Green: A Haiku Review

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imageIt has been too long, my dears, since we dallied together for a haiku review and today I plan to rectify this woeful situation with a visually stunning picture book that has been the recipient of numerous awards and was kindly provided to us for review from Pan Macmillan Australia.  I speak of Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

How many kinds of green are there?

There’s the lush green of a forest on a late spring day, the fresh, juicy green of a just-cut lime, the incandescent green of a firefly, and the vivid aquamarine of a tropical sea. In her newest book, Caldecott and Geisel Honor Book author Laura Vaccaro Seeger fashions an homage to a single colour and, in doing so, creates a book that will delight and, quite possibly astonish you.

green

Viridity floats

in a jade sea bottle bound

for emerald shores

“How engaging can a book about a single colour actually be?” I suspect you might be asking yourself.  Well, I shall admit to asking myself the same question, which is exactly what prompted me to request this book.  How much can be said on the topic of green-ness? Especially in picture book format!  I was curious to find out what it is about this book that had prompted the bestowal of awards, that was for certain.

Green is not your average, colour-based picture book.  For starters, it makes use of some very clever die-cut holes that lead the reader on to the next page.  While die-cuts are always fun in and of themselves, the die-cuts in this particular book are impressively utilised.  Some have words hidden in the illustrations.  Others are so cleverly placed that they are almost invisible until one turns the page. I fell victim to this trickery multiple times until I decided that I would keep my eyes peeled to find those stealthy die-cuts before I turned the page…only to be foiled on more than one occasion! Test yourself out and see if you can spot them in the two images below.

The book also runs the gamut from what one would expect, such as this “faded green”:

faded green

…to some unexpected and cheeky interpretations, such as this one (my personal favourite!):

clever green

The last few pages follow a little mini-narrative which is full of hope and also might provide younger readers with the inspiration to pop outside and green up their own environment.  After having flicked through this book multiple times, it is obvious why it has attracted such acclaim.  The illustrations are gorgeous and textured and some clever twists on the green theme set this book apart from your typical colour-based book for little ones.

It helps, of course, that green is the favourite colour of more than one shelf-dweller!

This would be a wonderful choice for a classroom library; the kind of book that will be well-thumbed by the end of the year, from eager young readers repeatedly drinking in the visual delights of the artwork and boggling at the more-than-meets-the-eye symbolism of a single hue.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

A Posthumous GSQ Review: Spoiler Alert (You’re Gonna Die)…

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imageToday I have a book for those for whom the stench of a decomposing corpse fires up curiosity, rather than the vomiting reflex.  We received Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell from the publisher via Netgalley and found a delightful little book in Q&A format that is the perfect introduction for those wishing to scratch the itch of curiosity surrounding what happens to the dead immediately after death.  Let’s begin with the blurb from Goodreads:

One thing that you can be sure in life, is that it is going to end. How’s that for a buzzkill? A real life coroner challenged a few thousand internet strangers to ask her anything. The result is a collection of morbid and slightly embarrassing questions all about The End. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die! will leave you with a new perspective on life. Print

The Good

imageIf you have any sort of interest in the workings of the death trade – that is, those people whose job it is to deal with the dead in any manner – then this is a concise and easy-to-read introduction that should suit you perfectly.  The questions and answers are divided into a number of categories both for ease of reference and so (I assume) you can skip over the bits that don’t interest you/gross you out/make you feel a bit weird for being too interested in them.  The book covers a pretty broad range of content, from information about the types of qualifications and work experience that you might need if you are thinking of getting into work in the post-life industry, to lesser-known methods for body disposal for those who think burial or cremation is too mundane, to what exactly goes on during an autopsy.  The book never gets too in-depth on any one topic so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who really want specifics on a certain area – although if you are looking for a book of that nature I would certainly recommend Working Stiff by Judy Melinek or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or even Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read way back in that mystical time before I started blogging – but it’s certainly a thorough and accessible introduction.

The introductions to each category written by Korttany Finn are quite funny and Jacquie Purcell has mastered the art of dry humour, so you won’t get too bogged down in the sadness and unsightliness of close encounters with corpses.

The Sad

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The saddest part of my reading experience here is that I wanted it to be longer.  I wasn’t prepared for such a concise tome and so I was disappointed that it wasn’t more in-depth.  Also, although this is no fault of the authors, there were a whole lot of questions in the first section that are specific to the USA (and in some instances specific to the state in which Purcell works), which prompted the slightly irritating realisation that if I wanted to know about how things work in Australia, I would have to research it myself.  As my natural laziness prevents me from doing any such research, I will have to live with this feeling of slight irritation, until someone publishes and places in my hands a book which focuses on post-death practices in Australia.  **Newsflash! I just did a microsecond of research and found out that coroners in Australia are mostly lawyers or magistrates and one of the main roles of the coroner’s court is to investigate deaths that may have an impact on public safety (eg: bushfire related deaths) in order to improve policy and practice around these events to ensure that they are prevented or minimised in future**

The Quirkyimage

The fact that this book features answers by a coroner, as opposed to a funeral director or someone who does the work of handling corpses in some capacity, the perspective is slightly different from other books I’ve read on the topic.  It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn’t actually 100% sure what a coroner does, although I had some ideas.  Those who love crime shows like CSI will probably think they have a good idea about what a coroner does, but this book might change their minds!

Also, the book grew out of a question and answer thread run by Purcell on a parenting blog, so it’s good to know that the questions in the book were actually asked by actual people and therefore, if you have ever idly pondered similar questions, you are not as weird and morbid as you think you are.

Overall I found this to be an interesting interlude on my quest to read lots of books about death, with some fascinating information that I certainly hadn’t considered before.  If you are interested in this topic, but you’re looking for a reasonably quick read, then I’d certainly recommend you pick this one up.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

*I’m submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge*

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

Watch out TBR Shelf: I’ve Joined a Challenge!

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Mount TBR 2016

Well, it’s getting to that time of year again when I start looking around for new reading challenges for the coming year.  There are a number of bloggers who have put together some handy lists of many of the 2016 reading challenges that are already open for sign-up, and it was while perusing this list that I came across the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2016, hosted by My Reader’s Block.  I’ve been bemoaning the state of my physical and digital TBR shelves for quite some time, so I’ve taken the plunge – consider this my commitment to completing this challenge next year.

Essentially, this challenge is based around getting through books that you already own, so no library books or new purchases.  While I went into this with great excitement, I was quickly daunted by the levels being offered and so chickened out a bit and chose Level 1 (Pike’s Peak), in which I will aim to knock 12 books off my physical TBR shelf.

To help myself along, I have decided to run a new feature next year – TBR Friday – once a month, which should ensure that I reach at least the 12 books that I have set for myself.  To be even MORE organised, I have chosen eleven books that I will focus on, in no particular order, leaving the last spot free for whichever book left on the shelf takes my fancy.

Here’s my list:

TBR challenge list

Missing from the picture is Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers, which I have ordered, and will arrive before the January 1st, 2016 deadline for purchased books.

If you’re looking for a 2016 Reading Challenge be sure to stay tuned, because I will be unveiling the challenge for 2016 that will be hosted by The Bookshelf Gargoyle on Monday!

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Adult Fiction (and a bit of non-fiction) Edition…

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imageStrap on your most grown-up looking cowboy hat and let’s ride into today’s Round-Up!  I’ve got four titles for you today suitable for the lover of fine novels and lateral thinking.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers or authors in exchange for review.

Celluloid (Holly Curtis)

Two Sentence Synopsis:celluloid

Jimmy Clifford is thirty-something, depressed, shut-in and owner of a mildly successful video rental store.  When he finds out that The Crypt, a heritage cinema that shows classic films just a stone’s throw from his home, is due to be demolished Jimmy must fight the demons of depression, anxiety and being an impromptu events organiser to try and save his beloved theatre.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an indie offering that is dialogue-driven and will definitely leave you with an amused little smirk.  Jimmy is a very likeable character thrown into a difficult position and is surrounded by a bunch of quirky and generally pretty funny friends, enemies and hangers-on.  There are a lot of laughs to be had here from the dialogue and as we follow Jimmy through a few short weeks we are privy to a man emerging from a deep hole of depression into the slightly-too-sunny-but-quite-optimistic-nonetheless light of day. This is a book with a simple concept, but a lot of heart.  And chuckles.

Brand it with:

Play it, Sam; Two Dollar Tuesdays; Friends without the gorgeous women

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (Lawrence M. Schoen)

Two Sentence Synopsis:barsk

Set in a futuristic world, on a planet where anthropomorphic, medically talented elephants known as the Fant are the dominant species and have developed medicines on which many offworlders depend, the time is coming when the Fant’s knowledge may be taken from them by force.  After developing a drug which allows some Fant to speak to the recently deceased, offworlders launch an offensive to find out the secrets of the Fant.

Muster up the motivation because:

Elephant doctors, obviously.  I was only granted access to an extract of this book, but the first few chapters really do a great job of world building.  We are immediately introduced to the death rituals of the Fant, and find out that a significant Fant’s death may also hide a significant secret.  There is also a young, misfit Fant introduced that may have a major part to play in protecting the Fant’s knowledge.  While the extract threw up many questions about the rest of the book, I am definitely interested in finding out more about this original story.

Brand it with:

Dr Pachyderm; Life after death; Watch out for the quiet ones

Dark the Night Descending: The Paderborn Chronicles #1 (Jennifer Bresnick)

Two Sentence Synopsis:dark the night descending

Arran Swinn is a ship’s captain who asks no questions about his cargo. He probably should have in this case however, as it lands him in a life or death struggle with a face-changing murderess, sees him making a bargain for his life he can’t hope to keep and being pursued by a single-minded Guild inspector who wants to see him hang.

Muster up the motivation because:

There is some really strong world building here and a rollicking adventure with a hapless but lovable anti-hero.  In this strange world are the neneckt – water-dwelling face-changers with a distrustful relationship with humans – and the Siheldi – a mysterious and deadly ghost-race that apparently come out only at night to suck the souls out of the unfortunate.  The tale is fast-paced as Arran races from one disaster to the next and enough creepiness balanced with humour to keep the reader engaged throughout.  There are some quite frightening scenes with the Siheldi and plenty of twists as Arran finds out who he can trust and who might just turn on him at the drop of a medallion. I’m not sure I’ll go the extra mile and continue with this series, but this first offering is certainly worthy of filling a fantasy/adventure-shaped gap in your TBR list.

Brand it with:

You look familiar, Did you pack this bag yourself?, High seas adventure

The Pilot Who Wore A Dress: And Other Dastardly Lateral Thinking Mysteries (Tom Cutler)

Two Sentence Synopsis:the pilot who wore a dress

A collection of lateral thinking puzzles, their solutions and instructions on how to use them to have a grand old time.  From old favourites to new tricks, this is an essential shelf filler for those who love to think outside the box and look superior to their friends.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a lover of lateral thinking riddles, this book will provide satisfaction, as you confidently and correctly answer the riddles you’ve heard before, and frustration, as you grapple with hitherto unseen brain-bafflers.  The book is split into categories, starting off gently before moving to more complex puzzles.  The riddles are written out as stories, which began to annoy me after a while, but as the introduction mentions, the book is really intended to be used with a group of people, hence the elaborate story set-ups.  For dipping in and out of as an individual though, this book would be a lot of fun, with the added bonus of making you a decided expert in the field of lateral thinking puzzles.

Brand it with:

Outside the box, Questionable motives, Fun for introverts

Hopefully there’s something here you feel like lassoing and dragging home to your reading nook.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Utopirama!: Knit the Sky…

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Welcome to another Utopirama, wherein we stroll in a calming, light breeze through the flowery fields of tomes thatNonfiction 2015 lift our spirits.  Today I have a book that Mad Martha insisted we review, given that it relates to her chosen hobby of needlecraft.  I am also submitting today’s book for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I am participating, hence the comfy armchair.  We were lucky enough to receive a digital copy of today’s book from the publisher via Netgalley, but we suggest if you’re wanting a copy of this one for yourself, it would be better in print, simply for the tactile nature of the subject matter.

The book is Knit the Sky: A Playful Way of Knitting by Lea Redmond.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Look up from your knitting needles and explore the world around you! That’s the mantra of Lea Redmond, the creative instigator behind Knit the Sky. Challenging herself to capture the changing colors of the sky in her knitting, Redmond loaded up her yarn basket with shades of blue, gray, and white and set out to knit a strip reflecting each day’s shades. In 365 days, she imagines having a one-year weather report in the shape of a scarf. This is just one of 30 adventurous knitting challenges she shares with readers in this whimsical, inspiring collection. These are knitting projects like no other, as the goal is not just to have a finished project but to have a one-of-a-kind piece that tells a story about the knitter’s life experience. Accompanied by basic instructions for all the needed stitches, techniques, and patterns, Knit the Sky is a complete creativity starter kit for any knitter looking for a fresh approach to the craft.

knit the sky

Quick Overview:

The greatest thing about this book is that you can replace the word “Knit” in the title with any crafty word you please and you can still get an enormous amount from the book.  For in Knit the Sky, it’s the process, not the finished product, which is the important thing. Mad Martha doesn’t know how to knit, but I had to listen to her enthuse over the exciting projects in this book and how she could convert them to crochet. There seemed to be only one or two projects in the book that really are specific to knitting – one in which friends cooperate to knit two scarves on one pair of needles springs to mind – but with a bit of creativity, crafty crafters could easily modify these projects to get around that.  Even if you don’t do any crafty endeavour yourself, the book promotes a way of looking at and interacting with the world around you that inspires mindfulness and memory-making.

Another handy thing about the projects here is that the author has suggested numerous variations on each project to inspire you to have a go. For example, with the titular project – knitting a scarf comprised of individual stripes capturing the colour of the sky each day for a year – there’s the ingenious and touching suggestion of instead creating a baby blanket comprised of squares representing the colour of the sky on each day (or near enough to!) of the baby’s time in utero. We experienced a mild thrill of terror at the idea of the “Neighbourhood Cowl” in which the crafter is challenged to go visit all the neighbours on their block and then knit a stripe in the colour of each house, in street order. Then there’s the family projects, like the heirloom idea of beginning a pattern or simple project, and then leaving it safely encased somewhere for future generations to find and complete, and the almost unbearably cutesy idea of the grandparent creating a basket-coloured (or basket-stitched!) woolly hat for themselves, and a berry-coloured woolly hat for each of their grand-offspring!

In all honesty, this book made Mad Martha’s heart sing for the potential it has to promote connection amongst people – family, neighbours, complete strangers – and the flow-on effect of crafting as a means to achieve Utopia.

Utopian Themes:

Knit one, connect one

Crafting positivity

Intergenerational connection

Yarning with strangers

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

 protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

5 out of 5 bubbles for the cosy embrace of a handmade creation

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A Kidlit, Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Nonfiction 2015Today’s book is aimed at a young audience but fascinated me all the same, what with me being so young at heart and all that. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a concise history of the events leading up to the imprisonment of Mary Mallon as a “healthy carrier” of typhoid who inadvertently spread the disease to many of the households in which she worked as a cook. Before I picked this one up, I knew absolutely nothing about Typhoid Mary, beyond being familiar with the name. After reading, I feel I have been much enlightened and am slightly chagrined (and mildly disappointed, admittedly) to discover that most of my assumptions were utterly wrong.

I am also submitting this one in the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s crack on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What happens when a person’s reputation has been forever damaged?

With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon by the Sibert medalist and Newbery Honor winner Susan Bartoletti looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary’s controversial life. How she was treated by medical and legal officials reveals a lesser-known story of human and constitutional rights, entangled with the science of pathology and enduring questions about who Mary Mallon really was. How did her name become synonymous with deadly disease? And who is really responsible for the lasting legacy of Typhoid Mary?

This thorough exploration includes an author’s note, timeline, annotated source notes, and bibliography.

typhoid mary

Five Things I’ve Learned From…

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

  1. If a woman walks like a man, it is likely she is hiding a deadly secret, according to the learned opinions of sanitary officials of Mary’s day.
  2. If you find yourself inexplicably transported to the time before electric refrigeration, declining the dessert menu might save your life as well as your waistline.
  3. Much like today, the popular media of the past was a great means for spreading unfounded hysteria, misinformation and fear-mongering yet catchy nicknames.
  4. Mary may not have actually been the deadliest cook in America, but one of a (not very hygienically washed) handful of such cooks
  5. Even if you have been labelled the deadliest cook in America, there will always be some people who are happy to eat your baked goods.

As narrative nonfiction books for youngsters go, this is a surprisingly engaging tale that attempts to look behind the scandalous headlines and get to the crux of Mary Mallon and her role in inadvertently spreading disease through her role as a cook for well-off households. The early chapters read a bit like a detective story as health officials attempt to find the cause of an outbreak of typhoid within a prominent family. I was drawn in from the start and the first half of the book had me guessing and deducing along with George Soper, a sanitation engineer with big dreams of unmasking the first “healthy carrier’ of typhoid in America.

I appreciated the way in which the author looked at the “chase” from Mary’s point of view. It was very easy to sympathise with her when, out of the blue from her perspective, a strange man turns up at her door telling her she is spreading a deadly disease and demanding she provide samples of bodily fluids. It was not hard to picture Mary’s aggressive response to such an approach.

The second half of the book, which concentrates on Mary’s imprisonment on a hospital island for years at a time, moves at a much slower pace than the first half and takes a more in-depth look at the legal rights of Mary and the government orders that kept her from release. The competing forces of individual rights and protection of the public are discussed at length as the author points out other cases (the “Typhoid Tom, Dick and Harries” as I thought of them) of people who were known to be healthy carriers responsible for infecting others, but who weren’t imprisoned.

I will admit to being slightly disappointed that the story behind the headlines was reasonably dry and based in legality. I was hoping (and feel free to think of me as a scurrilous rascal if you like) for a real humdinger of a tale in which a murderous and downtrodden servant deliberately brought low the upper classes before trip-trapping off to do it again in another unsuspecting city.

Instead, the author has created a very readable biography in which the characters spring off the page and the inconsistencies in the treatment of Mary in comparison to others in her situation allow the reader to get an insight into why Mary might have behaved in the way she did. Based on this experience, I would be very interested in reading more nonfiction by Bartoletti in the future, and I would recommend this to scientifically-minded youngsters and as a great conversation starter for classes learning about public health or individual rights.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 9/10

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Rickety Cossacks and an Fi50 Reminder…

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Before we get into the meat (and bones) of today’s book, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 will be kicking off for June on Monday. This month’s prompt is…

 june fi50 button

…and I can’t wait to see your contributions. If you’d like to play along, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words then pop back here on Monday and add your link to the comments of my post. For more detailed information about the challenge, just click on the large attractive Fi50 button at the beginning of this post.

Now on to the bookishness! Today’s book was a strange choice for me given that I don’t really know much about paleoanthropology….hardly anything in fact…but I was drawn in by the exciting cover, chuckle-worthy title and general “that sounds quite interesting” vibe of the whole package. The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution by Ian Tattersall is a going-over of the history of human paleoanthropology with an eye to debunking (or at least, highlighting) the specious reasoning that seems almost inherent in some historical views of human evolution as a process.   I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. Note the armchair as an indication of my intention to submit this tome for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.

Without further faffing about, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In his new book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, human paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall argues that a long tradition of “human exceptionalism” in paleoanthropology has distorted the picture of human evolution. Drawing partly on his own career–from young scientist in awe of his elders to crotchety elder statesman–Tattersall offers an idiosyncratic look at the competitive world of paleoanthropology, beginning with Charles Darwin 150 years ago, and continuing through the Leakey dynasty in Africa, and concluding with the latest astonishing findings in the Caucasus.

The book’s title refers to the 1856 discovery of a clearly very old skull cap in Germany’s Neander Valley. The possessor had a brain as large as a modern human, but a heavy low braincase with a prominent brow ridge. Scientists tried hard to explain away the inconvenient possibility that this was not actually our direct relative. One extreme interpretation suggested that the preserved leg bones were curved by both rickets, and by a life on horseback. The pain of the unfortunate individual’s affliction had caused him to chronically furrow his brow in agony, leading to the excessive development of bone above the eye sockets. The subsequent history of human evolutionary studies is full of similarly fanciful interpretations.

With tact and humor, Tattersall concludes that we are not the perfected products of natural processes, but instead the result of substantial doses of random happenstance.

rickety cossack

Let me say straight off that I found this book to be informative, engaging and generally thought-provoking. I suspect, however, that I am not the target audience for this tome, given that the content seemed to be pitched at a reader with slightly more prior knowledge in this field than I currently possess. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know very much about the history of evolution and you think this book sounds interesting, I would DEFINITELY recommend that you pick it up, but I was mildly surprised to note how technical the content turned out to be. On the other hand, my Kindle dictionary feature got a cracking workout, which I always enjoy.

Essentially, after a short introduction featuring lemurs and an unexpected coup, Tattersall takes the reader from the early years of paleoanthropology, during which little was known and much was surmised (and just plain old made-up!) about discovered remains and what these remains meant for how modern humans came about, to current scientific practice in dating remains and hypothesising about evolutionary processes. For each historical period, Tattersall introduces the reader to the main players on the evolutionary scene and the theories that they endorsed, with detailed examination of their background to establish the context in which their theories were developed. Clearly, this is an author that knows his stuff and has put together a comprehensive critique of the assumptions that have historically influenced the way in which people think about human evolution.

Now, my next criticism is going to sound a akin to someone ordering sushi and complaining it doesn’t taste like pizza, but I expected this book to be funny. That might sound odd to those who regularly read such scientificky books, but I feel I was misled by the highly amusing “Rickety Cossack” theory and expected that the book would have a lighter tone. It doesn’t. And to me this was mildly disappointing. On the positive side though, I do feel like I gained a solid base of knowledge about human evolution and the current theories and pitfalls of assumption that I did not have prior to reading this book.

The other desire that made me feel a bit childish while reading this was that of wanting more illustrations. Throughout the book there are a few comparative drawings depicting various human fossils to which the book alludes, but given that I am a newbie in this subject area, I desperately wanted more visual information. A map, for instance, showing where each of the bits were discovered would have been incredibly helpful, as I did have a bit of trouble keeping the place names straight in relation to the fancy names that were given to different sets of remains. Again, I suspect Tattersall was aiming for a reader with slightly more knowledge in the area than I, but all the same, a bit of visual prompting would have enhanced my reading experience no end.

Overall, if not for the amusing title and blurb anecdote, I doubt I would have picked this book up. It didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting, but I still had an enjoyable, brain-stretching experience while reading it. I’m not sure whether someone more deeply versed in this particular subject area would feel the same, but if you are a paleoanthropogical novice with a desire to enrich your knowledge in this area, then I recommend riding into battle with Tattersall and his rickety Cossack.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge goal: 7/10

Until next time,

Bruce