Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: You Will Have A Black Labrador by Nino Gugunishvili

Synopsis: Love, memories, family, enduring friendships, cooking, movies, dogs, travels, hairstyles, and saying Yes to many No’s in a witty, yet often sentimental, journey of self-discovery…

You Will Have a Black Labrador is a collection of semiautobiographical essays forming a narrative about a modern Georgian woman. Her stories range from the search for a perfect romantic partner to exploring food as an integral part of the Georgian culture. 

Many of the vignettes center on childhood memories or weird family traditions, such as the way family members stay connected no matter if they’re deceased or alive. One essay reveals how making a simple omelette can change your life; and that No can be the most powerful word in any language. She shows us, too, that a haircut can be a tribute to the movies you love as well as a path to your freedom; and how owning a dog always brings unexpected experiences. 

In this poignantly humourous collection, reality mixes and interferes with an imaginative world in so many surprising ways.

Short stories and contemporary literature are two genres I have never actively sought out. I don't mind a modern biography or even lengthier autobiographical memoirs - but the shorter style I gave a wide berth.

However, late last year I was introduced to a number of new authors, writing both contemporary fiction, memoirs and short stories - and loved what I was reading. Nino Gugunishvili was one of those authors. Her book - From My Balcony to Yours - a collection of covid lockdown anecdotes - resonated (read it - you will find it will with you too!). And this currently collection of vingettes, with her quirky sense of humour and heart-felt warmth and understanding of family, will also hit the spot.

This is just the perfect book for a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a good coffee (something else we have in common) and a comfy pair of socks!

About Nino:
Nino lives in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her educational and professional background includes film, television, and journalism.

Author Links:

Blog Tour: Masters of Rome

I am again participating in the upcoming Blog Tour for the "Rise of Emperors" series by Gordon Doherty & Simon Turney. "Masters of Rome" is the second instalment in the series of the story of Constantine the Great and Maxentius and follows on from "Sons of Rome".

Whilst you are waiting for my review of "Masters of Rome", you can read about how the series came about and my review of Sons of Rome below:

> Review: Sons of Rome
> Blog Tour: Sons of Rome

Follow Simon
Twitter: @SJATurney
Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney

Follow Gordon
Twitter: @GordonDoherty
Instagram: @gordon.doherty

Follow Aries
Twitter: @AriesFiction
Facebook: Aries Fiction

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: Murder in the Cloister by Tania Bayard

Synopsis: Paris, 1399. Scribe Christine de Pizan is sent to the Priory of Poissy by the palace to copy a manuscript for the prioress. But the prioress already has many copyists at the priory, and Christine senses that something is amiss.Her suspicions are confirmed when the prioress reveals that one of the sisters has been found murdered in the cloister. Fearing for the welfare of the king's young daughter who resides at the abbey, she is eager for Christine to find out who killed the young nun - and why. As Christine investigates, she uncovers dark mischief and closely guarded secrets, but can she unmask a killer?

This is the fourth in the Christine de Pizan mystery series, and as with other review, it is suggested to start this series at the beginning and read in order to ensure continuity. In this outing Christine is travelling to the Prior of Poissy, ostensibly to see her daughter and to copy manuscripts, but also to investigate the murder of one of the nuns.

In the beginning of the 14th century most of the new (12th century) castle was razed to the ground to make way for the Dominican Priory at Poissy, erected in honour of Saint Louis, who had been canonized in 1297. The Priory of Poissy was generously endowed and soon became one of the more wealthy abbeys in France. Here a number of royal descendants of Saint-Louis lived as Dominican sisters involved in the liturgical celebration of this royal cult.

To date, there are some seventy manuscripts which can be identified as belonging to the Dominican monastery of Saint-Louis de Poissy between its foundation in 1304 and its dissolution in 1792. The majority were owned by the nuns and most are illuminated; a small number come from the library of the friars resident at the house. In "Manuscripts from the Dominican monastery of Saint-Louis de Poissy" by JM Naughton, the fate of the volumes is traced form the time of their production through successive alterations and refurbishments (or damage) in order to assess how the nuns acquired their handwritten books, kept them relevant both textually and artistically, or disposed of them when no longer wanted.

One of the convents most notable residents was Marie of Valois, daughter of "mad" king Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. At the time Marie entered the convent the prioress was her great-aunt, Marie of Bourbon. Entering the convent with young Marie as a companion was another Marie, the daughter of Christine de Pizan. Christine described a visit to Poissy in 1400 in her work "Le Livre du Dit de Poissy," where she was greeted "joyously and tenderly" by the seven-year-old Marie of Valois and the Prioress. Christine also described Marie's lodgings as befitting a royal princess. Marie herself would become prioress, ending her days there, dying of plague in 1348.

These mysteries are full of historical detail, including Christine's life as a single mother, raising her family whilst trying to earn a living, which she manages to do thanks to royal patronage.

I really enjoy the series of mysteries as they make a nice change from the usual English-centric historical fiction that has dominated the market for some time. For those who love a bit of French history mixed with a tinge of crime, sorcery, a notable female protagonist.

further reading
> City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
> Behind the Scenes with Tania Bayard

Review: Mary Queen of Scots Secretary by Robert Stedall

Synopsis: Maitland was the most able politician and diplomat during the lifetime of Mary Queen of Scots. It was he who masterminded the Scottish Reformation by breaking the 'Auld Alliance' with France, which presaged Scotland's lasting union with England.

Although he gained English support to defeat French troops defending Mary's Scottish throne, he backed her return to Scotland, as the widowed Queen of France. His attempts to gain recognition for her as heir to the English crown were thwarted by her determined adherence to Catholicism.

After her remarriage, he spearheaded the plotting to bring down her objectionable husband, Lord Darnley, leading to his murder, after concluding that English and Scottish interests were best served by creating a Protestant regency for their son, Prince James. With encouragement from Cecil in England and the Protestant Lords in Scotland, he concocted evidence to implicate her in her husband's murder, resulting in her imprisonment and deposition from the Scottish throne.

Despite her escape to England, he remained personally loyal to her and attempted to conjure Scottish support for her restoration by backing her allies holding Edinburgh Castle on her behalf. When it fell in 1573, he resorted to suicide.

Maitland - who was he? what was his role in the government of Mary Queen of Scots? what was his role in Darnely's murder? did he bring about the downfall of Mary?

Maitland is a shadowy character, and I found myself often comparing him to Cecil, Elizabeth's right hand man - a man, I think, Maitland admired and wanted to emulate. However, he never did manage to maintain the consistency that Cecil did, and Scottish politics would not allow him to do so.

Those looking for a standard biography of this man may be slightly disappointed. He is more to be found in the shadows, working behind the scenes, often out of Scotland on diplomatic missions, so it difficult to assess just how influential he actually was.

I was interested in Stedall's take on Maitland is one of the instigators in Darnley's murder, one of those behind the infamous "casket letters" (of which I am no expert), and as a rather inconsistent supporter of Mary.

The reign of Mary is the focus - Maitalnd was - as the title suggests - a politician, a religious reform, and ultimately, a conspirator, before coming full circle as ardent supporter. With very little to go on, it becomes evident that Maitland would be seen in relation to the events of Mary's life and reign - a bit much like many women who lived off the pages that their more historically dominant husbands occupied.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is every difficult to judge and assess a person' motivations at that point in time; and even hindsight is often clouded by an author's bias, whether they be a contemporary or modern source. And as we have seen, it is also very easy to make facts support just about any theory.

But Stedall's book does give pause for thought - and I enjoy reading another author's perspective on events, especially when they diverge from mainstream consensus - I mean, who wants to read the same thing over and over again - you would only ever need to buy one book!

Yes, I would love to have had Maitland feature more prominently - but sometimes there is just not enough factual documentation for this to occur. It does however, shed light on the political and religious struggles within Scotland at the time of Mary's reign, which is often overlooked as her cousin, Elizabeth, takes the limelight nine times out of ten. But in the end he did achieve one thing - the succession of a Scottish monarch upon the English throne.

read more 
> The Memoirs of Secretary Maitland as contained in George Chalmer' second volume of the Life of Mary Queen of Scots (page 450)
> Maitland of Lethington by Sir John Skelton

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Forgotten 500 by Gregory Freeman

The astonishing, never before told story of the greatest rescue mission of World War II—when the OSS set out to recover more than 500 airmen trapped behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia...

During a bombing campaign over Romanian oil fields, hundreds of American airmen were shot down in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Local Serbian farmers and peasants risked their own lives to give refuge to the soldiers while they waited for rescue, and in 1944, Operation Halyard was born. The risks were incredible. The starving Americans in Yugoslavia had to construct a landing strip large enough for C-47 cargo planes—without tools, without alerting the Germans, and without endangering the villagers. And the cargo planes had to make it through enemy airspace and back—without getting shot down themselves.

Classified for over half a century for political reasons, the full account of this unforgettable story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery is now being told for the first time ever. The Forgotten 500:The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II is the gripping, behind-the-scenes look at the greatest escape of World War II.

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan

John Buchan's name is known across the world for The Thirty-Nine Steps. In the past hundred years the classic thriller has never been out of print and has inspired numerous adaptations for film, television, radio and stage, beginning with the celebrated version by Alfred Hitchcock.

Yet there was vastly more to 'JB'. He wrote more than a hundred books - fiction and non-fiction - and a thousand articles for newspapers and magazines. He was a scholar, antiquarian, barrister, colonial administrator, journal editor, literary critic, publisher, war correspondent, director of wartime propaganda, member of parliament and imperial proconsul - given a state funeral when he died, a deeply admired and loved Governor-General of Canada.

His teenage years in Glasgow's Gorbals, where his father was the Free Church minister, contributed to his ease with shepherds and ambassadors, fur-trappers and prime ministers. His improbable marriage to a member of the aristocratic Grosvenor family means that this account of his life contains, at its heart, an enduring love story.

Ursula Buchan, his granddaughter, has drawn on recently discovered family documents to write this comprehensive and illuminating biography. With perception, style, wit and a penetratingly clear eye, she brings vividly to life this remarkable man and his times.

Gresham’s Law: The Life and World of Queen Elizabeth I’s Banker by John Guy

When the Anglican divine John William Burgon published his classic two-volume biography of Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) in 1839, he introduced his readers to a character – government banker, founder of the Royal Exchange, putative proponent of “Gresham’s law” – who had lived a life of “unsullied honour and integrity”. 

For Burgon, Gresham was among the most illustrious ancestors “of which our metropolis can boast” – not just owing to “the skill with which he contrived to control the exchange with foreign countries”, thereby laying “the foundations of England’s commercial greatness”, but also because his qualities spoke of an upstanding friend, associate, husband, father. When Gresham died, he deserved to be remembered as a “true patriot, beloved in private life and honoured in his public station”.

Burgon’s remarks are emblematic of the 19th-century view of Gresham as an honourable and self-made man: Queen Victoria’s recorder considered him an “eminent citizen and chief benefactor of his kind”. And such depictions are not without merit. But as the historian John Guy argues in this assiduously researched new account of Gresham’s life: “Something subtler is needed.” Accordingly, Guy has consulted several “large caches of often entirely virgin sources” in order to offer a reassessment of Gresham’s professional undertakings and “a fuller investigation of Gresham’s private life than anything attempted before”. It is an enterprise from which he does not emerge well.

read more here @ The Guardian and Amazon

Warriors of the Pale: An Irish Saga by Raymond Reagan Butler

In 1185, King Henry II of England sent a messenger to Rome, requesting that his youngest son, Prince John, should be recognised as King of Ireland. With the request granted, John went to Ireland to fight for his dominion and with him went Theobald Walter, the first of the warriors of the Pale - that part of Ireland completely under English rule in the Medieval period. The Butlers would produce an unbroken succession of male heirs right down to 1515.

For the first two centuries the military struggle between the native Irish and the Normans was a bloody stalemate; then in 1399 Richard II attempted to quell the Irish chieftains once and for all, but was pushed back to the Pale - and in the process lost the English throne to Henry IV. Raymond Butler follows the fascinating and not always well documented military struggle in Ireland, focussing upon the extraordinary Butler dynasty, who supported the English kings and were duly rewarded, the eighth earl being made Chief Governor of Ireland by Henry VIII.

The last of the great warriors of The Pale, the 'Black Earl', was Lieutenant-General of Ireland at his death in 1614, still loyal to the English King James I: though the Butlers had not always been loyal, not when their vast lands and wealth had been threatened. This is a 400-year-long story of pitched battles, shifting loyalties, political confusion, assimilation, treachery and military prowess that sheds new light on the entwined histories of England and Ireland.

James Flynn series by Haris Orkin

You Only Live Once
From Zero to Hero …  James Flynn is an expert shot, a black belt in karate, fluent in four languages and irresistible to women. He’s also a heavily medicated patient in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. Flynn believes his locked ward is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill.

When the hospital is acquired by a new HMO, Flynn is convinced that the Secret Service has been infiltrated by the enemy. He escapes to save the day, and in the process, Flynn kidnaps a young Hispanic orderly named Sancho.

This crazy day trip turns into a very real adventure when Flynn is mistaken for an actual secret agent. Paranoid delusions have suddenly become reality, and now it’s up to a mental patient and a terrified orderly to bring down an insecure, evil genius bent on world domination.

Once is Never Enough
The Perfect Hero For A World Gone Mad .... An old enemy seeking revenge sends James Flynn back around the bend and into a wild adventure even more deranged than his last one. Once again he believes that his psychiatric hospital is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill.

With the help of Sancho, his reluctant sidekick, Flynn confronts a mysterious new adversary just as unhinged as he is and far more deadly. The entire planet is in danger and the only one who can save it is someone no one believes.

The fate of the world now rests in the hands of a man suavely dancing on the thin line between objective reality and batshit crazy.