New Cambridge Murder Mystery Ready To Preorder

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Following on from my interview with Charlot King, I’m pleased to announce that she’s got a new book coming out soon called A Christmas Mystery. 

I’m a recent convert to festive themed books, so I’m very excited for this upcoming novel, which is the forth in her Cambridge Murder Mysteries series.

In the latest instalment in the series, protagonist Professor Elizabeth Green, a professor of poisons, attempts to solve murders before everyone opens their presents on Christmas Day. As her peers are found dead in the College, the professor has her hands full trying to uncover the truth.

The new book will be available in Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge, this Christmas, joining Charlot’s other three books, Poison, Cursed and Blood Moon. You can preorder it on Amazon HERE.

Addressed To Kill Review: A Creepy Christmas Crime Story

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The newest instalment in the Inspector Stark novels features a chilling Christmas mystery, as Keith Wright delivers another thrilling instalment in this incredible series.

In 1987 Inspector Stark is gearing up for another busy Christmas, having just enjoyed his station’s festive shindig, when on Christmas Eve the body of a young woman is found having been brutally raped and murdered in a park.

Switching between viewpoints, Wright paints a picture of a deeply twisted murderer with a strange modus operandi revolving around toying with his victims before raping and brutally murdering them.

As such, Stark and his team are forced to spend the festive season battling to find the culprit before he attacks again. With many leads to follow and a variety of red herrings put in their way, the team have their work cut out if they want to uncover the truth.

Wright isn’t afraid to delve into the gritty details of sordid crimes such as this, and as such this book, much like the others in the series, has many enticing details that will engage and thrill crime fiction fans. For those who love reading creepy, dark novels full of suspense, this is the book for you this winter.

It’s not as atmospheric as it could be, but Wright has a way of pushing the plot along so you hardly notice, and instead quickly become wrapped up in the disturbing world of the killer and the police’s obsessive hunt for the truth. Stark and his team, as well as the other characters readers encounter, are all deeply human and well-rounded, making the story believable and engaging.

Overall I was incredibly impressed by Addressed To Kill. I’m not usually a big fan of Christmas themed books, but in this novel Wright shows how the festive season makes victims more unsuspecting and gives killers opportunities they don’t usually have, making it an eye-opening and gripping tale that you’ll want to revisit time and time again.

 

His Dark Materials Proves Fantasy Is Better As TV Shows Not Films

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The BBC’s new adaptations of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy proves that fantasy novels deserve to be made into TV shows, rather than films.

The Northern Lights, the first book in critically acclaimed series, designed originally for children, was adapted as a film a few years ago and renamed The Golden Compass.  

The film was a flop, for the simple reason that it tried to fit so this vast book, with all of its exposition and explanation, into one film. It was a long film, but not long enough to fit in all of the knowledge required to make viewers fully understand the concepts and worlds Pullman created.

The appeal of the show, rather than the film, is that it doesn’t ‘tell’ the story so much as it shows you. There are no huge info-dumps, nor any rambling conversations that are exclusively exposition designed to fill you in quickly before something else happens. Instead, the show draws you into the world of Lyra and Pan, showing you everything that happens whilst not overwhelming you.

The critical success of the TV series also shows that fantasy epics belong on television, not in films. HBOs beloved Game Of Thrones is another good example of a book set that would’ve made an awful film series, but as TV show it flourished (until the writers went and blew it on the final series).

Sometimes films can bring fantasy books to life, as is the case with Lord of the Rings, however it can be argued that the films are far too long, and would be better off serialised on TV. Indeed, Amazon has commissioned a series based on Tolkien’s epic novels, proving that the stories have yet more potential that, I don’t think, more films could fulfil.

Overall, it’s clear to see that fantasy belongs on TV. Adapting it for films means cramming it into too little time, or creating far too many, far too long movies that are hard to sit through. The best way to experience fantasy is always to read it, as that way you can let your imagination run away with you and really immerse yourself in the ideas and new worlds the author has created. However, if you’re going to watch fantasy, I urge you to watch a TV show version of your favourites, rather than slogging your way through a boring film

Audiobooks Aren’t Better Than Normal Books: They’re A Different Thing

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An Esquire Magazine article I read recently had me livid. They claimed that certain audiobooks were better than the actual books themselves.

Before anyone points it out, yes I did spot the disclaimer at the top so yes, I understand that this is an affiliated post and they’re basically just trying to earn money using a controversial headline to get people to buy audiobooks so that they’ll get the commission for the sale. I’m not completely uninitiated on how this sort of advertising works.

However, what got me was how easily the magazine could claim that certain books were better as audiobooks whilst missing the fact that audiobooks are completely different things. Unlike ebooks, which are simply books stored on electronic devices and which still require actual reading, using your eyes, audiobooks use a different sense, hearing.

As such, audiobooks are a completely different experience from reading an actual book. While they are enjoyable in most cases, there’s something to be said for reading an actual book. And whilst there are some books that some people might prefer to hear in audiobook form rather than reading themselves, they won’t get the same enjoyment out of them because audiobooks are completely different to real books.

Also, in reading books our imaginations are able to craft the voices, settings and general characterisations for us, whereas audiobooks use sounds and different voices or accents to lend atmosphere to the listening experience. As a result, less imagination is required, but people get less from the experience of listening to an audiobook, and often have a completely different view of the text than they would’ve done if they read it.

In conclusion, it’s my belief that saying a certain book is better as an audiobook is like saying that you shouldn’t read a specific novel and instead just watch the TV show. You can like one, you can like the other, but you can’t seriously tell me that they’re the same thing.

Why Jane Austen Is The Ideal Antidote To Today’s Troubles

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Recently the Guardian published an article about how Americans have embraced Jane Austen’s work and now want to live like they’re in one of her novels. There was also a film about this phenomenon called Austenland, proving that the whimsical draw on Austen’s work is not a new concept.

This got me thinking: why on earth would anyone want to live in Austen’s England? This was a land where women had no rights, there was no healthcare, pensions or child benefits and poverty was rife. Life expectancies were low because of the poor sanitation and child death was high for the same reason. Why would anyone want to go back to that time?

Then I started to think about it logically. Whilst Austen was a famed wit who included satirical references to inequality, poverty and social inequality in a number of her works, the majority of her books focused on the trivial. They were about how her version of love, a practical, yet all-encompassing emotion, was the single most important factor in anyone’s life.

She focused on certain characters and quickly and wittily overlooked those that did not suit her purposes. Her works give some insight into society at the time but, in general, their focus is on levity and social graces. For those who choose to overlook the barbs and wit, these are books almost exclusively about a middle-class society that doesn’t exist anymore and never will again.

They are about a group of people in the centre of society with a little mobility to go up and a lot to go down. This topic is fascinating to today’s youth, and makes the idea of a ‘class defying’ romance all the more alluring. It’s this escapism that’s what prompts people to want to read and embody these books.

After all, in today’s society, where we’ve got natural disasters, Trump being a bellend and whatever the fuck’s going on with Brexit and the UK’s general election, there’s a bloody lot to want to escape from. Austen’s work is so far removed from modern life that it is practically a fantasy, and for that reason I can understand why so many people are obsessed with it.

Alice Boatwright Interview: “I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure”

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On Halloween weekend I catch up with mystery writer Alice Boatwright to learn more about her work and the extensive inspiration behind it.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards mystery novels?

I have always been drawn to clean prose with good, insight-provoking metaphors and wit, rather than jokes. Although I admire more complex and experimental styles (James Joyce, William H. Gass, and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind), this is not “me.” I loved “the Russians” when I growing up, but I never aspired to be Dostoyevsky. Willa Cather would be nice. Other writers who influenced me early on were Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and I do think E.B. White’s Elements of Style is the only writing book that is essential. Master that, and you know everything. I am still working on it.

I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure when I was about eight years old; and there is something irresistible about the idea of trying to write the kind of books you enjoy so much.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing professionally? 

My father was a musician and college professor, who began writing his first textbook when I was very young. I loved to go to sleep listening to the sound of his typewriter (an old Underwood that I still have). When this book was published, and he put the publisher’s special boxed edition on our mantel, I announced that he was not going to the only one in the family to publish a book. I began writing stories right away and studied writing all through college. I also have an MFA from Columbia.

Writing professionally turned out to mean something different than what I first imagined: a tenure-track teaching job and the bestseller list, of course. I have held a variety of jobs based on my writing skill, and I am very grateful for the amazing career I’ve had, which has taken me around the world. I have always written fiction too, but it is only recently that I have made an income from that.

Tell me about your books. How did you come to write them and what was the inspiration behind them?

My first book, Collateral Damage, had its origins in the thesis I wrote in graduate school. It slowly evolved into three linked novellas about the impact of the Vietnam War on those who fought, those who resisted, and the family and friends caught between them. I grew up during this era, and the conflicts at home and abroad, the brave decisions, and tragedies of this war influenced me profoundly. I wanted to write this book “no matter what” – but it took a long time and finding a publisher was not easy. Eventually it came out, won an award, and has now been released in a new edition in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the war.

I turned to writing mysteries during the time I was seeking a publisher for Collateral Damage. Vietnam remains a difficult subject that many publishers would not touch, and I thought I ought to try writing a book on a subject people enjoyed reading about – murder! I also knew it would be fun for me to write. My husband and I are both long-time Anglophiles, as well as avid readers of English mysteries, so we used to make up plots as we explored the countryside. One of my ideas was to write about an American married to an English vicar, and I still have the notes I scribbled down about this. A few years later, we moved to a village in Oxfordshire – and I had the time and experience to develop that idea into the first Ellie Kent mystery, Under An English Heaven (Cozy Cat Press, 2014). The second book in the series, What Child Is This?, came out in 2017; and the third will be out in the coming year.

I am delighted to say that the Ellie Kent books have proven to be very popular. Ellie’s experiences as an incomer and her outsider perspective as an American – as well as the opportunities for a certain amount of nosiness as the vicar’s wife – give her reasons to get involved in solving crimes. The books also give me the chance to write about England, which I love, and explore questions such as the meaning of home, the value of faith, and the challenges of blended families. Under An English Heaven won the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize and the first two books have both been Amazon bestsellers, reaching #1 in the traditional detective mystery category.

I have also always written short stories – another form I love. This year I had the pleasure of collaborating with an artist friend on Sea, Sky, Islands, a chapbook of three stories set in the beautiful San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington. She provided the cover painting and interior illustrations, so it is really a very pretty little book. I love today’s freedom to create any kind of book you want. It’s so different from the age of “no”, when agents and publishers had the final say about what you could offer to readers.

When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I like books that have strong believable characters and whose stories – regardless of genre – are grounded in the real challenges of life. I like to be inspired by the writer’s fresh and skilful use of language as the medium for creating a world and experiences that entertain, inspire, and move me. There are many writers I admire, so I will just name a few recent ones – Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, and Patrick Modiano. Amongst mystery writers, my go-to models are primarily from the Golden Age – Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie – but I love Georges Simenon and P.D. James too.

As a successful woman writer, what do you think the literary industry can do to provide more support for women looking to succeed?

Support for women writers begins with support for the idea that women and their ideas and experiences are as important and as autonomous as those of men. This requires a global effort to reverse centuries of tradition, law, and practice. Progress is variable, depending on where you are in the world. Of 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 2/3 are women. So, the bottom line is education needs to be available to every girl and woman: these are potential writers and readers.

The next level of success is achieved if you actually write. The obstacles here are mainly in your own head. If you have a pencil and paper, you can write whatever you want. Making the time, having the interest and confidence to keep at it and develop your skills, believing in yourself: these are all challenges faced by every writer.

For training, if you have access to a library, you can educate yourself in every way from reading a wide variety of books to researching the business of writing and publishing. There are also many other options for learning from self-run writing groups and small workshops to degree programs. Today in the US, some 50% of graduate arts degrees are awarded to women. When I went to graduate school, there were 2 women and 13 men in my workshop.

I’m not sure the “industry” sees itself as responsible for cultivating women’s voices, but women demanding to read books by women certainly make a difference. From what I have read, men still predominantly prefer books by men (or are predominantly interested in the topics men tend to write about).

Sisters in Crime is an organization that was founded more than 30 years ago to address the disparity between men and women in getting published and reviewed, as well as bias in other areas, such as award programs and size of advances. Its programs supporting the professional development of women crime writers are well-respected, and it has been successful in raising these issues and documenting progress.

One indicator of success for women mystery writers is that the percentage of women on the NY Times bestseller list has risen from 15% in 1950 to 44% in 2010. But there are undoubtedly many challenges facing women writers as in other fields. The possibility of self-publishing has created new opportunities, but making a living from writing fiction is probably as hard as making a living from acting or painting or playing the violin.

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

To be honest, I can’t imagine collaborating with anyone. The joy of writing fiction comes from being free to do whatever I want. It’s my show. I would be interested in being a fly-on-the-wall to watch Georges Simenon produce a beautifully written mystery in a weekend. Of course, he had a wife. That makes a difference.

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

My primary focus is on finishing the third Ellie Kent mystery, which will come out in 2020. I also fiddle around with my stories and make notes when other book ideas come along.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward coming up?

My Puget Sound chapter of Sisters in Crime is very prolific, so I have a stack of books I am looking forward to reading by authors such as Marty Wingate, Candace Robb, Ingrid Thoft, Curt Colbert, Waverly Fitzgerald, and Jeffrey D. Briggs. It’s very special to follow the progress of writers you know, because you know both the book and all that went into making it happen.

Do You Have Any Final Words Of Advice?

If you want to be a writer, keep writing, no matter what, and never give up on a story you want to tell until you get it right and get it out!

Huge thanks to Alice for answering my questions, it’s been a pleasure to hear your thoughts. You can learn more about Alice’s work HERE.

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.