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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Month

October 2016

The Pen Museum

… quirky little gem of a museum …

pen-museumA quirky little gem of Birmingham’s industrial history, the Pen museum is a small museum in the Jewellery Quarter run by volunteers.  It is about to re-launch after a Heritage Lottery grant,  however when I visited as many  exhibits as possible seemed to be crammed into one room.  It gave the impression of a rather dusty but fascinating sweet shop.img_1870

Based in a former pen factory , the museum celebrates the pen trade during the 1800s, and the lives of the manufacturers and workers whose expertise placed Birmingham at the centre of this worldwide trade.  A guide showed us how a steel “pen” (the nib) was made: stamped, cut and rolled using traditional machinery.  During my visit I learnt that in the 19th Century, 75% of everything written across the world was with a ‘Birmingham’ pen.  At one time, there were around 100 factories in the Jewellery Quarter area. The development of the steel pen reduced the cost of writing and enabled the spread of literacy throughout the world.

The museum also houses a range of objects associated with the pen trade and the history of writing, including inkwells, escritoires and period retail packaging from all over the world.nibpacket

Well worth an hour of your time.  For further information about the museum and news of their re-launch, visit their website here : penmuseum.org.uk

 

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Blade and Bone : Catherine Johnson

… a thrilling adventure set in Revolutionary Paris …

9781406341874In this sequel to Sawbones (published in 2013), Catherine moves her characters from c18th England to c18th France and we follow the young surgeon, Ezra McAdam, to Revolutionary Paris.  Here, the English are the enemy and Citizen Renaud is anxious to involve Ezra in his reanimation experiments for which the “National Razor” is creating a steady supply.

In this dangerous city of harsh poverty and unpredictable violence, can Ezra find and rescue his friends: the impetuous Loveday and high handed Prince Mahmoud?

Blade and Bone is a thrilling adventure involving complex, believable characters with an intriguing background of c18th fact.  Catherine has a lightness of touch and she deploys her considerable knowledge to colour the story without weighing down the narrative.  I particularly enjoyed the dashing Lieutenant Colonel Dumas  of the American Regiment – a  real person and, as Catherine explains in her epilogue, still today the highest ranking soldier of African descent in any European army.  She has written more detail about the man here, in The History Girls blog.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: I loved this cover with its old engraving style and the clever use of colour to create a Tricolour impression.  The wonderful illustrator  is Royston Knipe.  His website is here.

Blade and Bone was published on 6 October 2016 by Walker Books.  

The Essex House Press : Court Barn Museum

… beautiful display of Fine Press illustration …

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This is the third in a series of exhibitions celebrating CR Ashbee and the Court Barn’s collection of Essex House Press books.  The press was started by the arts and crafts designer and architect, CR Ashbee, in 1898 after he took over some of the staff and equipment of William Morris’s  Kelmscott Press which was then closing down.

Like other Private Presses of the time, the Essex House Press was dedicated to fine hand printing in the face of the growing mechanisation of publishing.   Between 1898 and 1910 the Essex House Press produced more than 70 titles with some truly beautiful illustrations, some of which are featured in this lovely little exhibition.

Some of my favourites are here including Paul Woodroffe’s  1906 Frontispiece to duchessThe Flight of the Duchess by Robert Browning.

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 the end of November and the Court Barn’s website for further information is here.

Jonathan Dark : AK Benedict

… captivating supernatural crime thriller …

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Emily, my excellent bookseller, thought I might like this … and I was dubious as I’m more of an urban fantasy girl myself.  But, what a read!  This book is written in the present tense balancing the supernatural world of ghosts with the growing tension of a stalker about to pounce.  Its charm builds slowly as the book starts with a boiler plate policeman, DI Dark, who is nursing a broken marriage and a serious drink problem – so what’s new?  Well, quite a lot as it turns out.

AK Benedict deftly plays her stock characters and various strands: a blind mudlark, a vengeful spirit, a psychic funeral director, a criminal ring, and a taxi driving ghost around the main plot of a stalker planning to take his next victim.  DI Dark has already failed to catch this stalker and a miasma of desperation and grief hangs around this story of murder victims, brutal coercion and fading ghosts.  This is lightened by believable characters that linger long after you’ve stopped reading and a truly wonderful and intriguing Maria, the object of the stalker’s desire: “I’m a stalkee.  He’s not MY stalker.”; and her guide dog, Billy who huffs.

AK Benedict also has great fun scattering potential candidates for the stalker liberally around the story : is it Denver, the computer whizz, or Martin, the would-be boyfriend or some one else in the Force?  My mind started to jump with the possibilities.

This is a captivating supernatural crime thriller.  I was rooting for DI Dark and Maria all the way and do I hope they return sometime soon.

AK Benedict lives in Hastings and writes in a room filled with teapots and the severed head of a ventriloquist’s dummy.  Her debut novelThe Beauty of Murder, was shortlisted for an eDunnit award and is in development for an 8-part TV series. Her audio drama, The Victorian Age, was released as part of the Torchwood range at Big Finish while Outbreak, a full-cast Torchwood audio co-written with Guy Adams and Emma Reeves, will be released in November 2016.

Cover design moment: The designer of the smart UK cover is credited in AK’s blog.  He is the lovely Patrick Knowles who is responsible for the hand lettering and cover design for Ben Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London series.

Jonathan Dark was published in February 2016 by Orion Books.  I was given a proof copy by A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

Chasing Embers : James Bennett

… enjoyable urban fantasy with a dragon’s twist … 

Chasing-Embers-final-visual-600x934.jpgThis has a great protagonist, Red Ben Garston, and a mix of satisfying story ideas drawn from myth.  The story is fun, however some of James‘ more florid descriptions stopped me dead as I tried to figure them out.   I do remember some brilliant images though: a wizened witch’s lips being described as a “fish bone” DOES work!

I felt James deserved a better editor as there was too much back story slowing the pace and a whole chunk of substory (about 16 pages) which really should have been excised.

I’m sure the editing will improve and I’m definitely enough curious to read the next in the series … when it arrives.

Cover design moment: The first class UK cover design is by Tracy Winwood who may (or may not) be a British designer based in Winchester.  The internet search I did on her brought up next to nothing.  This is a shame as I thought her design is distinctive and has lots of legroom for development in a Ben Garston series.

Chasing Embers was published on 8 September 2016 by Orbit Books.  I was given a review copy by A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

 

Fated : Benedict Jacka

… a diviner with a troubling past and a dangerous future … 

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Alex Verus is the owner of Arcana Emporium, a shop in Camden Town, North London. He’s also a diviner with a troubling past and a dangerous future with a sort of cursed girlfriend and a habit of not taking sides.   Alex gets dragged into the middle of a treasure hunt with Dark and Light mages competing for an ancient prize hidden in the British Museum: a fateweaver, a wand that can control the future.    Ghosts from Alex’s teenage years come back to haunt him – and kill him – as he tries to protect the ones he loves and hold himself apart from the deadly competitors’ claims on his loyalty.

Benedict weaves a thoroughly enjoyable story with a likeable and damaged hero through to a thrilling and very well constructed end.  I would say there’s slightly too much explanation which began to slow the pace down, but I’m guessing Benedict’s writing can only get better.

A great addition to any urban fantasy shelf and, as Fated is the first in a series of seven, I look forward to reading more …

Cover design moment: The UK covers for at least the first couple in the series are by Sian Wilson. She is currently a Senior Designer at Simon and Schuster .  They really are good which is just as well as they have to compete with the urban fantasy bestseller, Ben Aaronovitch‘s, gorgeous covers based on a work by Stephen Walter. 

Fated was published by Orbit in March 2012.  I came across the book as the first chapter was printed in the back of  Chasing Embers by James Bennett.

 

 

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