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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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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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The Stray American by Wendy Brandmark

the strayMany thanks go to Holland Park Press for sending me a review copy.

Larry is alone and lonely, working in London, far from his native Boston. He works at an American College, putting through jocks whose parents pay the bills and foreign students, desperate for a permanent path out of their homelands. Although he is a flawed character, he wants to be a good lecturer; he holds office hours every week, even though no one comes. Brandmark is excellent at creating little details that give characters extra dimensions.

He eventually meets Carla, who is tiny and artistic, and lives in a blank, white apartment with no blinds. The novel stays in shades of white and grey, resting in bleakness, until Larry and Carla visit her mother at the seaside. I enjoyed Larry’s enjoyment of its Englishness: how quaint and amusing he found ordinary things like tea and cake in the afternoon. It took me a while to hear Larry’s voice, but once I did, I empathised with him.

The Un-Americans are another colourful aspect of the novel; they’re a group of ex-pat Americans variously crashing protests to make friends and holding thrown-together Thanksgivings. The novel explores the timeless themes of identity and belonging, expressing how hard it is to find love, and friendship, in a new place.

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Mr. George Baker and Mr. Morris Lessmore: Two Perfect Books About Reading

Journey-2I’ve been planning story times for the library which allows me the unrivaled pleasure of reading some of the funniest, loveliest books around. Children’s books have to be succinct, and often have depth and moral messages. They also have pictures. I wrote a post last week for Momentum Books about the most gorgeous wordless novels I’ve come across: Silence is Golden: The Particular Loveliness of Wordless Books. These visual books are particularly good for people who have dyslexia or other reading issues. They are universally accessible and are undeniably works of art. Journey, pictured right, is a particular favourite.

Mr GeorgeHowever, I’ve also been reading books with words in them (the parents do prefer that when they’ve brought their toddler to story time). I like to choose books with the theme of reading, to doubly encourage it. I am completely in love with Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest and Jon J Muth.  Mr. George Baker is narrated by a little boy called Harry. The eponymous character is one hundred years old, a famous drummer, and going on the school bus with Harry, because he is learning to read too. It’s lively, beautiful and moving.

Also essential reading is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm. The stunning animation it inspired is an award-winning combination of Up and The Wizard of Oz, but for book-lovers. Like Oz, once colour kicks in it becomes even more of a visual treat. The book is retro, heart-warming and, I think, even better than the film. Watch the film though – it’s fifteen minutes extremely well spent.

Did you like it?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Things I’d Like To Own

The magnificent bloggers over at The Broke and Bookish have once again challenged those of us who spend our spare hours typing about tomes to create a top ten list. This week the topic is week book-related goodies we’d like to have in our possession. Click on any picture below to see its source. P.S. My birthday is in two weeks’ time. Just saying.

A book village for my ceiling? Yes please.

A book village for my ceiling? Yes please.

I need evidence that this actually works before signing the cheque.

I think I need evidence that this actually works before signing the cheque.

Alice falling down one's décolletage into Wonderland.

Alice falling down one’s décolletage into Wonderland.

A secret door in a bookcase. Preferably one which only open when one particular book is tilted at 45 degrees.

A secret door in a bookcase. Preferably one which only opens when one particular book is tilted at 45 degrees.

Because your bookends should tell a story too.

Because your bookends should tell a story too.

A wardrobe which leads to Narnia.

A wardrobe which leads to Narnia.

Sneaking off with a hollow hip flask book: 'I'll be right with you, I just need to go and have a quick read in the other room. On a completely unrelated point, does anyone happen to have a glass and ice?'

Sneaking off with a hollow hip flask book: ‘I’ll be right with you, I just need to go and have a quick read in the other room. On a completely unrelated point, does anyone happen to have a glass and ice?’

I would like a wall papered with maps of fictional places.

I would like a wall papered with maps of fictional places. Though perhaps it should be a mix of real and fictional, to make visitors wonder whether The Land of OOO may in fact be one of the Outer Hebrides.

An independent bookshop to run cantankerously. See Black Books.

A book ladder on wheels for my imaginary many-storey bookstore.

A book ladder on wheels for my imaginary many-storey bookstore.

In conclusion, I would like a tall bookstore with a ladder to climb, where people will come to marvel at my amusing bookends, fictional map wallpaper and recycled book chandelier village. There must also be a secret bookcase door which leads to Narnia, wherein I shall drink from my hidden book flask whilst bathing in a tub of books.

Do you fancy any of that? What would be on your fantasy bookish shopping list?

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The Best Valentine’s Cards for Writers

I was looking for one that said, ‘looking into your eyes is like getting a five star Amazon review that’s not from a relation’, but alas, these were the best I could do. They were all discovered on the craft wonderland that is Etsy. Click on any image to open the gallery.

 

What do you make of my choices? Could you write a better one? Please leave a comment below.

See my favourite Valentine’s gifts for book lovers here. If you’re not in the Valentine mood, read my post about magnificent single people in literature here.

If this has brought you any joy whatsoever, please like and share.

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My First Library

starry ceilingThe library of my childhood was a Gothic Renaissance mansion, designed in 1856 by Sir George Gilbert-Scott, the genius who designed the Albert Memorial in London. As a small child, I didn’t know this, but I loved the painted ceilings, particularly the starry sky, and I loved to run my fingers along the intricate marble fireplaces. It was a many-roomed house with heavy carved doors and close corridors. There was a whole room for the children’s section; I’m sure I read almost every title from those packed, colourful shelves. I was often unwell as a child, and those shelves provided a significant proportion of my education. It also gave me joy, escape and a safe place to be.

We visited weekly, at least, choosing books to read every night at bedtime. As well as providing the reading list of my youth, they provided my favourite hobby: library club. At library club, I was allowed to play at being a librarian. The real librarians, with their infinite knowledge and patience, took us behind the scenes, taught us to repair old books, stamp and issue titles, and gave me a pretty strong grasp of the Dewey Decimal System, that is, for an eight year old. 

library

The secret world of the library fascinated and delighted me; one of the happiest moments of my childhood was getting my young librarian certificate. 

Few places have had such a profound effect on my life. A couple of years ago, it fell into disrepair and closed its doors forever. I returned for one final visit to say goodbye. It broke my heart a little. 

The town has a new library now: it’s well-resourced, central and generally excellent. Yet, sometimes, I still miss my first library.

Print

What was your first library like? I’d love to know! Share your memories in the comments below. 

If you liked this post, please do like and share.

This post was inspired by National Libraries Day, which I urge you all to get involved in. Find out what’s happening in your local library on Saturday 8th February here

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books with a Single Setting – Brighton!

This week, The Broke and the Bookish have challenged us to come up with a top ten based on a single setting of our choice. I chose a place close my heart: the glorious city of Brighton and Hove, in which I attended university, met my partner and generally had a rather lovely time.

Brighton Rock beach

A scene from the 1947 film of Brighton Rock

Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, ‘“People change,” she said.
“Oh, no they don’t. Look at me. I’ve never changed. It’s like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton. That’s human nature.”’ 

From the TV series of Sugar Rush

From the TV series of Sugar Rush

Sugar Rush is a fun novel by Julie Burchill, who says:“When I came to live in Brighton & Hove, as we’re meant to call it, 16 years ago, it was like all my Christmases had come at once – even if they were covered in seagull muck.” 

Viaduct Road

Viaduct Road

Robert Goddard’s Play to the End involves the character living a few doors down from my boyfriend’s old house. All the cool people live in Viaduct Road. Another fun fact: my dad went to school with Robert Goddard, then known to all as ‘Bob’.

The University of Sussex campus: intentionally designed to look like a cat from the air.

The University of Sussex campus: intentionally designed to look like a cat from the air.

In Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, one of the protagonists works in the English department at my alma mater, the University of Sussex.

Vanity Fair

Much of the action in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair takes place in Brighton: ‘then [they] fell to talking about Brighton, and the sea-air, and the gaieties of the place.’

This is Nick cave assisting a local fire juggler new the Pavilion Gardens.

This is Nick cave assisting a local fire juggler near the Pavilion Gardens.

The Death of Bunny Monroe by Nick Cave (of and the Bad Seeds musical fame) is a sort of violent, 1990s Death of a Salesman. Nick Cave lives in Brighton and seems to like it now, despite past associations: ‘”Brighton,” he notes drily, “was where I used to come to try to get clean. So all I knew about the place was sweating it out in a hotel room for three days.”‘

I love this anecdote from one of Nick Cave’s book readings that his friend Will Self also attended: ‘There was a rather detailed question from the audience noting the similarities with Self’s 1993 novel My Idea of Fun (which also features a sex killer in Brighton, Self realises – seemingly for the first time), but Cave admitted that he hadn’t read this particular novel of Self’s and said to him in mock exasperation, “You could have told me!”’

The Brightonomicon

Here’s the blurb of Robert Rankin’s  The Brightonomicon: ‘Were you aware that there are, hidden in the streets of Brighton, twelve ancient constellations, like the Hangleton Hound and the Bevendean Bat? Well, there are, and on each one hangs a tale, a tale so strange that only The Lad Himself, that inveterate spinner of tales and talker of the toot, Hugo Rune, can get to the bottom of them.’

Regency ladies

In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia longs to visit Brighton, though Jane Austen had a pretty low opinion of it. She wrote to a friend, ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it.’ In the Regency era, it was where everyone went for a bit of scandal and debauchery.

Upper Rock Gardens

Upper Rock Gardens

Charles Dickens often stayed in Brighton. In Dombey and Son, the protagonist goes to stay  ‘in a steep bye-street at Brighton’, thought to be based on a house in Upper Rock Gardens.

I love being able to imagine the characters walking down the same streets that I have. Is there a location that’s special to you that you enjoy seeing in literature?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best and Worst Adaptations

This week I’m joining in with the marvellous meme invented by the clever people over at The Broke and The Bookish. Here are  my favourite adaptations. Click on any picture below to look through the gallery.

Here are my least favourites.

What do you think? What would be on your best or worst lists? Tell me in the comments!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Feature Travel

The geniuses over at The Broke and the Bookish host Top Ten Tuesday every week, encouraging book bloggers to share a list of ten favourites. This week I’m joining in! Here are my choices.

Books That Feature Travel in Some Way

What are your favourites? What would you add to the list? Tell me in the comments!

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