It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today, The IASIP Gang, Dey Street, 2015

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

If you have never watched an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” then this book is not for a jabroni like you.

But if you are a glue-huffing degenerate who enjoys the antics of the most wretched gang of drunks (who are a fusion the best and worst of the”Trailer Park Boys” and “Seinfeld”) this is a self-help book for written just for us suckers geniuses.

Charlie

The funniest sections were Charlie’s by far. It’s ironic that an illiterate’s writings and rants were the best. Love his advice for stalking the one you love. His avian brilliance also reminds us why he is the pre-eminent expert on US bird law.

And his recipes for making cheese are priceless. Remember that old Polly-o String Cheese Commercial?

(Blond kid walks into pizzeria)

KID: Gimme me pizza with extra cheese….And hold the sauce…And hold the crust.

CASHIER (bewildered): Hey Jimmy, give me a cheese with nuttin’!

JIMMY (dumbfounded): Nuttin’?!!

POLLY-O STRING CHEESE COMMERCIAL

Other cheese making recipes include stealing from rat traps or making your own cheese with orange juice and half and half, letting it sit around for a couple of weeks behind a toilet…and enjoy!

That Charlie, he’s a cheese-rat genius.

Dennis

Dennis’ sections are lucid and intelligent. He actually gives good advice on how to not get stuck doing Charlie work and how a man should properly apply makeup (to his face, abs and penis). Dennis may be a potential serial killer, is questionably a rapist and absolutely is a voyeur, but other than that, he’s a golden god with a body sculpted to proportions of Michaelangelo’s David, so what he says matters.

Frank

I love Frank’s advice how to screw over everybody. That man knows his stuff. And his recipes! Mmm-mmm! Now I know how to make a delicious rum ham using only a canned ham, a few bottles of rum, a gun and several bullets. Plus Italian parsley for garnish to make it classy. There’s his blue-jean tea recipe which require crabs dredged out from the polluted Delaware river.

But his recipe for raccoon…yummy! For you “Hannibal” fans afraid to take the leap into full-out cannibalism, a raccoon is as close as you’ll get to tasting human flesh. Just watch out for those tapeworms. Unless you want tapeworms to lose weight, then it’s all good.

The Gangly Bird

Dee’s sections surprisingly didn’t suck, even though she’s the useless chick. As we all know in this group there is the Wildcard: Charlie, The Brain: Mac, The Looks: Dennis, The Muscle: Frank and the Useless Chick: Dee (also known as the giant bird). Her reverse D.E.N.N.I.S system S.I.N.N.E.D. is awesome, because while Dennis bangs chicks just to bang them and leave, Dee bangs guys to steal from them.

Even Frank says he’s proud of his girl because she is both a whore and a thief, and that’s the best way to get through life is whorin’ and thievin’. (She’s also likes to poison people, but that big, yellow bird can’t do anything right!)

Mac

As last, Mac… Well his sections weren’t awful, but they were the least funny. At first I did laugh at how he went on and on about the oily, buffed, masculine physiques of certain action stars (Carl Weathers, Sly Stallone, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren). And we all know he is certainly 1000% not gay, so there’s nothing to be read in there. His comment about it being “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve Hawking” did merit a chuckle, but he should stick to topics he knows best, like his martial art moves and occular pat-downs.

Opinion

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang is a classic destined to be treasured forever with the writings of Shakespeare and Twain and Hemingway. No doubt will it be taught in classrooms for decades to come.

Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku; Jedi Lost, Cavan Scott, Del Rey, 2019

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Audiobook – Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

One thing I love about the Star Wars domain is how vast it is, so much so that any genre fits within it. The films, tv series, video games, comics, cartoons, books, audiobooks, and fan-fiction can tell varying stories for all ages: science fiction; science fantasy; space opera; military fiction; action/adventure; horror; traditional romance; and now, with Cavan Scott’s Dooku: Jedi Lost, a Gothic tale.

Dooku: Jedi Lost was originally released as an audiobook, then a screenplay. The screenplay is great, but I recommend listening to the audiobook, which is fantastic. The casting of each character is on point, especially the feline voice of the narrator, Asajj Ventress.

A Star Wars Gothic

Like any good Gothic, the tale is told in 1st-person-POV. Our heroine resides in dark, dreary castle with a wicked man who completely owns her destiny.

“I hate it here.

I hate the castle. I hate the cliff. I hate the spikes whirling above the forest far below. I hate the moons grinning down at me.

I hate the fact that night after night I stand on this ledge, feeling the breeze against my skin, wondering what it would be like to jump, to drop into the trees.

Would the Force guide me?”

Dooku: Jedi Lost

Thus begins the tale of the tormented Sith acolyte and assassin, who is under the yoke of her master, Darth Tyrannus, better known as Count Dooku of the planet Serenno. Taken by Dooku after he had found her in a gladiatorial arena, Ventress is his servant, forced to do his bloody bidding or face the might of his Sith lightning. In the meantime, there is also a ghost in this gothic tale, as Ventress is haunted by the spirit of her deceased Jedi Master, Ky Narek, who torments her with thoughts of the past and of-what-could-be.

The Count has ordered his disciple to listen to holographs & recordings that tell the story of his life, in hopes that they will help her in seeking out his long-lost sister, Jenza. This framework takes us through Dooku’s past, from his time as a youngling, to Padawan apprentice under Master Yoda’s tutelage, to full-fledged Jedi knight and beyond.

Dooku has an unusual past for a (former) Jedi: unlike other Jedi, he knew his blood-family and formed attachments to them. Not only that, but he also had a great and lasting friendship with his fellow Padawan, Sifo-Diyas, a relationship that would have a devastating effect upon the galaxy. I won’t delve further into the plot, because while the plot is labyrinthine and twisted, it’s the atmosphere and emotion that really won me over.

Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku

The first time I listened to this on Audible, I enjoyed it; the second time I was kicking myself for not initially grasping how awesome it was. This was so much better than the other new-canon book about Ventress, The Dark Disciple, which I’ve reviewed already.

Asajj’s feelings for Dooku are complicated. She hates him yet is caught under his powerful spell. I was never one for shipping fictional characters, however, Ventress is such a sultry, sensual creature that she has great chemistry with everybody she comes in contact with! On “The Clone Wars” animated show, she once skewered a Clone Trooper with her lightsaber as she kissed him sweetly to his death. On that same show, she and Obi-Wan Kenobi had a running flirtation, each one sassily countering the other’s insults with ripostes and occasional double entendres.

Count Dooku, played by Sir Christopher Lee in the films and voiced by Corey Burton in TCW, is such a fascinating character, with an unfortunate sounding name. George Lucas named the character Count Dooku after Count Dracula in honor of his portrayer, Christopher Lee. Seemingly cool, urbane, and stoic, the Count has an aura of great strength and power. (view spoiler) He is a semi-tragic figure in that his fate was sealed once he partnered up with Lord Sidious and the Dark Side.

Do not mistake my feelings about Asajj & Dooku for actual romance, because there is none in this story. There is an extremely strong bond between them, one that Asajj yearns to break, but cannot. She is his thrall.

One quibble about this story: I dislike that in the new canon it’s not his former Padawan Qui-Gon Jinn’s death that forces Dooku to leave the Jedi, but his brother’s death that makes Dooku claim his title as Duke of Serenno. It was more touching when Qui-Gon’s death affected Dooku so, and more meaningful to his downfall.

Opinion

At any rate, if you are a fan of the darkside, I recommend this audio play. As I said, it’s well-performed and the production quality is as spotless as ever (the Star Wars books are all phenomenal on Audible; even a bad story sounds great on that medium).

Alas, for what could have been for both Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku, two conflicted souls destined for the Dark Side of the Force.

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen, Sam Kalda, Ten Speed Press, 2017

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Crazy Cat Lady Reviews

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by artist Sam Kalda is a book that sings to my soul.

This lovely illustrated work features 30 feline fanciers in history who were “forward-thinking” men (31 if you include the author).

The first quote in this book is Mark Twain’s statement: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction.”

I could not agree more. What woman can’t resist a man who loves pussy?

CATS! Pussy cats. I’m just kitten around here!

Since the age of 17, I’ve always had a feline friend in my life. Also since that age, I’ve had a cat-loving man in my life as well. First, a high school boyfriend, then a year later, my college sweetheart who’d I go on to marry. Both males shared a commonality of being physical men with artistic bents. My first boyfriend was a linebacker and a wrestler who played piano and wrote short stories. My dear husband was never one for team sports, preferring one-on-one martial combats such as karate, boxing, or streetfights, although he has a philosopher’s soul and has dabbled in oil painting and poetry.

Book – Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Kalda’s book portrays men who unashamedly loved cats. While domestic canines typically have been depicted as man’s best friend, cats have held an equal place in the lives of many. The dog might have helped Paleolithic cavemen survive by hunting, but the cat aided Neolithic man into the age of civilization.

Cats have been historically associated with women, particularly women on the fringes of society. Men with cats were the cerebral types, thinkers, not doers.

On the other hand, men with doggy companions are seen as heroes, athletes, and warriors. The macho US General Patton loved his English Bull Terrier, William the Conqueror, or Willie. Conventionally masculine men are depicted as being more in tune with their emotions, only with their beloved canines rather than with women. Harlan Ellison wrote of such devotion in “A Boy and His Dog.”

Upon my first quick read of Kalda’s book, I was a bit disappointed that all the men depicted were (as he clearly states) “Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statemen.” As I’ve noted in my experience, loving cats doesn’t make a man less physical.

Then on a second reading, I realized how silly & biased my preconceived notions were! A man who appreciates the company of cats isn’t less of anything. He is, perhaps, simply more in touch with his introverted side, as cats are not outgoing creatures. Introverted natures tend towards the arts or history, so it’s only natural that artists, historians, and philosopher-kings would be drawn to these quiet, pensive animals that delight their humans with their strange, adorable habits.

Cat Crazy Men

“Like Prometheus to the fire, generation of enlightened fellows have gravitated to the feline species. We stand with our cat-loving sisters as crazy cat men, proudly wearing our scarlet letters in solidarity.”

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen

And who are these cat-crazy men? There was King Hywel the Good of Wales who introduced laws that protected domestic cats. A Mamluk Sultan named Baibars bequeathed a garden near a mosque to be dedicated as a cat sanctuary in Cairo. Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, the aforementioned Twain, Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol are a few of the intelligent, creative, and avant-garde cat fanciers you’ll meet.

Finally, let me address the artwork. Kalda’s work is deceptively simple and modern. When briefly looked at, one sees colorful images of men and cats. Look closer, and there are layers upon layers in his work. It is in the details where Kalda shines. Whether it’s the fur pattern of a tabby cat, individual blades of grass, every leaf on palm trees, or a Mandala-like halo surrounding a deceased Zoraostrian pop star’s visage, Kalda painstakingly adds strokes and lines to create texture and nuance.

Some of My Favorite Images:

MARLON BRANDO:

marlon brando cat

CHARLES SWAIN:

charleswain

SULTAN BAIBARS:

catgardens

FREDDY MERCURY:

FREDDYMERCURY

However, the omission of this fella does irk me:

bubble kittty

But there are lots of cat lovers out there, so it’s a forgivable act.

My Opinion

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen is a must-have for any man who loves cats. Or a woman who loves cats. Or a man or woman who loves men who love cats. Or just cats. I couldn’t find this book for the longest time, and it was due to one of my kitties sleeping on it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, Broadway Books, 2012

Spoiler Alert ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – Gone Girl

July 2013 was a difficult month.

I had ordered Gone Girl for beach reading on a very rare family vacation. I hadn’t been out of the country for 12 years and was looking forward to it. The book didn’t arrive in time, so I lay in the sun for hours without a summer blockbuster to enjoy. While the food, beaches, and people of Nassau were wonderful, due to various reasons I came back from the trip in bad spirits. And there, waiting in my mailbox was Gone Girl, a work of fiction to befriend me in my time of illness and self-pity. It became a twisted friend, one that fed upon my sickness and bad feelings.

Spending so much time in the heat was not the smartest thing to do for someone with lupus. A massive flare-up occurred, with a fever registering at 105.5˚F. Much worse, despite the many visits to the vet, my sweet little English bull terrier was suffering from a terminal illness. I couldn’t move out of bed to care for her properly. Plus, there were family matters to deal with that were unsettling. (In retrospect, those issues were trivial, but being sick with my beloved doggie dying didn’t make for rational thoughts). I was angry at everything: my body, my family, and the vets. I couldn’t do anything but lie there a dizzying fog, where occasional moments of lucidity and strength allowed me to flip the pages and read.

Gone Girl fed that dark place inside me with even more darkness. At the time, I was not in a state to process it in the right perspective.

The plot appears simple. A wife goes missing. The clues left behind can mean only one thing: someone killed her. The person most likely to have done it was the husband, Nick. A media firestorm ensues as the search for wife Amy leads to startling revelations about a seemingly perfect marriage.

Alternating with Nick’s narration are entries from the Amy’s diary, giving us an insight into the marriage before the disappearance. We are fed little bits of information, piece by piece at a time, molding the reader’s opinion like potter’s clay. Then events then take an odd turn and we see our perspective has been skewed all along. What we are told is not always true. Gillian Flynn created a warped, revolting world about two people so horrible that they destroyed everything in their path because they were selfish fucks.

Which horrible person do we root for? The side you pick may say something about you, something disturbing.

I’m ok with that. No doubt about it, I’m on Team Disturbed.

Here Be Spoilers & Rants

First of all I loved Amy. I know she is a horrible person and in real life I would run away from anyone who was 1/10th as crazy as she was. But as a character, she had me rooting for her 100%. Yeah, she was evil, but so is Hannibal Lecter and readers, moviegoers, and TV-watchers root for him. Why doesn’t Amy get any love? Those wheels in her mechanical brain were always turning. Even when things didn’t work out as planned, she always kept rolling and going on to something new. What she did to Nick was a wicked thing, to set him up for her murder, hoping he’d get the death penalty. Regardless, it was she who drew me into the story, not Nick.

I am satisfied that at she got her “happy” ending, as messed up as it was. If you watched “Breaking Bad” and loved Walter White even at his most evil, then you might find Amy sympathetic. Then again, maybe not. One could argue Walter had legitimate reasons to down a dark path, although it was his ego that kept him on it. Amy was always ego, a broken human being who wasn’t truly a person, just whatever persona she decided to put on. God, I loved her.

On the other hand, I loathed Nick. I hated his fake good guy identity. He was a liar, a thief, and a cheat. If Amy was a sociopath, Nick was a narcissist. He walked through life with his good looks and expected women to take care of him. Unlike Amy he did become self-aware and own up to his flaws, but it wasn’t enough to turn him into a good guy hero. Nick was perfectly content to have his sister pick up the slack at work, his wife pay for his bills, and his mistress take care of his sexual and emotional needs. Plus he was dumb, a fatal flaw in a character.

Nick takes his wife’s money to start his dream bar in his sleepy home town, far from their life in New York. He gets do what he wants and live his life while Amy sits home and waits for life to happen. Screw that. He’s no hero.

Then again, Amy’s certainly no heroine.

On the scale of evil, she’s far worse than Nick. Amy is a liar, a psychopath, a stalker, a killer. She frames innocent people for crimes and delights in ruining peoples’ lives. She is beyond redemption. Nick is merely a scummy, mooching adulterer. He pales in comparison.

Despite that, Amy’s entertaining as hell and fun. She’s so crazy that even in my sick haze, I kept reading to see what she would do next. Her “Cool Girl” rant is one off the most enjoyable passages I’ve ever read in modern books. It had me nodding, “Hell yes!”

Opinion of Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn excels at characterization. She never writes about good people. In her books all the people are different levels of suck. You wouldn’t want anything to do with these slimy, twisted characters (Save for Go, Nick’s sister, the only “sinless” character in this book. And the baby, of course!)

Nick and Amy are both the protagonists and antagonists; both are villains in a story with no heroes. Many readers hated the ending, thinking the bad guy got away with it all, but I liked it. It’s a perfectly perverse conclusion for a perverse romance. Although it was a bit rushed (a commonality among Flynn’s endings).

The concept of how people forge intimate bonds with media images of beautiful crime victims while demonizing the suspects is depicted in Gone Girl with perfect, biting satire. Flynn’s books deal with sharp themes on what it means to be a “man” or “woman.” She is by far the most entertaining, insightful, and well-written author of the recent popular-phenom books I’ve read, blowing away those over-praised duds by silly Dan Brown and humorless Stieg Larsson.

Of her three novels so far, Gone Girl is my favorite, which is saying something, as her other two other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, were incredible dark reads. I anxiously await Flynn’s next book. It can’t come soon enough!

Peter the Cruel by Edward Storer

Peter the Cruel, Edward Storer, Andesite Press, 2015 reprint

Spoiler Alert ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Prince Pedro

In a dusty castle in Andalusia there resided an abandoned Queen and her son, the Infante Don Pedro, heir to the Castilian throne. For years Queen Maria of Spain, daughter of Portugal, had been cast aside by her husband King Alfonso XI in favor of his mistress Leonor de Guzman and the ten illegitimate children she bore him. By right it was Maria who was Queen but it was a concubine who reigned in the King’s court as consort. And so, for years Queen Maria languished, while in her heart burned a longing for vengeance.

By the mid-14th century the romance of the Medieval Age had long-ago subsided. Troubadours and jongleurs no longer galivanted from city to walled city. The Black Plague tormented the continent. As war ravaged Europe, the people were beset by vagabonds, pirates, and thieves. The Renaissance, which had begun in Italy, had not yet reached the Hispanic Peninsula. Five kingdoms ruled Iberia: Portugal to the west; Castile-Leon taking up the vast center; Navarre to the northeast; Aragon to the east; and in the south, the last Muslim stronghold of Granada. Violence ruled the day. Although there was often intermarriage among the Christian kingdoms much time was spent battling each other, not to mention the centuries-old Christian Crusade of the Reconquista to overtake Granada.

It was in Granada where Pedro’s father, waging yet another war, met his end to the Plague. Pedro was not quite 16 years of age. At long last, Maria and her son were set free.

Book – Peter The Cruel: The Life of the Notorious Don Pedro of Castile, together with an Account of His Relations with the Famous Maria de Padilla

Pedro had not harbored resentment towards his father and half-siblings as his mother had. He longed for his brothers’ and sisters’ company and welcomed them into his fold. Leonor de Guzman, as the mother of his half-siblings, he believed, was due respect. One may wonder how such a seemingly kind-hearted young boy grew to be such a despised monarch. When Pedro reached maturity, he would be a fine figure of a man at 6 feet in height, blond-haired, blue-eyed, active, and fit, and except for knees that tended to crack when he walked, had few physical flaws. He would reign on and off for 19 years over a time of civil war and strife and earn the menacing sobriquet of Pedro el Cruel, or Peter the Cruel.

Edward Storer’s Peter the Cruel: The Life of the Notorious Don Pedro of Castile, together with an Account of His Relations with the Famous Maria de Padilla is a terrific historical read. His compact book of 333 pages is supported by 60 works of references, including direct accounts Pedro’s personal historian, Pedro Lopez de Ayala, who was no lover of King Pedro, as well as apologist Prosper Merimee’s hefty 2-part biography (no joke, I own these books and they are about 3 inches thick each). Storer’s work is academic, dismissing rumor from fact, resulting in a fair, ostensibly unbiased look at the much-maligned king.

The Young King Learns to Rule

Young Pedro was, as youths tend to be, naïve. He did not understand how great his brothers’ powers were. Their father, King Alfonso, had given them lands and titles. Enrique, the eldest surviving son, was named Conde de Trastamara (remember that name), his twin, Fadrique, was made Master of the order of Santiago, and the third son was named Don Tello. To guide King Pedro through political waters was Don Juan Alonso de Albuquerque, a nobleman of Portuguese origin. First, Albuquerque set his sights on marriage for the King to a lady of a great family, Juana de Villena. In the first of many betrayals, Pedro’s brother Enrique would elope with Dona Juana, claiming a childhood betrothal gave him the right to her hand and her vast fortune.

This led to various factions across the kingdom fighting it out in the first on many civil wars. Pedro learned that betrayal must be punished with the harshest of penalties. His first murder was that of a knight, Garci Laso, who had the misfortune of choosing the opposing side. Upon Pedro’s order, Laso was maced to death, his brains and skull splattering upon the stones of the floor before Pedro’s throne.

There would be many more brutal slayings to follow, some the typical works of a king seeking to consolidate power, others the kinds that even God might not forgive.

In another betrayal against Pedro, his mother Maria plotted in secret to have her former adversary Leonor de Guzman murdered. Despite who she was, Pedro had never wanted this. While his brother Don Tello received the notification of his mother’s death with ease, the twins were not as forgiving. Enrique & Fadrique would be consumed with a bloodlust for their brother that could only end in murder.

After a bout of sickness, Pedro set upon ruling. Although Storer does not go in depth at this point, it is said that Pedro relaxed laws against Jews, giving them more opportunities (indeed his treasurer Simuel el Levi was Jewish) and tightened control over the nobles. This could not stand.

Enter Maria

Albuquerque plotted to take his young King’s mind off governing and introduced him to one, Maria de Padilla. While not as politically powerful as other royal mistresses in history, such as Madame de Pompadour or Barbara Villiers, the influence she wielded on King Pedro and his reign is undeniable. She was his love, his obsession, his sanctuary, his torment. In his favorite city of Seville, he lived an idyllic life of Oriental decadence with the ravishing Maria, who would bear his children.

After it became obvious that Pedro’s obsession with his mistress was more than a fleeting romance, Albuquerque again attempted to maneuver a political alliance for Pedro. This time he was successful, arranging a marriage to Blanca (Blanche) of Bourbon, niece to the king of France. He sent Pedro’s half-brother, Fadrique, to France to accompany the sweet lady into the land of castles.

One would think that with his mother having been so ill-treated by her husband, Pedro would grant his Queen the respect that was her due. But either Maria de Padilla’s embraces were so memorable, or poor Blanca was so repulsive, or perhaps Blanca’s dowry had not yet been received, that Pedro tired of his wife after a mere two days of marriage. He fled to seek the comforting arms of his mistress, only to return for a few more days and then once more leave his bride, alone & imprisoned, for the rest of her short, pathetic life.

His romance with the infamous Padilla woman was filled with passionate turmoils. After one heated argument Maria threatened to retreat to a nunnery and Pedro left in disgust. During this separation, he found time to romance Juana de Castro, a beautiful, elegant widow, whom Pedro pursued with a deep intensity. Juana would not be content to live as mistress to the King; she wanted Holy Matrimony. Pedro’s marriage to Blanca was declared null and void by his decree. But this was not enough. King Pedro threatened two bishops upon penalty of death to declare King Pedro free to marry. This resulted in the bishops being called to the Pope’s residence to receive harsh punishments. Pedro, himself, would later be excommunicated by the Church for cruelties against the clergy.

In a phony marriage ceremony, Pedro bonded himself to Juana. Unfortunately for Juana, she was to be humiliated in the worst way, abandoned by the King after only one night in his bed. One wonders for what reason such a beautiful lady could have displeased the King. Was it merely the pursuit of the hunt and not the nubile target that intrigued him? In any case, Maria never entered a convent, and it was back to her loving bed where Pedro returned.

Ramon Madaula as Pedro el Cruel

Endless Violence

It is here where events turn endlessly violent. The Padilla family had gained power in Pedro’s court, ousting Albuquerque who fled to Portugal, as did the Dowager Queen, who had found love in her homeland with a handsome knight. Pedro had many enemies: the Portuguese, including his mother and the spurned Albuquerque; the French whom he had offended with his ill-treatment of Blanche; his Trastamara brothers; the Spanish nobles who plotted against him; and the kingdom of Aragon, with its slight ties to the Castilian throne. Bloody skirmishes were fought.

Eventually, Pedro was captured by his brothers and pled for mercy. He was held prisoner for some time and would never be the same after his eventual escape. He had been disgraced; now, he hungered for vengeance. There would be no mercy, not even for his mother. Maria had foolishly decided to go to battle against her son. As punishment, he had her lover and other knights murdered before her horrified eyes. It just one of many in a series of assassinations. Heads on pikes were a common sight in the middle ages. During Pedro’s reign, they were prolific.

More murders were to come. Although Storer denies the veracity of such claims, it was said that during the long months’ travels from France to Spain, Pedro’s bride, Blanca, had been especially close with her guard, Don Fadrique. A love affair had formed. Pedro heard these rumors and it was yet another insult his brothers had cast against him, yet another bitter potion to swallow. He was insatiable in his quest for vengeance.

War was also on the agenda. A moment at sea where Pedro found himself tauntingly threatened by Catalan pirates led to a protracted conflict with Aragon.

Betrayals and Love Affairs

In the meantime, his mother was disgracing herself in the courts of Portugal. Maria, seeking to stamp out memories of her beloved knight was entertaining herself with lover after lover. Her death via poisoning soon followed. Storer admits that Pedro could have been behind her death but dismisses the charges as improbable. More likely, it was her father the King of Portugal who had Maria poisoned. Medieval politics made for tenuous family ties.

A new love affair ensued for King Pedro. This time with a Dona Aldonza whom he chased with an intense ferocity, his pursuit sprouting legends, worthy of the ancient Greek gods. She hid in a convent believing herself to be safe in such a holy sanctuary, but Pedro mercilessly searched every room until he found her. Yet Peter had not forgotten about his Maria. Like a sultan of old, Peter had two households of women. Two women who shared his bed and his ear for politics. A power play arose between the ladies. Ultimately Aldonza overplayed her hand, leaving Maria victorious and Pedro disgusted with her. Thus, she retired again to a nunnery for the rest of her life.

Several more betrayals by his Trastamara brothers led Pedro to the conclusion that their deaths would be the only solution to his problems. In the Arabesque halls of his beloved castle in Seville, the Alcazar, he would order the death of Fadrique de Trastamara. His brother was hunted down like a rabbit, dying only after a long, harrowing chase. His butchered body lay on the mosaic tiled floor, gore flecking the walls.

Pedro dined at his corpse.

Don Tello was also on Pedro’s kill-list, but due to his more suspicious nature, Tello fled before Pedro’s men could reach him. Fadrique’s gruesome death, coupled with the executions Peter mandated for the Spanish nobleman who revolted against him, made the tales about his despotism grow. The soil was fertile for Enrique to gather allies against the King. Illegitimate though he was, he was still a Prince and he perceived he had rights to the throne.

More cruelties followed, including the death of Pedro’s Queen, Blanca, who had been locked away for years. Storer demurs to claim outright whether Pedro ordered her death, offering several options and letting the reader can come to his or her own conclusions. In my opinion, he likely did.

The End for Pedro

Then came his beloved Maria de Padilla’s death. Her loss was painful, but ever the amorous man, King Pedro was able to find solace with numerous women in the remaining years of his life. It was the death of his only son with Maria that profoundly changed him. He became weaker, more dissolute. More murders of noblemen occurred. The number of his enemies grew larger and larger. Numerous people wanted Pedro dead.

Eventually, Pedro became involved in the Hundred Years’ War, allying himself with England. The Black Prince himself came to Spain with thousands of men to lend aid to Pedro. On one side were the Castilians and the English, on the other, the Aragonese, the French, and the Trastamaras. Many knights from far away lands came to Hispania to battle for glory.

Whether through subterfuge or capture, Pedro found himself in a military tent with his brother, Enrique. The knights watched as brother fought brother. It looked as if the more powerful Pedro had the upper hand, but a knight—probably the famous French knight Bertrand du Guesclin—aided Enrique, allowing him to get to his knife and sink it into Pedro’s flesh. Whether Enrique gave the killing blow, or if Pedro was done in by the final stabs of others, is not certain. On that twenty-third day of March in the year 1369, Pedro the Cruel’s reign came to an end.

Through fratricide, the bastard, Enrique de Trastamara had gained the throne of Castile-Leon. His descendants would rule Spain for centuries, first as Trastamaras, then as Hapsburgs, for he was the ancestor of Isabel the Catholic of Castile, Juana I the Mad, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and King Phillip II of Spain, among others.

Pedro’s Legacy

Pedro’s descendants lived on through his children by Maria. His daughters would be Constance, Duchess of Lancaster, wife to the Edward III of England’s son, John of Gaunt, and the other Isabella, Duchess of York.

As for Pedro’s legacy, it is a mixed one. He was, by the standards of his time, truly not more bloodthirsty a king than most others. However, he did not wage his war upon the peasantry nor persecuted minorities, but on nobles. His attempt at social reforms, his unwillingness to oppress Jews, and his endeavors to decrease crimes through harsher punishments were not forgotten. For that, later historians have called him el Justiciero, the Lawful.

It was in personal matters wherein Pedro was dissolute and wicked. More importantly, he lost his crown to a man who had the power to dictate history, the founding ruler of a powerful dynasty whose bloodline lives on today in the royal families of Europe.

The life of Pedro the I has been the subject of many works, with each artist putting his own spin on the disparaged king. Storer writes his life story with organized, even-handed elegance. This work is history come to life, where you can smell the orange blossoms and taste the metallic blood. Peter the Cruel is a wonderful read, an excellent biography for any Hispanophile’s library.

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert McGinnis and Art Scott

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, Robert McGinnis and Art Scott, Titan Books, 2014

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Master Artist

For lovers of throwback historical and gothic romances, vintage pulpy reads and spy thrillers, or old movies and magazines, the name Robert McGinnis might be familiar. But if it isn’t, then his works of art surely are. I consider McGinnis, along with H. Tom Hall and Elaine Duillo, as the holy triumvirate of old-school pulp-gothic-romance cover illustrators, although who is the best is greatly debated.

The Art of Robert McGinnis is a glorious book depicting hundreds of beautiful McGinnis images. Born in 1926, McGinnis has spent over 70 years of his life creating book covers for almost every genre, movie posters, such as the famous one featuring Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” magazine illustrations, portraits, etc., and has worked almost exclusively in Tempera paints.

After the paperback was introduced into the US by Pocket Books in 1939, the business model was for tasteful illustrations, and chic graphic design, almost like mini hardcovers. When other publishers like Dell and Fawcett began producing their own paperbacks, they appealed to a more pulp/comic-book oriented market. McGinnis’s art was tailor-made for these kinds of books, especially the hardboiled mysteries.

Romance Book Covers and More

He started with covers for characters Mike Shane, Perry Mason, and Carter Brown, then grew into spy thrillers, like James Bond, and eventually entered the romance genre.

It was a logical choice, as McGinnis had a talent for depicting the feminine form in a most erotic fashion (as well as males). He started in Gothics, and then soon became the first Bodice ripper illustrator for works by Kathleen E. Woodiwss, like The Flame and the Flower:

Cover of The Flame and the Flower

And later, The Wolf and the Dove:

Artwork for The Wolf and the Dove

But he became super notorious for his Johanna Lindsey covers, starting with Fires of Winter (Haardrad Viking Family, #1) by Johanna Lindsey which began a rage of naked men covers, where the hero would wear less clothing than the heroine. I loved that cover and remember sketching it over and over as a young teen. Supposedly, he painted this one where both hero and heroine were nude and had to cover up the heroine as an afterthought. No matter, I always thought the sight of those pale, naked men’s thighs as one of the most arousing things I’d ever seen. I eternally prefer them the to jacked up naked chests that inundate so many modern covers.

Fires of Winter Artwork

McGinnis’s cover for Lindsey’s Tender Is the Storm by Johanna Lindsey was hugely controversial, with many stores refusing to sell the book. Stickers had to be sent to booksellers to cover up the hero’s naked butt. (It does look like the hero is giving the heroine a gold ole titty bang, doesn’t it?

Tender is the Storm, from The Art of Robert McGinnis

Other famous books McGinnis illustrated, besides Gothics and Bodice Rippers, were epics like The Clan of the Cave Bear, Mandalay, and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood which required extravagant wraparound covers in intimate detail.

Lover of the Female Form

Whatever modern art enthusiasts may have to say about McGinnis, there is no denying that he adored the female form. “The McGinnis woman” was plastered on hundreds of covers. Lawrence Block of the NY Times notes on the back of The Art of Robert McGinnis “[He] can paint anything– a movie poster, a western landscape–and draw you in. But when he paints a woman, he makes you fall in love.”

“The McGinnis Woman is a mix of a Greek goddess and man-eating Ursula Andress. While today she might be interpreted as a sex object or adornment, she was conceived, in her day, to represent the empowered woman. In fact, the McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.” (Source: Vanity Fair)

More than a Book Illustrator

Besides his hundreds of book covers, McGinnis is responsible for famous movie posters such as the aforementioned “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Barbarella,” several Blaxploitation films, and, most famously, the James Bond films.

Personally, I’m a Roger Moore fan (Of course I would be) and I like this one from “Live and Let Die,” although McGinnis’s representation of Jane Seymour as Solitaire is a bit off.

“Live and Let Die” artwork for movie poster

Some of my favortites:

The Girl Who Cried Wolf:

Judith:

Cotton Comes to Harlem:

As Old as Cain: (The woman is depicted after Goldie Hawn, the man after James Coburn. Can you tell?)

And this is McGinnis’s personal favorite picture:

A Cat with No Name:

Opinion on The Art of Robert McGinnis

Don’t be fooled by the raunchy pictures and book covers, McGinnis also has a fine eye for land and seascapes and personal portraits, as he painted Princess Diana as well.

I enjoy art, but I’m certainly no expert on it. I see what I like and know I like it. For me, Robert McGinnis is a genius of the 20th century, and hopefully, his legacy will live on for ages to come.

The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt,

“My darling Lucy.” He panted against her ear, and then his teeth scraped her earlobe. “I love you,” he whispered. “Don’t ever leave me.”

THE SERPENT PRINCE

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – The Serpent Prince

I’ve only read the first seven of Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, but The Serpent Prince is far and away my favorite. And it’s all due to Viscount Simon Iddesleigh. This is third and final installment in her “Princes” trilogy, and what a way to end the series!

A Great Hero and Heroine

A dandy’s dandy, Simon dresses like a Georgian fop in full wig, red heeled-shoes and lots of lace. He falls madly for Lucy, a commoner with an over-protective father. Lucy saves Simon’s life after he’s found seemingly lifeless in the river and nurses him back to health.

Simon and Lucy are instantly attracted to one another, but they have social and emotional differences that are obstacles for them being together. Love wins out, though, and against Lucy’s father’s judgment, they get married. However, it’s not easy sailing for Lucy and Simon, as Simon has secrets that haunt him. He’s such a multi-faceted hero, and Lucy is a strong heroine with fortitude and dignity.

Simon’s foppish ways hide a tortured soul; he’s a deadly swordsman who seeks revenge against those who killed his brother. Only Lucy’s love and a decent friend are his only salvation.

When I thought of Simon looking like this:

 photo 1259916696_paul-bettany-20060103-95212.jpg
Jennifer Connelly is one lucky gal!

(SIGH!)

…It really hit all my right buttons!

Also a plus in this historical romance is that the relationship is consummated AFTER the wedding. In contemporaries I don’t care when it takes place, but in a historical I like that old-fashioned type of stuff.

A Favorite Romance

Many reader prefer the first two book in the series, The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince to this one. As always, I’m a contrarian. They were good, however in my eyes they never reached the emotional highs of The Serpent Prince, which takes a spot on my all-time-favorite-romances list.

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss

Seven Noble Knights, J.K. Knauss, Amazon Kindle, 2016

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow, what an amazing, emotional ride! I love when my personal tastes synch so well with a novel.

The Book – Seven Noble Knights

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss is historical fiction done right. Based on an old Spanish legend, this book takes the reader back to 10th-century Hispania, a land divided among different cultures, Christians to the North and a Muslim Empire to the South. Much bloodshed and calamity occur and many years later, a hero arises to avenge family honor.

In the County of Castile, the seven sons of Gonzalez Gustioz are known as the bravest, strongest, most noble knights in all of Christendom. The story begins as the knights fight under their uncle Ruy Blasquez to capture enemy territory. We are introduced to Gonzalo, the youngest of the brothers, impetuous, yet honorable. Although an omniscient narrator takes us inside the heads of multiple characters throughout the book, it’s from his perspective that much of the first portion of the story is told.

As a reward for taking the castle, the older, grizzled Ruy is gifted with a beautiful, young noblewoman, Dona Lambra, to marry. Lambra, however, resents this union, as she had wanted to marry her handsome and arrogant cousin. She is a cunning, spiteful creature and although the reader is never placed directly in Lambra’s head, it’s plain to see her evil personality behind the beautiful face.

A violent tragedy ensues at the wedding due to Gonzalo’s hotheadedness and Lambra calls for justice, which is promptly given by the Count. However, it’s not enough for Lambra, who plots all-out revenge against the Gonzalez family and their seven sons.

As I read the book, I was kept anxious, knowing what was going to happen, but hoping, in vain, that it wouldn’t. My eyes were glued to the pages and I kept blowing off my responsibilities so I could finish each chapter. “Just one more chapter,” I’d tell myself, ignoring the growing piles of laundry I had to fold and dishes in the sink.

The story is set in both the dusty, plains of Castile and the beautiful paradise that was Al-Andalus. Both people of those lands have their codes of honor that they value greatly. From the Muslim caliphate, there will come a champion to enact vengeance against the ones who harmed the Gonzalez family.

Here, in the second portion of the book, we meet Mudarra, nephew of the great chamberlain of Cordoba. Mudarra is youthful and lives an idyllic life. Is he up to the great challenge before him? Can he commit to his plan when so many roadblocks seem to fall in his way? Does destiny await?

My Opinion

A few times when reading historical fiction, I get the notion that some authors don’t like nor respect the people or the time period they’re writing about. Or, they infuse their contemporary beliefs into what or whom they write. Not here in Seven Noble Knights. These characters felt wholly authentic, a people of their times. Yes, the story does have some fantastical elements in it and reads like an ancient fairytale, but the individuals feel like real people. The villains are villains, but we can understand why. The heroes are imperfect, yet are committed to doing what they must. The side characters are more than just placeholders, they’re people with wants and desires beyond the plot.

If you enjoy historical books that actually transport you back to previous times, with genuine characters that make you believe you are living their story, I heartily recommend Seven Noble Knights. It’s a shame this book has just a few reviews and ratings because it really is a fantastic work of historical fiction.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

© Sourced from the British Newspaper Archive

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Book – Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an exquisite work of art by Thomas Hardy. When it comes to media consumption, my tastes are hardly that of a cultural elitist. As far as novels go, I am more likely to favor lurid-covered pulp-fiction rather than the socially approved literature that marks one a reader of serious status. All the same, I am not a complete hairy-knuckled Philistine. There are classic works that have touched me intensely so that I rejoice in their splendid perfection.

“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang, and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly—the thought of the world’s concern at her situation—was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”

The Beauty and Sadness

Thomas Hardy was a maestro of prose, not overly purple, using his descriptors with care, each clause an effective addition to what words had come before. Like most Victorian authors, he is moralistic, but his morals differed quite a bit from the accepted norms. His themes were not as simplistic as “Be kind to the poor lest ye suffer for all eternity,” but much deeper ideas. What is love? What is marriage? What defines an honorable man or a virtuous woman? Has man set up impossible ideals that can never be obtained? Is the guiding hand of social norms more like a chokehold upon the innocent? And so much more.

To a people in an era defined by a rigid structure, Hardy’s works were blasphemous.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles tells the doomed tale of Teresa Durbeyfield, a possible descendant of the Norman raiders of old. But Tess is no noble lady, just a poor girl from an ignoble family, her father a drunkard, her siblings numerous. There is nothing particularly special about Tess, except for a rough, sensual type of beauty. Indeed, the “hero” of the story overlooks her the first time he sees her.

From Angel Clare’s decision to ask the wrong girl to dance with him, to Alec d’Urberville’s pursuit of Tess as she walked past his carriage in the dimming light, to the scene where Tess, all alone, baptizes her dying child, to humble domesticity with Angel and Tess, to the blood dripping from the ceiling in the hotel, to Tess’s fated, tragic end, all these visions together create a mesmerizing, yet, quite frankly, depressing, saga.

My Final Opinion

Why did this book stick with me? I’ve seen it in several forms, movies, miniseries, etc., so it must resonate with a lot of others. It is a heartrending book about a nobody who was never meant for anything more than a meager existence and yet her heart ached for so much more. It’s a story filled with “If onlys.”

As Tess says before her doom: 

“This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much.”