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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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young adult

The Burning Page : Genevieve Cogman

… spirited helter skelter adventure …

Irene Winters is back!  Attacked by venomous spiders and snakes and chased by archenemy Alberich, the Librarian is in a desperate chase to save her beloved Library51yi8uyo78l from attack whilst protecting her Victorian detective friend, Vale, and dragon assistant, Kai, from further chaos.  Another spirited helter skelter adventure through the many alternative worlds linked by the great Library.  I particularly liked Irene’s entanglements with Alberich, a truly dastardly villain, and her continuing balancing act between the chaotic Fae and rigid dragon characters.  Both of these add depth to the frenetic pace of events which point to Genevieve’s past work as a roleplaying game writer.

This is the third in Genevieve’s Invisible Library series.  My review of the first, The Invisible Library, is here and it is panning out to be an enjoyable sequence.

Cover design moment:  Neil Lang from the Pan Macmillan art department continues to produce the excellent covers for this series.  With their distinctive foil spines and Victorian silhouettes, they are both instantly recognisable and compliment Genevieve’s style.   A link to further work by him is here.

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

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman was published by Pan on 15 December 2016.  I bought it from Emily’s Bookshop.  Hiya Em!

 

 

 

 

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Traitor to the Throne : Alwyn Hamilton

… brilliant, pacey sequel to Rebel of the Sands …

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Amani is back, fighting against the odds amongst the deadly politics of the Sultan’s Harem.  Now a respected leader in the Rebel Forces, she is betrayed and ends up a prisoner in the Palace with her powers disabled.  This is where Alwyn really hits her stride and the story picks up pace with an intriguing thread about the three brothers: the Sultan, the Rebel Prince and Amani’s lover, Jin; and the overarching question: who exactly is the traitor?

Recommended.

ps. I would like to request a cast list at the front of the next book to navigate my way around all the characters and do recommend new readers start with the first in the series, Rebel of the Sands.

Cover design moment: Unfortunately there isn’t any trace of the designer on the review copy but the strong, vibrant design is as good as Rebel of the Sands.  The lettering and patterning are very distinctive and its unusual colour will help the book to stand out on a crowded bookshop table … which is the point, right?  (The US cover design on the other hand … hmm …)

As Alwyn lives in London, this book is the first in my British Books Challenge 2017. Huzzah.

Traitor to the Throne will be published 2 February 2017 by Faber and Faber.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her review copy.  Thanks, Em!

 

 

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.


 

 

 

 

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.

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 Call : Q & A with Peadar O’Guilin

I was asked for a review and Q & A with Peadar for a brilliant new feminist website called EtymNews.  Here’s the thought provoking result:

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin: the next Hunger Games?

Looking for another The Hunger Games or Divergent?  Here’s a brilliant Young Adult novel set in a dystopian Ireland.  Imagine living in a country where every single 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.  The odds of surviving this ordeal are improving through intense training in special colleges and now perhaps one in ten teenagers make it back alive.  Nessa is the girl least likely to succeed with her legs twisted by polio yet she is absolutely determined to be the very best she can be.  Tension builds as we learn the horrific fate of other students as they are “Called”.  But who will be next and can Nessa and her friends make it through?

The Call was inspired by the beautiful northwest of Ireland where he grew up but now Peadar O’Guilin lives just outside Dublin.  He has written plays, published short stories, and performed as a stand-up comedian whilst holding down a day job. I tracked him down to ask him a couple of pertinent questions about the book …

Q: Why did you choose to make your main character a girl not a boy? 

A: When I first started reading, female protagonists spent their lives peeping out from between the covers in the romance section of the bookshop. Now and again, a few would make the journey over to the SF shelves, especially if the writer were somebody like C.J. Cherryh or the late, great Tanith Lee. I loved those books, but took no particular note of the character’s gender, except to think, well, the authors are female, so naturally that’s the type of character they’re going to use.

My own short-stories had a few female protagonists, but only when the story really needed one. My default, even for the bit-players, was “standard” straight, white male.  And then, one day, the internet exploded with talk of “diversity”. Back in the beginning, the definition was so limited, it was almost enough for a book to pass the Bechdel test. But even then, the debate looked to me like a lot of angry people shouting at each other and I didn’t want to be involved.

However, beneath all the passion were a few arguments that made me question what I was doing. The main ones were: 1) The world is diverse, if your stories are not diverse, you are not reflecting reality. 2) Everybody likes to see themselves in a story, so, why shouldn’t they? 3) Every book that adds to the overwhelming mass of “standard” characters lends credibility to the idea that only one type of story is valid.

At that point I decided to reverse my previous default. I would always start with a female protagonist unless the plot demanded otherwise.   And that, dear friends, is the story of how Nessa came out of the aether with two X chromosomes…

Q: Many reviewers appreciate that there’s no predictable “love triangle” in the story – though there is plenty of romance. Did you deliberately set out to break the formula?

A: I didn’t set out to break the formula. I generally don’t read the type of book that has love triangles in it. I am always more interested in the life and death tension of a story, rather than the will they/won’t they tension. It’s not that I dislike romance. I am a human being who has tender feelings now and again. When I write romance into a story, it’s usually a fantasy I’m creating for myself, that I want to believe in. Love triangles only confuse my simple soul.

Q: Did you find yourself drawing on your own experiences as a teenager as you were writing the book?

A: Very much so! I went to a boarding school when I was Nessa’s age. I took a smelly bus from the same station as hers, following much of the same route. Obviously, the idea of a refectory, of classes and a dorm, are extremely familiar ones to me as a result. I also read some dodgy love poetry and wrote lines that were far, far worse than anything she quoted!

 Peadar O’Guilin

Q: The world building includes an Ireland being shut off behind an impenetrable barrier; a terrifying yet wronged enemy; and hard choices children have to make when they are far too young.  Were you ever conscious when writing of exploring your country’s recent past, or are the roots all in Irish mythology?

A: I am very conscious of history.   We Irish have seen both sides of colonialism. We were colonised, but in Scotland, and in North America, we were also colonisers. The famous US general, Sheridan, often misquoted as saying “The only good injun’s a dead injun”, was of Irish stock. Almost every human being alive today lives where they do because their ancestors drove out somebody else. The fact that the concept is right there in the Book of Conquests is just a reflection of how long we have been doing this to each other.  Ethnic cleansing is a horrible practice that I hope we are starting to grow out of. But the consequences live on a long time after the crimes, and in a way, that’s what my book is about.

Peadar O’Guilin has written an intense and thrilling story which is definitely my favourite Young Adult novel of the year so far.  With a deft touch, Peadar builds very genuine, complex characters with a great deal of humour and humanity. 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.

So, with the nights drawing in … why not treat yourself to a fresh, thought provoking, and really scary story?

David Fickling Books; 01 Sep 2016; Hardback; £10.99

The Graces : Laure Eve

graces… brilliant thriller of claustrophobic relationships and dark magic …

This is a brilliantly constructed thriller of claustrophobic teenage relationships interwoven with dark magic.  It is written from the point of view of River who comes to live in a Cornish town and slowly, inextricably, gets drawn into the allure of the beautiful, self-assured Grace family.

I particularly liked the extremely well drawn character development of River.  She is not an entirely sympathetic figure – there are hints about her past – but River grows into a courageous teenager with a dogged self belief: “we can fix this, right?”

Laure has an intense, fluid narrative style which gets the reader very close to River’s hopes and anxieties whilst keeping the plot racing along through a thicket of lies and deceit to an intense climax  – definitely one of my favourite reads of 2016.

I only have one quibble: there was an elemental strand which didn’t mesh very tightly with the rest of the story and was an unnecessary distraction.  I also feel the book has a weak cover design – the US cover is slightly better.  (But cover designs in general may be a topic for a completely different post … !)

The Graces will be published in September 2016.  The writer has a background in YA publishing; her first novel, Fearsome Dreamer, was longlisted for the Branford Boase Children’s Prize and Waterstone’s Children’s Prize.   On the strength of The Graces, I’m now off to buy it.

NB: I would say this is firmly older YA with descriptions of rebellious British teenagers, ie a bit of swearing and quite a lot of underage drunkenness.

Chasing the Stars : Malorie Blackman

… love story, whodunit, psychological thriller in space …

This is a great read.  It’s a love story, a whodunit and a psychological thriller set on a space ship fleeing across28693621 enemy territory.  The narrative races away from the start with a splendid jeopardy piece showing the protagonist, Vee, as a very determined and compassionate girl – and the pace rarely slackens.   Sudden “accidents” and personal tensions amongst the desperate crew grow to a satisfying conclusion – and the hint of a sequel.

The story is told through the entwined narratives of the main characters, Vee and Nathan.  This approach gives the reader delicious insights, and humour, into the many misunderstandings  of their love affair.

I also enjoyed Malorie’s light referencing of multi-ethnicity, the class divisions and her take on marriage!

NB: There are some sex scenes – not too graphically  biological …but definitely a Young Adult book.

 

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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