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book review

Invisible Agents : Nadine Akkerman

… pioneering archive archaeology …

seventeenth century spies agents women

With this exhilarating and meticulously researched account, Nadine leads the reader through thickets of ciphers and pages of correspondence to highlight the contribution female agents made to the field of espionage during the seventeenth century. Most of these women have been been discounted or silenced Continue reading “Invisible Agents : Nadine Akkerman”

Wilding : Isabella Tree

… fascinating and thought provoking …

wilding wildlife rewilding ecology green nature

This is a fascinating and engaging account of turning a 1400 hectare West Sussex estate into a wild nature reserve.

Passionate, detailed and thought provoking, Isabella argues Continue reading “Wilding : Isabella Tree”

Fallible Justice : Laura Laakso

… tremendously satisfying urban fantasy …

fantasy fiction British wilderness

The detective is one of the Wild Folk, hurting and lonely in the city of an Olde London where magic reigns. Her apprentice is a Bird Shaman. They need to solve the murder and work out how the justice system can be corrupted before an innocent man is executed. They have five days.

Fallible Justice is a joy to read: intriguing characters and deft world building Continue reading “Fallible Justice : Laura Laakso”

Station Zero : Philip Reeve

… singing trains, strange worlds …

robot love trains

Once again we follow Zen Starling as he travels across the galaxy with Nova, the almost human Motorik, trying to work out their relationship – (How does that even work, a human and a Moto? Zen is asked.) – whilst fighting the Guardians for control of the Great Network. Continue reading “Station Zero : Philip Reeve”

Baking with Kafka : Tom Gauld

… a delight … 

zombie apocalypse skeleton

Baking with Kafka is a delight – full of whimsical musings on reading, writing and how to get a publishing deal after a skeleton apocalypse.

I can’t really do justice to the range over topics Tom covers with his clean, flat drawings and economical writing style so here’s some titles of his cartoons to give you a flavour :

  • War and Peace Clickbait
  • Keyboard Shortcuts for Novelists
  • JG Ballard’s Books for Children were not a Success
  • Dystopian Road signs.

Highly recommended.

Tom Gauld grew up in Scotland and now lives with his family in London. His work is regularly published in the The Guardian, The New York Times and New Scientist. To learn more about him, click here for his website. You can also go to the Guardian website’s profile of him for his latest cartoons for the newspaper.

But really, Tom‘s latest hardback needs to be bought.

Baking with Kafka, Comics by Tom Gauld was published by Canongate Books in September 2017.

The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens

… a fascinating book to curl up with … 

ghost supernatural spooks halloween

The Ghost is a thoroughly fascinating book which traces the development of ghosts from warnings from the afterlife, through escapees from purgatory and then the devil’s playthings and finally to delicious, terrifying entertainment purely from the imagination. Continue reading “The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens”

The Book of Lost Books : Stuart Kelly

… deliciously anecdotal & splendidly erudite …

book review lost books

Deliciously anecdotal and splendidly erudite, Stuart Kelly has written a crash course in the Canon via an Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read. From Greek plays praised in passing to the possibility of Sylvia Plath‘s second novel, from the celebrated Mystery of Edwin Drood to the fabulous Yongle Encyclopaedia ,Stuart’s charming and witty scholarship lets you muse upon what might have been. Perfect for bedtime reading.

I have no idea why I hadn’t heard of it before! Highly reccommended.

Stuart Kelly is the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday and a freelance critic and writer.

The Book of Lost Books (New Expanded Edition) by Stuart Kelly was published by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd in 2010.

The British Countryside : Are you Rustic or Lyrical?

Another trend I’ve spotted from my favourites reviews of 2017 is the artists and writers’ response to nature.

basic nest architecture poems seren

Are we down in the terrifying muddy ditches of the Cumbrian badlands with Jacob Polley‘s sparkling poems about Jackself : “By head-lice powder, Paraquat / snapdragon’s snap and rat-tat-tat / who’s at the door / of the door of the door / it’s Jackself in his toadskin hat?” ? (Every Creeping Thing in Jackself : Jacob Polley.) And dying, sodden and foolish, from wearing Italian walking gear in a collection of ephemera created by Rebecca Chesney‘s Death by Denim. (Creating the Countryside : Compton Verney) ?

denim

Or are we celebrating the lyricism in nature along with Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane in their stunning The Lost Words – a beguiling mix of illuminated manuscript and spell grimoire? And reflecting how nature can enrich our lives with Alex Preston and Neil Gower in the delightful birder’s book As Kingfishers Catch Fire. ?

Of course it’s both – but the oscillation between the two sides I find do fascinating.

I am also intrigued to find that most of these meditations on nature are through illustration and poetry  – as if the elusive quality of our responses cannot be tied down in prose. As Polly Atkins writes: “All I can do / is believe you will keep on being the warm / vaulting life, ravelled round mine, / although I may never hold you.” (Rabbit in morning in Basic Nest Architecture)

Wishing you all a very happy New Year.

2017 : The Year of Grimdark Reading

… fighting, moral ambiguity, death – what’s not to like? …

I hadn’t really heard the term “grimdark” until a couple of years ago and, as a relatively new term the definition is still fairly flexible. Wikipedia currently has this:  Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent.  I guess what sets grimdark apart from horror is that the supernatural element can usually be controlled by characters or is treated as a force to be channelled by these characters rather than being some nameless inhuman horror.

Three of my favourite reads this year have been set squarely in the grimdark field: their protagonists are not very noble, their worlds are dystopian with dark forces at work and the deaths are generally gruesome.

Strangely enough I don’t like horror. Never read the stuff. So why did I enjoy these books?

After much thought I think it’s a combination of the pace, the unpredictability and the black humour of this genre I love so much. Looking back over my reviews, I use phrases such as: tremendous pacey thriller, a beguilingly flawed hero, exuberant story telling and enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.

Two other favourite reads of 2017 could almost be grimdark for their flawed protagonists, black humour and dark forces.  The urban fantasy Corpselight by Angela Slatter with an excellent detective, Verity Fassbinder, set in Brisbane and the Young Adult novel, The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin which will be out next year. It is a delicious mixture of folklore, fantasy and horror.

Godblind by Anna Stephens was published by Harper Voyager in June 2017 in the UK. My review can be read here and her twitter account is @AnnaSmithWrites

Blackwing by Ed McDonald was published in July 2017 by Gollancz in the UK. My full review is here. Ed’s very entertaining blog is here It includes some great posts on writing and the publishing journey. And longsword technique. He is on twitter @EdMcDonaldTFK

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff was published by HarperVoyager in September 2017.  My review is here. For further information on Jay, his website is here. His twitter feed is fun to follow @misterkristoff

Corpse Light by Angela Slatter was published by Jo Fletcher Books in July 2017. My full review can be read here and her twitter account is @AngelaSlatter 

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin will be published by David Fickling Books in March 2018. My review is here and his twitter account is @TheCallYA 

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