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From Maori myths to modern cliches

From the Egyptian goddess Isis, who breathed life into the dismembered body of her beloved Osiris, to the Maori Wai-mi and Navajo Changing Bear Maiden, world mythology is rich in tales about goddesses, witches and other legendary female figures. The Woman's Companion to Mythology, edited by Carolyne Larrington (Pandora, Pounds 15.99 paperback), gives the historical context and symbolic meanings of the most significant myths. The book closes with three essays on how women today are attempting to reconstruct and deconstruct myths.

Elaine Robertson and Suzanne King, the authors of Cosmopolitan Guide to the Big Trip (Penguin, Pounds 6.99 paperback) are well-qualified for the job, having "travelled in boats that are barely afloat, planes that are barely aloft and buses that barely stay on the road". Chapters on route planning, visa application, staying safe and keeping well are illustrated with case histories and tips from seasoned travellers. The advice includes everything from packing bags, organising money and keeping in touch with home to respecting the local environment and culture ("take only photographs, leave only footprints"). At the back is an A-Z of contacts, climate and other information.

In The Macmillan Good English Handbook (Pounds 9.99 hardback), Godfrey Howard acknowledges English as a living language, subject to influences from home and abroad. Describing it as "a handbook for the linguistic fast lanes of the 21st century", he clarifies the grammatical and linguistic questions many are uncertain about, while remaining relaxed about such technicalities as the split infinitive, double negatives and the changing meaning of "hopefully".

A Concise Historical Atlas of Eastern Europe by Dennis P Hupchick and Harold E Cox (Macmillan, Pounds 10.50 paperback) has 52 two-colour, full-page maps accompanied by a facing page of explanatory text. It covers key moments in eastern Europe's history, such as the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans after the Serb and Greek Revolutions in 1830, and the Macedonian question.

The Cambridge Factfinder, edited by David Crystal (Cambridge University Press, Pounds 10.95 paperback, 2nd edition), contains over 360 maps and diagrams and 200,000 facts and figures organised under the following broad areas: the universe, Earth, environment, natural history, human beings, history, human geography, society, religion and mythology, communications, science and technology, arts and culture, knowledge, sports and games.

Most people use dictionaries to check their spelling, and so only require a brief meaning alongside the word. The Macmillan Dictionary of English Spelling, compiled by Martin Manser (Pounds 6.99 paperback), fulfils this need and is consequently quicker, clearer and easier to use than a conventional dictionary. It includes some of the latest additions to the English language, such as "karaoke", "synergy" and "teleworking". Boxes outline spelling rules and tips.

The Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins and the Dictionary of Cliches (Cassell, both Pounds 14.99 hardback) are the latest compilations from Nigel Rees. In the first he explains the etymology of such well-worn phrases as "a nine days' wonder", "blue-blooded", "take a rain check" and "don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs", as well as that of recent additions to the language such as "bad hair day", "loose cannon" and "big girl's blouse".

The English language's debt to literature is revealed in Cliches as in "I shall not see his like again" (Hamlet). The book not only explores the origins of such expressions as "living a lie", "at the end of the day", "burn the midnight oil", "bloody but unbowed", and "a sight for sore eyes" but also pinpoints when a particular common phrase became a cliche.

Daniel Jones's classic English Pronouncing Dictionary (Cambridge, Pounds 14.50 paperback, 15th edition) has been updated. It covers North American pronunciation and the stress patterns of thousands of compounds and idioms using the International Phonetic Alphabet, and includes the vocabulary of science, technology, literature, religions, philosophies, historic events, places, and ancient and modern peoples.

The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, edited by Judy Pearsall and Bill Trumble (Oxford University Press, Pounds 25 hardback), comprises over 192, 000 definitions and entries; up-to-date coverage of contemporary English and the English of Australasia, North America and South Africa; practical help on grammar, and scientific, technical and specialist subject vocabulary; an illustrated Factfinder on world events, science, the arts and sports; and 16 pages of full-colour world maps and specialist gazetteer data.

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