I hadn't read any licensed fiction since some of the Drangonlance books in the early nineties, so this was a bit of a leap of faith for me. In truth,...moreI hadn't read any licensed fiction since some of the Drangonlance books in the early nineties, so this was a bit of a leap of faith for me. In truth, what I found was better than I feared and no worse than I expected. The story blazes along at a fair lick, with action sequence after action sequence - somewhat revealing of the IP's origins - and this kept my interest. The characters (or, at least, some of the characters) I already knew before reading this - that's why I picked it up, afterall - and nothing is done here to alter them. The author perhaps misses some of the subtleties of Death's humour, as he becomes more sarcastic and less sardonic, and he's also occasionally prone to 'action hero one-liners' but these are minor quibbles.
Overall, the quality of the prose is predictably poor and that gives me real hesitation in rating it as highly as three stars. I did like it - but only for the fact that I was already vested in the characters; it has done nothing to change my opinions on licensed fiction and it will, in all likelihood, be many years before I venture to read one again. (less)
J. Wentworth Day was a racist, aristocratic arch-Tory. Apparently. What I can tell you without resorting to Wikipedia is that he was a very talented w...moreJ. Wentworth Day was a racist, aristocratic arch-Tory. Apparently. What I can tell you without resorting to Wikipedia is that he was a very talented writer. There must have been many things that contributed to my childhood love of wildlife and nature; almost as many still that contributed to my love of birds and bird-wathing (a retired headmaster who used to take groups of us out on Sundays obviously played a big role). One that should not be underestimated though is the impact of this book. Inherited from my aunt this is clearly accessible to children. Reading it again now though, however short it may be it's clear to me that just as much pleasure can be derived from reading it as an adult.
The author isn't shy of revealing his privileged background and one passage, in particular (although I forget what it was about now) did feel politically antiquated. For all that though, this is not a book about politics or class, it is a book about British birds and Wentworth Day's love of them and of the British countryside shines through. There are eighteen black and white drawings and forty nine colour plates (reproduced from tea cards, whatever happened to them?) included in the book but it should not in any way be mistaken for a field-guide: this is all about the writing. Ten short essays focussing on a habitat or a bird group convey such enthusiasm for the subject that they convinced this small boy (if ever I needed convincing at that age) that there was as much magic and excitement to be experienced in Britain's natural places as in the Serengeti. Here's the opening paragraph:
'January morning in the sandhills, alone with the sea and the silence. This blunt shoulder of coast which runs from Winterton Ness to Happisburgh Lighthuse is the loneliest, the coldest, the easternmost stretch of all the English shores. And here, where tall tawny sandhills, hair-crested with marram grass, go shelving into the rollers of the North Sea, their backs to the luminous marsh levels, the gleaming meres and the sentinel windmills of the broads, here on this winter coast, where no house stands and no road runs, they come ashore, the Viking invaders, from northern seas, in the dawn.'
This natural history textbook was, no doubt, rather charming in its day but is now creaking. It shows its age most egregiously in stating baldly that...moreThis natural history textbook was, no doubt, rather charming in its day but is now creaking. It shows its age most egregiously in stating baldly that 'mushrooms are also plants' and most disarmingly by adopting a style which assumes that the student is to some degree already familiar with Britain's nature and wildlife (by sight if not by understanding). I suspect that familiarity is no longer the norm for those aged under twenty in this country.
Other annoyances for me were the use of 'animal' as a synonym for 'mammal' and the somewhat bizarre 'water rats and water voles' which seems to suggest that they are two separate creatures. They're not; that one really is a synonym.(less)
This synthesis of zooarchaeological assemblages from several sites in Lincoln cover such a diverse range of periods as to end up being a little light...moreThis synthesis of zooarchaeological assemblages from several sites in Lincoln cover such a diverse range of periods as to end up being a little light on each of them. The Mediaeval periods, in particular, receive scant attention due to problems of residuality. A discussion of residuality actually forms the most original and (together with lengthy appendices containing all of the data discussed) important contribution of the volume. Overall it's a thorough, if uninspired, report that is likely to be of little interest to anyone other than (British) urban zooarchaeologists. (less)
To be honest, the whole Ancient Egypt thing has never really much appealed to me - which is why I gave this particular Discworld book a miss when I wa...moreTo be honest, the whole Ancient Egypt thing has never really much appealed to me - which is why I gave this particular Discworld book a miss when I was first reading Pratchett back in the early nineties. Having finally read it, I don't really feel like I missed much. Comedy is sought in the clash of tradition with change; age with youth but I found it all rather uninspired. Not a bad book, certainly, but neither is it one that I'm likely to ever read again. (less)
Frédéric Delavier put a lot of thought into this book, beginning with an introduction which clearly explains the benefits, types and approaches to str...moreFrédéric Delavier put a lot of thought into this book, beginning with an introduction which clearly explains the benefits, types and approaches to stretching for athletes and couch-potatoes alike. Most of the book, following that introduction, is made up of detailed examples of stretching exercises which are described with clarity and accompanied by photographs and/or illustrations which clearly show which muscles are being worked. This is not a comprehensive guide (some, for example, which are given in Royal Marines Fitness: Physical Training Manual are not given here) but does offer several different exercises for each muscle group and variations of those exercises to allow for different levels of experience or the targeting of specific muscles. My one criticism of the book is that this section begins with exercises for stretching the neck when I had always been led to believe that you start at the bottom of the body and worked up: something Delavier acknowledges in the final section on calves, when he says "no matter what sport you play, your workouts should always begin with calf stretches." (P.121)
The final section of the book contains some suggested stretching programs for specific sports such as running, throwing, golf and horse riding.
All in all, this is a stellar companion volume to Strength Training Anatomy but it also offers a good deal to anyone who has not read that book or who has no interest in reading that book - in fact to anyone who is thinking that maybe they could do with getting some exercise, to anyone who does exercise and to anyone who should exercise. Pretty much everyone.(less)
Antonia Barber has had a second home in Mousehole since the 1980’s. There are few things Mousehole’s more famous for in Cornwall than Tom Bawcock’s Eve and so it should come as no surprise that an author residing there for any length of time should hear the tale. Here, Barber reworks the legend as a short story for reading with small children, beautifully illustrated by Nicola Bayley.
In Barber’s version, the story is told from the point of view of Mowzer, Tom’s Cat (or, as the story is told, Tom is Mowzer’s pet human). She opens the book by proclaiming a land between the seas at the end of England – a perception of Cornwall firmly rooted in her second-home owning experience. Such an image is also a powerful one though and fitting for introducing a legend and, indeed, any story to be read aloud: setting a dramatic scene and capturing the audience’s attention from the off. Here, the illustrations form a core part of the book rather than being simply supplementary to the imagery of the text: the book is clearly designed to be read with a child, being wide enough to spread across a lap and every page being illustrated to some degree or another – there is a double-spread without any text, but never the other way around. In fact, the text rarely takes up more than a quarter of the available page space (half of one side).
Mowzer is present throughout the book, even accompanying Tom to sea, where she fights and comforts the storm. Of course, no-one knows how Tom survived the storm (if the legend is true in any way), so why not allow the author some licence for an exciting, magical climax to the story? Beyond that point, the author’s version is pretty faithful to the traditional version. If you know any children aged 3-5, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book for them and read it together. (less)
In the introduction to this book, the author explains that this is not a textbook but rather a grand narrative, in the pre-1950's tradition. I'd argue...moreIn the introduction to this book, the author explains that this is not a textbook but rather a grand narrative, in the pre-1950's tradition. I'd argue it's neither: perhaps it's a thematic narrative, if there is such a thing. By that, I mean that Francis Pryor does not tell a story but describes themes: urban life or rural life, for example. This he does splitting the book into two halves: the first covering the Early Mediaeval period after AD600 (a rather arbitrary date but the one at which his previous book, Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons, finishes) and the second covering the High and Late Mediaeval periods, from AD1100 to AD1550.
Readers of my other reviews will know that I've long held Pryor to be among the greatest archaeology writers we've ever produced and he excels himself here. Since the subject is at a greater remove from his own academic pastures than Britain AD, it's easy to see that the author has fewer axes to grind and is content to take the reader along with him as he explores the archaeology of Mediaeval Britain as an enthusiastic amateur - but with the added bonus of access to hard-to-access archaeological reports and papers, discipline-specific training and experience and learned friends and colleagues with which to discuss topics and check his own output.
The greatest weakness of the text is acknowledged by the author in his introduction: an over-reliance on sites in the South and East of England. Partly, of course, this does reflect the skewdness of archaeological research towards that area in Britain but, nevertheless, a more balanced approach is possible. Most likely then, the justification for this imbalance is a concise narrative and, although the academic in me may disagree with the decision, as a reader I can appreciate it.
Mediaeval archaeology has developed a great deal over the last thirty years, drastically altering our understanding of an age lasting more than a millenium (I do take issue with the 'Middle Ages' epithet - the middle of what, exactly? but then few archaeologists or historians seem to be able to agree on a system of period labels so I can't overly criticise Pryor for his when he includes a table outlining it just because it isn't my own) but there are signs that this rate of development may be beginning to slow and enter a phase of consolidation. This book then, is published at just the right time and provides a valuable overview of our knowledge for the interested non-academic.(less)