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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Month

March 2016

The Shepherd’s Crown : Terry Pratchett

Please note : This review includes a couple of spoilers.

… brilliant cast and astute humanity

I wanted to add a couple of things to the many reviews of Terry’s elegiac last Discworld novel.  What stands out for me always in his books is his brilliant cast and his astute humanity.

9780857534811Lord and Ladies, his reinterpretation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, is one of my very favourite DiscWorld novels and so I was delighted by the Elves’ return.  I love his reversal of this race with their unprincipled, vicious glamour so akin to modern celebrity culture; and his parallel championing of the strong minded honest folk: midwives, shepherds, blacksmiths over the weaker kings and queens.

After focussing for so long on strong women in his latter books, it is also lovely to be introduced to Geoffrey, the apprentice witch with his unique calm-weaving ability; and Mr Sideways and the magic of the man-shed.

As Antonia Byatt mentioned in her Guardian review :“Something I came to love about Pratchett was his inability to go on disliking either a character or a race.”  It was fascinating to watch Tiffany carefully teaching Nightshade, ex-Queen of the Elves, why is matters to be kind and thoughtful; and I was delighted, though not entirely surprised, by the sudden bravery of the irritating Letice Earwig.

I was also going to point out Terry’s art of not saying too much about some of the characters, for example: You, the enigmatic white cat, which adds to the reading pleasure. However I have since learnt that there is a story behind Granny Weatherwax’s familiar.   Back in August 2015, Neil Gaiman’s revealed a plot layer that was never included because time ran out.  Click here for a link to this article if you are interested … which I suggest you read after reading the book.

 

 

 

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Beetle Boy : MG Leonard

… sparkling  adventure with added beetle …

I thoroughly enjoyed this sparkling and inventive adventure story surrounding a sealed room mystery.  How could  Bartholomew Cuttle disappear from the locked Coleoptera collection room in the Natural History beetleforeedgeMuseum?  His son, Darkus, along with friends, Virginia and Bertolt, set out to solve the conundrum.  Confronting a couple of grotesque pantomime villains, Pickering and Humphrey, and foiling the Cruella de Ville-esque, Lucretia Cutter, along the way.

The real stars, of course, are the beetles: Baxter, the rhinoceros beetle who is featured on the front cover; Newton, the firefly; Marvin, the frog-legged leaf beetle, and the unforgettable insect fashionista, Hepburn.

I was beguiled by the blossoming camaraderie between the beetles and children as the story enfolds to a satisfying conclusion … with a sequel, Beetle Queen, on its way.

I really must mention the fore-edge decoration on the paperback which is a delight.  Well done to Chicken House Books and Studio Helen for such a charming touch.

Beetle Boy is published by Chick House Books, March 2016.

The Call : Peadar O’Guilin

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… thrilling novel which is very difficult to put down …

Imagine a world where every teenager gets The Call.  Without warning, you are transported to the baroque horrors of the Grey Lands where the vengeful Sidhe hunt you for sport, killing you or worse.  Much worse.

Nessa is the girl least likely to make it with her twisted legs yet she is absolutely determined to be the very best she can be.  In the Boyle Survival College, where they are all drilled with mock hunts and with fragmentary reports of the Sidhe, Nessa refuses to let herself be distracted by handsome Anto, her best friend and bolshy Megan, or bully boy Connor.

The tension builds as we learn in separate chapters of the fate of other students as they are Called.  Each desperate chase lasts for a day in the Grey Lands but only 3 minutes and 40 seconds in our world.  The horrors are truly disturbing and so this book is Young Adult rather than a Pre-Teen choice.  The odds are improving through the intense training and now perhaps one in ten teenagers survive.  But who will be next and can Nessa and her friends make it through?

This is an intense and thrilling novel which is very difficult to put down once you’ve started.  With a deft touch, O’Guilin builds very genuine, complex characters with a great deal of humour and humanity.  I particularly liked the febrile, hothouse atmosphere of the Survival College with its friendships, rebelliousness and romance.   And most of all I loved Nessa: her unfailing determination, her unflinching honesty about her condition, her fierce friendships and, ultimately, her strength of purpose which shines through at the tremendous climax.

I look forward to its sequel, The Cauldron, with impatience.

Down Station : Simon Morden

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“an intriguing world of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences”

Escaping from an underground fire and certain death, Mary, Dalip and Stanislav are thrown together into another place.   With its uncanny skies, weird beasts and barely touched landscape, they find themselves in a lush green country sparsely populated by people who are carving their own rules.

The door they came through has disappeared and they have to make their own way in this strange land and, perhaps, create new futures for themselves: Dalip, the honourable Sikh engineer; Mary, the belligerent East End girl; and Stanislav, the workman with his murky, military past.

In “Down,” information is power and can be withheld or even stolen.  Can they trust the Wolfman’s directions ?  Who is the imperious Geomancer?  Will the mysterious man called Crows help them?

The story is told through Dalip and Mary’s eyes and I particularly enjoyed their characters’ evolution through the book from bewildered strangers to certain heroes.  But the star of the book is “Down” itself.  Morden gradually builds an intriguing world full of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences; the drumbeat of danger gets louder when, like the landscape, events start to creep up and multiply.  Revelations start slow and get faster as the plot twists the narrative awry to end in a tense and thrilling conclusion.  Recommended.

Simon won the Philip K Dick Award in 2012 for  The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy.

Published in February 2016 by Gollancz.

Beetle Jewellery

42525194_pI was listening to an episode of Radio 4’s Natural Histories on Beetles (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05w9l9z) and was fascinated to learn that live beetles have been used as jewellery – with little chain leads and gemstones glued to their backs.  Horrific, yet I can see the allure.

image3444Shiny and iridescent, certain large beetles do look like gem stones but it is not only their beauty which evokes such a comparison.  Surely it is also to do with their miniature perfection, the extreme compaction of so much energy and their transformative nature which makes me think beetles are Nature’s jewels.

 

Bullet Catcher : Joaquin Lowe

getimage_195_300_c1_center_center_0_0_1 (1)If there’s a debt to be paid, it’s to oneself.

Imma’s parents are dead and her beloved brother, Nikko, has run from the orphanage; now she must find her own way.  Imma becomes entangled in a world of obligations, betrayals, and no second chances.   Through the harsh deserts and mean water parched towns, she learns how to catch and deflect bullets  … and she learns much, much more: about life and honesty, about the desert and death.

If all of this sounds a little heavy, Imma’s searing honesty and determination made me really want her to succeed and the plot twists and turns like a rattlesnake to a satisfying climax.  There’s a well drawn cast of secondary characters including the mentor, the Bullet Catcher; an old Gunslinger, Hartright; the beloved Nikko and his friend, Cloak.

The book is full of beautiful descriptions and deftly worded images which makes it a pleasure to read.  I enjoyed being absorbed into the Bullet Catcher’s world where a girl learns what it is to decide between hard choices and where Imma finally realises: If there’s a debt to be paid, it’s only to oneself.

Out in paperback 4 Feb 2016 published by Hot Key Books.

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