All posts by Karen Seligman

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a librarian working in public libraries. As a lifelong booklover, she loves having access to a library’s worth of books! As a librarian, an important (and fun) part of her work is about connecting people to new ideas and new books. Karen is a literary magpie who can't settle on a single favourite genre – she loves narrative nonfiction, historical fantasies and food writing.

Spotlight on Sir David Attenborough 

Sir David Attenborough – with his distinctive voice and his enthusiasm for the wonders of our natural world – is probably the best-known environmentalist in the world. As writer, presenter and narrator, he has been educating and entertaining audiences about natural history for almost 70 years. He has created a tremendous body of work that represents a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth, as well as showing generation after generation of viewers the marvellous diversity in our environment and our living things. Now 96 years old, Sir David is still an active advocate for environment protection, highlighting how issues such as climate change and population growth can impact biodiversity. If you want to learn more about Sir David’s life and career, here are some good starting points:

Wild Life

Wild Life: The Extraordinary Adventures of Sir David Attenborough by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe

Journey through the jungle and coral reefs, across the African plains and icy poles, and even to the Galapagos Islands, in this beautiful picture book about the life and work of Sir David Attenborough. We discover that David has been a nature-lover since a young age, collecting fossils, stones and natural specimens to create his own “museum”. His eighth birthday gift – a fire salamander – sparks his imagination and ultimately leads to David Attenborough travelling and filming across the continents, visiting astonishing places and mysterious animals, and showing them to audiences all over the world.

Living Planet

Living Planet: The Web of Life on Earth by David Attenborough

This is a new and updated edition of The Living Planet, originally published in 1984, which looks at how plants and animals have evolved and adapted to the differing geographies and climates found around the world. The chapters march majestically across the planetary surface, showing how adaptation has created enormous diversity: from the poles to the tundra, to forests and jungles, the grasslands, the deserts. From fresh water to salt water, deep oceans to mountains and volcanoes. With the help of zoologist Matthew Cobb, this updated edition describes our latest understanding about biodiversity and evolutionary biology, including a significantly revised chapter on human evolution. The Living Planet is packed with information and stunning photography, and like all of Sir David’s work, manages to both inform, entertain as well as inspire.

A Life on Our Planet

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future by David Attenborough

In recent years, Sir David has shifted his attention from showing us the wonders of the natural world, to highlighting the environmental threats that stands to destroy our biodiversity. A Life on Our Planet is Sir David’s “witness statement” for the “the dreadful damage” done by humanity, and his plea for urgent climate action. Using his lifetime as a framing device, Sir David captures the accelerating destruction of our planet – changes not obvious from day to day, but shown in stark clarity over nine decades. He then warns us of the painful consequences of inaction – ice-free summers in the Arctic by the 2030s, climate-induced difficulties in food production and large scale, unmanageable human migration by late this century. Nonetheless, his call for action ends on a hopeful note, with ideas on how to turn things around by reducing energy and resource consumption and adopting a more sustainable diet.

Adventures of a Young Naturalist

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: Sir David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest Expeditions by David Attenborough

One of the first television programs presented by Sir David was Zoo Quest, which followed him and his (very small) team on expedition to British Guiana (Guyana), Indonesia and Paraguay in the 1950s. These expeditions aimed to collect exotic live animals – that no other zoo possessed – and bring them back for display at the London Zoo. Adventures of a Young Naturalist takes an affectionate, funny look at these intrepid trips, where Sir David and his team encounter idiosyncratic characters, exotic animals including capybaras, komodo dragons and vampire bats, and pristine environments. We also see early glimpses of the passion, respect and confidence around animals that will become Sir David’s onscreen trademark. Adventures of a Young Naturalist also encourages us to reflect on how, through the work of Sir David and other conservationists, our attitudes towards wildlife conservation have changed.

Journeys to the Other Side of the World

Journeys to the Other Side of the World: Further Adventures Of A Young Naturalist by David Attenborough

This companion volume to Adventures of a Young Naturalist is a collection of stories from the later part of the Zoo Quest program, where the young David Attenborough and his team travelled to Madagascar, New Guinea and other Pacific Islands, and to Australia’s Northern Territory. These expeditions became lessons in anthropology as well as zoology, with the team learning about and recording the indigenous culture of these remote places, whose ways of life had never been encountered by most of the British public before. From Aboriginal rock art, to the land divers of Pentecost Island, to encounters with paradise birds and chameleons, these stories are a valuable record of rituals and wildlife never previously filmed, and that have become endangered.

Life on Air

Life on Air (Revised and Updated Edition) by David Attenborough

It makes perfect (and witty) sense that Sir David, who made his name with the Life on Earth series, would call his memoirs Life on Air. This latest version is updated to include the most recent activities in his 60+ year career. The story starts in 1950, when a young David, dissatisfied with his job in a publishing house, applied for a job at the BBC. He was not successful; however, he was eventually asked to join BBC’s television department, kickstarting his long association with wildlife programming. Sir David spent considerable time as station management before his love of natural history led him to return to programme-making (just imagine – if he had become the Head of the BBC, his monumental Life on Earth series might never have been made!). Like his TV persona, Sir David writes with unfailing modesty and a warm sense of humour, none of which obscure the groundbreaking work he has done, both as a broadcaster and as station management.

Climate Change: Understanding our Changing Weather 

It is hard to ignore the increasing numbers of unusual or unseasonal severe weather events – think floods, wildfires, droughts, snowstorms – appearing all around the world. Our “climate normal” seems to be changing – but to what? Here’s a new crop of books – by scientists, journalists and even literary writers – to help us make sense of our changing weather, and what we need to do about it.

Fire, Storm and Flood: The violence of climate change

Fire, Storm and Flood: The Violence of Climate Change by James Dyke

Fire, Storm and Flood is a book of stunning photojournalism. Violent climatic events have ravaged the Earth since time began, spanning the vast eons of our planet’s existence. These events have left their mark on both the Earth’s geological and biological records. However, in the few centuries since industrialisation, human activity has increasingly become the driver of climatic events. We are becoming a geological force, impacting the earth with a series of fires, storms and floods. The images in Fire, Storm and Flood, showing the results of large-scale fires, earthquakes, floods and desertification, have a spectacular yet haunting beauty that challenge us to reflect on the devastation caused by climate change. 

Why Does Climate Change?

Why Does Climate Change? Investigate the Causes with Erica and Sven by Laura Ertimo & Mari Ahokoivu

The climate is changing, and so should we! Why Does Climate Change? helps to answer children’s tough questions about climate change, as well as help them understand what can be done to fight it. Best friends Erica and Sven are tired of their parents’ vague answers about the weird weather happening all over the planet, so they decide to research what climate change is really about. Why Does Climate Change? uses the graphic novel format to offer accurate information in an engaging way (complete with gremlins and fairies). It is an ultimately hopeful book that explains how humans are responsible for climate change and what we can do to ensure a brighter future for generations to come. For young readers aged 6-10.

A Brief History of the Earth's Climate

A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate: Everyone’s Guide to the Science of Climate Change by Steven Earle

A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate is the book to read before you debate with anyone sceptical of human-induced climate change. It first discusses the natural changes to the Earth’s climate over 4.6 billion years: including the effects of ocean currents, solar activity, volcanic eruptions; then shows how and why human-caused global warming and climate change is different. This up-to-date book even includes an overview of how the COVID pandemic may impact climate change. Steven Earle then reviews common arguments skeptical of climate change, countering them with logic and compelling scientific evidence. Written by a highly respected geologist and academic, A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate is a highly informative, yet accessible primer to this big topic.

1,001 Voices on Climate Change

1,001 Voices on Climate Change: Everyday Stories of Flood, Fire, Drought, and Displacement from Around the World by Devi Lockwood

These first-hand accounts are the human face of climate change, showing us how people and communities around the world are currently being affected. Over five years, journalist Devi Lockwood travelled through 20 countries across six continents, listening to people’s first-hand experiences of climate change – from Indigenous elders in Tuvalu on disappearing coastlines, to Australians mourning the death of their friends in the bushfires, to the Thai man who had to leave his ancestral farm because changes in rainfall made it no longer viable. Despite diverse localised experiences, themes of displacement, climate migration and food insecurity emerge. These recognisable and relatable stories make a sometimes-abstract topic vivid and urgent.

Firmament: The Hidden Science of Weather, Climate Change and the Air That Surrounds Us

Firmament: The Hidden Science of Weather, Climate Change and the Air That Surrounds Us by Simon Clark

Physicist and science communicator Simon Clark has been popularising atmospheric science through his successful YouTube channel. His first book, Firmament, takes it one step further – showing us the history of how the science was discovered, as well as the physics of how it works. Simon Clark weaves an entertaining and exciting story of discovery, featuring adventurous scientists and often danger (such as an almost fatal hot air balloon flight in Victorian times). Learning about the atmosphere helps us to understand how weather occurs and how scientists monitor and predict weather – which in turn, helps us to comprehend climate change and mitigate its effects.

We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer is best known for literary fiction, but his expressiveness also works to create powerful nonfiction. We are the Weather is his collection of short essays about the climate crisis. With his distinctive wit, insight and humanity, Foer argues that, rather than being an insurmountable problem, there is one small change that each individual can make, that collectively can achieve a sustained and far-reaching impact on the climate crisis: eating fewer animal products. We are the Weather is not your typical big-topic nonfiction book: amongst the facts and statistics, Foer interweaves musings on family, suicide, effort, sense and individual responsibility, as well as a delicious serving of metaphor. For anyone interested in a different approach to making sense of this topic.

Biographies: Australian Stories 

What counts as an Australian Story? Australia has a diversity of landscapes, cultures and attitudes; these form the basis of endless unique stories. And more and more of these diverse stories are being shared, so we can learn about each other. Whether you enjoy finding common ground, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, or sneaking a peek into famous lives, there is an Australian biography that you will love.

All Mixed Up by Jason Om

The seed for Jason Om’s memoir was sown when, in 2017, he wrote an enormously moving story about how his father struggled to accept his (Jason’s) sexuality for 16 years, before finally voting “Yes” in the marriage equality plebiscite. Its popularity motivated him to describe more of his life. The award-winning ABC reporter grew up in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith household, with a Cambodian Buddhist dad, a Eurasian Catholic mum, and a Muslim-Malaysian half-sister. When he was 12, he watched his mother die of a heart attack while they were home alone; 20 years later, he was finally ready to process her death, by using his journalistic skills to unravel the family secrets that could explain her sorrowful outlook and often-erratic behaviour. All Mixed Up will make you laugh and cry and laugh again. It is a compelling story about trauma, identity and acceptance; it is also an uplifting celebration of the second-generation migrant experience, and of a son’s love for his mother.

Am I Black Enough For You? (10 Years On edition) by Anita Heiss

“I’m an urban beachside Blackfella, a concrete Koori with Westfield Dreaming, and I apologise to no-one.” Anita Heiss highlights the diversity in modern Indigenous Australians by sharing her own story – she is a proud Wiradyuri woman, yet has pale skin from an Austrian father, grew up in the suburbs, has a PhD and lives an urbane, cosmopolitan life. In her distinctive sassy voice, she challenges stereotypes about what qualifies as “truly” Aboriginal, illustrates the systemic and casual racism against Indigenous Australians with her own family history, and also discusses the growth of her activist consciousness. Am i Black Enough For You? also includes a gripping account of a landmark court case where Anita Heiss and eight co-plaintiffs sued shock-jock Andrew Bolt for doubting their Aboriginality (Heiss and co. won; Bolt was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act). Re-released on its 10th anniversary, this is still a powerful yet accessible introduction to understanding Indigenous identity and activism.

Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

When Clare Bowditch was 21, and recovering from a breakdown, she promised herself that she would write down the story of what led to, and how she survived, her nervous breakdown, in the hope that it can inspire anyone who’s ever struggled against their inner critic. Over 20 years later, flourishing and empowered, she has finally found the courage to complete her memoirs. Your Own Kind of Girl reveals a childhood punctuated by grief, anxiety and compulsion, telling how these forces shaped Clare’s life, and how she finally arrived at happiness when she took charge of the stories she told herself.  Your Own Kind of Girl is candid, generous and heartfelt, showing that Clare Bowditch – beloved musician, actress, broadcaster – is a powerful storyteller, in prose as in song.

Good Riddance: Get Rid of your Fears and Doubts. Unleash your Potential by Stacey Currie

Stacie Currie grew up in a chaotic, disadvantaged family and has beaten incredible odds to become happy and successful. Pregnant at 15 and homeless at 17, she was a mother-of-three and family-abuse survivor by age 21. Government authorities gave her a stark choice: turn her life around, or lose custody of her kids. But how to strive for a better, “good” life when you can’t comprehend what that looks like? Stacie realised that she can work backwards – identify what she doesn’t want, and work to get rid of unhelpful thinking that fosters these bad habits. Good Riddance shows how it was done – each chapter focusses on a behaviour she didn’t want, and her advice on how to overcome it. Now a successful businesswoman and motivational speaker, Stacie is committed to paying it forward – using her insights to empower audiences to unlock courage and make positive changes, as well as working with charities that support at-risk children and youth.

Honey Blood by Kirsty Everett

Honey Blood is the evocative title of Kirsty Everett’s memoir, about a childhood and adolescence lived in the shadow of leukaemia. Kirsty Everett was going to be an Olympic gymnast, but her dreams were derailed by a leukaemia diagnosis at age 9. Having survived the experience, she was diagnosed again at age 16. Facing a low chance of survival, she decided to live life to the full – and, after an amazing recovery, still does to this day. Honey Blood juxtaposes vivid descriptions of cancer treatment with the nostalgic story of a girl growing up in as normal a way as her health allows – with sport, school, takeaway dinners and first kisses. This book may offer particular support to anyone touched by cancer; but Kirsty’s courage, resilience and positivity offers inspiration to everyone.

Born Into This by Adam Thompson

Born Into This is actually a short story collection rather than biography, but his characters are so vivid and heartfelt that you can feel they are drawn from life. These 16 stories, about black and white relations, colonialism, class friction, racism and the gradual destruction of heritage and environment, are clearly anchored by Adam Thompson’s ancestry, his work within the Aboriginal community, and his native Tasmanian landscape. A particular highlight is his large cast of distinctive and vividly-drawn characters, who speak to the diverse lived experiences of Indigenous people. Born Into This is dark, funny and confronting, with an in-your-face energy that nonetheless delivers thoughtful messages. A strong debut by this Tasmanian Aboriginal author.

Biographies: Business and Innovative Ideas 

Successful businesspeople are a great source of life lessons, even if you don’t have entrepreneurial ambitions of your own. This week’s pick of business biographies combine terrific, candid storytelling with thought-provoking discussions around ambition, passion, resilience, and the importance of values. Enjoy!

We Can All Make It: My Story by Sara Davies

Sara Davies was still a university student when she founded Crafter’s Companion, a craft supplies company. Through passion, ambition and sheer hard work, Sara has grown her business to a multimillion-pound company, become the youngest female entrepreneur on the Dragons’ Den, mentored businesswomen, as well as become a media personality. Like Sara, We Can All Make It is vivacious, determined and full of wisdom. Sara’s story of learning to juggle a young family, managing a company, and an investment portfolio – all the while training to compete in Strictly Come Dancing as well as writing her book – is sure to offer inspiration to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Future You: Be Curious. Say Yes to Change by Frances Valintine

Frances Valintine is a futurist and entrepreneur who helps people and organisations learn new technologies and adapt to technological change. She understands that change is hard to embrace – even when you know it will be better for you in the long run. Future You draws upon her personal as well as business experience, to show you how to overcome self-doubt, pass less judgment, break away from routine and take risks. If you have ever imagined a different life – Future You will empower you to take the steps to make it happen.

Nice is Not a Biscuit: How to Build a World-Class Business by Doing the Right Thing by Peter Mead

You may not have heard of Peter Mead, but you have probably seen his work – as a founder of advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers, Peter has been at the top of the advertising industry for over 40 years. In Nice is Not a Biscuit, Peter Mead shares 100 business lessons with a contrarian message – that, unlike a stereotype of ruthlessness, decent behaviour makes commercial sense. He cites niceness as the secret of his and his firm’s success – that it creates an environment of calm and well-being that allows creativity to flourish, fostering a sustainable business with unbelievable loyalty and commitment. At a time when the work / business landscape is going through enormous change, his upbeat advice will both challenge and enlighten you.

Authentic: a Memoir by the Founder of Vans by Paul Van Doren

When skate- and surf-culture went mainstream in the ’70s and ’80s, it also made Vans sneakers a household name, beloved for its cool, artsy, laid-back vibe. Authentic celebrates the rise of a blue-collar kid, with no higher education nor retailing experience, into an all-American success story. Memoirs and business lessons are intertwined because Paul Van Doren is a hands-on entrepreneur whose personal and professional lives became blurred. Read fascinating stories about his innovations (including setting up sneaker-only stores, selling single shoes and designing with user-input), as well as the importance he places on deep-rooted values and on vision, which has culminated in the muc-admired, people-oriented culture of his company.

Walking Through Honey: My Journey with Parkinson’s Disease by Brian Sherman with A M Jonson

“Walking through honey” describes Brian Sherman’s experience of Parkinson’s Disease – the daily struggle with moving, the inability to get your body to do what your mind wants. For the last ten years, Parkinson’s Disease has been the biggest challenge for Brian, who has had 50 years’ of success as a business leader, animal rights activist and philanthropist. The fragmented diary format, illustrated by artworks and multi-exposure photographs, vividly evokes his experience of illness. Walking Through Honey is a raw and candid memoir that offers Brian Sherman to regain control over his narrative, while helping readers understand the impact of Parkinson’s Disease.

Unprecedented: Canada’s Top CEOs on Leadership During Covid-19 by Steve Mayer

Unprecedented is not only a business book, it is a documentary record as well as a fundraising effort towards Canada’s COVID recovery. This collection of essays by the CEOs of Canadian businesses – including Lululemon, Air Canada and Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts – are deeply personal accounts of what they have experienced, and what they have learnt, during the current pandemic. These companies – including airlines, nursing homes, grocery stores and banks – have been on the frontline of the health crisis and have had to make sudden and unprecedented changes to how they operated. These candid stories – full of humour, compassion, and plenty of fear and struggle – offer us remarkable insights into top-level decision-making that overcomes adversity.

Return Yourself to the Library these School Holidays 

Need some ideas for what to do during the school holidays ? Your public libraries can help! Libraries are a great source of low-cost and no-cost activities and educational and entertainment options for all ages. Whether you want to attend organised workshops and activities in-person, or borrow materials – including books, DVDs, even console/board games or robotics toys – to create your own activities at home, libraries have you covered.
In my home state of Victoria, public libraries are running a campaign called Return Yourself to Your Library. As libraries return to full services following disruptions caused by the pandemic, they would love to remind their members (past, present and future!) of the wide range of services they offer. Not only are they a great source of borrowable and/or downloadable materials, they can also support your entertainment and creativity needs, as well as being welcoming spaces where you can make new friends and feel part of a community.
In today’s blogpost I am highlighting some activities offered by libraries around and beyond Victoria, to show the diversity of events available. I hope this inspires you to contact your nearest library to see what they have to offer. From story times and craft workshops to robotics and dance sessions, library events can add some welcomed variety to your school holidays!

Image Source: City Of Melbourne

Treasure Hunt at the City of Melbourne Libraries
Whether you live in the City of Melbourne, or are visiting for the day, you can drop into one of their five branches (City Library on Flinders Lane, Southbank, Docklands, North Melbourne, East Melbourne, and Kathleen Syme in Carlton) for a treasure hunt! Follow the clues, discover some surprises, find the hidden pictures and collect your treasure! This is a self-guided activity available anytime during library opening hours – speak to a staff member for full details. Also look out for pop-up library spaces throughout the CBD – perfect for a bit of quiet downtime or free internet access.

The Australian Ballet at Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries
One of the biggest library services in Melbourne, Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries is offering an extensive holiday program across its nine branches.  One highlight is its collaboration with The Australian Ballet – ballet storytime for young children (5 years and under) at Watsonia Library, and STEAM dance workshops for 5-12 year olds at Ivanhoe Library.  These workshops encourage and nurture movement, creativity as well as literacy. No dance experience required, bookings essential.  Other holiday activities include movie afternoons, Minecraft and coding.

Little Warriors Yoga at the State Library of Victoria Every Wednesday, you and your preschooler can enjoy a fun and free 45-minute yoga class hosted by Little Warriors Yoga.  Help your little one grow into happy and confident beings with tips on stretching, calmness and wellbeing.  Two sessions available every Wednesday morning, bookings essential.  Part of the Playdate at the Library series of events suitable for 3-5 year olds. And while you are there, why not explore the beautiful spaces in this iconic building, including the famous Dome Reading Room, and the beautifully refurbished, dedicated Children’s Quarter?

LEGO Club at the Geelong Libraries The popular LEGO Club at the Geelong Regional Libraries is running a bricktastic workshop as part of its school holiday program, where you can make new friends and explore your creativity.  These sessions are for parents and children to build together, and can suit diverse needs, especially for children on the autism spectrum.  Sessions are held at the Bannockburn Library and are suitable for 5-11 year olds.

Image Source: Goldfields Libraries

Make a seed bomb at the Goldfields Libraries
The Goldfields Libraries service a number of central Victorian towns including Bendigo, Castlemaine, Gisborne and Kyneton.  The current school holiday program has a Peter Rabbit theme and focusses on hands-on activities including craft, LEGO and robotics.  If you have young people who love gardening and/or messy play, drop into one of their branches and make a Seed Bomb.  Seed bombs are a tried-and-true method of providing an optimal environment for germinating seeds – great for home-use and also as gifts.  All materials supplied.

Laser-cut Jewellery workshop for teens at the City of Sydney Library
Further afield, the City of Sydney Libraries are hosting a range of creative workshops at their Darling Square Library.  Many public libraries offer Maker Spaces with equipment that are free to use and help support your creativity – from sewing machines to 3D printers to design software and even sound studios.  The gorgeous new Darling Square Library is offering a jewellery-making session for adults and older teens.  Suitable for beginners, the workshop will show you how to use Adobe Illustrator software to create a design, that can then be turned into reality using a laser cutter on plywood or perspex.  Follow the link for booking and cost details.

Author Spotlight: Agatha Christie

Over 100 years after the publication of her first novel, Agatha Christie’s books are still being enjoyed, justifying her reputation as the “Queen of Crime”, with achievements that go well beyond the mystery genre. Her career spanned over 50 years, producing 66 novels, 14 short story collections, as well as a number of plays, non-fiction and literary fiction under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. Agatha Christie is one of the best-known writers in the English language, and remains the bestselling fiction writer of all time (only beaten by Shakespeare and the Bible), as well as the most-translated individual author. Her books have sold over two billion copies, and have influenced the development of detective mysteries, as well as wider popular culture.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 into an English upper-middle-class family. She loved reading and writing as a child, and wrote her first poem at age 10, and her first short story at 18. However, her path to literary success was not always smooth – after a number of rejections, she finally became a published writer at age 30, and remained a successful author for the rest of her life (and beyond!).

Her stories are famous for their meticulous plots, complete with red herrings and plot twists – they have been likened to intricate puzzles that require readers to scrutinise every sentence for hidden clues. She is also admired for her economy of prose and shrewd observations of human nature. Agatha Christie regularly included details drawn from personal experience: from country house parties, to trips on the Orient Express; her travels to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq; and knowledge about archeology (gained through her time on archeological digs with her second husband), and drugs and poisons (from her work in hospital dispensaries during both World Wars). She has even set a Poirot novel, Dead Man’s Folly, at Greenway House, her holiday home in Devon.


For this week’s showcase, Team Booko has chosen six of Agatha Christie’s best-known as well as most important novels. Is your favourite amongst them?

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Agatha Christie’s first published novel, and it introduced readers to Hercule Poirot, a Belgian police-officer-turned detective with a distinctive moustache. Poirot was inspired by the Belgian refugees Agatha Christie met during World War I; he went on to become her greatest partner in crime, appearing in 33 novels and over 50 short stories. After his last appearance, in Curtain, The New York Times published Poirot’s obituary – the only fictional character to have this honour. Thy Mysterious Affair at Styles is set in a country manor, Styles Court, whose wealthy owner has been murdered with poison. Hercule Poirot, living nearby, takes on the case upon the insistence of his friend, a houseguest at Styles. Besides introducing us to the brilliant, analytical Hercule Poirot, many elements of this story, including the isolated country house, the intricate plot with red herrings and twists, and the final reveal, have become iconic plot devices.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered by many as Agatha Christie’s masterpiece – including by the Crime Writers’ Association, whose 600+ members voted this book as its Best Ever Novel – “the finest example of the genre ever penned”. Roger Ackroyd is a man engaged to the wealthy Mrs Ferrars, a widow rumoured to have killed her first husband. Within a day of Mrs Ferrars’ unexpected suicide, Roger is found murdered in his own home; the suspects, who include Roger’s relatives, houseguests and servants, all have reasons for wanting him gone. It is up to Hercule Poirot, lured out of retirement, to identify the killer. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd contains probably the most controversial of Christie’s plot twists, and is often cited as a cornerstone of the mystery genre. Once the murderer is revealed, you will want to reread the book right away, looking for missed clues and savouring how Agatha Christie has mislead you.

The Murder at the Vicarage

Miss Jane Marple, an elderly, genteel spinster resident of St Mary Mead, gets her first full-length novel in The Murder at the Vicarage, having already appeared in a number of short stories. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s step-grandmother, Miss Marple is the yin to Hercule Poirot’s yang: instead of Poirot’s professional, methodical analysis, Miss Marple is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes using her intuition and her empathic understanding of human weakness. While investigating the alibis and motivations of various villagers connected to the murder of Colonel Protheroe, the local magistrate, we also get to know Miss Marple’s village, and a number of recurring characters including Miss Marple’s friends, and the local vicar. The 12 novels and 20 short stories about Miss Marple are the forerunners of today’s “cosy mysteries”, typically set in idyllic locations and featuring homely amateur sleuths such as elderly women or pet cats.

Murder on the Orient Express

One of the best-known and most-popular “locked room” mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express is also memorable because it contains a surprising ending that completely subverts the conventions it has just helped to consolidate. A luxurious train, travelling across Europe through the night, becomes stuck in a snowstorm; there is a cosmopolitan, international set of passengers aboard. One of them, a wealthy, dubious American businessman, is murdered in his cabin, which is locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, Hercule Poirot will need all his “little grey cells” to solve this mystery. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s own experience travelling on the Orient Express in the 1930s, the glamorous period setting has made Murder on the Orient Express a media favourite, with adaptations for radio, TV, stageplay as well as for film.

Death on the Nile

You may have seen images of the currently-showing film adaptation, full of Art Deco elegance; this most exotic of Agatha Christie’s stories, set in 1930s Egypt aboard a luxury steamer, certainly lends itself to stunning visuals. Death on the Nile starts with Hercule Poirot enjoying a well-deserved holiday on a cruise down the Nile. Alas, intrigue and murder seems to follow him wherever he goes. Not one, but three murders happen onboard – to beautiful heiress Linnet, who was being harassed by a fellow passenger; Linnet’s maid Louise; and romance novelist Salome Otterbourne. All of the suspects have secrets to hide, and only Monsieur Poirot’s talents can untangle the connections between the characters and reveal the killer. Agatha Christie visited Egypt many times throughout her life, first as a young tourist, and later whilst accompanying her archeologist husband on annual archeological digs throughout the Middle East. Besides Death on the Nile, her personal experiences living and travelling in the area informed several other stories, including Murder in Mesopotamia and They Came to Baghdad.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None is a chilling novel more akin to psychological horror than a “typical” Agatha Christie story: in fact, she has methodically subverted all of her trademarks here. The mystery is set up by having ten people at a house party on a small, isolated island; they were played a strange recording, which accuses each person of a crime; thereafter, these ten people begin to die one by one, echoing a sinister nursery rhyme. However, there is no detective involved, no interviews of suspects, no careful search for clues, and no suspects gathered together in the last chapter to be confronted with the solution; what keeps readers on edge is guessing who’s next to die, and how. This clever novel, the bestselling crime novel of all time, was voted “The World’s Favourite Christie” in an online poll marking Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday in 2015.

Author Spotlight: Stephen King

Stephen King is best known as The King of Horror, but his range is much wider than many realise.  In a career spanning 55 years so far, he has published almost 100 titles, including non-fiction, short stories, comics, novellas as well as full-length novels.  His stories blend realistic as well as supernatural elements, and range from horror, to sci-fi, fantasy, crime thrillers and even Westerns.
Besides being popular with readers (with sales of over 350 million copies), Stephen King is also a Hollywood favourite.  Many of his stories have been adapted into movies, tv series or miniseries – sometimes twice, even three times (Carrie and It).  Many of these adaptations – including Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, and Misery – have become iconic in their own right. Stephen King has had a huge impact on both literature and popular culture; so much so that he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the highest honour in the arts in America, in 2014.  
What makes Stephen King so successful?  He excels at drawing readers in with seemingly ordinary, relatable situations, and then discomfiting and shocking us by taking the stories into unexpected, chilling directions.  He is famous for creating memorable, complex characters – revealing him as a great observer of human nature.  As a writer, Stephen King is persistent – he sets himself a 2000-word target every day, and doesn’t stop writing until he reaches it; and even serious injuries don’t stop him from writing – he resumed work within a month of a serious car accident in 1999, despite experiencing pain that limited his ability to sit for extended periods.  He is also an adventurous writer, demonstrated not only by the wide range of genres he has written in, by his cross-overs into comics, but also by his early adoption of online publishing.
Our pick of Stephen King books are much-loved stories that also make a great starting point for new readers:

The Shining

The Shining was Stephen King’s first outright bestseller and confirmed his status as the preeminent writer of the genre. It draws heavily upon Stephen King’s own experiences – the setting and plot are based on his family’s stay at The Stanley Hotel in Colorado (they were the only guests in the large, atmospheric building); and the main character’s struggle with alcoholism mirrors Stephen King’s addiction at the time. The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, who takes his wife and son to the Overlook Hotel when he accepts the role of seasonal caretaker. The hotel is haunted by evil spirits that gradually erode Jack’s sanity and make him murderous; it is up to young Danny Torrance – who has psychic abilities called the “shining” – to overcome the danger. Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated movie adaptation created some iconic images – a manically grinning Jack Nicholson, creepy twins in a long hallway – that cemented both book and film into pop culture; famously, Stephen King disliked the film and has criticised it repeatedly. Bolstered by fan interest, The Shining is now accompanied by a sequel, Doctor Sleep, featuring Danny Torrance as an adult.

Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is the book that Stephen King thinks is his “most frightening”; he felt it was so wrong, so dark, that he put it in a drawer and thought he would never publish it.  Luckily, he eventually changed his mind.  The Pet Sematary in question is in a small town in Maine, located in the woods behind the new home of Louis Creed and his young family.  Louis learns, from his kindly elderly neighbour, that behind the Pet Semetary lies a “real cemetery” built on an ancient burial ground, a powerful place that can bring creatures back to life.  Then tragedy strikes Louis’ family and he decides to make use of this supernatural power… Pet Semetary powerfully interweaves supernatural horror elements with the psychological horror created when human nature strays into sinister immorality.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile made me realise that Stephen King doesn’t write just horror – this story is more akin to Southern Gothic and magical realism than traditional horror.  The Green Mile is presented as the memoirs of Paul Edgecombe, who worked as a prison supervisor in the American South during the 1930s. The rich storytelling draws vivid portraits of the different inmates, and in particular of John Coffey, a tall and imposing but mild-mannered Black man who was on Death Row for raping and murdering two young white girls. Gradually, Paul notices that John has unusual, perhaps supernatural abilities with empathy and healing, and starts to question whether he truly committed the horrific crimes he was convicted of.  Originally released as a serial novel in six parts, The Green Mile is now available collected into one volume.

Misery

The premise of Misery – a famous writer, injured in a car accident, who is then rescued (but in reality held hostage) by a crazed fan – invites readers to speculate whether it draws from Stephen King’s own experiences.  Misery is the main character in Paul Sheldon’s popular novel series, and Annie Wilkes, Paul’s “biggest fan”, is not happy that Misery has been killed off.  Once she has him trapped, Annie wants Paul to write stories the way she wants them – and Paul has to escape to save his own life, before the insane Annie goes too far.  Misery is an incredibly tense and quietly horrifying story.  The movie of the same name – with a compelling performance by Kathy Bates as Annie – is a cultural icon in its own right.

It

It is an important novel in many ways: its powerful use of the “evil clown” trope (probably the best-known example in the modern era); being the first Stephen King novel set in the fictional town of Derry (a location repeatedly used in his other stories); its sheer heft (over 1000 pages); and the way it combines favourite Stephen King themes of childhood trauma, the power of memory, and human cruelty, with classic horror motifs such as monsters, zombies and the idyllic-yet-sinister small town – “peak Stephen King”, if you will. It is an ancient, shapeshifting monster that preys upon children and feasts on their worst fears. It appears to humans as Pennywise the Clown, and holds power over the small Maine town of Derry. The task falls upon a group of seven young outcasts to confront It and stop the killings. The monsters, gory scenes, and child victims make It one of Stephen King’s scariest stories. 

The Stand

Now may be a good time to read The Stand – what was published in 1978 as a dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy, seems uncomfortably prescient during the current pandemic.  The story starts in a world ravaged by an extremely contagious and lethal strain of influenza, developed as a biological weapon and accidentally released. The resulting pandemic kills most of the world’s population and pushes civilisation into near-collapse.  The survivors begin to experience prophetic dreams about the old and saintly Mother Abigail, and about Randall Flagg, the personification of evil, and start to align themselves with one or the other.  The stage is now set for an ultimate showdown between Good and Evil.  The Stand has an epic, multi-layered story and is inspired by Lord of the Rings and the Book of Revelations.

Best New YA Reads

Last week Team Booko checked out popular children’s series; this week it’s all about the latest in YA (young adult fiction). Our picks span many hot trends, including cli-fi (literature themed around climate change); diversity (gender / sexuality / ability / ethnicity); verse novels; and social issues such as mental health and sexual consent. YA continues to be a vibrant publishing space for narrative-driven fiction that does not shy away from challenging existing norms nor examining current issues – worthwhile reading for both teen and adult readers.

The Trial by Laura Bates
A group of seven teens are washed up on a deserted island after a plane crash. What first appears to be an adventure with Lord of the Flies vibes, turns into a psychological thriller when the teens’ survival efforts are sabotaged by someone looking for justice. What happened at the party on the night before the crash, and why is nobody willing to talk about it? The Trial is a tense thriller with a thought-provoking message. Laura Bates, an award-winning author and gender equality activist, uses this novel to pose timely questions around consent, coercive control, victim-blaming and male entitlement.

Tough As Lace by Lexi Bruce
Lacey Stewart seems to have it all – she’s a talented and popular high school athlete – but deep down she feels like a mess. Her parents are dismissive of her achievements and she’s constantly feeling overwhelmed about how to juggle schoolwork, part-time work, sport, and preparations for university entrance. Lacey eventually realises that she has clinical anxiety, and needs to work out where and how to seek much-needed help. Tough as Lace is a compelling reflection on adolescent mental health. The verse novel format (story told in poem form) adds succinct, punchy power to Lacey’s voice.

Green Rising by Lauren James
In a near future approaching climate catastrophe, three teenagers from different backgrounds are thrown together when they develop the ability to grow plants from their skin – a superpower suddenly appearing in young people around the world. To use this power for good – and to prevent it from exploitation by corrupt and greedy corporations and politicians, Gabrielle, Hester, and Theo must learn to work together. Can they pull off a “green rising” and save the world while navigating first love and family expectations? Green Rising is a fast-paced and suspenseful story with wit, romance, well-rounded, diverse characters; it is a terrific new addition to to the burgeoning cli-fi scene, and relates to many issues that young adults are passionate about.

Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes, Transformed edited by Marissa Meyer
Watch ten of the hottest, award-winning YA authors have fun with, and put their unique spin on your favourite romantic tropes. Serendipity is a collection of 10 short stories, each written by a different author and featuring a different trope, including The Secret admirer, The Fake Relationship, and The Best Friend Love Epiphany. These totally swoon-worthy stories are joyous, surprising, diverse and inclusive. Contributors include Marissa Meyer (author of The Lunar Chronicles), Sandhya Menon (When Dimple Met Rishi), Julie Murphy (Dumplin) and Abigail Hing Wen (Loveboat, Taipei).

Our Broken Earth by Demitria Lunetta
Our Broken Earth is a tense adventure story set in a world made dangerous due to climate change. Mal lost his family in a storm and now lives with a group of young people who banded together in order to survive. Faced with the threat of rising water and illness, Mal and his friends must travel across the country to reach safety. Our Broken Earth is a verse novel written in a High-interest, Low-vocab (HiLo) format to make it accessible to more readers.  Interest level aimed at Grade 9+ (age 14+), with reading difficulty at approximately Grade 2-3 level.

Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee
Loki: Trickster. God of Asgard. Brother. Before the days of going toe-to-toe with the Avengers, a younger Loki is desperate to show he is heroic and capable, while everyone around him seems to suspect him of inevitable villainy. Wanting to prove himself to his father, Loki accepts a mission from Odin to go to Victorian England to investigate rumours of Asgardian magic on Earth – and becomes entangled in a rash of mysterious deaths. Where Mischief Lies is a fresh, exuberant origin story for Loki, and the first of three YA stories focussing on the antiheroes of the Marvel Universe. Mackenzi Lee – author of the riotous Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue  is a great fit for the witty, action-packed story of this teenage, bisexual God of Mischief.

Great children’s book series

Series fiction is great for, and popular with children – not only do young readers get to meet their favourite characters again and again, it also makes lighter work for adults who are keen to nurture good reading habits! School, animals, fantasy, adventure, humour…. there are excellent book series that suit all interests and tastes. Here are six of the hottest series available now:

The Princess in Black and the Mermaid Princess by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

On most days, Princess Magnolia is a prim and proper princess… but when monsters stray onto her kingdom, she secretly transforms into The Princess in Black to fight them! Let Princess Magnolia show you how to be a pink princess, a fearless superhero – as well as someone with strong values. Princess in Black is a beginners’ chapter book series with cute, colourful illustrations. The stories are exciting and enormously fun. Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham are talented and award-winning creators who are also behind the popular Real Friends graphic novel series.

Find the full Princess in Black series here.

The Bad Guys Episode 14: They’re Bee-Hind You! by Aaron Blabey

The Bad Guys is like Reservoir Dogs – except funnier, kinder, and for kids! Mr Wolf, Mr Piranha, Mr Snake and Mr Shark feel dragged down by the bad reputations of their species, and are determined to show that they are good at Doing Good! Each episode (book) features a different mission that doesn’t always go to plan. The Bad Guys has a graphics-rich format, and plenty of silliness, ridiculous action, and toilet humour – all the things that engage even the most reluctant of readers! Get ready to hear a lot more about The Bad Guys in the lead up to its highly-anticipated movie adaptation. For ages 6 and up.

Find the whole series here.

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes is back! After an 11-year hiatus, the success of the Enola Holmes movie adaptation has inspired author Nancy Springer to release further adventures about the witty, smart girl detective. In Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, Enola teams up with her older and more famous brother (The Sherlock Holmes) to investigate the supposed death of an Earl’s wife. The Earl claims that she died suddenly of a fever, and was quickly cremated without a funeral – and Enola and Sherlock are determined to find out the truth. This engaging mystery has rich period detail about Victorian London, as well as some thought-provoking reflections about the constraints of class and gender in that era. Popular with ages 10+.

Read the full series here.

Dog Man 10: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey

Dog Man graphic novels are a spin-off of the (also super-popular) Captain Underpants novels that has found its own large and loyal fanbase. Beneath the riotiously funny adventures of Dog Man and his crime-fighting cop buddies, lie messages about friendship and celebrating differences. While enjoyed by a wide range of readers – including reluctant readers – Dav Pilkey’s books do have a special resonance with neurodiverse children – Dav himself was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, and his work normalises and respects different behaviours. For ages 7+

The whole Dog Man series can be found here.

Wolf Girl 6: Animal Train by Anh Do

The multi-talented Anh Do has written a slew of bestselling series (including WeirDo, Ninja Kid , E-Boy and Mythix) to suit children of different ages and tastes! Wolf Girl is an adventure-packed series with a feisty, resourceful young hero. Whilst fleeing from the family home away from imminent danger, Gwen becomes separated from her family. Alone in the dark unfamiliar woods, Gwen needs to trust her instincts to survive. Soon she meets and forms a pack / family with a wolf cub, some stray dogs and a hawk. They learn from and look out for each other as Gwen tries to reunite with her family. Wolf Girl has fast-paced, thrilling action and is loved by both boys and girls aged 9+.

Find the whole adventure here.

Middle School: Field Trip Fiasco by James Patterson and Martin Chatterton

James Patterson is better known as a master of crime/political thrillers, but do you know he also writes hilarious school stories aimed at children? His Middle School series follows Rafe, a new student at Hills Village Middle School. Rafe feels alone, different, and a bit lost at his new school, and decides to use rule-breaking as his way of dealing with troubles at home and at school. The trouble-making is funny but he also (subtly) learns that misbehaviour doesn’t pay, as he gradually discovers his interests and strengths. The wacky, over-the-top adventures and heavily-illustrated style is perfect for fans of Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates. For ages 9+.

Read the whole Middle School series here.

Party Ideas to Welcome 2022

Start 2022 in an upbeat mood with delicious food and drink. Whether you are staying home or travelling, keeping things low-key or expecting a crowd, now is the time to take a break, mark the end of this eventful year, and make wishes for the next. And to help you relax, Team Booko has done the work for you, and gathered some great food and drink ideas for this holiday season:

Gin Made Me Do It: 60 Beautifully Botanical Cocktails by Jassy Davis

If you’re excited about the profusion of flavoured gins available, but don’t know where to start, Jassy Davis is here to help you. In Gin Made Me Do It, gin aficionado and cocktail maven Jassy Davis explains everything you need to know: how to choose the perfect blend, mix the ultimate martini, and deliver delicious cocktails for every occasion. Her recipes range from classics such as the Aviator and the Vesper, to more adventurous styles incorporating yuzu, to recipes for DIY gin infusions . Gin Made Me Do It showcases the versatile potential of gin – its refreshing herbaceousness isn’t just for summer refreshment, but can add depth and flavour to cocktails for any season and occasion.

Celebrate: Plant-Based Recipes for Every Occasion by Bettina Campolucci Bordi

Celebrate does what its title says – it offers a collection of delicious plant-based recipes for special occasions and entertaining. Each section offers a complete menu for an occasion such as Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, or picnics. Bettina Campolucci Bordi has focussed on making her recipes accessible and affordable, focussing on common, seasonal produce and not relying on exotic ingredients; she also shows us clever ways to maximise yield and minimise kitchen waste. Sugar-free, gluten-free, free-from and seasonal alternatives are provided for each recipe, so nobody is excluded. Whether you or your loved ones are vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or just want some inspiration for plant-based dishes, this will become your go-to guide!

Zero Proof: 90 Non-alcoholic Drinks for Mindful Drinking by Elva Ramirez

No-alcohol and low-alcohol drinks are a major trend right now, driven by a desire for healthier, more mindful drinking. In Zero Proof, Elva Ramirez, walks us through a range of non-alcoholic craft cocktails as imagined by top bars in London, New York, Paris, Mexico City and more. From refreshing botanicals to spicy herbals and velvety chocolate flavours, these lush and sophisticated recipes showcase the creativity of top bartenders, who strive to recreate the full sensations and elegant cocktail experience without the alcohol. Zero Proof offers plenty of inspiration, as well as a wealth of techniques, on how to take your zero-proof drinks to the next level.

Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need by Poppy O’Toole

Tiktok sensation Poppy O’Toole is the real deal – behind her entertaining cooking videos (100 million views and counting), cheerful personality and her infectious enthusiasm for potatoes (she calls herself the Potato Queen), lie some serious (Michelin-trained) chef skills. And now, in Poppy Cooks, she offers the full details on how to recreate her unfussy-but-totally-delicious dishes. Poppy Cooks is divided into twelve sections, each starting with a core skill/recipe – such as pasta sauce, roast chicken or salad dressing; she then shows how each core recipe can be used to create other types of dishes – the Staple, the Brunch, the Potato Hero and the Fancy AF recipes for entertaining. Perfect for novice cooks (especially teens and young adults) wanting to learn some great standby dishes, as well as the skills and confidence to adapt them to suit any and every occasion.

The Martini: Perfection in a Glass by Matt Hranek

Martinis are one of the best-known cocktails in the world – but there’s much more to them than that “shaken-not-stirred” mythology.  Man-about-town Matt Hranek (who has already written about another iconic drink, The Negroni), is here to share his enthusiasm and knowledge about everything martini-related, from its nineteenth-century-origins, to the low-down on ingredients (Matt Hranek favours the classic gin martini over vodka), methods, garnish, equipment, and glassware; and to where to get the best martinis around the world. There are also recipes for 35 different variations, from famous bars, famous drinkers, and the author’s own repertoire. The stylish photography matches the sophistication of this deliciously simple drink. The Martini makes a handy reference for your drinks collection, as well as an elegant gift for fans of the drink.

The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artists by Phaidon Editors

Is The Kitchen Studio an art book or a cookbook? Maybe it’s both – with a bit of autobiography thrown in. The Kitchen Studio is the result of asking 70 acclaimed contemporary artists to contribute their most exquisite and meaningful culinary creations. Some have responded literally, with family recipes such as chickpea pancakes; others have done so professionally, showing the art they have been creating with food; while others have tackled the brief playfully and with political awareness, such as the “patriotic jelly” in red, white and blue, studded with toy soldiers. The Kitchen Studio is an unexpected, creative and fascinating fusion of food and art; incorporating a range of sketches, photographs, collages, paintings, and personal snaps, each contribution is intensely personal, offering glimpses of the artist’s history, influence as well as their artistic practice.