Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg


December 2016

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


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.



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.

A Curious Beginning : Deanna Raybourn

… enthusiastic and charming storytelling …


Deanna is the creator of the best selling Lady Julia Grey Mysteries series and my local bookseller suggested I give this tongue in cheek Victoria romp a go.

I really enjoyed the set up: Veronica Speedwell, intrepid lady Lepidopterist (cue scientific passages) defying Victorian mores (kiss-ass heroine) with attractive male companion whilst solving murder.  It’s a fun proposition.    However, after the first third, I felt that  Deanna had fallen too far over to the cartoon side of her creation.  There was little complexity to Veronica and much repetition of her convention-breaking,  no-nonsense approach to the opposite sex.   This, and the very broad brush strokes of plot building,  broke the illusion that I was reading more than a collection of fictitious characters being moved around a Victorian toy theatre.   And yet, I did read to the end because Deanna is an enthusiastic and charming story teller.  I hope the sequel, A Perilous Undertaking, due January next year, brings more depth to an enjoyable construct.

Cover design moment: A bold and attractive pastiche of silhouettes and Victoriana by Julia Lloyd makes for a bright and very attractive cover.  She also designs the UK covers for VE Schwab‘s A Darker Shade of Magic series, though I can’t find a website for her studio.

A Curious Beginning was published in October 2015 by Titan Books.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her copy.  Thanks, Em!

The Tempest : RSC Stratford

… stunning effects bring Shakespeare’s masque to life …


Masques, as Gregory Doran explains in his introduction, ” … were the multimedia events of their day, using innovative technology … to produce astonishing effects, with moving lights, and stage machinery that could make people fly, and descend from the clouds”  and with this stunning production, he succeeds in bringing the wondrous spectacle of a C17th masque into the c21st theatre.

The stage is an enormous ribbed carcass of a ship set stark and glowering against a changing backdrop which is used to great effect to complement the action with extraordinary skies and gorgeous apparitions.  In the centre, gauzes are dropped and raised showing drowning sailors, tree trunks and ghostly visitations; and amongst it all,  Ariel appears as multiple ethereal projections echoing his stage presence.  All of this is the result of a two year collaboration between Intel, Imaginarium and the RSC and it is a truly ravishing experience.

Unfortunately, I felt the director’s more unadorned approach to the acting of the play meant that the cast struggled to live up to their grand surroundings.  Simon Russell Beale came across more as a truculent and querulous Dad than a magisterial magician, though I must say, other reviewers found him outstanding.  Michael Billington in The Guardian, for instance, talks of  “his haunting portrait of culpable negligence and comprehensive mercy. ”  Read the rest of his comments here for a much more appreciative review of Beale’s performance.

I enjoyed the comedy of  Simon Trinder as a clownish Trinculo and Tony Jayawardena as the drunken butler, Stephano; and will certainly remember the opera singers, Samantha Hay and Jennifer Witton, playing the goddesses Ceres and Juno, for their spectacular entrances in the masque within the play.

I thoroughly enjoyed  this Tempest and I hope Gregory Doran‘s visionary use of technology will be the start of a new chapter at the RSC.  Ticket availability can be found on their website here.


Black Light Express : Philip Reeve

... high adventure and dazzling inventiveness …


Philip’s second book in this Railhead series continues to follow Zen Starling and Nova, the  almost human Motorvik.  His nuanced cast include Chandni Hansa, a “Popsicle Girl” because she was deep frozen in prison; the reluctant empress, Threnody; and the broken hearted Kobi Chen-Tulsi.  His individual style of storytelling builds sympathy and curiosity as they perform unexpected heroic acts amidst their bewilderment and wonder travelling across the New Worlds.  They  encounter terrifying aliens such as the deliciously feline Kraitt whilst all the time riding trains and running through Gates towards the mysterious Black Light Zone.

There’s a continuation of the gentle love story between Zen and Nova and the constant allure of the  Rail Network singing out across the galaxies but, perhaps what will stay with me the most, is the dazzlingly  inventiveness of his world.   He conjures visions of the mysterious Guardians constructed out of virtual code;  Uncle Bugs with his smiley face; and, as always, the sentient, singing trains of the Network Empire.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: A sequel to the first Rail Head design – again with the fore edge decoration – put together by designer Jo Cameron and her colleagues at OUP, using work by the brilliant Ian McQue.  You can see more of his work here.

Black Light Express was published on 6 October 2016 by Oxford University Press.  I bought my copy from Emily’s Bookshop. YAY.

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