Monday, March 27, 2017

Isabella of Castile (Giles Tremlett)

Isabella of Castille: Europe’s First Great Queen is a thorough profile of the Spanish monarch mostly known for financing the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in the 1490’s and 1500’s.  However, Isabella was a much more prominent monarch in European history.  Along with her husband Ferdinand, she was responsible for joining much of what is now Spain under one kingdom, unifying it through marriage and then through military and political conquest of the Moors in Southern Spain.

Giles Tremlett’s chronicle of Isabella is thorough but probably a little too lengthy to keep most readers' interest the entire time.  There is quite a lot of inside information about the political interweaving between the Roman church and European politics in the 15th Century, briefly touching on the corruption within and outside of the Church that fueled the Reformation and development of Protestant denominations in the 16th Century.  Isabella fought for a more pious church and nation, helping unify disparate confederacies and kingdoms into a singular state that dominated world politics for a century after her passing.

Tremlett’s book is generally fair in its approach, mentioning the negatives of Isabella’s lengthy reign in contrast to the strong points.  These conflicts worked to make Isabella an intriguing and interesting queen, traits that are not always seen among the great monarchs of European history.  Her rule was instrumental in setting the stage for our modern life in the Western Hemisphere through her desire to globalize and colonize foreign lands in pursuit of wealth and faith.  Tremlett astutely mentions that despite her strength in bringing Spain together as one geographic entity, it took centuries for the country to fully unify, and this slow, quarrelsome process was a contributing factor in the gradual decline of the Spanish Empire over time.  Isabella may have been a strong, powerful monarch, but her successors were not able to fulfill her vision.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Burntown (Jennifer McMahon)

Jennifer McMahon and Jodi Picoult are the two authors I most look forward to seeing on the “Coming Soon” list.  In fact, I made the mistake of taking McMahon’s Island of Lost Girls on vacation one year.  I say “made the mistake” because reading that book was all I wanted to do -- no sightseeing or anything. In fact, that was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in July 2009.  McMahon has always succeeded in creating that creepy, “just one more chapter” atmosphere.  Until now, that is -- unfortunately, Burntown was no winner in my book.

The plot is quite difficult to explain, but I’ll make an attempt.  Eva grew up close to her father, Miles, and loved watching him invent wonderful things.  There’s one invention, however, that’s wanted by someone dangerous; this person will even resort to murder to get it.  Eva (later changing her name to Necco) has always believed that her father drowned in the Great Flood, but it’s only after the death of her mother and boyfriend that she begins to think differently. 

Helping Necco to find out what really happened is a motley crew of characters, and I found it difficult to care about any of them.  There were so many stories and threads going on here, and when they finally all came together, the payoff was less than rewarding.

I began reading Burntown in January, and it took everything in my power to finish it by March.  I found it boring, and far beneath McMahon’s usual standards.  Unfortunately, this was no Island of Lost Girls.