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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts : Christopher de Hamel

… 12 rich slices of history …

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With this book, Christopher de Hamel introduces us to twelve fabulously beautiful illuminated manuscripts describing not only their historical context but also the collectors who have handled them and the libraries they are now in.

Christopher certainly doesn’t talk down to the reader, even going into the technical “collation” or order of pages of each book, though he does try to avoid using too much jargon.  He explains in his introduction Christopher wanted “the challenge of trying to convey to a wider audience the thrill of … intimate contact with major medieval manuscripts”.

Like a rich slice of fruit cake, each chapter is studded with nuggets of history, encounters with library staff and expert musings on provenance.  It’s a book to be enjoyed slowly by a winter’s fireside.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts won The 2016 Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize (for non-fiction writing) earlier this year.  In his speech of thanks, Christopher de Hamel remarked that many medieval scribes ended the arduous business of copying a book with the words, “Explicit hoc totum, Pro christo, Da mihi potum“; which he translated as ‘Here ends the whole thing, For Christ’s sake, give me a drink’ – words that raised much laughter, and many champagne glasses.

Highly recommended.

Biography: In the course of a long career at Sotheby’s Christopher de Hamel has probably handled and catalogued more illuminated manuscripts and over a wider range than any person alive. Since 2000, he has been Fellow and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The Parker Library, in his care, includes many of the earliest manuscripts in English language and history. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society.

Cover design moment: The dust jacket must have been delightful for  Jim Stoddart, the  Art Director at Penguin Books, to play with.  Which images to choose from so many gorgeous illustrations? He shows a mastery of design by selecting a plate from The Morgan Beatus.  It is a charming tree full of birds, some feeding their chicks cupped in their nests which are balancing somewhat precariously on prickly branches.  They look just right for copying in a doodle or two and thus his choice exacts suits the approachable and chatty style of the text.  He adds a lovely detail to the top of the design: worn and slightly foxed page edges to hint at the many manuscripts contained within the one book.

This book is the eighth review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts was published in hardback by the Allen Lane imprint of Penguin Random House on 22nd September 2016.

 

Gilded Cage : Vic James

… absorbing and compelling ..

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Imagine a Britain ruled by an elite where ordinary folk – you and me – are condemned to choose ten years of slavery to keep the economy going. Teenager Abi has a perfect plan to keep her family together by working for the Jardines, a family Skilled in magic.  Only something goes terribly wrong and her brother, Luke, is sent to a grim Northern slavetown.  This split allows reader to follow both Abi and Luke in their different worlds: the luxurious yet dangerous country house of Kyneston and the brutal factory complex of Millmoor.

The differing stories of Luke and Abi, and the lesser chorus of four other viewpoints, threw me for a while, as I do like to invest in one lead character.  However Vic uses this technique to great effect and her compelling narrative and clean prose style makes for a smooth, fast read.  Add some sparkling secondary characters including Renie-rhymes-with-Genie; the pitiful Dog; and the  menacing Silyen; mix with a little romance and Vic has created a highly enjoyable adventure which rather catches the zeitgeist of an elite rich with a drone underclass  …

My only slight quibble is that the ending was rather ragged.  By that I mean consequences of the story’s climax are only briefly played out in this book with obviously much more to come in the second, Tarnished City.

Vic James is a current affairs TV director and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She has twice judged the Guardian‘s The Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpad.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a quarter of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015. Vic James lives and works in London … which means – HURRAH – she can be counted as the seventh review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The cover design is by Joanna Thomson, a senior designer in the Pan Macmillan Art Department – and she is credited on the back.  (Second HURRAH.) I loved the curly magical font and the strong, embossed silhouette of the cage.  I wasn’t entirely sure of the relevance of the black bird (a crow?) and feathers apart the overall sinister implication but hopefully it will become clearer as the trilogy progresses.  Further examples of her work can be found here.

Gilded Cage by Vic James was published by Pan Books on 26 January 2017.   It is the first in the Dark Gifts Trilogy which will also include Tarnished City and Bright Ruin.

 

Jackself : Cover Design

After contacting Pan Macmillan, I’ve tracked down the designer of the wonderful Jackself cover.

Naomi Clark, Cover Designer and Artworker at Pan Macmillan owned up!  

She explained the thoughts behind the design: “… the book has a cast of characters – plus lots of references to Jack figures – so Jackdaw, Jack-O-Lantern, Jack Sprat, Cheapjack. Our idea was to make the cover a kind of cut-out or pattern book – so that it would be designed to look as if you could cut out these figures and use them for your own little puppet theatre. The author was really keen on the jockey image as it has the vibrancy and colour we wanted to achieve.”

The “Jockey”  was one in a series of paper puppets printed by Franz-Josef Holler, a German toy manufacturer in the 1970s and 1980s.  I am assuming the images are from late c19th.  As you can see, the cover design is pretty close to the original – apart the the face and cigarette.

It’s such an arresting image.  The dismembered puppet body puts me in mind of a macabre butcher’s slab and as such, it’s very appropriate for this collection of poems.  My earlier review for Jackself is here.

If you would like to see any more of Naomi’s work, here is the link : http://cargocollective.com/NaomiClark

A Griffin, a Fire Demon and a Monster.

… C17th extravaganza …

ommegriffinThere’s a side to C17th Europe which fascinates me: the Courtly emphasis on masquing and processions.  These theatrical displays employed the finest painters, writers and architects, cost fabulous amounts and, being largely ephemeral, can only be caught via hasty sketches, terse descriptions and the occasional commissioned painting or engraving.

In London’s V&A we are lucky enough to have The Ommeganck in Brussels on 31 May 1615: The Triumph of Archduchess Isabella. It was commissioned by the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella to celebrate an Ommegang. This was an important civic procession honouring Isabella as Queen of the procession and the scene shows the ten pageant cars that formed the most spectacular element of the parade.

These must have been the equivalent of the big budget movie extravaganzas of their time with fantastical beasts, special effects and royalty on display.

There’s huge unicorns and griffins made from wickerwork and painted canvas; special effects like this demon who holds a fire club, a fizzing hollow reed packed with charcoal and gunpowder;

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and a scary backwards monster waving a bladder (?) to amuse the crowds.

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The V&A has a marvellous interactive programme of the work where you can zoom in, roam around and read details about various elements of this large painting.  The work and the computer display can be found in the Europe 1600-1715 Galleries but can be overlooked as it’s in a low lit corner.

There’s another scene of this festival in the Prado.  It appears they got the boring religious procession whereas we’ve got the lighter side of the affair. Huzzah.

The Queen of the Tearling : Erika Johansen

… brilliant page turner …

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I have come rather late to the Tearling party!  I loved this book.  It’s a brilliant page turner with an incredibly strong narrative and well drawn, likeable (or dastardly) characters.  On her 19th birthday the soldiers come for Kelsea to take her to be crowned as Queen of the Tearling … if she survives that long.   There’s a wicked Uncle, an evil witch, bandits, slavery and a loyal pack of personal guards.  As the book blurb quote from HEAT magazine says helpfully : “Did you like The Hunger Games?  Partial to an episode of Game of Thrones?  Then you’re going to want to dive straight into this.”  I particularly enjoyed that fact that Kelsea is not the perfect heroine.  She is not superfit, has trouble handling a sword and has a puppy crush on someone.   Yet, her heart is in the right place and she’s trying to make up for her appalling mother’s legacy.  I also was greatly entertained by the growing relationship between Kelsea and her bodyguard, Lazarus.  Highly recommended.

btw The book does have some sex and hints at rather horrid and gruesome slavery so it’s for older teens.

Erika Johansen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and became an attorney. Now she lives in England … which means – HURRAH – she can be counted as the sixth review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The UK cover for this book of a bear trap on a red cushion is cute and to the point, if slightly cloying for such a strong protagonist and very little romance .  The design continues through the series and are by Sarah Whittaker, a Senior Designer, at Transworld Publishers.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen was published by Bantam Books on 16 July 2015.   It is the first in the Tearling Trilogy which includes The Invasion of Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling (Dec 16).

Jackself : Jacob Polley

… like citrus in winter …

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I had to keep putting the book down. Is that a weird thing to say? Does anyone else do that? Again and again, I would come across a phrase or an image, that was so arresting and intense that, like sharp grapefruit, I was compelled to stop and savour before reading on.  Jacob himself talks of “a glimpse of something” in The Guardian‘s series My Writing Day; and it is these glimpses that the judges of the TS Eliot Prize hint at when they describe the collection as “a firework of a book”.  

The images are embedded in a playful, shadowy autobiography of Jack, and his many selves, set in a mythic Cumbrian border country called Lamanby.  Jack and his mate, Jeremy Wren, banter and fool about through 34 poems.  Their casual brutality and grimy surroundings, mixed with nursery rhymes and folklore, put me in mind of the wonderful Rooster in Jez Butterworth‘s play, Jerusalem.

If you buy only one book of poetry this year, it really should be this one.  Highly recommended.

Jacob Polley was born in Carlisle, Cumbria. He is the author of four books of poems and a novel, Talk of the Town. He teaches at the University of Newcastle where lives.

Cover design moment:  The very arresting puppet cut-out design was inspired by a Franz-Josef Holler design called “Jockey” and presumably comes out of the PanMacmillan Art Department.  I am still trying to find out.  Update : I have traced the designer.  If you are interested, click for later post.

This book is the fifth review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Jackself by Jacob Polley was published by Picador Poetry on 3 November 2016.  It won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry 2016 announced on 16 January 2017.   I bought it from Emily’s Bookshop.  Hiya Em!

 

The Burning Page : Genevieve Cogman

… spirited helter skelter adventure …

Irene Winters is back!  Attacked by venomous spiders and snakes and chased by archenemy Alberich, the Librarian is in a desperate chase to save her beloved Library51yi8uyo78l from attack whilst protecting her Victorian detective friend, Vale, and dragon assistant, Kai, from further chaos.  Another spirited helter skelter adventure through the many alternative worlds linked by the great Library.  I particularly liked Irene’s entanglements with Alberich, a truly dastardly villain, and her continuing balancing act between the chaotic Fae and rigid dragon characters.  Both of these add depth to the frenetic pace of events which point to Genevieve’s past work as a roleplaying game writer.

This is the third in Genevieve’s Invisible Library series.  My review of the first, The Invisible Library, is here and it is panning out to be an enjoyable sequence.

Cover design moment:  Neil Lang from the Pan Macmillan art department continues to produce the excellent covers for this series.  With their distinctive foil spines and Victorian silhouettes, they are both instantly recognisable and compliment Genevieve’s style.   A link to further work by him is here.

This book is the fourth review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman was published by Pan on 15 December 2016.  I bought it from Emily’s Bookshop.  Hiya Em!

 

 

 

 

A Symphony of Echoes : Jodi Taylor

… great fun alt. history …

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I’ve been wanting to read this series for a while and the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary‘s arrived before the first.   Undeterred, I went right ahead and read A Symphony of Echoes.  It didn’t matter; the writing doesn’t take itself seriously and I just went along for the ride.  And what a ride!  Jodi sets her protagonist, Max, off at a tremendous lick, ricocheting from Victorian slums to c12th Canterbury to Ancient Nineveh taking in dodos and arch villainy at the same time.

The background to the series is the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research: an academic establishment full of historians who travel in pods to investigate major past events.  This allows Jodi to take her pick of any historical episode and drop her characters straight into the heart of it; her vivid imagining of the past adds to the fun and the story can lift itself up and put whenever it wants.     All this frenetic activity teeters on the brink of excess, but I can forgive Jodi as she has created a splendid character, Madeleine Maxwell.  It’s told in the first person and the speed of the narrative is heightened by this smart, sassy, possibly damaged young woman’s stream of observations and one-liners.

Recommended.

Cover design moment: The old UK covers of this series all feature a rather cool clock spiral, looking rather like a trilobite, and a book-specific mock historical painting.  It’s fine but … the fuzziness wouldn’t grab me if I was browsing in a bookshop.  I prefer the new design even though there are quite a few cod Victorian covers around at the moment.  They are altogether brighter and echo the breeziness of the storytelling – which, I think, is a great selling point.

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Jodi Taylor ‘s biog states (amongst other things) … born in Bristol and educated in Gloucester (facts both cities vigorously deny), she spent many years with her head somewhere else, much to the dismay of family, teachers and employers, before finally deciding to put all that daydreaming to good use and pick up a pen …

She started out self publishing her novels, very successfully, before being approached by independent publishers, Accent Press.  A quick and interesting account of her journey can be found here at the Writers’ Workshop website.  Jodi, herself, writes some very entertaining blog posts on her own website, here.

This book is the third review in my British Books Challenge 2017.

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Peters is published by Accent Press.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop recommended it to me.  Thanks, Em!

A dragon, a skull and a king from the Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean in Oxford is such a gem of a museum with wide ranging collections and an exciting schedule of temporary exhibitions.  It’s large enough to get lost in yet small enough to be friendly.  Since its renovation in 2009, the updated displays and thoughtful curation in the main galleries make it a pleasure for children as well as adults to browse around.  However I always seem to end up in the quieter, old style galleries of  “things in glass cabinets”.  Away from the crowds, you can find some wonderful pieces and here are three I would like to share …charles-ring

The museum has a very special finger ring collection.   Most of these were originally owned by C.D.E. Fortnum (of Fortnum and Mason) who presented over eight hundred to the Ashmolean and include this beautiful miniature of a rather world weary Charles I.

In the next gallery, there is a display of timepieces amongst which are a couple of small skull watch cases.  Popular the C17th, this one is inscribed with various Memento Mori latin phrases; my favourite, which I hadn’t come across before is : While you live, live to live.  The hinged lower jaw opens to reveal the dial. ash-skull

In the middle of a Renaissance picture gallery, and therefore easily missed, is a cabinet of old gaming boards including this gorgeous Italian piece from the c15th.  No explanation on how to play it though …gameboardash

I often think it would be great to produce a regularly changing “I-spy” booklet for museums to get people wandering about abit more … what do you think?

If you would like to know more about the Ashmolean, here’s their website.

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