Book review – Cressida McLaughlin – “The Cornish Cream Tea Bus” @fictionpubteam @CressMcLaughlin #NetGalley

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The Cornish Cream Tea BusI downloaded this book from NetGalley a few days ago, and, worried that my review level was going to slip below 80%, popped it on my Kindle for my train journey down to and recovery from my Race to the Stones ultramarathon experience. And it was exactly right for that situation, a light and fun read but well-written and with a nice independent and resourceful heroine with good friends. And set in good old Cornwall, of course.

Charlie inherits a Routemaster bus from her beloved uncle: he used it for Cotswolds tours but she decides to combine it with her love of baking and create a mobile cafe. I really liked how it didn’t all go right for her immediately: she had to work hard and call in help, and still got stuck in mud and had a disaster at her first fair. It was more realistic to have the issues and not be able to sort them out herself immediately. She ends up on the North Cornwall coast, staying with friends (and taking her dog into their two-cat household: all pets are fine and never in any kind of peril – thank you for that, Cressida!), and then the novel kicks into what appears to be a current genre – regenerating a tired seaside town. Which is fine, as there’s loads of detail and substance and it doesn’t all happen overnight, and thought has gone into what happens when an incomer tries to make everything better.

There’s romance, of course, with a kind mobile cocktail man vying for Charlie’s attentions with the local bad guy, Daniel from that fancy spa up the hill. Of course there are misunderstandings and worries, there’s a strand about coercive control (not named as such) and gaslighting which I’m always pleased to find mentioned in a place where probably only women will look and might give someone some information they need. And there is a lot about the community and local families running their businesses as well as the romance stuff. Yes, the ending is a bit dramatic but the edge is taken off with some humour and all in all it’s a charming and attractive and very readable book, and I would definitely watch out for others by this author.

Thank you to HarperCollins publishers for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.

Book review – Lynne Murphy – “The Prodigal Tongue” #amreading @lynneguist #20BooksofSummer

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It’s time for another of my 20 Books of Summer now and what a good read this was. I’m having a bit of a non-fiction July so far but I find non-fiction so varied and entertaining, from dinosaurs to language variants in two books, for example. This one was a no-brainer for me to pick up, as I enjoy reading the author’s Separated By A Common Language blog: when she mentioned it on there, I snapped up a copy, although it’s then taken me over a year to get to reading it. As a US-English to UK-English localiser, I was going to find this particularly interesting, and I found it so both professionally and personally.

I’m constantly on the listen-out and look-out for new language variants (just the other day I came across “five and a half pounds” when talking about money, which I’m assuming is a British Midlands expression by the producer, but I’ve never heard it before as far as I can tell) and reading this historical and contemporary survey was a real joy.

Lynne Murphy – “The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship between British & American English

(29 March 2018)

Fun fact: this book’s subtitle in the US is “The Love-Hate Relationship Between American & British English”, and the two editions have been copy-edited according to the two traditions, for each region. And yes, I sort of want to get the other one, too.

This is an excellent book looking at the attitudes of British and American English users towards their own and the other language variant, written by an American-born professor of linguistics at a British university (and who better?). She makes it clear that the waters of what is actually American are far muddier than we think, makes an urgent case for tolerance and interest regarding the “other” English

What if instead of tutting, we marvelled? Humour me with that for the length of this book. Then, if you must, you can go back to complaining. (p. 4)

and explains with examples how American English really is not taking over British speech and writing. It’s peppered with anecdotes about her own struggles with bacon and soup, and with lots of linguistic and historical nuggets. I love some of the American coinages:

Recombobulation – The process of putting yourself back together after clearing airport security. (p. 45)

There are some really interesting comparisons with the only possible language pairs you can do that with: Brazilian and European Portuguese or Canadian and European French, and more usefully for me, learning Spanish from a US app at the moment, Latin-American and European Spanish, but finds this really is a special case. There is also some fascinating detail about how regional British dialects might have influenced American and even African-American Vernacular English. And I won’t forget in a hurry how American English is removing the French from English by tending towards simpler rather than fancy, Romance, terms, thus making learning English more democratic and less elitist. There are also some fascinating points about how US dictionaries are used by people in the US but not intended for export, whereas the British create many more learners’ dictionaries, leading to a muddle over which variant gets learned by people outside the Anglophone countries.

The section on words that exist in both languages but mean different things is hilarious, and there’s also a good case for words entering the other variant if there’s a gap, rather than taking over a word that’s already there – I hadn’t really thought about that and it makes a lot of sense. A quick shout-out here also for her mention of British Midlands speakers’ use of Mom rather than Mum, which does tend to get ‘corrected’ by those not in the know.

She makes the linguistics approachable by only introducing expert terms when she has explained them, and so it’s a friendly read with a refreshingly gung-ho attitude to calling out other style guides, books and articles on the topic. There’s so much in this book and I recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in language.

This was book number 4 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

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?

“Nuns and Soldiers” round-up and “The Philosopher’s Pupil” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I might have got my review of “Nuns and Soldiers” out a bit late but we’ve already had a good discussion on it – read my review to find out more! I appreciate this round-up is a day late and I’m sorry about that: I was in Cornwall for a party for the photo-a-day group I’m in and got back too late to write and post it. I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading “Nuns and Soldiers” – I don’t feel it’s one of the big ones that get talked about but I get a lot out of it and it’s retained its place in my estimation.

We had, as I said, a good discussion so far, but I always welcome reviews after the month I happen to have read the book so do comment away if you’re coming to this at some other time!

There’s another brilliant Goodreads review from Jo, sticking with the project and reading all the books for the first time! She has some great things to say about Daisy, among other people and themes. and she has some fascinating things to say, too.

Peter Rivenberg as usual has a first American edition and here it is – a funny old cover, really!

Peter Rivenberg’s first American edition

“The Philosopher’s Pupil”

And now we’re on to one of my very favourites. I bought my paperback on 30 December 1994, when I was 22 and had graduated from University and was working in a call centre. I must have read it before then, though, surely? I know I’ve read this outside the normal run of chronological reads, as I took it to Kos in the mid-00s and read chunks of it sitting in the reception of a Turkish Baths while my then-boyfriend (now husband) was being cleansed. Very appropriate, I thought. I love the theme of the returning philosopher and the pupil seeking redemption and the crowd of commentators and side characters, plus the enigmatic and loveable narrator, all set above the hisses and bubbles of a spa town.

There won’t be all of them where I have three copies now but we can still continue for the meantime. Here they are:

I put them in the wrong order but you can work this out, right?

… and here’s the back cover of the first edition, with lovely Zed:

Here’s the flap of the first edition:

Then my Penguin, produced in 1983:

The Spectator remains keen! And the Vintage:

… not much new under the sun there, eh?

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Philosopher’s Pupil” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

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?

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