Book review – Michael J. Benton – “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” @thamesandhudson plus new confessions AGAIN!

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I’ve seen various posts on social media around the theme of how it’s sad that as an adult, you don’t get to have a favourite dinosaur any more. What’s that all about? I certainly still have a favourite dinosaur (and I’ve been gratified to find out that it’s not one of those ones that have been taken away from the roster), do you? (Mine’s at the bottom of this review …)

So, like many people, I was dinosaur-mad as a child, I have a collection of plastic dinosaurs bought at the Natural History Museum, and I rushed to see Dippy the diplodocus when she came near me on tour. This book, then, is a shoe-in for me, because as with many people again, my knowledge about dinosaurs came to a halt as I aged, and I didn’t really keep up with the latest developments. I’ve been fascinated, as a result, to read about all the amazing science that’s unlocking more of their secrets, although, as we’ll see, not all of the mysteries have been explained.

Michael J. Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology and head of the Palaeontology Research Group at the University of Bristol, so you can be sure he knows his stuff; he takes us through various aspects of dinosaur science, always accessible and always explaining things really clearly, even when they’re quite complicated.

The book opens with the exciting discovery of the colours that make up dinosaur feathers – yes, colours and feathers, things I never realised they would be able to work out. We then look at their history, extinction, bodily make-up (warm-blooded or cool-blooded, size, egg size) and even behaviour, with many arguments being set out and a healthy understanding that some of it is unknown and some still contentious. I learned so much – both deep scientific stuff and great facts such as the Crystal Palace dinosaurs beloved in my youth (and featuring in an E. Nesbit novel) actually being the first serious reconstruction ever of dinosaurs.

Benton is a lovely guide, sharing his own story as a cheeky undergraduate and research associate and his knowledge of any of the big experts whose careers have intersected with his. This ties it into real people without being the kind of book that hooks onto a tortured life experience and links everything to it – much better in my eyes.

A must-read for anyone who, like me, loved dinosaurs as a child and still hankers after them, anyone interested in the history and progress of science, and anyone wanting a good, clear guide to a still-fascinating subject.

I’ve written more extensively about this book for the Shiny New Books review site, and I will add my review link to this post when it’s up: as this is such a beloved topic of mine, I wanted to share my more emotional reaction to it here.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for sending this book for an honest review.

My favourite dinosaurs? Triceratops and apatosaurus. And yours?


And another confession …

I had my hair cut on Tuesday and the Oxfam Books is on the way home. I was really just scanning for Persephones but I wandered into the travel writing section and found these beauties. I couldn’t turn them down, could I, and they go together cover-wise in a funny way, I think. July 2019 2

Madeleine Bunting’s “Love of Country” is a lyrical exploration of the Hebrides, and popping right down to the other end of the country, Gavin Knight has written about the actual West Penwith area, my favourite part of Cornwall which we visit every year, and I’ve seen surnames I’ve heard mentioned by my West Penwith friends in the acknowledgements and am now wondering if anyone I know will crop up in it. “The Swordfish and the Star” is in good condition, a lovely hardback, and I can’t wait to read it (although I might have to!). Read either of these? Agree I couldn’t have left the shop without them?

Book review – Cathy Kelly – “The House on Willow Street” and incomings #bookconfessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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Well I’m all behind like the cow’s tail again: how do I manage it? I read this book over the weekend – in June, for a start, and here I am in July posting about it. Sigh. Going away at the weekend to a lovely party for the photo-a-day group I’m in knocked out a run and a post about running and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. However, this did allow me to include a lovely book parcel that arrived from Cari today, so confessions below my 20BooksOfSummer review …

Cathy Kelly – “The House on Willow Street”

(23 April 2019)

I found this in a charity shop in Shirley when I went to visit my friend Linda. I’ve probably read all of Kelly’s books over the years: she’s a lovely reliable heir to Maeve Binchy’s empire, with similar stories of neighbourhoods and communities and different women drawn together by circumstance.

This one was a bit different, in that it was set in a seaside town, not Dublin, and revolved around the inhabitants there, most notably Danae, the postmistress, who keeps herself very much to herself (until her niece arrives to stay and mend her broken heart) and Tess, daughter of the big house at the top of the street until it was sold when they couldn’t afford to run it. Tess’ sister Suki and old flame Cashel Reilly are also involved as someone buys the big house and starts to do it up, inheritances are lost and won, secrets come out and the community pulls together.

I did enjoy this and the bits with Cashel and his fancy lifestyle away from the quite town he grew up in seemed OK but Suki’s marriage into the American elite and relationship with a rock star seemed a bit too bonkbuster for Cathy Kelly’s usual quite gentle style (she does cover big issues, and does here, but doesn’t tend to do sex’n’shopping. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of that, but it’s not quite what you expect from her novels.) I did really like the way Danae opens up to the community, especially when she accidentally invites a lonely old gentleman, the vicar and the lovely Nigerian curate round for Christmas lunch.

Not at all a bad book to read on a trip to Cornwall, but not my favourite of her novels.

This was Book 3 in my #20BooksOfSummer which I am quite obviously totally nailing.


A lovely parcel from dear Cari over in New York today – I do keep offering her books from my read piles! Susan Lacke’s “Running Outside the Comfort Zone” sees a sports journalist take on all sorts of funny running challenges to push herself – cheese rolling and the like, in order to rekindle her love of the sport. Vassos Alexander’s “Don’t Stop me Now” is a celebration of all sorts of runners and running itself, probably one to take away to read when I do my ultramarathon in several (many, honestly!) days’ time. And Richard Grant’s “Dispatches from Pluto” is a travel writer moving to an old plantation house in Mississippi (in a town called Pluto) which explains the South, especially it turns out to his friends. Highly recommended by Cari.


So, have you read any of those? Should I give up working and just read all day to make a dent in my lovely TBR?

State of the TBR July 2019 #amreading

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Oh dear – is that that much different from last month? I fear not. However, there are fewer review books piled up on top.

I only read six books in June, and OK there was a lot of non-fiction and the one on Greenland took a while to read, but that’s not great, really, is it? I am way under 50 books for the year so far and that is not like me. However, I do have my big race coming up so there will be some good solid early nights and a couple of days off which should help.

What am I reading now and nearly?

I’m working my way through the excellent “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” by Michael Benton – so, so fascinating. Lynne Murphy’s excellent-looking “The Prodigal Tongue” is the next in my 20 Books of Summer (which has reached a grand total of three so far, with the one I haven’t reviewed yet) and will tell me more about the differences between US and UK English, and I’m delighted that my next Iris Murdoch is a big favourite, “The Philosopher’s Pupil”.

I can’t show you what’s upcoming because I made my 20 Books of Summer up out of the beginning and end of my TBR then promptly added more to the end. I can show you a wicked new acquisition, all because Ali accidentally clicked twice, then obviously thought I needed more books to keep me out of mischief! No, it is lovely to have another Furrowed Middlebrow book really – thank you, Ali!

How are you doing with your TBRs, reading challenges and 20 books of summer/winter?

Book review – Paul Newman – “Lost Gods of Albion” #20BooksOfSummer plus @shinynewbooks links and a confession

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A busy post today as I have been subsumed in work, work on the house and various other bits. And not reading enough. I have read Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer and hoping to get into a few more soon. News of reviews in other places first, though – my review of Jeremy Mynott’s “Birds in the Ancient World” is up on Shiny New Books here – the review takes a slightly different angle to my one on here earlier in the month, and in fact I think more people saw it when I shared on my Facebook page!

I have what is possibly the most awkward photo in the world coming up to explain my latest book confession, so let’s have a review first!

Paul Newman – “Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill-Figures of Britain”

(27 April 2019 – Oxfam Books, Muswell Hill)

I bought this when I was staying with Emma for London Marathon (supporting, not running) and it looked fascinating, but also I knew I was going to have to run past the White Horse of Uffington and Waylands’s Smithy during my upcoming ultra run, and I’ve got (I had) a THING about them, dating back to the joint scaring of my young self by the TV series “The Moon Stallion” (I read and reviewed the book here and it didn’t help) and various dark doings in Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series. I knew they would feature in here and I thought it might take it away. Hm.

Anyway, this is an updated version of Newman’s previous book, with more detail and analysis. He explains in the Foreword the importance of how these figures worked in the landscape in relation to other features, and how they took part in people’s lives. There are around 30 of them, all in Southern England, and they have caused lots of theories about their origins and maintenance, some sensible, some very wild, which he shares very carefully and with a twinkle in his eye at some of the more outlandish ones.

He starts off with the White Horse of Uffington and shares a photo not unlike the one I managed to get from the hill (see my report on my Ridgeway training adventures here for photos of the Horse and the Smithy). Unfortunately, rather than taking the taste away, he mentions that the Smithy in particular has “an almost savage atmosphere”. Thanks for that! (It actually felt like a sacred grove and mysterious but peaceful and benign). Then we get all the famous ones and some others that are now grown over, with a history, origins and a conclusion that draws together the themes for each. There’s a chapter at the end about all the most outlandish theories and some detailed appendices including one detailing all the post 17th century hill figures that have been created, mostly regimental badges and horses. He’s good on how the old religions and ways were absorbed into Christianity and writes clearly and with a kind air (a bit like Mynott, actually).

I’ll leave you with this quotation which sums up the essential difficulty of writing the definitive work on chalk hill figures:

The Long Man epitomizes the central problem of identifying hill-figures, being vaguely evocative of many things in general and specifically evocative of nothing in particular. (p. 126)

He does have a nice turn of phrase, doesn’t he!

This was Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


So last week I went to a book tour and signing by Tan France, one of the Fab Five who present “Queer Eye” over on Netflix (five gay guys make over someone’s life in a supportive and lovely fashion). Tan is the British one and was back home for three events. I saw a lot of friends there, including one who was my usher as I took my seat, Sarah Millican was a great, hilarious host and we got lots of authenticity and openness from Tan. I’d ordered a copy of his book, “Naturally Tan” (if you’re a fan, they’ve all got books out apart from Bobby – sadness!) with my ticket, and as I’d been one of the first 250 to arrive and to get given a wristband, I got the opportunity to have a photo taken with him. Which I, um, grasped with no hands whatsoever.

Turns out I really didn’t want to get close to someone I’d never met before and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Queue, queue, give in your bag and coat, kind member of staff takes photo with your phone, retrieve your stuff, look at picture on phone, become embarrassed, leave. But I’m looking forward to reading the book!


I’m currently getting into Michael J. Benton’s “Dinosaurs Rediscovered” which is a fascinating look at new scientific breakthroughs in the study of dinosaurs. And you?

Book reviews – Joanne M. Harris – “The Gospel of Loki” and David Coles – “Chromatopia” plus book confessions @ShinyNewBooks @ThamesandHudson #amreading

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First off I need to tell you about “Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Colour” by David Coles, which publishers Thames & Hudson were kind enough to send me to review for Shiny New Books.

This truly spectacular book would grace any coffee table with ease, but it’s more than just a pretty face, with fascinating facts in abundance and offers a good read to anyone interested in art, colour or indeed chemistry.

Read my full review over at Shiny. I’ve just had a look at Thames & Hudson’s autumn catalogue and there are some smashers in it, although I have a couple more from May and June to read and review before I can start frolicking amongst those!

Joanne M. Harris – “The Gospel of Loki”

(23 November 2018)

I bought this one because the lovely Annabookbel sent me the sequel, “The Testament of Loki” (which she didn’t finish, see her review here) and I am just unable to read the second part of a series first, it seems.

This is a really nicely done retelling of the Norse myths from the point of view of Loki. His voice is great, and the little details of swapping a Chaotic life in the form of a flame for a corporeal aspect that can feel all the senses give a depth to it that makes it not all just about stories. His motivation is laid out for us to see, and plausible, and he’s got a modern way with words while being firmly rooted in his context (a bit like the Marvel films, and of course it’s now hard to visualise the characters without seeing the film characters). He has to experience emotions, too, adding another layer. All the familiar tales are here, so there’s lots of nice recognition if you’ve basically been a bit obsessed by this stuff since you were 8 or so, but it’s all from his side of the story, so retains the interest. The mystery of who actually wants Ragnarok to start is a bit of a twist too far, perhaps, but it’s both competent and fun.

Incoming

Oh dear. You’ve seen the state of the TBR and noted that I can’t have cleared much from it if I’m reviewing my second book of the month. But then this happened.

Somehow Jon Bloomfield’s “Our City: Migrants and the Making of Modern Birmingham” got itself published without me hearing about it. How did that happen? When I heard about it, I just had to have it right away. It’s got at least one person I know in it, and looks just so well done and fascinating. It also adds to the diversity of my TBR, which I’ve been a bit concerned about.

More diversity with Japanese novel “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata, about a woman struggling to keep the way of life and work she wants while being buffeted by expectations from her family and employers. This was one Meg was given for Christmas and I apparently expressed a need to read it, so there it was when I met her for her birthday!

And then Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”. Ali had a du Maurier reading week recently to celebrate their joint birthdays. She had a competition to win a copy of “Rebecca” and one other book, and as I’ve managed never to read this novel, I entered, along with a few other people. And then, to everyone’s slight embarrassment, I won. Ali shared with me at the weekend that she drew me with the first random number generator run, and was horrified, so ran it again … and I won again, at which point she decided the fates wanted me to read it. Fortunately she’s said I can do it for DDM Reading Week NEXT year!

Currently reading

Once I’ve shoehorned these onto the shelf, I’ll get back to reading the first of my 20 Books of Summer, “This Cold Heaven” by Gretel Erlich, a fascinating book about her long-term love affair with Greenland. It’s very absorbing so far, although I have the thought of getting to my next Iris Murdoch before too long hovering gently in the background …

Happy reading everyone! How are your 20Books going?

State of the TBR June 2019 and #20booksofsummer pile #amreading #bookconfessions #WolfsonHistoryPrize

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Well I read seven books in May (not all reviewed yet) and a look at the Book Confessions tag will show you that just a few came in. There is a gap at the end of the front shelf but only the size of one book (and next time I see Ali, I’ll be presented with the copy of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” that I somewhat embarrassingly won in her competition). And inconceivably stupidly, I’m sure, I’ve not included any of my review books or my Iris Murdochs in my 20 Books of Summer pile for this year. I think this might be the year I fail!

A small confession

First off, new books in I haven’t told you about yet.

Gill had read “Narrowboat Dreams” by Steve Haywood recently and very wickedly brought it along to our regular Sunday coffee. So there it is. Then Kaggsysbookishramblings had recently read Vijay Menon’s “A Brown Man in Russia” (her review here) and very kindly sent it on to me (more about these below as they are in my 20 Books pile).

Then I was very flattered to be asked to be part of the blogging panel for the Wolfson History Prize 2019 shortlist (see the full shortlist here). I’ve been lucky enough to receive Jeremy Mynott’s “Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words”, which is an exploration of the role of birds in Roman and Greek society and culture. I was aware of fortune telling using, um, birds, as such, but I am enjoying reading all the painstaking research that has gone into this entertaining book. The author wrote a seminal work on birdwatching and our modern relationship with birds, “Birdscapes” which went straight on my wishlist as soon as I heard about it.

My review is scheduled for 6 June and I’m also going to be reviewing it for Shiny New Books. The other reviewers are a great bunch and I’m looking forward to reading their thoughts on their books, too (there’s only one of us reading each book, so not so much a shadow panel or a book tour but yet another way of going about things!).

Now and next

So what am I reading now and next? I’m currently in the middle of Joanne M. Harris’ very entertaining “The Gospel of Loki” which retells the Norse myths from the point of view of Loki. She’s got his trickster ways and egocentricity down to a T, and I love all the little details like what it feels like to change from being a creature of chaos to being embodied. Although there are a few fights and bits and bobs, this is one that doesn’t mind where it’s read, so useful for mealtimes etc.

Then I’m also onto Jeremy Mynott’s “Birds of the Ancient World” we’ve talked about above, and it’s being prioritised of course!

Next up I have my Iris Murdoch of the month, “Nuns and Soldiers” and you can read more about that in my preview post here. I can’t quite believe I’m on Book 20 of my re-reading project, but I’m heartily enjoying it. I’ve chosen what I’m going to do for my next project already, but I’m not ready to share on here QUITE yet.

And then we’re on to the next review book, Michael J. Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” which is about the strides forward in science that have been made in the last 20 years, not just the renaming but finding out what colours they were and what coatings they had. It looks fascinating and appeals to the grown-up non-fiction reader and the little girl who loved dinosaurs in me!

 

 

20 Books of Summer 2019

I’m excited to be taking part in 20 Books of Summer 2019! I’ve done it since 2016 and have a dedicated page for it here with a pic of the books and links to all I’ve read (I’m adding that next so if you’re super keen and clicky you won’t see the updated version!). Here’s the pile …

and yes, there are 19: one of them is an omnibus! Here’s a bit about each one. As usual, I’m including my All Virago (and Persephone) / All August challenge in there, so it’s weighted towards those (also I should have finished my review books by August!).

I’m horribly aware that this pile isn’t very diverse. The weighting to Viragoes and Persephones makes it woman-centric but not that much on people of colour, LGBTQ people, etc. and I am sorry for that. I do have two books about or by people of colour in there, but then I also have two books on Norse and far-northern culture. Not sure about the LGBTQ quotient until I’ve read some of them. My NetGalley list is more diverse and I will continue reading from that amongst these and working to broaden things further.

Here are the non-Viragoes:

Gretel Erlich – “This Cold Heaven” – seven seasons in Greenland. A dense book but came recommended and I do like reading about Greenland.

Lynne Murphy – “The Prodigal Tongue” – she writes a blog about US and UK English and here’s the book, talking about the differences, similarities and histories.

Neil Gaiman – “Norse Mythology” – his retelling of the tales, can’t wait to read this.

Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers” – a history of post-war immigration to the UK

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work” – her autobiography

Cathy Kelly – “The House on Willow Street” – her usual multi-character-stranded work, set in a seaside village outside Dublin this time.

Paul Newman – “Lost Gods of Albion: Chalk Hill Figures of Britain” – needs to be read before I run past the White Horse of Uffington (of which I am oddly afraid) when I do my ultramarathon in July.

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy” – an Unbound title I supported, about the value of birdwatching to one’s mental health.

Steve Haywood – “Narrowboat Dreams” – man amusingly travels the canals of Britain – maybe our ones!

Vijay Menon – “A Brown Man in Russia” – author from India does the Trans-Siberian Express.

And the Viragoes and Persephones:

Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love” – you can’t beat Margery Sharp and this promises to be a great novel.

Ellen Wilkinson – “Clash” – the story of a political activist set against the General Strike of 1926

Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom” – coming-of-age novel by this (female) Australian novelist

Henry Handel Richardson – “Maurice Guest” – a doomed Australian-English love set over 500 pages (this might be the one I swap out but Kaggsy gave it to me so that’s a good sign)

Angela Thirkell – “Before Lunch” – more Barsetshire fun. I have about six of hers TBR so have confined myself to just one for the moment.

Dorothy Whipple – “Young Anne” – her first novel and the last to be republished by Persephone and another coming-of-age novel

Ada Leverson – “Tenterhooks” and “Love at Second Sight” – I read “Love’s Shadow” a couple of years ago and picked up the omnibus also containing the other two.

Edith Ayrton Zangwill – “The Call” – a woman scientist abandons her career to be a suffragette.

Nicholas Mosley – “Julian Grenfell” – acclaimed biography of the First World War poet.

So there you go – 3 June to 3 September, 20 books, 15 by women, 9 non-fiction, will I read them all?

 

Book reviews – Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind” and Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses” plus books in #amreading #bookconfessions

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Lots of lovely work, lots of running, officiating and preparing to officiate and a bit of learning Spanish have cut into my reading time and also my reviewing time. Here are two books I read while I had a cold the weekend before last (I appear to have only been reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” since then!) and then some lovely new books in for review. Well, I say lovely, and they are, but where am I going to put them??

Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind”

(23 April 2019)

One of my most recent acquisitions, bought when I went to meet up with my friend Linda in Shirley and couldn’t leave the charity shops alone, this was an idea poorly read. It’s a well-done novel set during a competition to find the next Mrs Eaden, housewife and home baker extraordinaire (and just passed away, thus avoiding any Mary Berry comparisons!) run by the supermarket that still bears her (husband’s) name. Bake-Off gets a mention: it’s not a Bake-Off novel but lovers of the show are sure to like it.

Life has happened, away from a preheated oven and a greased baking tray. (p. 111)

We get the stories of the five contestants plus extracts from Mrs Eaden’s own life story and recipes/handy hints, which were well pastiched. Note that all human and family life is here, so there need to be trigger warnings for fertility issues and loss and also eating disorders (both well sign-posted but done in a bit of detail, although carefully handled and resolved). There’s also an amusing MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) in the form of one contestant’s very annoying marathon running husband – I loved the description of his daughter’s growing discomfort as she supports his marathon and his wife and daughter’s reactions to his self-obsessed silliness (while of course hoping I’m not the equivalent MAWIL!).  Nuclear options are faced up to, mothers and daughters might be reconciled, and it’s all done really nicely with some good set  pieces and characters, showing different types of bravery.

Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses”

(14 July 2018)

Picked off the middle of the shelf for cold-day comfort, neither the title story nor the accompanying novella were unfortunately DM’s strongest work. I suspect that “Rainy Day Kisses” with its handy modern-day frame is a re-do of an older story (she does this quite a lot, and fair play, her books are a brand that are consumed in great numbers by many) and it’s a slightly annoying tale of an undomesticated woman and the man who saves her. Yes, she’s an ambitious businesswoman, but …  “The First Man You Kiss” is a silly but amusing tale of a lucky wedding dress: slight but fun. That’s all I have to say about those two!


Books in

I continue to receive lovely parcels for my attention at Shiny New Books – I’m very grateful to Harriet and Annabel for allowing me to be one of their reviewers and the publishers for sending me such lovely books to read.

The first to arrive were the other two I’d requested (any of) from Thames & Hudson’s superb catalogue. Michael J. Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” looks at the last couple of decades of dinosaur research and how things have come on both in the technology and the facts it reveals.

“Chromatopia” by David Coles is a lovely wallow through the history, attributes and mixing of colour – it has various sections but I was immediately attracted by the series of pages with a delicious illustration and then text about the colour, covering the whole palette:

You expect beautiful books from Thames & Hudson and this is no exception: stunning images and clear, fascinating text. And hooray, I’ve noted down all the publication dates and this is first up!

Then a couple of days ago, Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds” arrived, which details the author’s travels around the British coast examining the lives of the birds found there. What a treat!

It’s nearly time for #20BooksOfSummer again and I have to work out whether to put whatever I have left of these on June 03 onto my Pile or keep it just for the TBR itself. Hm.

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