Friday, August 1, 2014

☊ EMPIRE OF BLUE WATER by Stephen Talty (✰✰✰✰)

Many years ago my elder brother, Dave, and I sat in a bookstore.  I glanced over at his purchases and noticed that he had a nonfiction book about pirates in his pile.  Never having known my brother to have the slightest interest in pirates, I remarked on the choice.  He said with a half-smile, “Well, I don’t know anything about them, and what could be more fascinating than pirates?”  My brother and I choose our books in much the same way; I too tend to be drawn to nonfiction covering subjects about which I know very little.  So, as I was browsing for a new audio, I had to smile when I saw Stephen Talty’s Empire of Blue Water, because I remembered that long ago purchase and chance remark of my brother.
Set in the latter half of the 17th century, Empire of Blue Water tells the truth-is-greater-than-fiction tale of Henry Morgan.  Morgan rose from Irish obscurity to forge a band of renegade sailors into a great pirate flotilla that sailed out of Port Royal, Jamaica, under a dubious alliance with England.  This gathering of malcontents, cast-off from all acceptable society, has been credited with conquering the Western Hemisphere for England by repeatedly besting the Spanish on land and at sea, causing them to lose their foothold and eventually their control over the region.

Only one thing kept this from being a five star read, and that is the ending.  Henry Morgan’s life took a very interesting turn in later years, and I felt that this section of the book was a bit rushed.  Talty might have felt that it didn’t have quite the dramatic swagger of the rest of Morgan’s story, and so tried to minimize it, but I would have liked to have known more than he gave.

Dave was right.  Pirates are fascinating.  And Talty’s flair for telling a fast-paced, enthralling story brings them brilliantly to life.  This is a nonfiction that functions perfectly in a audio performance.  The writing is narrative, linear, and doesn’t require footnotes or illustrations to grasp.  I definitely recommend this work of historical adventure to any who have an interest in the subject matter or, like my brother and me, want to learn something about a subject about which you know little or nothing.  

INFERNO by Dan Brown (✰✰✰✰)

Many of my more literary or academic reading friends gasp every time I give a Dan Brown novel a serious review, but I think the man writes great entertainment, and when I pick up a thriller, that is what I want.
Robert Langdon is back, this time using art works based on Dante’s Inferno, trying to solve a puzzle of sorts in order to prevent the disbursal of a dangerous contagion, about to be let loose by a zealot (have to have one of those in every Brown novel) who believes that to be nature’s way of curbing out of control population growth.

The majority of the novel takes place in Florence, Italy, which has to be one of my favorite cities.  Playing heavily into the plot are Dante’s Inferno (one of the most intriguing of all classical works) and various works of art that have been based upon that text.  In addition, a plethora of other great slices of art, sculpture, and history are worked into the story.  Therein lies the problem for many readers whose reviews I have read, because at times the tidbits of knowledge that are dropped into the story become a bit heavy-handed and the pace of the novel slows in their wake.  Personally, I will quite happily take a scintillating factoid about any of the subjects covered in this novel and absorb it along with the plot twists, because I love art, Inferno, history, and Florence.  As a result, this Dan Brown novel, which many call their least favorite, is the one I enjoyed the most.

As is common in Brown’s novels, there is plenty here to offend those who take some of his issues to heart.  His treatment of the Catholic Church is once again quite harsh, and his core issue of global population is sure to push some people’s buttons.  I took things on a purely entertainment plane and greatly enjoyed seeing where he led his readers through his stellar ability to infuse his plot and theme with just enough realism and feasibility to keep you thinking that it was all actually possible.  His ending didn’t disappoint, taking an abrupt turn from where you thought he was headed, but leaving you satisfied and thinking that much deeper over the question he left unanswered.

I did this one on audio, and while it wasn’t my favorite performance ever, it was a solid performance and provided great entertainment while my hands were busy with other things.  Thrillers make great audios to work along with.  I recommend this for all audiences looking for a fun summer read that will convey more than a few tasty morsels of food for your brain and get you thinking about an issue that most of us give very little of our attention.