Tag Archives: historical

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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Love ‘Stoner’? Love ‘Augustus’ too

augustus-john-williamsA guest post by Ann Merritt

Many people have discovered John Williams’ fine novel, ‘Stoner’: a beautifully written novel first published in 1965, almost forgotten, then recently re-issued and attracting international acclaim. It tells the story of a young man from a poor American farming family who carves a life teaching at university. It’s a book of a life told simply and movingly.

But there’s another brilliant John Williams novel that some say it’s hard to believe comes from the same author. ‘Augustus’, the life of the Roman Emperor, is told in letters, despatches and memoirs. Thrust into power by the assassination of his uncle, Julius Caesar, the 19 year old Octavius pays a high personal price for the stability and prosperity of Rome and the Empire.

John Williams said, ‘I was dealing with governance in both instances, and individual responsibilities, and enmities and friendship . . . Except in scale, the machinations for power are about the same in a university as in The Roman Empire or Washington.’

stoner ‘Augustus’, published in 1972 brings the man and his era to life with immediacy and colour. If you think historical fiction bores with endless battles, prepare to be surprised and fascinated. Williams’ novels reveal that the exercise of power and politics remain familiar over the centuries because human nature does not change. He also recognises the universal longing for love and meaning over a lifetime. Both main characters, Augustus and Stoner, experience disappointment and loss but find solace and moments of transcendence.

So if you loved ‘Stoner’, Waterstone’s book of 2013, discover ‘Augustus’ too.

Ann Merritt is an avid reader and experienced English teacher with a Masters in linguistics. She is also my mum. 

If you would like to write a guest post, please get in touch!


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Hold Still by Cherry Smyth

Whistler_James_Symphony_in_White_no_1_(The_White_Girl)_1862My favourite genre at the moment is fictional re-imaginings of the lives of historical figures – the centre of the Venn diagram between truth and fabrication. Smyth’s novel suits my current mood beautifully. This is a fictionalisation of a few years in the life of Jo Hiffernan: artist and model. She modelled for  Whistler’s The White Girl (left), Courbet’s La Belle Irlandaise, and, probably, his sensational L’Origine du Monde. Hold Still largely focuses on her time with  James Whistler, spent between London and France in the 1860s; the fluctuations of their passionate relationship form the main drama of this novel. I felt sad for Jo at times, as her ambition is subsumed by her caring roles for her mother and then Whistler, but there are brighter scenes too and an uplifting conclusion. It is almost allegorical in its exposition of a woman defined by male gaze, yet striving for autonomy.

I adored the bohemian supporting cast and would have enjoyed more time in Rossetti’s back garden menagerie, where Jo ‘forms an attachment to a baby kangaroo’. Also, Whistler’s intolerable mother was a true highlight, ‘”Oh my dear, I do hope you have not been take in by that nincompoop Darwin.”‘

Smyth is a meticulous writer and clearly chose each word precisely. Her debut novel is  replete with colour, texture, depth, sunsets and heartbreak (professional and personal). Smyth brings Jo Hiffernan to life in a sensitive and skilful portrait.

Thank you very much to Holland Park Press for the review copy. 

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The Idealist

The Idealist

Jean Lopez’s historical novel is so compelling that I read it in one sitting. Based on historical fact, it tells the fascinating story of a young, idealistic lawyer, José Antonio, who became a fascist political leader at a tumultuous moment in Spanish history: the Civil War. It cleverly explores the relationship between personal charm and authoritarianism. His character is by far the most enthralling and best written in the book; I was less invested in the invented people. Lively dialogue and a constant sense of purpose and deep emotion kept me interested until the end. Short chapters allow the violence and drama to build at credible pace.

 The quality of writing is very high. The author smoothly adopts her characters’ perspectives to give their rich and varied impressions on people and events. For example, we see José Antonio through the eyes of several others, including his aunt:

‘But of course all of José Antonio’s girlfriends had been beautiful. Tía Ma would have been surprised indeed if they had not been so. He reminded her of a little boy collecting butterflies.’

The author has clearly done a vast amount of research; the authenticity of detail makes it an informative portrait of a time. However, the first part has a great deal of factual exposition to the extent that passages felt like they were written in a different style (closer to that of historical non-fiction). This amount of information is perhaps beneficial as it grounds the reader in the veracity of the occurrences, but I would have preferred the literary voice to be more closely maintained. Additionally, I found the epilogue to be too long; I have always been taught that epilogues should be brief. From a proofreader’s perspective, I couldn’t help but notice a few rogue punctuation marks. These flaws are minor and should not prevent anyone from enjoying a seriously impressive and accomplished work that deserves to be widely read. I want a whole collection of Jean Lopez texts to teach me about world history through her original and absorbing prose.

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