Comic History of England by Bill Nye

No not that Bill Nye. 🙂 Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye was born in 1850. He also wrote The Comic History of the United States, which I just discovered. Hmmm… I’ll have to go read that soon. Anyway, on to this book.

I picked this up as an audio book from LibriVox as I have been spending quite a bit of time with my iPod as of late. I thought that I might get a fun overview of British history. (I admit that I am weak in World History.) Anyway, reading this book in audio format isn’t the way to learn English history. Reading it in the traditional manner might be different (would probably be different).

Still, was it worth reading? Yup. Pick it up and have a little fun. This book isn’t long and is really a sketch or outline of English history. With a few punch lines thrown in there. Consider this typical example from the opening page:

These early Britons were suitable only to act as ancestors. Aside from that, they had no good points. They dwelt in mud huts thatched with straw. They had no currency and no ventilation,–no drafts, in other words. Their boats were made of wicker-work plastered with clay. Their swords were made of tin alloyed with copper, and after a brief skirmish, the entire army had to fall back and straighten its blades.

At times Nye covers whole centuries in a chapter; in another chapter, he might only cover a decade.

My only negative to the book is that one must have a decent grasp of English History to follow along. Well, to follow along and not be continuously confused by the rapid procession of names…. Due to the brief nature of this work, new characters could present themselves every line or two. After another line or so, they could be gone again into the mists of time. Or at least into the “dusty” pages of an ebook.

Right, so if you are studying English history or know English history, be sure to grab this work as your Cliff’s notes. If nothing else it will enliven your history book.

I did enjoy reading this work; my only regret was in my lack of pre-existing knowledge. That made it difficult to appreciate the work, though certainly not impossible. I learned a few things throughout. Now though, I must look up the Comic History of the United States.

You may pickup the text from Gutenberg and the audio from LibriVox.

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The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Red House Mystery
Yes. That’s the same Milne of Winnie the Pooh. According to this article at Wikipedia.org, Milne’s four Pooh books completely overshadowed the rest of his writing. He even came close to regretting the Pooh stories as everyone compared the rest of his works to those four books. He was a victim of his own success….

The Red House Mystery is an intriguing mystery published in 1921 and was Milne’s only foray into the genre. One critic accused Milne of having an “intricate and clever but not realistic plot.” And that would be accurate; a very good read, but not one that you can solve as you go along. True, you can get closer than with many other titles, but Milne excludes the reader from two or three critical facts that prevent anyone from solving the crime. ‘Tis a shame. Does anyone know of a mystery writer that grants sufficient detail for the reader to solve along the way?

In this story, Tony Gillingham stumbles onto a murder and without permission proceeds to solve it. Tony was a wealthy chap who refused to simply flit around on his enormous fortune. He decided to see the world, by which he meant to see the world through various English jobs. Whenever he saw a job that took his fancy, he made a deal with the shopkeeper/owner. He would work for one month free. If the boss liked him, he would earn double wages on the second month. If the boss didn’t like him, then he would leave without pay.

He never left without pay. In this manner he experienced much of England and became a true Renaissance man. It was between jobs when he stumbled upon the Red House where his friend Bill was spending several weeks. Having been invited to drop in if he was in the area, Tony did just that. Upon arriving at the house, he discovered that a murder had just taken place. He proceeded to offer his assistance to the household, which had yet to gain entry to the locked office. Over the next two or three days, Tony and Bill discover secret passages, intrigue, and plots within plots.

This story is worth reading, but one warning. There is quite a bit of language in this book. Read it at your own discretion. You can buy an edited reprint from here. The original text is here and librivox.org has provided the audio book.

The Last Sacrifice by Hanegraaff, Hank and Sigmund Brouwer

The Last Sacrifice

In this second installment of the Hanegraaff and Brouwer’s series, it is more of the same. If you liked Last Disciple, you will like this title as well. Well, anyway, I liked this one better as it spent less time on the action and a little more time on the theological arguments. Some people might not like that as much and think that this one is a tad bit inferior, but don’t let me mislead you, much of the appeal of Last Disciple is found in this worth sequel.

Vitas is fleeing Rome with John. Sophia is fleeing Rome with Ben-Aryeh. Sophia thinks that Vitas is dead while Vitas thinks that Sophia is in grave peril from Nero. Meanwhile, Vitas’ brother Damian the great slave hunter is commissioned to find John and to find Vitas and return them to Helius (right hand of Nero). Throw in a interesting mix of Jewish religious politics, and Roman intrigue to mix it up.

Through this journey, Vitas begins to learn more about Christianity from John. Their dialogue is insightful and unforced. It seems to flow. There aren’t instant conversions but a practical look at how people come to Christ in a tug-of-war manner.

Sophia dwells in catatonic grief over the loss of Vitas. Ironically, the unsaved Ben-Aryeh tries to encourage her spirits. Only the ministering of one who had been saved from great sin and survived great sorrow through the grace of Christ can shake her to the core.

A plot with dozens of unexpected twists and turns, this is a page turner.

I know that this isn’t a long review, but there isn’t much to say about a sequel; especially when I just wrote about the original. I am interested in knowing: who has read this series? Did you like it?

In Freedom’s Cause by G.A. Henty

For those of you Henty fans, this is a green book. Everyone else needs to know it is set between the 11th and 14th centuries in the British Isles (mainly Scotland, but our hero manages to hit all four portions of the British Empire before the closing credits. All the relevant stuff [both to the storyline and the history we’re supposedly focused on] happens in Scotland, though, so I am assuming that moving around to all the portions of the world that the cover’s color inspires is part of the deal somehow). For the record, I’m not a Henty fan, and this book was playing on tape during a family road trip, which is why I finished it. Henty has a writing style suited to the focused reader, since his diaologe is always drawn out, as are his descriptions of anything war/hunting/fighting related. You have to keep paying attention is nothing going on and still enjoy the fiction and historical story. On tape, its easier for me to keep going, since I can tune out the parts where the obligatory chapter-blank’s-battle-array is being talked about.

PLOT: Hero’s father, one of the Scotish nobility, dies by trickery (hero’s father’s cannot die any other way, since open defeat would be impossible for such a champion as spawned our main character). Hero is raised by a wise, doting Mother who is able to impute the importance of rank and character to her son without actually saying anything that their new lord would disapprove of. Said new lord, our Villian, sides with the English in all their invasions of Scotland. Our Hero grows up, naturally leading the local boys, to the point that they create a “play” army, wherein they fight battles so subtly, quietly, and discreetly, that no one notices when they come home bruised and bloodied (including said wise mother). After much of this secrecy, the world suddenly discovers how great a warrior our hero is when he participates in the first great battle for freedom by the local Scot-Hero. They fight together for a long time, our Hero getting most of the credit most of the time, until Scot-Hero is killed (treacherously), and the English win again for awhile. Our Hero is quite loyal, and he fights for Scotland all over the place (Ireland, England), until Scot-Hero is replaced by Noble-Scot. Noble-Scot actually finishes the fights he starts, which is helpful because we’ve already fought a lot of battles and the Scottish still haven’t gotten anything much out of the deal. Noble-Scot wins one “historic” battle after another, taking down and destroying castles all over the place (so many men have died in the preceding efforts, they can’t man the strongholds, so they destroy them). Finally, Our Hero goes home to peace and contentment with the warrior-princess Bride Of Our Hero (who, despite being the daughter of Villian, earlier proved worthy of Our hero’s love by destroying lots of Villian’s troops and equipment during one of many sieges). Happily Fighting Ever After, The End.

GOOD: Lots of historical detail, and the interesting parts are really interesting. I think it is probably one of the best Henty book’s I’ve read (however, my Henty fan accompaniment says the tapes are abridged). If you want to read one, try this. Its fictional subplots are very well done, and the historical parts are an accurate representation of how the Scots felt at the time.

BAD: As you probably noticed, not alot of the historical detail stayed with me very well. Our Hero’s name, Sir Archibald Forbes, is mentioned so often that it tended to drown out the other people’s names for me. Also, Henty’s style of writing is a love or hate relationship: few people are ambiguous about Henty. I find him infinitely boring, and remember the historical part better from a child’s biography than these. Boys, I am told, enjoy them more than girls, though I would be interested to see a show of hands in the commentary section on that subject. I find the interesting parts (historical events, fictional parts of the story not involving endless praise for Our Hero, etc.) few are far between personally; but if you were into period detail regarding fighting, the man has a boatload of supplies in this book.

OVERALL: It was a good tape, but even so I wouldn’t read the book. If you like dissertations on warfare, fighting, and mechanics, you will probably enjoy this book. If you want to see the political/human/every-day-life/historic-picture part of the era, this is not the book for you. A similar series is Elsie Densimore, and your feelings for that will probably mirror how you like Henty. One caveat to that analogy: I can read a Henty book if I need to study the era and nothing else is handy—Elsie, I can’t stand for more than a chapter. “In Freedom’s Cause” does a good job of covering the time in question, and is fairly interesting in the process.