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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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.

From Darkest Skies : Sam Peters

… absorbing SF/crime thriller …
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An absorbing SF/crime thriller with strong characterisation surfing above some inventive and intricate world building.

Government Agent Rouse returns to the distant planet of Magenta to continue his duties whilst secretly investigating the murder of fellow agent and wife, Alysha.  He has brought with him an illegal AI shell of her, built from her data footprint.  Can Rouse find out what really happened on that train whilst tackling corporate crime and the drugs trade on Magenta?

I enjoyed Sam‘s characterisation, Rangesh in particular, and his sure way with dialogue.   He uses the contrast between Rouse’s grief and the team banter to great effect; and the novel also explores a human’s personal and intense relationship with AI.   It reads as though it was great fun to write and there’s clearly room for a sequel.

Recommended.

Cover design moment: Unfortunately, as this is an ARC, there’s no trace of a designer credit on the copy but – huzzah! – it has a WHITE background and strong, clear image.  UPDATE: Thanks to a heads up from Carole Heidi the design company is the brilliant Black Sheep.  Their website is here.

Sam’s biog reads: a mathematician, part-time gentle-person adventurer and occasional screenwriter who has seen faces glaze over at the words ‘science fiction’ once too often. … Has more hopes than regrets, more cats than children, watches a lot of violent contact sport and is an unrepentant closet goth.

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

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters will be published by Orion on 20 April 2017.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her review copy.  Thanks, Em!

Traitor to the Throne : Alwyn Hamilton

… brilliant, pacey sequel to Rebel of the Sands …

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Amani is back, fighting against the odds amongst the deadly politics of the Sultan’s Harem.  Now a respected leader in the Rebel Forces, she is betrayed and ends up a prisoner in the Palace with her powers disabled.  This is where Alwyn really hits her stride and the story picks up pace with an intriguing thread about the three brothers: the Sultan, the Rebel Prince and Amani’s lover, Jin; and the overarching question: who exactly is the traitor?

Recommended.

ps. I would like to request a cast list at the front of the next book to navigate my way around all the characters and do recommend new readers start with the first in the series, Rebel of the Sands.

Cover design moment: Unfortunately there isn’t any trace of the designer on the review copy but the strong, vibrant design is as good as Rebel of the Sands.  The lettering and patterning are very distinctive and its unusual colour will help the book to stand out on a crowded bookshop table … which is the point, right?  (The US cover design on the other hand … hmm …)

As Alwyn lives in London, this book is the first in my British Books Challenge 2017. Huzzah.

Traitor to the Throne will be published 2 February 2017 by Faber and Faber.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her review copy.  Thanks, Em!

 

 

Robinson Crusoe : The Theatre, Chipping Norton

… a Christmas institution …

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A trip to the pantomime in Chippy is a Christmas institution and our visit to Robinson Crusoe and the Pirate Queen was a sheer delight.   As always, the volunteer staff are so welcoming and the little Victorian style theatre so delightful, it’s a treat to sit back and watch the nonsense dance across the small stage with superb comic timing, great visual gags, and with an excellent cast really enjoying themselves.  (Possibly too much as it’s the end of the season …)

The Theatre at Chipping Norton has been staging pantomimes for the past 40 years and really does know how to involve the audience not just with “It’s behind you!”, thrown sweets and singing competitions, but also with a magical, funny scene played out with puppets above the audience’s heads, a small troupe of young actors and some outstanding sets.  As far as I know The Theatre has never employed celebrities to sell the tickets nor do they work pop songs into their scripts, preferring to create outstanding pantomime that has no need of ephemeral support.

It was a particularly strong cast this season with the superb Andrew Pepper back for his second year as the dame, Mrs Camilla Crusoe.   Her outrageous dresses, designed by Emily Stuart, could have taken a curtain call all by themselves.

The Theatre‘s delightful home began life as a Salvation Army Citadel and its designers and engineers were those behind many Victorian Music Halls, so it was perfectly proportioned for its new life as a theatre.  It was discovered by two RSC actors, Tamara and John Malcolm in 1968 and after much fund raising, The Theatre was opened in 1975.  If you haven’t been, you should.  For further details of The Theatre and their upcoming season, please click here.

And for video clips of the dazzling Andrew Pepper, click here for his website.

 

Best of 2016 : 3 books & an exhibition

Looking back over the 32 book reviews I have posted in 2016, I’ve had a brilliant reading year : so much imagination; so much wit and adventure; scenes and characters that linger long after the books close.  If you follow my blog, you will know that I only publish reviews for books I would recommend and so my “Best of 2016” is really ALL my reviews.  Obviously.

However, if someone forced me to narrow it down, I would chose (in no particular order):

The Australian Urban Fantasy,  Vigil by Angela Slatter, for its dazzlingly inventiveness of plot and character combined with smart as a whip one liners.  My original post is here.

The intense, thrilling Nevernight by Fantasy virtuoso, Jay Kristoff, for delving so gloriously into the dark side of the genre.  The full review is here.

The fast paced and scary The Call by Peadar O’Guilin for its kiss-ass heroine and seat of the pants race to the end.  Here’s a link to my review post.

Although I didn’t plan it this way, they all have strong female leads and dark Fantasy backgrounds.  Whether it’s my preference or some 2016 zeitgeist, who knows?

And my very favourite visit of 2016 was to the extraordinarily inspiring Lost Library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, a fascinating exhibition, crammed full of gorgeous exhibits and helpful explanatory notes.  I could have camped out there.  My full review is here.

I started this blog just over a year ago to share my love of books and to create an aide memoire for myself.  It’s great fun to write and I find the quality of my reading (and visiting) has improved with the focus of this blog.   I particularly want to say a big THANKS to Emily at Emily’s Bookshop in Campden for giving me so many ARCs and book suggestions.

Wishing you all a productive and creatively filled 2017.


 

 

 

 

British Books Challenge 2017

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I have signed up to take part in the British Books Challenge next year.  The challenge is to read 12 books or more by authors from the United Kingdom over the course of 2017, review them on my blog, and link them up on the relevant monthly link up page that is being run by the lovely blogger, Chelley Toy, off her blog site: Tales of Yesterday.  The idea has been running since at least 2012 and is a way of sharing reviews and linking readers across the ether.

This year I have reviewed 32 books of which 21 were from the UK so I guess it’s not so much of a challenge for me rather I like the idea of connection … There’s also a chance to win as every qualifying review earns an entry into a monthly prize draw – ALWAYS an incentive 😀

I haven’t really fixed on the books that I’ll be reading but here are some I’m looking forward to these Fantasy novels in 2017 ….


December : The Burning Page (Invisible Library Series) by Genevieve Cogman.  January : Gilded Cage (The Dark Gifts Trilogy) by Vic James.  February : The Ninth Rain (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy ) by Jen Williams and The Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoria) by Anthony Ryan.

I am looking to add a couple of factual history books, perhaps a graphic novel, and maybe some new British poetry to the mix too.  As always, I will only be posting positive reviews as I feel negative critiques have no place in a site celebrating books.  I will have a separate page on the site to keep track of these reviews.

If you too would like to sign up for the British Books Challenge, click here for a link to Chelley’s sign up page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Snow Garden & Other Stories : Rachel Joyce

… intricate scenes in luminous detail …

For anyone who finds this format hard work and frustrating (like me), I urge you to try this collection of interlinked stories based very loosely around the theme of Christmas.  They remind me of still life paintings:  intricate scenes in vivid colour, with luminous details of bittersweet comedy and truth.

 

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Rachel paints seven turning points in domestic lives with characters and circumstances that linger long after the reading: a couple assembling a bike on Christmas Eve; the unlikely airport Nativity; a Boxing Day dance; a celebrity homecoming; the divorced father with his sons; a search for meaning amongst cleaning products; and tree planting on New Year’s Eve.  They are beautifully crafted with a wonderful humanity and very easy to sink into … Highly recommended.

Rachel Joyce is the author of (amongst others) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  She is the writer of over 30 afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4.

The collection was reviewed in the Observer yesterday  so click through if you wish to read more and the paperback version was published on 3rd November 2016 by Black Swan, an imprint of Penguin Books.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any details on the cover designer; I thought the snowflake motif works extremely well, better than the hardback design.

I was given this book as part of my Facebook Book Chain whereby I gave a book to a stranger and friends of friends of mine are giving books to me.  A brilliant idea.  I would never have picked up this book myself.

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