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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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cover design

Godblind : Anna Stephens

… brilliant grimdark fantasy …

grimdark fantasy

Exciting and well written, Godblind proves that debut novelist Anna Stephens can handle a multiple narrative epic with flare and skill. Roughly in the same field as George RR Martin‘s Game of Thrones series, there’s much intrigue, fighting and moral ambiguity with some charismatic personalities including Dom, the reluctant seer; Rillirin, the escaped slave, and Captain Crys Tailorson. Anna is a fantastic story teller and the novel packs enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.

Having 10 characters’ view points was a challenge for me.  I would recommend choosing a moment when you can read a substantial amount in one sitting to establish as many of the characters’ story lines as possible.  In her blog, Anna reveals that her editor asked her to take four more strands out.  Thank you, Natasha the Editor.

As this is grim dark, there are some gruesome scenes including one particularly nasty sacrifice to the Red Gods  … so not for younger readers.

Recommended.

Anna Stephens works in corporate communications for an international law firm.  She has a BA (Hons) in Literature and a Diploma in Creative Writing, both from the Open University.  She has a chatty and entertaining website here where she reveals inflatable guitar playing at her wedding.

This is my thirteenth 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, it’s a riff on the final cover and there are no credits for the designer yet. If I do find more details, I’ll update the review. In short, I like it!  It sets the tone for the book: bold, epic and intriguing. With red and black tones and messy background,  it clearly positions the book as grimdark.  Whilst searching for the creative, I happened on this lovely “Cover Reveal” interview over at Fantasy Faction.

Anna has been in touch.  The cover design is by Dominic Forbes, the Managing Designer at Harper Collins UK. This means he commissions and art directs others as well as finding the time to design.  A small selection of his own work can be found here.   

Godblind by Anna Stephens will be published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins, on 15th June 2017 in the UK. Sequels are due for publication in 2018 and 2019. 

It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

 

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!

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!

 

Lost for Words : Stephanie Butland

… quirky and attractive first person narrative …lost for words
No doubt the hook for many will be the bookshop setting, but it’s the reclusive and intense Loveday Cardew which held my attention throughout this quirky and attractive first person narrative. Finding refuge in the second hand bookshop owned by the lovely Archie – who rather reminded me of Simon Callow in Four Weddings and a FuneralLoveday negotiates her way through a romance with the understanding poet and magician, Nathan, whilst trying to drop the damaged Rob. Stephanie manages the three timelines and poetry with a deft touch and the story flows along to a satisfying climax and ending.

Stephanie Butland lives in the North east of England. When she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. Apart from this, she has written How I Said Bah! To Cancer: A Guide to Thinking, Laughing, Living and Dancing Your Way Through and Thrive: The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer. She is my tenth review in the British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The design is by the freelancer, Nathan Burton, and he is credited on the back. (HURRAH.) I love his covers. In fact, I’ve even bought a book Radiance by Catherynne M Valente on the strength of his design. (He won the Academy of Book Cover Design Award for SciFi & Fantasy 2017 for it.) Further examples of his work can be found on his website here. However, I was a bit “meh” about this design. I can entirely understand the thinking behind it: girl reading in the shadows of a bookshop; chick lit approachability of the cream background and the funky lettering. It will sell the book – which is what it is all about, right? And yet, I would have liked something a little more spiky, a little more Loveday Cardew … but perhaps that’s just me.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland was published by Zaffre Publishing on 20 April 2017.   It was recommended to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

Norse Mythology : Neil Gaiman

… whiff of the mead hall …the sinews of something more …

neil gaiman

I was Sweden bound last week and so I picked up an airport paperback edition of Norse Mythology as suitable reading matter for the Uppsala burial mounds.

I have never really got into these myths, having tried them on several occasions in the past. To my embarrassment and frustration, I have often found Norse sagas lacking in emotional depth and far too beardy masculine for my liking. Nothing was ever explained to my satisfaction. So I hoped Neil‘s magic wand would wave some life into them

His playful re-telling of the stories with likeable characterisation and quick dialogue certainly makes the tales whizz by – and I laughed out loud at times which was unexpected. So I would definitely recommend this collection of fifteen stories to anyone who wants to know why these are loved so much.

Reading Neil‘s approachable version, almost in one sitting, I think I got closer to understanding why the stories are so resonant. Obviously, there is the romantic whiff of the mead hall and the long winter nights: a simple life where the main concerns are fire, food, death and sex. This does appeal. Yet the trials of strength, boasting and trickery feel like Viking “locker room” talk rather than anything more substantial.

However, on reading together, the collection grew in my mind to evoke a smoky, brutal atmosphere and I began to feel that these tales are the sinews of something more: a substantial body of imaginings which lie tantalizingly just out of each. Like true mythology, these stories don’t give definitive answers but prompt the reader/listener to more questioning and visions beyond the bones of each simple plot. So now I understand their allure to storytellers such as Neil: they appear to me to be a springboard for creativity rather than a completed work of art.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: The artwork of Thor’s hammer and glittering background for Norse Mythology was created by Sam Weber, an American artist, for WW Norton.

Norse Mythology was published in hardback on 7 February 2017 by Bloomsbury in the UK and WW Norton in USA. There will be an illustrated edition coming out for Christmas 2018.

Spellslinger : Sebastien de Castell

… a cracking good read …

IMG_2212Kellen is approaching his sixteenth birthday and it is becoming increasingly obvious he will not become a Jan’Tep. Unlike his sister who has the potential to be a magus; his friends, Panahsi and Nephenia; and even his rival, Tennat, none of the bands at his wrist have sparked so he will become Sha’Tep, part of the servant class.

Kellen, furious and desperate by turns, fights back using his wit against this high magic. With the help of a foreign cardsharp and a bolshy squirrel cat, Kellen uncovers secrets that will change him and his society forever.

Sebastien has created a cracking good read: clear and attractive characters set in effortless world building with a great narrative pace and lightened with some lovely touches of humour.  Its tagline: “the fantasy novel that keeps you guessing on every page” sums it up. Sebastien backs Kellen into so many unwinnable situations, I just had to read one more chapter to see how it turned out …

Highly recommended.

Usually, I edit down biographies in my posts but his is such fun that I didn’t wield the blue pencil quite so energetically.  Here’s the (almost) full length piece … Sebastien had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His debut novel, Traitor’s Blade, was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy and the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats. You can reach him at www.decastell.com

Cover Design Moment: There are two cover designs for this book. I am assuming I have a proof of the UK edition – which I prefer.  It’s a clear and dramatic design featuring a playing card design with the magical wrist tattoos Kellen tries so desperately to quicken.  The US (?) design takes the card theme further showing Kellen with his familiar, Reichis, and Ferius Parfax, the Argosi cardsharp, on the flip side. It’s still a bold clear design yet portraits of fantasy characters are always a problematic mismatch for me … they just don’t look anything like the images created by my imagination! I’m going to email the publisher to find out more details about the designer.

Spellslinger will be published in May 2017 by Hot Key Books, the teens and YA imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group. It is the first in a planned series of six books. Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her proof copy.  Thanks, Em!

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts : Christopher de Hamel

… 12 rich slices of history …

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707

With this book, Christopher de Hamel introduces us to twelve fabulously beautiful illuminated manuscripts describing not only their historical context but also the collectors who have handled them and the libraries they are now in.

Christopher certainly doesn’t talk down to the reader, even going into the technical “collation” or order of pages of each book, though he does try to avoid using too much jargon.  He explains in his introduction Christopher wanted “the challenge of trying to convey to a wider audience the thrill of … intimate contact with major medieval manuscripts”.

Like a rich slice of fruit cake, each chapter is studded with nuggets of history, encounters with library staff and expert musings on provenance.  It’s a book to be enjoyed slowly by a winter’s fireside.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts won The 2016 Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize (for non-fiction writing) earlier this year.  In his speech of thanks, Christopher de Hamel remarked that many medieval scribes ended the arduous business of copying a book with the words, “Explicit hoc totum, Pro christo, Da mihi potum“; which he translated as ‘Here ends the whole thing, For Christ’s sake, give me a drink’ – words that raised much laughter, and many champagne glasses.

Highly recommended.

Biography: In the course of a long career at Sotheby’s Christopher de Hamel has probably handled and catalogued more illuminated manuscripts and over a wider range than any person alive. Since 2000, he has been Fellow and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The Parker Library, in his care, includes many of the earliest manuscripts in English language and history. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society.

Cover design moment: The dust jacket must have been delightful for  Jim Stoddart, the  Art Director at Penguin Books, to play with.  Which images to choose from so many gorgeous illustrations? He shows a mastery of design by selecting a plate from The Morgan Beatus.  It is a charming tree full of birds, some feeding their chicks cupped in their nests which are balancing somewhat precariously on prickly branches.  They look just right for copying in a doodle or two and thus his choice exacts suits the approachable and chatty style of the text.  He adds a lovely detail to the top of the design: worn and slightly foxed page edges to hint at the many manuscripts contained within the one book.

This book is the eighth review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts was published in hardback by the Allen Lane imprint of Penguin Random House on 22nd September 2016.

 

Gilded Cage : Vic James

… absorbing and compelling ..

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Imagine a Britain ruled by an elite where ordinary folk – you and me – are condemned to choose ten years of slavery to keep the economy going. Teenager Abi has a perfect plan to keep her family together by working for the Jardines, a family Skilled in magic.  Only something goes terribly wrong and her brother, Luke, is sent to a grim Northern slavetown.  This split allows reader to follow both Abi and Luke in their different worlds: the luxurious yet dangerous country house of Kyneston and the brutal factory complex of Millmoor.

The differing stories of Luke and Abi, and the lesser chorus of four other viewpoints, threw me for a while, as I do like to invest in one lead character.  However Vic uses this technique to great effect and her compelling narrative and clean prose style makes for a smooth, fast read.  Add some sparkling secondary characters including Renie-rhymes-with-Genie; the pitiful Dog; and the  menacing Silyen; mix with a little romance and Vic has created a highly enjoyable adventure which rather catches the zeitgeist of an elite rich with a drone underclass  …

My only slight quibble is that the ending was rather ragged.  By that I mean consequences of the story’s climax are only briefly played out in this book with obviously much more to come in the second, Tarnished City.

Vic James is a current affairs TV director and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She has twice judged the Guardian‘s The Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpad.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a quarter of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015. Vic James lives and works in London … which means – HURRAH – she can be counted as the seventh review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The cover design is by Joanna Thomson, a senior designer in the Pan Macmillan Art Department – and she is credited on the back.  (Second HURRAH.) I loved the curly magical font and the strong, embossed silhouette of the cage.  I wasn’t entirely sure of the relevance of the black bird (a crow?) and feathers apart the overall sinister implication but hopefully it will become clearer as the trilogy progresses.  Further examples of her work can be found here.

Gilded Cage by Vic James was published by Pan Books on 26 January 2017.   It is the first in the Dark Gifts Trilogy which will also include Tarnished City and Bright Ruin.

 

Jackself : Cover Design

After contacting Pan Macmillan, I’ve tracked down the designer of the wonderful Jackself cover.

Naomi Clark, Cover Designer and Artworker at Pan Macmillan owned up!  

She explained the thoughts behind the design: “… the book has a cast of characters – plus lots of references to Jack figures – so Jackdaw, Jack-O-Lantern, Jack Sprat, Cheapjack. Our idea was to make the cover a kind of cut-out or pattern book – so that it would be designed to look as if you could cut out these figures and use them for your own little puppet theatre. The author was really keen on the jockey image as it has the vibrancy and colour we wanted to achieve.”

The “Jockey”  was one in a series of paper puppets printed by Franz-Josef Holler, a German toy manufacturer in the 1970s and 1980s.  I am assuming the images are from late c19th.  As you can see, the cover design is pretty close to the original – apart the the face and cigarette.

It’s such an arresting image.  The dismembered puppet body puts me in mind of a macabre butcher’s slab and as such, it’s very appropriate for this collection of poems.  My earlier review for Jackself is here.

If you would like to see any more of Naomi’s work, here is the link : http://cargocollective.com/NaomiClark

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