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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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children

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!

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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!

 

Judging a Book by its Cover : Favourite Designs of 2016

I’ve been blogging for just about a year now and, during this time, I am gradually appreciating just how important the cover designs are and just how much thought goes into each one.   So I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate some of the truly brilliant covers that have passed through my hands.  My favourites complement their novel’s theme and genre whilst creating a stand out design to attract the browsing customer.

In no particular order, my top five are:

Beetle Boy by  M.G. Leonard.  These gorgeous illustrations are by Barcelona illustrator, Julia Sarda Portabella.  A link to her website is here.  I love the whole joie de vivre of the concept including the fore edge decoration – which is an added bonus.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.   The UK cover was designed by Cherie Chapman from the Harper Fiction team featuring an illustration by Philippines-based artist, Kerby Rosanes; it’s absolutely brilliant.  A real asset to the novel.  Here’s a link to Jay’s blog post where Cherie describes the design process.  I think it is so much better than the US design.

Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson.   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.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl.   With Peter’s visual background in animation, it’s not surprising that the book has a great cover created by Kath Millichope, Fiction Designer at Usbourne.  There’s a lovely post by Middle Grade Strikes Back which includes an interview by Kath and the design animated by Peter.  The illustrations are by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.  You can see more of it here.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I thought, on first picking it up, this was an old Fifties style design.  Of course, it’s a stylish remake by the Italian twin sisters, Anna and Elena Balbusso.  Their website is here.

Cogheart : Peter Bunzl

… a riveting good read …

I love it when I can relax into a story, enjoying the easy ride of a born story teller.  Cogheart is just that type of book.   With a host of clockwork mechanicals, including Mrs Rust and Mr Wingnut and a stubborn fox mechanimal, Lily and Robert race through a thrilling plot, fighting  deliciously sinister mirror eyed villains towards a tremendous finale full of airship chases and clockwork skullduggery.

cogheart

Peter Bunzel spins a well constructed story with immaculate pacing and lovely plot twists which create various anticipations to savour for a sharp eyed reader.  Nothing  is wasted or extraneous, though Peter takes time to add decorative Steampunky flourishes.   It’s a great fun and I highly recommend it – probably in the 9 to 12 age range.

Cogheart is Peter Bunzl’s debut novel. He is a successful animator working on commercials, promos and 2 BAFTA winning kids’ TV shows. He has also written and directed several short films.  This is why there’s a delightful mini website for this book: cogheart.com and some FREE gifs on offer.

Cover design moment: With Peter’s visual background, it’s not surprising that Cogheart has a great cover, map and occasional illustrations by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.

Cogheart was published on 1st September 2016 by Usborne and recommended to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

The King’s Revenge : Philip Womack

… exhilarating quest, resonating myth and rich characters  …

This is the concluding part of Philip’s fantasy trilogy, The Darkening Path.  Simon and Flora have saved their siblings and now the four children and their companions are in a desperate race to reverse the Broken King’s trap which has severed the connection between the worlds.

8727446Set in the mysterious and fantastical Silver Kingdom, the quest rattles along at a tremendous pace and is studded with some marvellous scenes (joining a Roman legion, anyone?) and characters (the huge bat-crab creature is a favourite).  It has a exhilarating conclusion with an unexpected, yet satisfying, twist.

Philip’s deft use of mythic images sets strong themes resonating throughout the novel whilst the delicate interplay of the different characters, and their gradual character development, keeps the emotional side of the story alive with possibility and significance.

Definitely to be recommended for lovers of fantasy, The King’s Revenge is pitched at 11+ readers and was published in paperback on 16 June 2016 by Troika Books.

Many thanks, Troika Books, for the review copy.

Erasmus Darwin House

A charming museum that carries a delightful punch …

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Lunar Society, I popped into one of my favourite little museums of the Midlands: Erasmus Darwin House opposite Lichfield Cathedral. Erasmus was the grandfather of Charles anda successful doctor, scientist and poet.  This free museum, set in his private house, has a suitably eclectic and very hands-on approach to this c18th polymath.IMG_1460

There’s the Inventions Room where you can play with his Speaking Machine and Canal Lift; the Study with its Evolution Game and a working microscope; and the Exhibition Room where you can dress up as a Georgian.  Great for children and curious adults alike.

For more information about the museum and the events it is running, click HERE.

 

 

Kindred Spirits : Rainbow Rowell

A brilliant firecracker of a read …

I don’t usually venture far into straight Young Adult territory but picked this slim World Book Day story up whilst I was helping out at Emily’s bookshop (@afestivalofbook) and, as it happenskindred to be the 4th May, it seemed appropriate to post this short review .

When Elena joins the queue outside the cinema waiting for the new Star Wars film, she really thought she would be part of a big excited crowd of fans.  But there are only three of them waiting and sleeping on the pavement for the four days before opening: Troy, Gabe and Elena. Is her Mum going to pick her up?  Can she really pee in a cup?  And what is it with Gabe?

A real blast and a great advert for her longer novels.

 

The Dream Snatcher : Abi Elphinstone

… a great adventure from a wonderful storyteller …

As fierce as her wildcat companion, Moll fights the terrifying dark magic which is calling dreamsnatcto her through dreams.

This is a great adventure story which rattles along at a tremendous pace.  Abi is a wonderful storyteller who can conjure up Moll’s forest world with an array of characters, painted with a few memorable brushstrokes: Siddy with his worm, Porridge the Second; Hard Times Bob and the sturdy Oak.

I particularly liked the gypsy atmosphere and manner of speaking which adds a unique charm to the book.  The sequel, The Shadow Keeper, is out now.

Some of the passages are very dark and may frighten some more nervous readers …

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.

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