Friday, October 21, 2016

Divorce of Henry VIII

Cover image for The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican by Catherine Fletcher, 214 pages

Although he is mentioned in neither the title nor the subtitle, Catherine Fletcher's inside story on the most momentous divorce in history is really the story of Gregorio Casali.  As "our man in Rome" for the English monarch, Casali spearheaded efforts to secure a favorable judgement from Pope Clement VII.  Simultaneously, Gregorio worked to advance the far-flung interests of his family, and used his family to advance the interests of his client.  The manner in which these interests interacted, combined and conflicted, forms much of the drama of the story.

Fletcher writes well, smoothly guiding the reader through the intricacies of Renaissance diplomacy, although the book might have benefited from a collective introduction of all the members of the Casali family rather than a piecemeal approach.  The Divorce of Henry VIII is an intriguing, informative tale of Renaissance diplomacy, even if it sheds little light on the "great matter" at its heart.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Newton and Polly

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund    400 pages

I have never given the author of one of the world’s most well-known hymns, Amazing Grace, much thought. I guess I assumed it was a priest or a reverend, perhaps even a nun. I was surprised when I saw on the cover of this fictional biography a beautiful young woman and a sailing vessel from the 1700s. One of the things I love about historical fiction is that I learn about things I may have never known.

Newton and Polly is the story of John Newton and Mary “Polly” Catlett. They met when he was seventeen and she was fifteen. Their chemistry was as explosive as a nuclear bomb.

John was a rapscallion as a young man. He liked to drink and carouse, until one cold December night in 1742 when he heard the voice of an angel. The sweet sound came from a young woman, Polly, out wassailing (or caroling as we know it) with some Quaker friends. John was instantly smitten. Thankfully, he followed them as they headed toward home. Seems Polly’s aunt had orchestrated the wassailing as a cover for the release of several slaves. As they were about to be apprehended, John came to their rescue and escorted them to Polly’s parent’s home.

From the moment he laid eyes on her, John was in love, passionately and deeply. Polly returned the feelings. And so began the story of a devoted love that everyone seemed to want to come between.

John misses the ship that he was supposed to take for a job in Jamaica that his father had arranged. And he misses a second ship and another job his father arranges. His lack of ambition worries Polly’s father, who refuses to give Polly’s hand in marriage and bans John from seeing.

One night, John is pressed into service in England’s Royal Navy. He is forced to fight in the war against France. Feeling he’s lost Polly forever, his life descends further and further into sin. Year later, when the ship is nearly destroyed in a storm (more likely a hurricane), John realizes his mistakes. When he is spared, he vows to turn his life over to God. He returns to England and becomes a preacher.

John and Polly’s story is well-written, but moves a bit slow. There isn’t much going on for most of the book except for the two pining over each other. The storm that almost killed John and his shipmates was tense and kept me on the edge of my seat. However, I thought that John’s conversion came a little too quickly. One minute, during the storm, John hates God with all his might; the next he is a devoted follower. It was a little annoying that during he was referred to as John half the time and Newton the other. I did like the story and am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

I received Newton and Polly from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Intellectual History of Liberalism

Cover image for An Intellectual History of Liberalism by Pierre Manent, translated by Rebecca Balinski, 117 pages

In An Intellectual History of Liberalism, Manent traces the key lines of thought leading up to, through, and beyond the crucible of the French Revolution, as developed by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Constant, Guizot, and Tocqueville.  In Manent's account, the liberal tradition begins with the attempt to exclude the Church from civic life by eliminating transcendent elements from politics - a development that marks a rupture with the classical as well as medieval traditions.  With Hobbes this was accomplished through a wholly negative anthropology which posited men as individuals locked in a perpetual struggle with one another, with the State as the necessary moderator.  Although Manent's focus is on the resulting steadily growing division between society and the State, his analysis is profound enough to pull in other themes as well, notably the replacement of an argument for liberty grounded in nature with one founded in the idea of progress.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Dark Room

The Dark Room by Jonathan Moore.  140 pages finished of 283 pages.Book comes out in January, 2017 - I read an e-galley

  A homicide inspector in the middle of an exhumation is called away to another case;  San Francisco's mayor is being blackmailed and has ordered the inspector, Gavin Cain, back to the city.  At City Hall, the mayor shows Cain four photos that he's received, all showing the same woman, and each progressively more explicit, with the last showing the woman naked, unconscious, and shackled.  The blackmail letter states more photos are coming unless the mayor kills himself.  Cain is tasked with finding the blackmailer, and uncovering what happened to the woman in the photos.

I usually enjoy suspenseful books like this, but I just found this story to be uninspiring.  Cain is interesting, but I just couldn't get into the book.  There were a lot of details, and I found it difficult to keep them straight, and after a while, I just wasn't interested.  This may be a book that I could read at some other point and enjoy, but I just wasn't feeling it this time.