What I've Been Reading

Friday, October 25, 2013
170. Great Tales from English History, Book 2 (Robert Lacey)
Description from Amazon.ca:
The greatest historians are vivid storytellers, Robert Lacey reminds us, and in Great Tales from English History, he proves his place among them, illuminating in unforgettable detail the characters and events that shaped a nation. In this volume, Lacey limns the most important period in England's past, highlighting the spread of the English language, the rejection of both a religion and a traditional view of kingly authority, and an unstoppable movement toward intellectual and political freedom from 1387 to 1689. Opening with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and culminating in William and Mary's "Glorious Revolution," Lacey revisits some of the truly classic stories of English history: the Battle of Agincourt, where Henry V's skilled archers defeated a French army three times as large; the tragic tale of the two young princes locked in the Tower of London (and almost certainly murdered) by their usurping uncle, Richard III; Henry VIII's schismatic divorce, not just from his wife but from the authority of the Catholic Church; "Bloody Mary" and the burning of religious dissidents; Sir Francis Drake's dramatic, if questionable, part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada; and the terrible and transformative Great Fire of London, to name but a few. Here Anglophiles will find their favorite English kings and queens, villains and victims, authors and architects - from Richard II to Anne Boleyn, the Virgin Queen to Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys to Christopher Wren, and many more. Continuing the "eminently readable, highly enjoyable" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) history he began in volume I of Great Tales from English History, Robert Lacey has drawn on the most up-to-date research to present a taut and riveting narrative, breathing life into the most pivotal characters and exciting landmarks in England's history.

Despite feeling like I didn’t learn much of anything after reading Robert Lacey’s first volume of Great Tales from English History, I still enjoyed it and finally got around to reading the second installment.  I was familiar with most of the information laid out in this volume but there were a few little interesting tidbits I picked up while reading…

I learned about William Caxton, an English merchant living in Bruges, who is credite
d with having the first book to be printed in English (1474) and introduced a version of Gutenberg’s printing press to England.  A prolific printer, he made a number of decisions regarding how words should be spelled and that have lasted until this day.  His choices reflected the language of SE England (he was darned proud to be from Kent) and we can blame some of the difficulties when it comes to learning English as a second language to him.  Some examples: a bandage is wound around a wound, cough rhymes with off while bough rhymes with cow.

I didn’t know (but know we all do) that Robert Recorde invented the “equals sign” “=” in 1557.

And then there’s William Tyndale.  The salt of the earth, signs of the times, the powers that be “…all these vibrant expressions flowed from his pen as, through the 1520s, he laboured to render the word of God into ploughboy language. When he could not find the right word, he invented it – ‘scapegoat’ and ‘broken-hearted’ are two of his coinages.  As he translated, he was helping to shape the very rhythm and thought of English: ‘eat, drink and be merry’.” 1525

Finally, “The Latin plaga means a blow or knock, and in those days people often interpreted the erratic pattern of plague infections as punishing blows from an angry God”. 1665.

If you're interested in English history but don't feel like diving into one of the many giant textbook-like tomes out there, give this series a try. 

171. Terminus (Adam Baker)
From Goodreads: The world has been overrun by a lethal infection, ravaged by a pathogen that leaves its victims locked half-way between life and death. New York, bombed to prevent the spread of the disease, has been reduced to radioactive rubble. A rescue squad enters the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan, searching for the one man who can create an antidote. The squad battle floodwaters, lethal radiation and infected, irradiated survivors as they race against the disease that threatens to extinguish the human race.

Terminus is the third book in Adam Baker’s ‘zombie apocalypse’ trilogy.  As with book 2, Juggernaut, the entire book takes place (with the exception of the first chapter or two) over the course of 24 hours.  It’s hard to believe so much action could get jam-packed into shut a relatively tight time frame but it works.  More so than the other two books, Terminus has the potential to make a frighteningly dark horror movie.  Setting it in the dark tunnels of an abandoned (and now partially flooded) New York subway station adds to the claustrophobic feel.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I could not continue reading this book once the sun went down.

In the first two books, Outpost and Juggernaut, the infected humans certainly took on a lot of characteristics of your standard zombie – slow moving, killed with a blow to the brain, biting to pass along the virus, etc. However, his physical metallic manifestation of the virus (whose origins are hinted at in all of the books) added a new twist to the genre.  The trilogy is also thrilling exploration of human nature and our reactions to extreme stress.

I loved that the final installment is titled Terminus and the various layers that one word offers.  Not only is it the final book in the trilogy, it also represents their location at the end of the subway line, and the possible end of mankind if this virus cannot be contained or controlled. If you’re looking for something to make you squirm this Halloween, pick up anyone of the books (they could all stand alone) and settle in for a rollercoaster ride.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Okay I really must jot down Adam Baker's name and look into this trilogy. They sound rivetting!

Karen said...

I really liked his take on the whole "zombie" myth. The trilogy is easy reading and I enjoyed it. A bit of a break from heavier, non fiction reading. It would be one of those perfect beach reading series when you're not looking for anything too mentally taxing but still engaging. Others might disagree with - I've been 'wrong' before apparently (remember the hullabaloo over my review of Fragment?)

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