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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Strange Magic : Syd Moore

… great fun, witchy mystery …

fantasy book review witch magic

A chase across England after the bones of Ursula Cadence, a C16th witch, before the ghost of her son does something extreme.

Syd’s deft writing establishes the protagonist, Rosie Strange, as the new owner of the run down Essex Witch Museum whilst smoothly setting up the working (and love/hate) relationship between her and the museum curator, Sam Stone.

The relaxed breezy style and numerous Essex jokes belie the amount of research that obviously went into the novel’s background.  These details add depth and thoughtfulness to an otherwise lightweight read. This isn’t a criticism but more of a comment on an interesting juxtaposition between the constant froth of Essex humour against the dark witchcraft subject matter. This contrast is further highlighted by the fact that in her acknowledgements Syd explains she has tried to get funding for a witchcraft museum – and still hopes one day to achieve this dream; and yet the novel’s by-line on the cover is “The only way is witchcraft” – a reference to the popular British reality soap, “The Only way is Essex” which full of love triangles, fake tans and hair extensions. There’s a lovely 5 minute Youtube clip of Syd Moore explaining the 1980s prejudice, comparison between witches and Essex girls, and her revisioning of them both here.

A thoroughly enjoyable holiday mystery and I am looking forward to the next in the Essex Witch Museum series.

Syd Moore lives in Essex.  She has been a lecturer and a TV presenter before becoming a writer.

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

Cover design moment: Superb design by James Jones: clear, vibrant, stand out from shelf kind of work.  Lovely to see that this Art Director of One World name checked on the back and mentioned by Syd Moore in her acknowledgements for the “gobsmacking Oh-my-god-I-love it so-much jacket design”. Bravo!  A selection of his brilliant designs can be found on his Tumblr feed here.

Strange Magic by Syd Moore was published by Point Blank, an imprint of One World, on 4th May 2017. A sequel, Strange Sight, is due to be published in October 2017.

 

 

Godblind : Anna Stephens

… brilliant grimdark fantasy …

grimdark fantasy

Exciting and well written, Godblind proves that debut novelist Anna Stephens can handle a multiple narrative epic with flare and skill. Roughly in the same field as George RR Martin‘s Game of Thrones series, there’s much intrigue, fighting and moral ambiguity with some charismatic personalities including Dom, the reluctant seer; Rillirin, the escaped slave, and Captain Crys Tailorson. Anna is a fantastic story teller and the novel packs enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.

Having 10 characters’ view points was a challenge for me.  I would recommend choosing a moment when you can read a substantial amount in one sitting to establish as many of the characters’ story lines as possible.  In her blog, Anna reveals that her editor asked her to take four more strands out.  Thank you, Natasha the Editor.

As this is grim dark, there are some gruesome scenes including one particularly nasty sacrifice to the Red Gods  … so not for younger readers.

Recommended.

Anna Stephens works in corporate communications for an international law firm.  She has a BA (Hons) in Literature and a Diploma in Creative Writing, both from the Open University.  She has a chatty and entertaining website here where she reveals inflatable guitar playing at her wedding.

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

Cover design moment: As this is an ARC, it’s a riff on the final cover and there are no credits for the designer yet. If I do find more details, I’ll update the review. In short, I like it!  It sets the tone for the book: bold, epic and intriguing. With red and black tones and messy background,  it clearly positions the book as grimdark.  Whilst searching for the creative, I happened on this lovely “Cover Reveal” interview over at Fantasy Faction.

Anna has been in touch.  The cover design is by Dominic Forbes, the Managing Designer at Harper Collins UK. This means he commissions and art directs others as well as finding the time to design.  A small selection of his own work can be found here.   

Godblind by Anna Stephens will be published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins, on 15th June 2017 in the UK. Sequels are due for publication in 2018 and 2019. 

It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

 

Snowshill Manor

… fascinating collections and beautiful gardens …

Snowshill Cotswolds

Snowshill Manor is rather like a over stuffed toy box.  There are simply too many things, too many rooms, for anyone to take in on a single visit. This is not a criticism but take my advice, don’t try a studious approach and examine every last cabinet and corner, your brain will start to protest and you’ll be there for hours. Instead roam around, ignoring much and stopping only where your fancy wills. Believe me, you’ll thank me after the 21 rooms over 3 floors crammed full of THINGS.

Charles Paget Wade was rich and whimsical.  His eclectic collections are theatrical and fascinating. There’s the gloomy, atmospheric Green Room stuffed with Samurai armour and the attic of A Hundred Wheels, full of carts and bicycles; a small landing full of Dolls’ Houses and Ann’s bedroom of C17th furniture.

Cotswolds Arts and Crafts Garden

One of my favourite architects, Baillie Scott, designed the small and intricate Arts and Crafts style garden which emphasizes garden rooms over sweeping lawns.  As Wade put it : “a delightful garden can be made … by using effects of light and shade, vistas, steps to changing levels, terraces, walls, fountains, running water, an old well head or statue in the right place, the gleam of heraldry or a domed garden temple.” This pretty much describes the formal part and there are also orchards and vegetable plots to prowl around. Wade’s collections spill out over the gardens with a model village, Wolf Cove, set around a pond; agricultural machinery in a byre; and statues, clocks and inscriptions artfully positioned to maximum effect. My favourite garden historian, Tim Mowl, warns it is  “outrageously, loveably twee, a fantasy game of mock medievalry … carefully contrived nookery … ” and, in my view, is therefore the perfect place to spend a Summer’s afternoon.

Snowshill is a National Trust property. For more details about opening times and special events, here’s their website.

Quotations from : Historic Gardens of Gloucestershire by Timothy Mowl. Tempus Publishing, 2002.

Cockneys in Arcadia : Court Barn Museum

… beautiful Arts and Crafts hedgehogs …

hedgehog button

 

My local Arts and Crafts museum, Court Barn, is in its tenth year. To celebrate this anniversary, it is showcasing CR Ashbee‘s work from his time in Campden. This Romantic idealist uprooted his East End craftsmen and brought them to the Cotswolds in search of a simpler, healthier and more fulfilling life. The experiment only lasted six years but some of his men stayed and the craft legacy lives on in the town. This exhibition curated by CR Ashbee experts, Alan Crawford and Mary Greensted, is a beautiful collection of work and includes pieces not seen by the public before. I particularly liked these set of six enamelled hedgehog buttons from a private collection, c1904.

So, if you are in the North Cotswolds, do check out this wonderful little Arts and Crafts museum in Chipping Campden. The exhibition runs until July 9 and the Court Barn’s website for further information is here.

S.T.A.G.S : M A Bennett

… cracking page turner…

maze runner

 

“I think I might be a murderer.” STAGS starts out at a cracking pace and never lets up until the end.  Told in the first person, MA creates the very likeable Greer MacDonald, a scholarship student at an elite boarding school.  Full of arcane rituals and costumes, Greer is lonely and desperate for approval until the invitation arrives for a long weekend away with Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy in the school, and his friends. The action then moves to Henry’s country house in the Lake District for a weekend of hunting, shooting and fishing. With no telephones and no parents around, Greer gradually realises Henry’s ulterior motive to her inclusion.

MA builds tension and great empathy in S.T.A.G.S by choosing a close first person narrative. By keeping the locations tight, just the school and the house, she also leaves herself ample space to expand and explore the various relationships in this quite short book. A very readable story in the hands of an experienced writer.

Recommended.

Just a couple of kisses and very little actual violence, make this suitable for lower end YA or upper end MG.  US readers should be aware that the 18 year olds drink, sometimes to excess.

MA Bennett is the pen name of Marina Fiorato,  who has written a series of historical novels including the best selling The Glassblower of Murano. She is half-Venetian, born in Manchester and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. She is a history graduate and since worked as an illustrator, actress and film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. Further information about these historical novels can be found at her website here. There doesn’t appear to be a separate MA Bennett website yet.

 

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

Cover design moment: As this is an ARC, there are no details of the designer. The mottled dark brown background reminds me of worn leather – and therefore suggests a country house feel – whilst the eye catching golden stag’s head illustration possibly has a nod towards Harry Potter’s Patronus.  I would have preferred either a stained glass window of St Aidan or a tapestry hunting scene but that maybe off putting for some YA readers.

S.T.A.G.S by MA Bennett will be published by Hot Key Books, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, on 10th August 2017 in the UK and Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will publish the novel in the US in 2018. Feature film rights have already been bought.

It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

Beetle Queen : M G Leonard

… evil fashionista Lucretia Cutter is back …

Beetle Queen

I thoroughly enjoyed Beetle Boy, a sparkling and inventive story with lots of beetles. This sequel, Beetle Queen, moves the adventure and friendships on, as the three children, Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt, try to work out what Lucretia is up to whilst fending off unwanted parents and saving and /or capturing beetles, aided by Uncle Max . The pantomime villains, Pickering and Humphrey, break out of jail and they all end up in LA for the Film Awards.

I loved the way MG has developed the various friendships and the tensions between parents, children and, of course, beetles. I was particularly drawn to Novak, Lucretia’s lonely daughter, and her beetle, Hepburn. They play a vital role in the splendid climax at the LA theatre.

MG Leonard worked as a freelance Digital Media Producer for various theatres. She spent time in the music industry and managing bands, most notably The Divine Comedy. She trained as an actor, directing and producing as well as performing, before deciding to write her stories down. MG lives in Brighton with her husband and two sons.

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

Cover design moment: Beetle Boy‘s outstanding design from the Brighton based, Helen Crawford-White, inspired me to add my “Cover Design Moment” to each book review. Having so many books pass through my hands these days, it becomes increasingly apparent how important excellent design is.  This second cover carries on the bold colours and delightful whimsy of the first with quirky interior illustrations by Karl James Mountford and beetle illustrations by Elisabet Portbella. (It is shame that the acid yellow beetle fore edge couldn’t be on the paperback – but I’m guessing it costs a lot to produce.) Further examples of Helen’s work can be found at her Studio Helen website here.

Beetle Queen by MG Leonard was published by Chicken House Books on 6 April 2017. It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

 

Lost for Words : Stephanie Butland

… quirky and attractive first person narrative …lost for words
No doubt the hook for many will be the bookshop setting, but it’s the reclusive and intense Loveday Cardew which held my attention throughout this quirky and attractive first person narrative. Finding refuge in the second hand bookshop owned by the lovely Archie – who rather reminded me of Simon Callow in Four Weddings and a FuneralLoveday negotiates her way through a romance with the understanding poet and magician, Nathan, whilst trying to drop the damaged Rob. Stephanie manages the three timelines and poetry with a deft touch and the story flows along to a satisfying climax and ending.

Stephanie Butland lives in the North east of England. When she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. Apart from this, she has written How I Said Bah! To Cancer: A Guide to Thinking, Laughing, Living and Dancing Your Way Through and Thrive: The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer. She is my tenth review in the British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The design is by the freelancer, Nathan Burton, and he is credited on the back. (HURRAH.) I love his covers. In fact, I’ve even bought a book Radiance by Catherynne M Valente on the strength of his design. (He won the Academy of Book Cover Design Award for SciFi & Fantasy 2017 for it.) Further examples of his work can be found on his website here. However, I was a bit “meh” about this design. I can entirely understand the thinking behind it: girl reading in the shadows of a bookshop; chick lit approachability of the cream background and the funky lettering. It will sell the book – which is what it is all about, right? And yet, I would have liked something a little more spiky, a little more Loveday Cardew … but perhaps that’s just me.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland was published by Zaffre Publishing on 20 April 2017.   It was recommended to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

Creating the Countryside: Compton Verney

… fascinating, amusing and thought provoking …

compton verney
Turquoise Bag in a Tree, Hilary Jack, 2016

 

My favourite gallery space, Compton Verney, has a fascinating exhibition running at the moment which would repay a couple of visits as there is so much to think about. Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present explores the way in which we create and imagine the countryside, largely as a pastoral idyll very much removed from muddy reality. The Neo-Classical house of Compton Verney itself is set in a “perfect” landscape created by Capability Brown.

Verity Elson‘s thoughtful curation takes us from Gilpin‘s picturesque with a Claude glass through Frank Newbould‘s wartime lithographs of a mythic England to Sony‘s eerie video game of a Shropshire village c. 1984, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. Wandering around the rooms, it struck me that the most interesting, incisive modern works were by women, including Hilary Jack‘s Turquoise Bag in a Tree, 2016 (photo at the top of the blog).

I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Chesney‘s commentary on the rural idyll with her two works: Snapshot and Death by Denim. The former is a Farrow & Ball paint chart inspired by her time spent in the Brecon Beacons National Park. She has created some great names for shades such as Ewe 38, Twine Blue and Hedge.  The latter is a fictional collection of ep

denim
Death by Denim, 2015, Rebecca Chesney

hemera based around the tragic death of a lad wearing Italian denim walking gear. (If like me you are occasionally surrounded by Gore-tex bores, you will get the reference … ) Further details of the artist’s work can be found on her website here.

The exhibition runs until 18 June 2017 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a cafe, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

Vasa Museet, Stockholm

vasa museum

… brilliant museum built around a C17th war ship …

Well, I could have spent the whole day in the Vasa Museet. This Swedish museum houses the only almost fully intact c17th century ship that has ever been salvaged and it’s an extremely well laid out and thoughtful museum with plenty to see for the casual and more historically minded visitor. There are the finds cases describing life on board and a film detailing history of the modern salvage operation; and there are recreations of the colourful (even gaudy) wooden carvings decorating this Royal ship and contextual models and displays explaining the history surrounding the disaster.

The 64-gun warship Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. It was simply too tall and too unstable to withstand a powerful gust of wind. It capsized after only 1,300 metres. In a letter to King Gustavus II Adolphus, the Council of the Realm wrote …“she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom …”

I particularly liked the c17th salvage display showing the technique used to bring up the valuable guns. “The diver was entirely clad in leather and had double leather boots. He stood on a platform of lead hanging under the diving bell,” reported a fascinated Italian priest in 1663.

vasa museum diving bell

The recreations of the extraordinary sculptures decorating this royal ship were also fascinating.

seventeenth century sculpture

So, if you are considering a Nordic trip, pick Stockholm! It has a lovely old city centre with lots of Viking gold in the National Museum, great Swedish design, very friendly people – and the finest c17th century warship in the world.

For further information, here’s the link to the Vasa Museet website.

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