Category Archives: books

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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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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What I Read on My Holiday

I’ve been away for a little while, holidaying here:DSCN0170

When I wasn’t promenading around the coast, I was sitting in a window seat, overlooking the sea, reading books, and relaxing like a sloth on a bank holiday. I generally like to read humour when I’m on vacation to sustain my good mood. Here’s what I read:

  • Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend is a witty, often silly sequel to The Queen and I. It imagines an inept republic wherein the Queen and her family are exiled to a rundown council estate. In this installment the opposition wants to reinstate the monarchy, but will the British public go for a royal family where Camilla is Queen? Another claimant to the throne also appears, Graham the board game enthusiast, putting a nerdy spanner in the proverbial works. Delightfully, Townsend also gives character and subplot to the royals’ beloved corgis and the local dogs, planning an uprising of their own. It’s proper fun holiday read.
  • A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French was unique in that I could take or leave the plot, but the characters were pure excellence. Chapters are told in turn by Dora, a facebook-obsessed, OMG-Mum-you’re-so-embarassing kind of teenager; Oscar, her younger brother, who emulates Oscar Wilde in everything from his speech to his cravat; Mo, their mother, a child psychologist who fails to apply the theory to her own kids, and is having a bit of a mid-life moment; and once, powerfully, Husband, who had been a background character for most of the novel. Oscar is undoubtedly my favourite. French has a fabulous talent for voice and comic timing.
  • Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth I started reading the first as it’s the book the young ‘uns chose for the library teen book club. It’s not that they need me to talk much (I’m just the moderator/biscuit provider) but I prefer to have read it so I can nod along and ask the occasional discussion point. I think it’s an excellent YA book club choice as there’s plenty to talk about: Society has been divided based on personality types – so there’s psychology, politics, nature vs nurture, government control, family or group allegiance and all sorts of themes. By the end of the first I needed to know what happened next, hence the other two. Has anyone seen the film? Worth a watch?

What do you think of my holiday reads? What do you read on holiday? Comments warmly welcomed.

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Your Next Favourite Series is…

Trainee Superhero! It’s like a funnier Ender’s Game, but in better outfits. It’s like a gender-balanced Avengers, but with more realism. It’s a superhero tale, but utterly original. My favourite thing about it is the names: The trainer’s superhero name is ‘Past Prime’!

Here’s the blurb of Book One (which seems to currently be free to you Kindle folk):

traineeI was five when the alien saucers first attacked Earth.
They tore up mountains and cities for reasons that we still don’t understand, killing millions of innocents. There was nothing our military could do to break the aliens’ shields, and we thought it was the end for Earth. The superheroes saved us, fighting back using technology stolen from the saucers. The superheroes are the thin shield that stands between humanity and Armageddon, but it’s dangerous work and many of the brave souls who fly out do not return.
I was chosen to be a superhero when I was seventeen. It’s not everything I had expected: my heroes hate me, my trainers want me dead and my team are misfits and rebels with dark pasts.
But none of that matters. I may only be a trainee superhero, but this my chance to get my revenge.
Earth needs me, so I’m going to end this year in a cape or a coffin.

Book Two is out as well and I’m waiting eagerly for the next installment. Download it and enjoy!

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