History’s Most Shocking Serial Killer Brought to Life: The Affliction Series by Romina Nicolaides

Bathory's secret1609, Hungary. Powerful Countess Erzsébet Báthory has been searching for an illiterate book binder to collate her journals. Why illiterate? So that no one will discover her extraordinary, violent past. Kati, a local peasant, has just the skills she requires. The girl is keen to live in the castle with the Countess, until the horrors of her employer’s habits begin to be revealed. 

Horror isn’t always my thing, but Nicolaides’ novels are something totally different. They transcend the genre with their gritty action and gorgeous historical detail. They’re macabre and evocative, and there’s book binding, which I’m very into at the moment.

Chillingly, the title character is based on the real Erzsébet Báthory  (click the link to read about her deeds) – reputedly history’s most prolific female serial killer. Her legend has long been embellished with vampiric overtones, and Nicolaides seamlessly blends fact and fiction compellingly (she has an academic background in history). If you’re tired of sparkly teenage vampires, this is the ideal antidote.
Vampire edificeThrough the ‘Afflicted’ characters (those who survive on blood), there is an exploration of morality, mortality and what it means to be human.

The second novel focuses on Kati. I don’t want to give too much away to those of you who haven’t read the first one yet, but suffice it to say, dramatic events happen, there’s violence, travel, peril, love, and a secret society or two: all the ingredients for a page turner.

I’m excited about the next in the series too.

If you’d like to try them out, the links to purchase can be found here. They’re astoundingly cheap so I highly recommend you give them a go.

Please share to help give this awesome indie series the exposure it deserves.

 

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The Modern Rap Fan’s Guide to Rhyming

I have a minor obsession with poetic techniques, rhyme schemes and suchlike. I also love wordplay. This gives me a whole new level of joy when listening to rap music. I’m always like, ‘Fierce internal rhymes’ and ‘Did you hear the enjambment on that?!’ The fun never ends in my house. This is my quick guide to poetic techniques that are in vogue in the educational medium we call hip hop music. You’re welcome. drake

  1. The Drake: Actually reputedly invented by Big Sean (who is actually medium sized for an adult human), the technique is to throw something on the end to be the rhyming word or phrase – a word that isn’t integrated into the previous sentence. See ‘Forever‘:
    She insists she got more class, we know
    Swimming in the money, come and find me, Nemo
    This makes every line a punchline; it can be witty, irreverent, and is a good way to slip in a topical reference (perhaps to a clown-fish-based Disney film).  Kanye-Creative-Genius
  2. The Kanye: The key is to find as many words as possible that rhyme with your own name and insert them as end rhymes in an A-A rhyme scheme. See ‘Famous‘:
    For all the girls that got d*** from Kanye West
    If you see ’em in the streets give ’em Kanye’s best
    Well I’m Kanye impressed. This technique is self-referential, perhaps self-mocking, and a way to marry braggadocio and punning in a meta society. Also, it’s an entertaining way to practise rhyming – look up your own name in a rhyming dictionary and go to town.
    Gambino
  3. The Gambino: This chap did not invent the rhetorical question; he’s not even the most famous proponent e.g. What’s a goon to a goblin? or Can I get an encore? However he often combines the rhetorical question with anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, to have a cumulative, powerful effect: See ‘Heartbeat‘:
    Are we dating? Are we f****ing?
    Are we best friends? Are we something…
    See also ‘Bonfire‘:
    You want to see my girl? I ain’t that dumb.
    You want to see
    my girl? Check Maxim.
    And ‘III. Telegraph Ave.‘: 
    Can we just roll with the feeling?
    Can we just roll for a minute?
    Choose a start to a question then vary the ending to have a hectoring, bold effect.
    nicki-minaj-whats-good_nu0iffukzj1qzwh14o1_500
  4. The Minaj: Go full meta and just announce what rhyming couplet you’re aiming for and hope the populous are happy to go along with it. See ‘Only‘:
    My man full, he just ate, I don’t duck nobody but tape
    Yeah, that was a set up for a punchline on duct tape
    She’s actually great at assonance (no pun intended), consonance and internal rhymes, but her ‘I’m going to include something about this because it rhymes with this’ speaks to what we all know poetry really is.
    kendrick
  5. The Kendrick: Mix every linguistic technique with extraordinary realism, conscience and a bit of free jazz and be king of everything.

Of course these clever souls use a vast array of techniques; I’ve just picked out a few that I think you should all try to employ in the rhymes (or poems or novels) you’re secretly writing in your bedrooms. You know who you are.

Are there any other rap or poetic techniques that are tickling your brainboxes at the moment? Share please!

 

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New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

newThis book is a celebration of the versatility of language: the neologisms and portmanteaus that have slipped into modern parlance. From the origins of the emoticon (in 1912, would you believe) to a glorious section on the symbolism of colours, it’s a lovely book to keep and dip into.

Did you know that ‘rock and roll’ is named after the motion of a ship? You roll one way and rock the other, which a chap thought would alliterate nicely in a song for a ship-based musical he was working on.

I had no idea that ‘zoom’ was an adjective, describing a humming noise, before becoming a verb in the late nineteenth century when cars and such came in and a word was needed to describe the way they flew by.

Nor did I know that ‘focus’ is Latin for ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’, which was the centre, the focus, of the household.

As you can see, I found this just the most interesting, absorbing thing. The joy of etymology is the mutability of language, and Caroline Taggart communicates this perfectly.

Are you a massive word nerd like me? Your best etymological discoveries in the comments please!

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Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose by Martin Davies

mrsThis is a brilliant second installment to the Hudson and Holmes series, and, rather appropriately, has a festive theme. The bulk of the action occurs between Christmas and New Year, so you simply must read it this instant to fully appreciate the atmosphere.

In this novel Holmes and Watson have been tasked with protecting the precious Malabar Rose gemstone, which a crafty magician is keen to purloin. When it inevitably disappears, said conjurer is locked in the midst of an escapology  trick onstage – how could it have been him? And what does all this have to do with a clockwork-toy maker, an Ealing clerk going missing, and the glamorous Lola del Fuego?

I think the risk with having Mrs Hudson being a smart cookie is that it might detract from Holmes, but i think Martin Davies manages to balance both; Holmes isn’t buffoonish, but he doesn’t notice everything that Mrs Hudson does.

I love this book’s wry self-awareness, like the moment when Flottie asks Hetty whether she’d like her to explain what’s going on. Hetty says that she’ll wait until Mrs Hudson sits them all down and explains it at the end – the classic detective-genre denouement.

I’m excited for the next in the series, arriving early 2016.

Can you recommend any other detective novels that subvert expectations? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

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Mrs Hudson and the Spirits’ Curse by Martin Davies

Mrs hudsonI love a bit of fictional revisionism, especially when women triumph. I am thus delighted by The Holmes and Hudson series wherein Mrs Hudson proves herself to crucial to solving Sherlock’s cases. Mrs Hudson and the Spirits’ Curse is witty, pacey and involving. The central mystery concerns a tropical curse, a series of locked door murders, and a rather shifty butler.

I particularly enjoyed the brief, unelaborated allusions to past mysteries she’s solved that are just casually slipped in:

‘Had she not realised the importance of the half-eaten omlette and the train ticket for Bodmin, we would never have discovered the bungalow near Scarborough, and Bertie would most certainly have committed bigamy with the undercook.’

What I love most about Mrs Hudson is that her domestic knowledge is part of her superior intellect: she sees things that a gentleman wouldn’t see; she has an army of grocers’ lads and errand boys to give her the word on the street. The juxtaposition of detection and domestic is glorious; every now and then she will whip out a vital piece of evidence that she’s put in the cutlery drawer for safe keeping.

As is the convention in detective fiction, the novels are narrated by an involved, but not titular character. In this case, the housemaid, Flotsam, which nicely mirrors the Sherlock/Watson relationship. Flottie is a great character: observant, sharp and willing to learn.

It’s a great idea, nicely done, and ideal for a long winter evening. I’m reading the next in the series as soon as I’ve finished typing this.

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Art of Book Folding

Do you disapprove of people who fold down the corners of the pages in books? Well so do I, usually, though I’m making an exception for The Folded Book Company. I love their intricate creations. Book folders use patterns, which are adapted to the number of pages in each book, with a specially created ruler to fold down pages to create a 3D design. Unlike papercutting, the pages are only folded so the book remains an intact object; you could still read it if you wanted to. This is my slightly wonky attempt. book folding

There’s a full range of patterns to buy on Etsy. I’m working up to the anatomically correct version of the above. 

They’re a lovely gift for the book lover in your life. Christmas is coming…

What do you think of folded books? What design would you make?

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Why Lewis Carroll Never Travelled Without his Portmanteau

portmanteau 1Portmanteau words are when two terms are combined to make one: brunch, motels, glitterati, jazzercize, puggles, ligers, sitcoms, sporks, keytars, jeggings, mocktails, bromance – all of my favourite things! Why make a totally new word when you can just shove two together.

Lewis Carroll utterly loved doing this. He invented the word chortle by combining chuckle and snort.

Galumph = gallop + triumph

Frumious = fuming + furious

Frabjous = fair + joyous

He also originated this usage of portmanteau in Through the Looking Glass. In Lewis Carroll’s time, in English, a portmanteau was a type of luggage which consisted of two compartments, folding into one. He posited it as the perfect solution to that moment when you want to say two different words at once, and a combination flows out.

portmanteauHumpty Dumpty says, “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word…Well then, “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable” (there’s another portmanteau for you).”

From the Latin for portare – to carry and mantellum –a cloak, the word itself combines two aspects. Although it sounds French, in modern French it apparently means hat stand, which is no use to us whatsoever.

The Internet is filled with portmanteau names for things – blog, Wikipedia, email, Skype, Pinterest etc. It’s a good way to name a new phenomenon: combining two familiar terms to make something entirely new, but please don’t push it. I’m looking at you, Sharknado.

Do you have a favourite (or least favourite) portmanteau word? Comments please!

Have you found this interesting? Please like or share.

2015 marks the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Find out more here.

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman

my grandmotherThe best thing about this novel is that it feels like a full on quest, but takes place in one small town. The eponymous eccentric grandmother has been telling seven-year-old Elsa magical stories throughout her childhood. Grandmother created vivid worlds, called The Land of Almost Awake and Miamas, of heroes, dragons and adventures that gradually show themselves to be allegorical. Real life with Granny is full of adventure too as she and Elsa break into the zoo, wind up their officious neighbour and shoot paintballs off the balcony. There are surprises, serious social issues, and an enormous dog.

Fredrik Backman is a Swedish author, well known for the 2014 bestseller, ‘A Man Called Ove’ which also has his brilliant blend of endearing, emotive ridiculousness, with underlying depth of meaning.

Have you read either? I’d love to know what you thought. Comments please!

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One Courageous Human Tries to Read a Book From Every Bookcase in the Library

manPet care, military history, even the reference shelf: this guy is going to read a book from each of them. Robert Sedgwick wants to expand his reading, and to promote his local library. He decided the best way to do this was to read a book from each bookcase in the library – there are 133 bookcases, by his count – and blog about it here. He’s on book 43. He has over 20,000 books to choose from.

As with any self-imposed Herculean challenge, one must set oneself some rules:

Firstly, he defined a bookcase:

‘For my purposes a bookcase is a set of parallel horizontal shelves with vertical sides. As soon as you cross a vertical line it’s another bookcase. Tables of books laid flat I will treat as one bookcase.’

Then a book:

‘I will only read English prose/poetry books, so things like telephone directories and dictionaries which are not meant for reading I won’t consider as books, likewise audio cds and recordings of people reading books are not for this project. If there are no valid books on a bookshelf then I will ignore that shelf.

If possible I will not read any book or author I have read before and I will select books at least 150 pages long. I’ll only break this rule if there is no other choice on the bookshelf.

My intention is to stick to the adult library and not to select books from the children’s section.’ I think it’s a shame about the kids’ section, but never mind.

He also states that if he is utterly loathing the chosen book he reserves the right to abandon it and choose a different title from the same bookcase. Very wise.

He began at the front door and is working his way around the library in an anti-clockwise direction, gradually spiralling into the centre. He’s been through true crime, thrillers, young adult and book of the week. You can take a virtual tour of his chosen library here  to get a sense of what he has in store.

As a person who works in libraries I have two things to say about this:

1. Everyone should look around sections in the library they don’t often visit – there are hidden gems and Dewey-decimal quirks that mean you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Ask the people working there for recommendations – we know where the buried treasure is (and we’ve read half of it)!
2. Also, keep going back to your favourite sections because libraries are constantly getting new books, either brand new or circulated from around the county. They don’t all go on the ‘new titles’ section to make sure you go to the shelves and see the older stuff too. We want you to take out a new book and an old favourite!

Much to applause to Robert for promoting libraries and reading like a champion. Follow him @1stofftheshelf and follow his library @DorkingLibrary.

dorking

What do you think of Robert’s idea? Could you do it? Is there a section you’d never consider taking a book from? Comments please!

 (This was first published here, and this version has some updates. I’m the author of both versions.)

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‘Peak’, ‘Peek’ or ‘Pique’ one’s interest?

taking-a-peakI think peek can be taken out of the confusion equation most easily. It simply means ‘a secret look’, and one cannot ‘secret look one’s interest’ and claim grammatical wherewithal. However, errors arise between peak and pique.

Peak is often used wrongly in this expression, presumably because it sounds like it’s bringing one’s interest to a peak, ‘a highest or maximum point’.

The correct phrase is ‘to pique one’s interest’.

Pique, in this context, means ‘to provoke’.

If you ever confuse peek and peak, just remember that peek is like peer, or see the ‘ee’s like a pair of eyes.

I hope this post provoked you interest. Likes, shares, comments and such will be met with eternal gratitude.

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