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TCW’s Christmas Books Special

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WITH Christmas fast approaching and books a perennial favourite, our Literary Editor offers some timely recommendations for all the family.

Agatha Christie for a new generation

The Fence Sitter with the Invisible Cloak

By Sir Keir Starmer

Abbot & Reeves £15

First up is a cracker of a read. This is a dazzling debut novel from the acclaimed Leader of the Opposition. In lesser hands this could have been a rather pedestrian re-tread of the whodunit genre. However, with his forensic skills and legal background, Sir Keir has delivered an impressive page-turner with an abundance of twists and turns. Characterisation is very much his forte and from the start, with a brawl set in The Ivy and kedgeree sent flying, readers will be taken on a rollercoaster adventure. The denouement is an unexpected ‘punch in the guts’. A minor quibble is that his portrayal of peripheral ‘working-class’ people sometimes feels a touch outdated and condescending. One glaring example is Mrs Openshaw, the factory hand, who in Chapter Six talks of ‘tripe and onions’ for tea – really, Sir Keir?

The new Nigella

V is for Vegan

By Kwasi Kwarteng

Signal & Virtue £30

Cookery books are as synonymous with Christmas as mistletoe and mulled wine and this offering will cater well for the growing audience of vegans out there. With a striking geometric design cover, this slim (64 pages) yet stylish hardback will find a welcome place on many a kitchen shelf.

The recipes are by and large ‘tried and tested’ – such as ‘one-pan Mexican quinoa’ and ‘vegetable fritters with vegan sriracha mayonnaise’ – but that doesn’t matter, the appeal of this book lies in the author’s take on some ‘Victorian favourites’ with a vegan twist.

Gladstone’s beloved pie ‘A cabinet full of turkeys’ is given the full vegan makeover with turkey replaced by turnips cooked four ways, boiled, fried, sauteed and oven-roasted.

Top-class cookery books by politicians are few and far between, and for many, me included, no one has bettered Harold Wilson’s highly accomplished 101 Ways With Yorkshire Pudding (now out of print).

But for anyone wanting to ‘dip their toe’ into the exciting and tastebud-tingling world of veganism, they won’t go far wrong with this crowd pleaser.

High-wire trapeze

The Cone to Nowhere

By John Major

Grey & Grey £40

Political memoirs tend to fall into two distinct categories, too detailed or not detailed enough. This latest offering craftily straddles the divide with aplomb.

John Major has already chronicled his early years and his love of the circus in his previous volume, Send in the Clowns. This eagerly anticipated follow-up covers his political apprenticeship and his time in 10 Downing Street.

Much will be familiar to seasoned Westminster watchers but there are some lovely insights into the real man. His touching, almost childlike revelations as to how the Potter’s Wheel and the Ploughman television interludes influenced his political thinking are both shrewd and in a strange way captivating. Curiously, he fails to touch on the Kitten and Wool Ball, but there might possibly be some deep-rooted psychological reason for this – tantalisingly he hints at a lost cat episode in his childhood.

The major political upheavals are all well covered: Back to Basics, the Cones Hotline and Maastricht. He writes engagingly but steers clear of some of the more controversial parts of his time in office and the overall impression is of a book that could have been so much more in the right hands.

Mrs Beeton rides again

Clean as a whistle

By Angela Rayner

Vermin Publishing £15

Who can resist a book that promises to ‘transform how you clean your home’?

Angela Rayner’s first attempt is an easy-to-read, step-by-step guide to make your home ‘shine like a new pin’. Packed from cover to cover with tips, tricks and short cuts, this is a fabulous compendium for the busy houseperson. Angela shares her domestic chore routines in a fun and approachable way and encourages you to transform your home using eco-friendly products.

Did you know that cigarette ash is a wonderful cleaner for bath ‘scum’? This and a myriad other useful facts about decluttering and ‘gentrifying’ your home make this a perfect stocking filler.

Pandemic for tea?

Jabs and Jam

By Bill Gates

Lockdown Publishing £75

Most people will think this a high price for any book – and it is, yet at 780 pages it is a door stopper whichever way you look at it. In reality though, this is two books in one and I would hazard a guess that his publishers had an eye on the lucrative Christmas market and suggested a one-volume solution.

Covid and the race for vaccines has already been well told, but this is the insider’s story. The author chronicles his philanthropy and overwhelming desire to ‘do good’ which shines through on every page. Setbacks and disappointments are competently covered as is the euphoria at the delivery of safe and effective treatment that will save mankind.

Sometimes reading like a Grisham novel, this book will appeal to lovers of detail and medical miscellany.

The second part of the book is another matter altogether and reveals a softer, more accessible person – told through his hitherto little-known love of preserves – hence the ‘jam’ in the title.

Quirky facts leap off every page:

Organic strawberries give a better flavour than farmed.

Under-ripe damsons are better than over-ripe ones.

Ginger is a ‘magic’ ingredient.

Pectin and citric acid are perfect bedfellows.

Kilner screw-top jars make the best containers.

Don’t be afraid of gooseberries.

It must be acknowledged that this tome will divide opinion. Is it a vital and true chronicle of one of mankind’s most turbulent and troublesome periods, or is it an anthology of preserves and recipes?

Historians will be the judges, but for anyone who likes vaccines and vanilla – this could be the book for you.

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Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin is a retired media executive who worked across domestic and international media.

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