Why Cookbooks Make The Perfect Gift

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Last month I moved to a new job, and as a leaving gift from my old workplace one of my fabulous formed colleagues gave me a cookbook. I suspect this was prompted, more than a little, by my poor showing in the office’s Bake Off competition, but as I flicked through it the other day I realised how great cookbooks are as gifts.

This got me thinking about Christmas, and the gifts I’ve got to purchase for friends. Some are hard to buy for, like my friend who’s a vegan and loves reading. She has loads of novels and non-fiction texts, so a cookbook is actually a good shout, and as the trend for veganism grows there are so many vegan cookbooks out there now. As such, I’ll have loads of choice when I go to buy her one.

It’s not just friends with dietary requirements that will love a cookbook this Christmas: they’re a great all-round present too. After all, everyone eats, and most people love food. Even those who say they don’t, and live off frozen ready meals and takeout still enjoy a good meal, even if they can’t cook one to save their life.

There’s also something about reading, or watching, someone else make food that’s so incredibly enticing. That’s why there are so many reality TV shows focused around cooking. There are also a lot of shows out there that aim to teach people how to cook, but somehow a book is a much more satisfying gift. You really feel like you’re the one doing it if you use a book, and the feeling of not having to rely on technology is also really lovely in this day and age.

So this Christmas if you’re looking for the perfect gift for someone special, or a general present for someone you don’t know that well, then choose a cookbook. You can’t go wrong with a good cookbook, and they come at varying price points; from full whack at Waterstone’s to older books you can buy comparatively cheap at the Works. There’s something for everyone and you can make someone really happy with a well-thought-out cookbook gift.

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The Regret Review: A Heart-Stopping Thriller You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

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Dan Malakin’s The Regret is a fast-paced psychological thriller about how far people will go when their lives are threatened.

The novel centres around Rachel, a young nurse and mother to a three year old girl, Lily. Her seemingly perfect life is interrupted by the possible return of her past stalker, who may or may not be the person responsible for attempting to destroy Rachel’s life now.

Having been sent to prison for being a paedophile, Rachel’s former stalker is seemingly out for revenge, as Rachel framed him when she couldn’t make the stalking allegations stick. However, as the book moves on it becomes clear that the plot is much more complicated than that and that the protagonist is facing something far more frightening than a man scorned.

Malakin throws in a lot of red herrings, including a sketchy boyfriend, his dead-beat best friend and a technological wiz kid with questionable morals in the form of Lily’s dad and Rachel’s friend. Throughout the novel Rachel and, by extension, the reader, are left constantly wondering who is behind the destruction until the book reaches its apocalyptic climax.

Switching between a third person review of Rachel’s life and a deliciously creepy first person insight into the thoughts of the person trying to wreck her life, the novel is deeply disconcerting from the beginning and designed to unnerve and frighten.

The author has clearly done his research, giving an in-depth account of how the cyber-crime is being committed. From hacking Rachel’s bank account and re-routing her money through to scamming the NHS into giving access to patient records to be altered, the first-person chapters of the novel are the most harrowing of all, and the novel is well worth reading just for them.

The only issue I have the The Regret is that I feel that Malakin may have underestimated victims of such vile abuse. Often they become cautious after such experiences, and would not be as trusting as his protagonist. After all, she agreed to have a baby with a man she barely knew, and then allowed her boyfriend of a short time to have a key to her home.

If you can overlook this major character flaw then this is a thrilling and, frankly, terrifying novel about how remarkably easy it can be to ruin someone’s life. The twist at the end is so horrifying that it leaves you literally wondering how you never saw it coming. Malakin is a master of suspense and really leads his reader on in this tightly wound novel.

In all, The Regret is an enticing and deeply-disturbing book that I would recommend for those looking to get some real thrills this Halloween and frighten yourself with a tale of how far someone would go to destroy someone else’s life.

Booker Prize Winners Prove Award Needs Categories

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Following on from my previous post about the Nobel Prize for literature choosing two controversial winners, I’m pleased to say that the Booker Prize has this year chosen two winners based solely on merit and literary prowess.

In doing so, the prize has been awarded to the first black woman in its history, Bernardine Evaristo, as well as the oldest winner in the prize’s history, Margret Atwood. Atwood won for the sequel to the revered The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, which was released in September, more than 33 years after the original was published in 1985. Evaristo won for her novel Girl, Woman, Other, a tale of a group of very different characters, predominantly black British women.

As well as being the oldest and first black woman to win, Atwood and Evaristo are also the first joint winners of the prize, which proves that it should definitely change in order to adapt to today’s growing literary market.

After all, this illustrious prize began in 1969, and since then it has hardly evolved. Whilst the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ might be said to apply to such a revered accolade, it could also be said that the Booker Prize needs to move with the times in order to remain relevant.

Whilst back then there were still as many books being written and published, there were many who would not have been able to get their work long or shortlisted due to racial prejudice, sexism, homophobia and other factors. Times have changed, and today’s progressive literary market, which is working hard to become truly inclusive, now has many books in it that need to be considered.

As such, it is my opinion that the Booker Prize ought to embrace the widening of its remit and the constantly growing literary market by creating a series of categories so that it can properly showcase the rich variety that today’s literary space has to offer.

Nobel Prize For Literature: Courting Controversy Makes Prize Meaningless

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Having been suspended for a year after a controversy involving a convicted rapist who leaked the names of nominees, the Nobel Prize for Literature returned this year and awarded the 2018 and 2019 prizes in the same year.

Last year’s accolade went to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, while the 2019 prize was awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke. It was originally predicted that the Swedish academy that awards the prize would avoid selecting controversial opinions 

Both nominees have had controversial views over their long careers writing books across multiple genres. Tokarczuk has caused consternation among Polish patriots for her views around Poland’s culpability in colonialism, whilst Handke has previously showed his support for the Serbs during the 1990s Yugoslav war. He also spoke  at the 2006 funeral of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of genocide and other war crimes. 

Previously Handke had called for the abolishment of the prize that he has now accepted, as he believed at the time that the Nobel Prize for Literature was just an attention-seeking exercise and that the awards weren’t worth anything.

However, his mind might have been changed by the huge amount of prize money awarded, which is nine million Swedish kronor, or around £740,000. Both winners will also receive a medal and diploma, and doubtless the awards will do no harm to their future book sales. 

As such, it’s no wonder that Handke has reversed his views on the awards, but I personally can’t help but feel like by selecting two incredibly controversial figures, albeit for completely different reasons, the academy that awards the prize has proved itself to be completely ignoring the author’s contribution to the literary community, and instead focusing on courting headlines and media attention.

Obviously, both winners of these awards have made incredible contributions to the world of literature, but the fact that they are both being recognised in the media more their political views and controversial comments shows that the academy’s decision has paid off, and that the winner’s opinions are more important than their work.

By selecting two controversial winners, the academy has made itself headline news again and ignited debates among many, particularly in the case of Handke, whose views constitute, as many argue, a rewriting of history itself. However, the author’s works themselves have been mostly overlooked by those celebrating or critiquing the choice.

In the end, it is my belief that if awards like this aren’t throughly researched and properly awarded for services to the literary market, then they’re almost entirely pointless.

The Top Five Monsieur Pamplemousse Novels For Those Looking For Cutesy Crime Fiction


Monsieur Pamplemousse

Michael Bond is renowned as the creator of Paddington Bear, everyone’s favourite Peruvian marmalade-sandwich loving bear, but he also created the enchanting Monsieur Pamplemousse and his faithful bloodhound, Pomme Frites.

Described in the novels as ‘friend and mentor’, the dog is renowned for helping his master out of scrapes as well as getting him into them in the first place. Pretty much all the books in this series are suitable for readers of all ages, but the nuances of language and subtle jokes are the preserve of adult readers in search of cosy, relaxed crime fiction.

A food inspector for Le Guide, Monsieur Pamplemousse has a tremendous appreciation for food, as well as some skill in detection. As a result, he is often called upon to investigate strange happenings that occur, often in or around restaurants and food suppliers.

For those who only know Paddington, here’s a roundup of five of my favourite Monsieur Pamplemousse novels.

5. Monsieur Pamplemousse on Probation: Caught up in a scandal, Monsieur Pamplemousse is sent to report on a respected chef working in a hotel and who is up for one Le Guide’s top honours. However, the intrepid detective soon encounters a number of unusual occurrences and guests at the hotel, leading him to uncover secrets that threaten the legacy of France’s most respected gastronomic publication.

4. Monsieur Pamplemousse Takes the Cure: Sent undercover to a health farm with Pomme Frites as the world’s least convincing guide dog, Bond’s gourmet detective is out of his depth with theft, lust and unexplained deaths to deal with.

3. Monsieur Pamplemousse Rests His Case: Having been invited to a masquerade ball in honour of author Alexander Dumas, Monsieur Pamplemousse ends up caught up in a mystery when one of his fellow guests is killed.

2. Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Carbon Footprint: With sales of Le Guide struggling in America, Monsieur Pamplemousse is given the herculean task of impressing an American food critic by writing a play. His theatrical debut goes off without a hitch until the critic mysteriously runs away, seemingly in a funk. Bond’s tenacious protagonist and his faithful hound are quick to give chase, and pretty soon they are waist deep in mystery and intrigue.

1. Monsieur Pamplemousse: As always, it’s my recommendation that the first book in a series is the best place to start. A humorous, light-hearted novel, this first book introduces us to the titular character and his ever-present dog, and explores how he came to leave the Paris Surete, all whilst he investigates a peculiar incident at a respected eatery.

Crime Fiction: The Genre That Transcends Class

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Recently I read a fascinating article by author Derek Flynn about how he considers crime fiction to be a working class genre. His justification for this seems to be that his work is rooted in his working class background and knowledge, and how many other authors incorporate working class characters and tropes into their work. 

Whilst Flynn definitely has a point, it has to be said that crime fiction isn’t strictly a working class genre simply because it often involves working class characters. After all, many crime fiction novels require those with limited money and resources as characters because of the nature of the work, and the nature of the story lines that the authors use.

In his article Flynn has failed to discuss the other styles of crime fiction out there, and how they incorporate just about all elements of society. From the toffs all the way through to ordinary middle class folks and beyond, class distinctions are a big part of crime fiction, but the genre doesn’t discriminate. It allows everyone to be a part for the simply reason that everyone is.

Everyone is the victim of crime, and as such every type of person of all classes, races and abilities are involved in the crime fiction space. It is true, the working classes are often incorporated the most on account of the fact that those with fewer resources tend to encounter more crime, but the genre involves everyone, and its diversity is what makes it stand out from other, more niche styles of writing.

Whilst some sub-genres focus on specific sectors of society, as a whole crime fiction is versatile and often contains people from throughout society. Whilst some other genres, such as period fiction, often focus on one particular class, crime fiction spreads itself throughout the human spectrum.

Overall, it’s my belief that crime fiction is the genre that can most be said to completely transcend all notion of class, as at its core the genre is about showcasing crime, and this affects everyone of all classes.

Alex Callister Interview: “Audio is a genre in its own right”

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Today I talk to Alex Callister, an industry expert on media, telecoms and internet stocks. By day, she visits high security web hosting sites, by night, she writes about a dystopian world where organised crime have harnessed the power of the internet and are taking over. Her award-winning books are the talk of the town, so naturally I was keen to find out more.

What is your background and what drew you towards writing thrillers?

I spend my day wondering and worrying about the latest internet developments. City analysts ask the question, ‘What if’ for a living.

What if you could murder someone easily and anonymously online? Would there be many takers? How would people respond? Would some cultures take to it more than others? What would it do to society? How would the government respond?

These were the questions I was turning over in my mind at the start of the Winter Dark process.

How did you get into writing? Did you always want to write?

I have always wanted to write Winter. She is my version of a Hollywood action hero – Bond, Bourne, John Wick, Vin Diesel, John McClane in Die Hard etc.

As a writer of both audiobooks and printed books, what skills do you need to create engaging content for these very different mediums?

You have to be really on your game with audio. Every word is going to be performed. You can’t have a single duff line. With print the eye glides over boring bits – audio there is nowhere to hide.

I have been really lucky to have an amazing narrator. I deliberately put in a range of nationalities because she is so good at accents. The twist at the end of Winter Rising came about because of her skill with different voices. I could see how the reveal would work really well.

Audio is a genre in its own right. It is like being told a story round the campfire. I am fascinated by what you can do with sentence length and rhythm. I hear what I am writing in my head: the rise and fall of it.

I had a great letter from a speech therapist in Florida who said she had been late for work every day for a week because she couldn’t stop listening in the staff car park. That’s the real challenge, to immerse the listener and make it hard for them to leave.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good thrillers and how do you incorporate these into your work?

These days commercial fiction can be quite formulaic. You need a hook, inciting event, reveal, surprise twist etc. When you are trying to get published you have to play by the rules. A good thriller actually makes your heart race while you are reading. That’s my goal. Not every scene obviously but most of them. Doesn’t have to be fear. There is plenty of erotic content in the Winter books.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

Lee Child has the biggest influence on my actual writing style. No one can touch him for tightness of prose. Mick Herron, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré are my genre. John Fowles, Angela Carter. Lord of the Flies. Fight club. Mustn’t forget Fight club. What is the first rule of Fight club?

Where do you take your inspiration?

The movies. Winter Dark is FULL of one liners! I also love fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Snow White and use a lot of fairy tale tropes – mirrors, pills, eyes, sweets etc..

Winter Rising is set in an old graveyard in South East London. The Guardsman has a particular gravestone where he likes to kill people. A real gravestone was the inspiration for this. The angel looks like it is weeping…

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Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I work at night 10pm – 2am. Put the earphones in to get me in the mood. Each of my characters has a signature song. I just have to play it and I am right back with them. Winter’s is Bette Davis Eyes, the Dean Ray version. It has this line, ‘Pure as New York snow….’

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

How to choose?? The Marquis de Sade? I would love to write a Terry Pratchett. Winter is basically Granny Weatherwax fifty year younger

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Winter Rising, the sequel to Winter Dark, is out on 1 October. It features the Guardsman, a classic character from a gothic horror. It is interesting to reimagine this kind of killer in a technologically developed age and to see what opportunities that gives him.

Are there any new books or writers are you looking forward to in the future?

One of Winter’s early supporters, Robin Morgan Bentley, has his debut novel The Wreckage out in February which I am excited to see.

Anything you’d like to add?

You can find me on acallister.com Thank you for having me!

It’s been a pleasure talking to Alex! Winter Dark was the Audible Thriller of the year 2019 and is published by Bookouture Jan 2020. Her second book in the series, Winter Rising, is out on Audible today- keep a look out for it!