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review 2017-07-24 20:01
The Lost City of the Monkey God / Douglas Preston
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story - Douglas Preston

My friend Barbara recommended this book to me, so really how could I refuse? Especially once I found out that much of the action takes place in Honduras, a country that I have been interested in visiting for several years. Why? The Lovely Cotinga, that's why (have a look at http://www.sabrewingtours.com/hondura...

But I think I may be cured of that desire now. You see, in addition to the anthropological research and the jungle exploration (poisonous snakes, hip deep mud, and unremitting rain, anyone?) there ends up being a fair amount of discussion of insect-bourne disease. A number of the team were infected with Leishamaniasis by the bites of sand flies. What is easily done can be difficult to undo and they struggle to find treatment options. Most of the world's victims of this disease are among the poorest people on earth--if they had money to spend on drugs, the pharma companies would be doing the necessary research. But that's not the way things are.

Now, I am one of those people that biting insects adore. In fact, I was just at a family reunion and I think I heard everyone say at some point, "Oh, mosquitoes love me!" So apparently it is a family trait and as I sat in their attractive midst, I did get only 3-4 mosquito bites. But I am hardly encourages to brave Hondruas, even for the most beautiful bird. Sorry, Lovely Cotinga!

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review 2017-04-08 12:32
That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us
That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us - Erin Moore,Lynne Truss

Given the number of times I read parts of this book out loud to MT, and the fact that it didn't drive him nearly as crazy as it usually does when I did so, I should rate this book higher than I did.  It's good: interesting, funny and informative.


The title is 80% accurate but I'd argue that it's aimed far more pointedly at Americans than it is at the British (and why is it 'the British'?  Why can't I just write 'British'... odd).  Most of the terms included are Britishisms and that makes sense; the British get far more American-culture exposure than Americans get of the British, so probably need less help.  Erin Moore is also an American expat living in London, so her view is naturally inclined towards her experiences and viewpoint.


Moore uses each of the terms as a springboard to discuss related cultural disparities between the UK and the US and I found a lot of these fascinating and sometimes hilarious.  I had no idea, for example, what sod was short for, or that stiff upper lip actually started out as an Americanism.  And she has made me hopelessly self-conscious, probably forever, of my use of the word quite.  


Americans use the word quite in the sense of "totally" or "completely".  As Moore uses for an example: to say 'he's quite naked' means, of course, that he's totally without clothing - he can't be partially naked.  That's pretty much the only way we use quite.


The British though, they use it to also denote a degree of negativity.  Moore's explanation puzzled me - I wasn't able to grasp the idea.  But luckily, I had a hair appointment yesterday, and my hairdresser is English!  I immediately quizzed him, asking for clarification (upon reading further in the book, I've also discovered I probably offend him regularly with all my direct questions...oops).


It seems (and may the Brits I know here correct me if I'm wrong) that they use quite the same way we Americans might say "meh" or "it was ok" (say if we were talking about a restaurant).  In other words it was quite good means, actually, no, it wasn't.  Aren't you quite clever? actually means You're a dumb-ass.*  


Well, hell.  Since reading this I have stumbled over every instance of quite in my speech and writing; if nothing else it has made clear to me how often I use the damn word.


The rest of the book was great and didn't cause me any more crises of confidence, thank goodness.  At the end, I can't say why I'm not giving this 4.5 or 5 stars except to say that when I finished it, I could say I enjoyed it thoroughly (notice the absence of the q word) but I didn't love it.  But I still highly recommend it.



*Aussies do this too, but they use average, as in The movie was average meaning that movie sucked which took me ages to figure out and caused me no end of confusion.

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review 2017-02-27 17:19
Seven Skeltons / Lydia Pyne
Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World's Most Famous Human Fossils - Lydia V. Pyne

An interesting exploration of the reasons that certain paleo-human fossils achieve the status of icons in popular culture. What makes a fossil catch the interest of everyday people? Firsts are always attention grabbing, as are remains which include skulls or very complete skeletons. A good nickname or discover story helps too (see Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis). And you can’t beat good old-fashioned controversy either!

When controversy is one of the requirements, it becomes obvious why the author chose Piltdown Man, the English fake, as one of her iconic fossils! Talk about controversial—and people continue to speculate today about who all was in on the hoax and who got fooled. Humans are attracted to good stories, especially mysteries, so I guess Piltdown deserves this position.

Also interesting was the choice of Peking Man, where the actual fossils were lost in the swirling turmoil of WW2 in China. Only casts of the major fossils remain, but once again there is a very noir mystery surrounding the fate of the real McCoy. The mystery is like catnip to puzzle-solving people and the search for the original fossils continues.

I was most interested in the final two chapters, concerning the Flores Island “Hobbit” and Australopithecus sediba. The first I was only familiar with through the original news announcements and the second was unknown to me. I’m not sure that we could label either of them “iconic” just yet, but there is certainly potential.

Interestingly absent were any of the Leakey family’s discoveries, as was any discussion of the personal rivalries between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson (Lucy’s discoverer). Hearteningly present was the open attitude of the paleoanthropologists who are sharing their data on Australopithecus sediba—instead of hoarding the fossil and the data, they are opening the doors to any researcher with an interest and showing a new, inclusive way of doing paleoanthropological research which gives me great hope for the future.

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review 2017-02-25 09:07
Cats in Books
Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration through the Ages - Rodney Dale

Another library sale find; one I'd never seen before, but really it's a book about cats.  In books.  How bad could it possibly be?


It's a gem!  The only reason I didn't rate it a bit higher is because it's a rather too concise overview of cats in literary history.  It's a slim volume; easy to read in one sitting.  Rather than looking at cats as subjects in literature, it sticks to an illustrative perspective: cats in illuminated manuscripts, fables, short stories and, of course, children's literature.  It's fully illustrated itself, of course, with examples for each entry.  A nice edition from the British Library.


As I said, a gem of a find; one of those karmic gifts that make library sales even better. 



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review 2017-02-25 08:52
Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations
Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations - Olivier Le Carrer

I saw this book in the bookshop and it was the perfect storm of "buy me":  Gorgeous cover, a title with Cursed in it, and content focused on the unusual. 


The cover is still gorgeous.  Cursed didn't mean exactly what I thought it meant, though it was still very interesting.  I flashed on the simplest definition: a hex conjured by really pissed off people.  The author used the word in the broader context: places that seem eternally destined for strife, challenges or difficulties; an area prone to high death rates, but because of geography as opposed to the wrath of an individual or group.  Still great stuff, just not quite as edgy.


The writing is good, but the editing was disappointing; in a book that was obviously so carefully put together, these word-order errors were jarring.  The author, La Carrer is unapologetically sarcastic at times, and not for humorous effect; I got my edginess, but not in the way I was expecting.  There are small touches of humor here and there, and the entry for Point Cook, Australia is hilarious; he makes it sound like the mecca for animals who are only here to kill you.


It's a quick, easy read and I learned a lot; I didn't feel like he chose run of the mill places on the map.  Amityville and Gaza aren't going to be new to anyone but for me at least, most of these were almost or completely new.  Kibera has almost completely squashed my desire to see the Maldives, but I'm now incredibly interested in seeing the Kasanka National Park (spoiler alert: it involves bats).

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