Tag Archives: Fiction

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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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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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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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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Academy Street by Mary Costello

AcademyIt seems to be the in thing to compare novels to Stoner. Of the many titles I’ve seen with the ‘If you liked Stoner then you’ll love….’ tag, this is the most deserving of comparison.

It spans the life of Tess Lohan, growing up in Ireland (in present tense, like life is to a child), then as an adult emigrating to the US (in the past tense). It is written with beautiful insight and maturity, with the perfect amount of detail. Tess is quiet, even mute for a spell, and lives a sort of ordinary life. It’s hard not to love a character who reads: Tess “became herself, her most true self, in those hours among books. I am made for this, she thought.”

I didn’t love the ending, but I wanted other people to have read it so I could talk about why it didn’t feel quite right to me. It provokes discussion.

It’s one of those brilliant novels which shows how each person, however apparently unremarkable, experiences the full gamut of love and loss, tragedy and happiness.

If you’re writing a novel, don’t feel you have to write a hero, write a human.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The GuernseyWhat luck to have two writers in the family. When Mary Ann Shaffer became too unwell to make changes suggested by her publisher, her niece Annie Barrows took over. This novel of letters has many voices, but a beautiful and consistent heart.

A London journalist, Juliet, strikes up a correspondence with members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and becomes fascinated with island life during the Nazi occupation. After being caught out after curfew, the brilliant Elizabeth invented the lie that they had been carried away at their literary society, and the fictional society quickly became fact.

Although there are deeply serious events at its centre, the novel is gorgeously funny and chooses just the right character to tell each part of the story, the luxury of the epistolary form. The narrative unfolds compellingly, with small mysteries, a parrot, and an earnest child – a few of my favourite things! The island is the perfect location; a natural, if run-down, paradise compared to post-Blitz London. The ending is utterly perfect.

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Johnny Don’t March by Timothy Hurley

johnnyI may have mentioned this novel before, but it deserves to be talked about often. My current excuse is that it now has a striking new cover by the brilliant and talented S. A. Hunt.

Johnny Don’t March confronts the consequences of coming home that affect innumerable soldiers. Nelson’s faltering attempts to return to normality after the horrors of war are told with stunning depth and realism. This pertinent, extraordinary novel is moving and gut-wrenchingly good.

Read it immediately – Amazon.

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The Changing Room by Jane Turley

I proofread The Changing Room and worked on its Book Club Discussion Points and Author Q and A. I’m very lucky that Jane Turley sent me a gorgeous paperback edition last week. It’s a joy to behold and it was a delight to work on.

The Changing RoomIt is undoubtedly the funniest novel I’ve read in a long time. Jane Turley’s natural wit and flair for sharp dialogue make this an absolute pleasure to read. She reminds me of Sue Townsend, with a good dose of Rachel Joyce: all three have a gift for seeing the humour and pathos of everyday life.

“Today, I am in the changing room of my life and tomorrow, win or lose, I’ll move forward a stronger and wiser woman.” 

Alongside the classic British comedy are deeply moving moments as Sandy looks after her mother, who is becoming increasingly difficult due to Alzheimer’s, and loses her brilliant PTA frenemy to illness. There is a strong sense of social justice, responsibility, and the importance of looking after each other and coming together in times of crisis, as well as a lot of enjoyable silliness.

It is essentially a warm, genuine and life-affirming novel. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Changing Room Header

Available from Amazon in ebook or paperback, Smashwords, or Barnes and Noble. Please read and review it.

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A Clockwork Everything: Has Steampunk Gone Mainstream?

steam

Read the full version here.

Indulge me for a moment, my dear fellows, for of late I have been editing steampunk fiction. This is an undeniable pleasure as I revel in Dickensian English expression, and I have a penchant for flying machines and sky pirates.

Steampunk came to be in the glorious decade of the 1980s with an esoteric community of Victoriana-inspired science and fantasy fanaticists. It is oft characterised by a blending of Victorian styles and methods of invention with modern or fantastical science: steam-powered or clockwork everything. Steampunk has grown from a small cosplaying subculture into a popular literary genre and its imagery is pervading mainstream media.

e9f01Take Doctor Who: The new title sequence is filled with cogs and Victorian London is regularly visited, including encounters with automatons. The Orient Express episode certainly puts it high on steam credentials, but some purists argue it’s all steam and not enough punk.

Also on the telly, there was an episode of Castle wherein Nathan Fillion (who should be in all things always) wore the Dr. Grimmelore Superior Replacement Arm – and looked fabulous, as he would in anything.

nathan

Most people would agree that the film Wild, Wild West is steampunk. Most people would also agree it’s terrible, but that’s beside the point. It’s set in the correct time period and features mad scientists, extraordinary adventures and rather impressive clockwork nemeses. But which film managed to get steampunk added to the dictionary? To find out, click here.

The full version of this article was written for and appears on the Momentum Books blog. To continue reading click here,

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