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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Vigil : Angela Slatter

… dazzlingly inventiveness with smart as a whip one liners makes Vigil a sheer delight …  

Vigil is a brilliant urban fantasy from an accomplished Australian writer.  I read it too fast and had to force myself to slow down; I carried the book around just in case I had time to sneak a couple of pages … now, I can’t remember the last time I did THAT.

Smart and sassy detective, Verity Fassbinder, walks between the two Brisbanes, accompanied by (and bickering with) an assortment of entertaining characters such as Ziggi, the three eyed taxi driver; the Three Sisters who keep Little Venice cafe; and the grizzled Inspector McIntyre.

Damaged by memories of a dark Weyrd father and sore from an impossible Weyrd romance, Verity still feels duty bound to keep the peace, making sure the Weyrd remain hidden from the normal city.  Now multiple problems are clamouring for Verity’s attention including snatched children; an urban golem; a witchy wine maker and some seriously damaged sirens.

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Angela’s dazzlingly inventiveness of plot and character combined with smart as a whip one liners make Vigil a sheer delight to read.  I highly recommend it.

Angela Slatter is the award-winning author of various story collections. She has won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and five Aurealis Awards. Vigil is her first solo novel.

Vigil was published was Jo Fletcher Books (a Quercus imprint) on 16 July 2016.  I read a copy lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

 

 

Nevernight : Jay Kristoff

… exceptional world building …  with dazzling fights & unexpected treachery …

Like the inky shadows that swirl around the heroine, an undercurrent of darkness is never far away from this wonderful epic.  The story traces the story of sixteen year old Mia as she pulls herself and her fear drinking non-cat, Mister Kindly, up from despair and into the school of the Red Church.  With other student assassins, Mia battles through knife fights, blood pools and poisons, through staged trials and unexpected treachery, hoping to become a Blade in the service of the dark Mother – and then avenge her family.

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An exceptional world building talent, Jay has created a fascinating backdrop of setting and history in which to place his complex and likeable heroine, Mia.   Set amongst a well drawn array of secondary characters, the story has some great plot twists – with some dazzling fight and chase pieces – and a tremendous ending, with enough trailing lines for another book or two.

I enjoyed Jay’s deft use of flashbacks to create the past narratives, and his occasional move away from Mia’s point of view to create a particular effect. However, his footnotes!  After the first couple, I ignored them as they slowed the pace too much for me.

Apart from that, Nevernight is a real pleasure to read and I highly recommend it.

NB: Nevernight contains scenes of graphic sex and extreme violence and so is definitely Adult rather than Young Teen territory. 

Cover design moment : The UK cover is by Philippines-based illustrator, Kerby Rosanes, and is absolutely brilliant.  A real asset to the novel.  Well done whoever at HarperVoyager sourced and chose it – and for crediting him on the back.

Jay Kristoff is the author of the award winning Japanese Steampunk series, The Lotus War; and a second well received series, The Illuminae Files. With his work, Jay has been a winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction and a nominee for the David Gemmell  Award.

Nevernight will be published by HarperVoyager on 11 August 2016.  I read an ARC lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.

Baddesley Clinton

BC2.. gorgeous moated house set in beautiful gardens …

Baddesley Clinton is one of my top ten National Trust houses. The charm of this small Warwickshire site is matched by the enthusiasm of its volunteers and the strange and wonderful stories it holds.

Largely built in the c16th, Baddesley Clinton is a gorgeous moated house set in beautiful gardens; it boasts several great priest holes, a magnificent Elizabethan fireplace and an attendant willing to tell you all about the murder and the ghostly blood stains on the floor …  Great for children and history buffs alike with a lovely cafe and second hand book shop (yay!)

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If you want to know more, the National Trust’s page about the house is here.

Children of Earth and Sky : Guy Gavriel Kay

… beguiling alternative Renaissance saga …

This is a beguiling historical yarn set around the Mediterranean during an alternative Renaissance.  The novel follows multiple characters: a female archer, a young portrait painter, a dismissed daughter, a merchant’s younger son,  who meet and part, weaving their way through the political, religious and commercial themes of their time.

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This is a slow yet rewarding read with some genuinely interesting characters and themes that linger for days after I finished. It’s my first GGK and now I do understand the passionate commitment his fans have for his work.  This is not so much fantasy as a well-constructed alternative history.  He has a remarkable way of recreating a credible texture and depth to background events whilst stitching the personal lives of his characters into the broader geopolitical narrative.

It is also graced by a particularly fine cover design by Ben Summers, though he is not credited on my UK hardback sleeve.

Children of Earth and Sky was published by Hodder & Stoughton in May 2016.

 

The King’s Revenge : Philip Womack

… exhilarating quest, resonating myth and rich characters  …

This is the concluding part of Philip’s fantasy trilogy, The Darkening Path.  Simon and Flora have saved their siblings and now the four children and their companions are in a desperate race to reverse the Broken King’s trap which has severed the connection between the worlds.

8727446Set in the mysterious and fantastical Silver Kingdom, the quest rattles along at a tremendous pace and is studded with some marvellous scenes (joining a Roman legion, anyone?) and characters (the huge bat-crab creature is a favourite).  It has a exhilarating conclusion with an unexpected, yet satisfying, twist.

Philip’s deft use of mythic images sets strong themes resonating throughout the novel whilst the delicate interplay of the different characters, and their gradual character development, keeps the emotional side of the story alive with possibility and significance.

Definitely to be recommended for lovers of fantasy, The King’s Revenge is pitched at 11+ readers and was published in paperback on 16 June 2016 by Troika Books.

Many thanks, Troika Books, for the review copy.

Erasmus Darwin House

A charming museum that carries a delightful punch …

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Lunar Society, I popped into one of my favourite little museums of the Midlands: Erasmus Darwin House opposite Lichfield Cathedral. Erasmus was the grandfather of Charles anda successful doctor, scientist and poet.  This free museum, set in his private house, has a suitably eclectic and very hands-on approach to this c18th polymath.IMG_1460

There’s the Inventions Room where you can play with his Speaking Machine and Canal Lift; the Study with its Evolution Game and a working microscope; and the Exhibition Room where you can dress up as a Georgian.  Great for children and curious adults alike.

For more information about the museum and the events it is running, click HERE.

 

 

The Graces : Laure Eve

graces… brilliant thriller of claustrophobic relationships and dark magic …

This is a brilliantly constructed thriller of claustrophobic teenage relationships interwoven with dark magic.  It is written from the point of view of River who comes to live in a Cornish town and slowly, inextricably, gets drawn into the allure of the beautiful, self-assured Grace family.

I particularly liked the extremely well drawn character development of River.  She is not an entirely sympathetic figure – there are hints about her past – but River grows into a courageous teenager with a dogged self belief: “we can fix this, right?”

Laure has an intense, fluid narrative style which gets the reader very close to River’s hopes and anxieties whilst keeping the plot racing along through a thicket of lies and deceit to an intense climax  – definitely one of my favourite reads of 2016.

I only have one quibble: there was an elemental strand which didn’t mesh very tightly with the rest of the story and was an unnecessary distraction.  I also feel the book has a weak cover design – the US cover is slightly better.  (But cover designs in general may be a topic for a completely different post … !)

The Graces will be published in September 2016.  The writer has a background in YA publishing; her first novel, Fearsome Dreamer, was longlisted for the Branford Boase Children’s Prize and Waterstone’s Children’s Prize.   On the strength of The Graces, I’m now off to buy it.

NB: I would say this is firmly older YA with descriptions of rebellious British teenagers, ie a bit of swearing and quite a lot of underage drunkenness.

Sicily, culture and conquest : British Museum

… intriguing and inspiring wander through this most multicultural of islands … 4002

A gem of an exhibition – just about the right size – tracing the varied history of the Mediterranean’s largest island from its Phoenician and Greek settlers through successive waves of Romans, Muslim Arabs and Africans, Normans, Spanish and eventually the Italians.

As other commentators have said all this open minded cultural mingling is a refreshing change from “the Mafia and Montalbano” cliche that the island now carries.  I was beguiled by the alluring exoticism of the mix of exhibits: a projection of a decorative ceiling, ancient rock art,  a stunning mosaic Madonna. Each one a jewel like the Sicilian oranges described by C12th poet Abd ar-Rahman, who served the court of Roger II, as “blazing fire among the emerald boughs”.

Illustration: A map of Sicily from Al-Idrisi’s Treatise, c AD1300–1500.   Photograph: © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Until 14 August 2016 : Room 35
£10, Members/under 16s free

Chasing the Stars : Malorie Blackman

… love story, whodunit, psychological thriller in space …

This is a great read.  It’s a love story, a whodunit and a psychological thriller set on a space ship fleeing across28693621 enemy territory.  The narrative races away from the start with a splendid jeopardy piece showing the protagonist, Vee, as a very determined and compassionate girl – and the pace rarely slackens.   Sudden “accidents” and personal tensions amongst the desperate crew grow to a satisfying conclusion – and the hint of a sequel.

The story is told through the entwined narratives of the main characters, Vee and Nathan.  This approach gives the reader delicious insights, and humour, into the many misunderstandings  of their love affair.

I also enjoyed Malorie’s light referencing of multi-ethnicity, the class divisions and her take on marriage!

NB: There are some sex scenes – not too graphically  biological …but definitely a Young Adult book.

 

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