the book in the evenings to find out how they were getting on. This is surely a sign of truly great writing. The narrative is gripping and plays out like a classic movie thriller - taking in all manner of themes and ideas along the way - far too many to summarise here.

Suffice it to say - I absolutely loved it and would recommend it unreservedly. At times strong meat, but not if you have ever loved, been a parent, prayed for forgiveness and redemption - in short, a deeply human story. It deserves to be read as widely as possible and should be on every awards shortlist imaginable.

Hats off to Peggy Riley - can't wait for her second book.


My Last Five Girlfriends [DVD]
My Last Five Girlfriends [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brendan Patricks
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £8.47

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent offbeat gem, 22 July 2010
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UK filmmaking needs more shots in the arm like this movie. An intelligent, complex and mature portrayal of relationships that subverts the traditional rom-com clichés and turns them into something truly original. Hilariously funny and deeply moving - the characters in this movie are never ciphers but rich and rounded renderings of people you recognise. I loved it on every level and heartily recommend it to everyone. Proves conclusively that a low budget is no barrier to terrific movie making - all plaudits to Julian Kemp for writing and directing. See it.


Landed
Landed
by Tim Pears
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 25 May 2010
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This review is from: Landed (Hardcover)
Having read all of Tim Pears' previous books it's fair to say that I'm a fan but he really has created something truly unique and beautiful in `Landed'. Unlike some reviewers I felt it was perfectly clear what is going on in the second half of the book, especially when you arrive at the graceful and haunting final paragraphs. Deeply moving, artfully written - Tim Pears continues to reinvent himself with every story he creates. An unmitigated joy.


Catch
Catch
by Simon Robson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotically beautiful, 3 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: Catch (Hardcover)
I was a huge fan of Robson's short stories and so was looking forward to his first novel but nothing prepared me for the strength and beauty of 'Catch'. I read it in two sittings on the same day and found the initial hundred pages drew me inexorably into the psyche of the eponymous heroine in a way that so few writers are capable of. This is a book that asks you to invest time and energy into reading it - and which repays that effort a hundredfold. All I can say is if you appreciate superb, intelligent and passionate writing from a writer who is intent on giving you an experience like no other, then you must read 'Catch'. I quite simply adored it.


Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor's Journey Through History with Shakespeare
Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor's Journey Through History with Shakespeare
by Nick Asbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic book on acting and life, 16 July 2009
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Like Anthony Sher's Year of the King, Simon Callow's Being an Actor and Michael Simkin's What's My Motivation? - this is an absolute gem of a book about the life of an actor, and life in general.

Nick Asbury was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company when they set out on the, frankly, ludicrous task of performing all eight of Shakespeare's history plays with the same company of actors. His blogs throughout the process form the spine of the book but it is so much more than simply a book about acting or about those show's in particular.

Nick writes with passion, honesty, humour and, above all, heart about the much maligned business of 'shouting in the evenings' and the resulting book is an absolute joy to read. Cutting through the luvvy nonsense and egos and guff, Nick recounts the amazing and unique experience the company went through with fabulous clarity and joy.

A book for anyone interested in acting, theatre, Shakespeare and life. Can't recommend it highly enough.


Atonement [DVD] [2007]
Atonement [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Keira Knightley
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.25

5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who will atone for the hype?, 16 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Atonement [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
This is the most massively overhyped movie of the last twelve months and it successfully manages to hide behind a veneer of 'English Patient'-ness, to suggest it is better than it is. The book is wonderful. A beautiful, extraordinary piece of writing. And so it should have stayed. The main problem with this movie is that there is not a single moment of spontaneity on screen. Every single frame is crafted and planned. Now, if that is your kind of movie, go to it. But for those of us who like to believe that movies 'bottle lighting' then this is not for you. Dry, dull, overly delighted in the director's ability to place a camera and choreograph a scene, and saddled with a supermodel who purports to be an actress in the leading role, this is the movie for you if you imagine that veneer and gloss and fabricated emotion can successfully masquerade for the real thing.

Four words: don't believe the hype.


The Great Escape
The Great Escape
by Natalie Haynes
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only all cats could talk ..., 13 Nov. 2007
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This review is from: The Great Escape (Paperback)
... though obviously not via hideous, nefarious means as in this fabulous book. If only all children's - no, scratch that, even ADULT - books had this much adventure, excitement and intelligence. Witty, gripping, wonderfully paced, with characters you care about and plenty of twists and turns, this is a fantastic debut and we can only hope Ms Haynes is already labouring on a sequel. May I suggest Millie's first trip to Brussel's to visit Max - adventures ahoy. Loved it. Couldn't recommend it more highly if I tried.

Oh, and by the way, I'm 36.


The Separate Heart
The Separate Heart
by Simon Robson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 slices of absolute brilliance., 10 July 2007
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This review is from: The Separate Heart (Hardcover)
This book blew me away. Ten rich, rewarding short stories about the inherent separateness of human experience - each one like a stone dropped in a pond, the ripples continuing to blossom as the next one drops in. Each story is almost a novel in itself (putting many so-called writers to shame) with their breadth and ambition which is magnificently fulfilled. The confidence of the writing and the clarity with which emotional lives and private thoughts are drawn is extraordinary. The cumulative effect of reading all ten is like having the best meal of your life and it is rounded off perfectly by the hilarious and poignant tenth story, which makes you re-evaluate the previous nine and your reactions to them.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys great writing. Let's hope there's more where that came from because, on this evidence, Simon Robson is clearly a writer to look out for in the future.


Blenheim Orchard
Blenheim Orchard
by Tim Pears
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle brilliance, 6 April 2007
This review is from: Blenheim Orchard (Hardcover)
Having read everything Tim Pears has written and noting that this book hasn't been trumpeted to the skies by the publisher, I just have to say it is staggeringly good. On the surface a simple story of a middle class family in Oxford over the course of the summer of 2003, it is, in fact, a devastating critique on our society and its moral vacuity as well as being an entertaining pageturner. The sense of impending disaster is palpable and I was utterly gripped from the first page to the last. Buy it, read it and then read his other books. The man is an unsung genius.


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