Category Archives: All Time Favourites

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: J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien stories are set in the world of fairytale with intricate tales of exciting heroic fantasy. This week we are shining the light on this beloved author and are sharing our six favourite Tolkien books (with a few fabulous collector editions). 

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 and spent his childhood in the English countryside and his sensibility to the rural landscape can clearly be seen in his writing and his detailed illustrations. 

His mother died when he was twelve and both he and his brother were made wards of the local priest and sent to King Edward’s School in Birmingham, where Tolkien shone in his classical work. After completing a First in English Language and Literature at Oxford, Tolkien married, fought in the battle of the Somme and then began to write the mythological and legendary cycle which he originally called The Book of Lost Tales but which eventually became known as The Silmarillion.

Tolkien wrote for his children and told them the story of The Hobbit. It was his publisher, Stanley Unwin, who asked for a sequel to The Hobbit and gradually Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, an epic tale that took twelve years to complete and which was not published until Tolkien was approaching retirement. After retirement Tolkien and his wife lived near Oxford, but then moved to Bournemouth. Tolkien returned to Oxford after his wife’s death in 1971. He died in 1973 leaving The Silmarillion to be edited for publication by his son, Christopher.

The Lord of the Rings

Okay, so we know that The Lord of the Rings is actually three books, but they are just so good that we overlooked this minor detail.

Since it was first published in 1954, The Lord of the Rings has been a book people have treasured. Steeped in unrivalled magic and otherworldliness, its sweeping fantasy and epic adventure has touched the hearts of young and old alike. Over 150 million copies of its many editions have been sold around the world, and occasional collectors’ editions become prized and valuable items of publishing. This one-volume hardback edition contains the complete text, fully corrected and reset, which is printed in red and black and features, for the very first time, thirty colour illustrations, maps and sketches drawn by Tolkien himself as he composed this epic work. These include the pages from the Book of Mazarbul, marvellous facsimiles created by Tolkien to accompany the famous ‘Bridge of Khazad-dum’ chapter. Also appearing are two removable fold-out maps drawn by Christopher Tolkien revealing all the detail of Middle-earth. Sympathetically packaged to reflect the classic look of the first edition, this new edition of the bestselling hardback will prove irresistible to collectors and new fans alike.

The Hobbit 

The Hobbit is one of the world’s most popular classic stories, appealing to adults as much as to the children for whom J.R.R. Tolkien first wrote the book. Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again. 

The Hobbit became an instant success when it was first published in 1937, and more than 60 years later Tolkien’s epic tale of elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins, myth, magic and adventure, with its reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins, has lost none of its appeal. 

Now, the classic hardback edition is available once again, featuring the distinctive cover illustration painted by Tolkien himself.

The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion takes fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-Earth. The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated in The Lord of the Rings. This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-Earth.

The History of Middle-Earth

Yep, we may have stretched the definition of book again. This special collector’s edition features all 12 parts of the series bound in three volumes. Each book includes a silk ribbon marker and is quarter-bound in black, with grey boards stamped in gold foil, and the set is presented in a matching black slipcase. 

While J.R.R. Tolkien is famous the world over for his unique literary creation, exemplified in the titles we mentioned above, what is less well known is that he also produced a vast amount of further material that greatly expands upon the mythology and numerous stories of Middle-Earth, and which gives added life to the thousand-year war between the Elves and the evil spirit Morgoth, and his terrifying lieutenant, Sauron.

It was to this enormous task of literary construction that Tolkien’s youngest son and literary heir, Christopher, applied himself to produce the monumental and endlessly fascinating series of twelve books, The History of Middle-Earth.

The Children of Húrin

Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts, this is the first complete, standalone Middle-earth book by J.R.R. Tolkien since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is a legendary time long before The Lord of the Rings, and Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwells in the vast fortress of Angband in the North; and within the shadow of the fear of Angband, and the war waged by Morgoth against the Elves, the fates of Turin and his sister Nienor will be tragically entwined. Their brief and passionate lives are dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bears them as the children of Hurin, the man who dared to defy him to his face. Against them Morgoth sends his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire, in an attempt to fulfil the curse of Morgoth, and destroy the children of Hurin. Begun by J.R.R., Tolkien at the end of the First World War, the Children of Hurin became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien’s ”Unfinished Tales” is a collection ranging from the time of ”The Silmarillion” the Elder Days of Middle-earth to the end of the War of the Ring in ”The Lord of the Rings”. Its many treasures include Gandalf’s lively account of how he came to send the Dwarves to the celebrated party at Bag-End, the emergence of the sea-god Ulmo before the eyes of Tuor on the coast of Beleriand, and a description of the military organisation of the Riders of Rohan. 

Lovers of Tolkien’s mythology will also be fascinated to read the only story from the long ages of Numenor before its downfall, and all that is known of such matters as the Five Wizards, the Palantiri, and the legend of Amroth. 

The collection has been edited by Christopher Tolkien, who provides a commentary placing each of the Tales in the context of his father’s work.

Let us know in the comments below which Tolkien story is your favourite.

Enjoy!

Celebrating the Australian Book Industry – the best fiction titles of 2020

The Australian Book Industry Awards Longlist has just been announced and it is a fabulous round up of what this country has to offer the literary world. It is with this in mind that we thought we would spend March celebrating and showcasing the Australian book industry. This week we are focusing on our favourite new fiction titles and in coming weeks we’ll explore non-fiction, beloved children’s books and inspiring Australian business stories. 

Make yourself a cup of tea and settle in, you’ll be making a list of your next-read books for Autumn. 

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Something wicked is taking hold of Nevermoor. In Morrigan Crow’s third Wundrous adventure (the first two books are Nevermoor and Wundersmith), she faces her most dangerous challenge yet. Morrigan Crow and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society, helped bring down the nefarious Ghastly Market, and proven themselves loyal to Unit 919. Now Morrigan faces a new, exciting challenge: to master the mysterious Wretched Arts of the Accomplished Wundersmith, and control the power that threatens to consume her. Meanwhile, a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. There are whispers, growing louder every day, that this catastrophe can only be the work of the Wundersmith, Ezra Squall. But inside the walls of Wunsoc, everyone knows there is a new Wundersmith – one who’s much closer to home. With Nevermoor in a state of fear and the truth about Morrigan threatening to get out, the city she loves becomes the most perilous place in the world. Morrigan must try to find a cure for the Hollowpox, but it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she could have imagined.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor

Pearl and Vally Cole live in a bookshop. And not just any bookshop. In 1893, Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne is the grandest bookshop in the world, brimming with every curiosity imaginable. Each day brings fresh delights for the siblings: voice-changing sweets, talking parrots, a new story written just for them by their eccentric father. When Pearl and Vally learn that Pa has risked the Arcade – and himself – in a shocking deal with the mysterious Obscurosmith, the siblings hatch a plan. Soon they are swept into a dangerous game with impossibly high stakes: defeat seven challenges by the stroke of midnight and both the Arcade and their father will be restored. But if they fail Pearl and Vally won’t just lose Pa – they’ll forget that he and the Arcade ever existed.

The Survivors by Jane Harper

This is the compelling new novel from Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry. Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home. Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away.

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

Caitlin is convinced she’s going to die. Two years ago she was a normal twenty-something with a blossoming career and a plan to go travelling with her best friend, until a fatal car accident left her with a deep, unshakeable understanding that she’s only alive by mistake. She deals with these thoughts by throwing herself into work, self-medicating with alcohol, and attending a support group for people with death-related anxiety, informally known as The Morbids. But when her best friend announces she’s getting married in Bali, and she meets a handsome doctor named Tom, Caitlin must overcome her fear of death and learn to start living again.

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

‘Find out who you are, and live that life.’ Late in the night, fourteen-year-old Sam Watson steps onto a quiet overpass, climbs over the rail and looks down at the road far below. At the other end of the same bridge, an old man, Vic, smokes his last cigarette. The two see each other across the void. A fateful connection is made, and an unlikely friendship blooms. Slowly, we learn what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night. Bonded by their suffering, each privately commits to the impossible task of saving the other. Honeybee is a heartbreaking, life-affirming novel that throws us headlong into a world of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, daring dog rescues and one spectacular drag show. At the heart of Honeybee is Sam: a solitary, resilient young person battling to navigate the world as their true self; ensnared by loyalty to a troubled mother, scarred by the volatility of a domineering stepfather, and confounded by the kindness of new alliances. Honeybee is a tender, profoundly moving novel, brimming with vivid characters and luminous words. It’s about two lives forever changed by a chance encounter — one offering hope, the other redemption. It’s about when to persevere, and when to be merciful, as Sam learns when to let go, and when to hold on.

All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

The bestselling author of Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton, returns with All Our Shimmering Skies which is a glorious novel destined to become another Australian classic. Darwin, 1942, and as Japanese bombs rain overhead, motherless Molly Hook, the gravedigger’s daughter, turns once again to the sky for guidance. She carries a stone heart inside a duffel bag next to the map that leads to Longcoat Bob, the deep country sorcerer who put a curse on her family. By her side are the most unlikely travelling companions: a razor-tongued actress named Greta and a fallen Japanese fighter pilot named Yukio. ‘Run, Molly, run,’ says the daytime sky. Run to the vine forests. Run to northern Australia’s wild and magical monsoon lands. Run to friendship. Run to love. Run. Because the graverobber’s coming, Molly, and the night-time sky is coming with him. So run, Molly, run. All Our Shimmering Skies is a story about gifts that fall from the sky, curses we dig from the earth and the secrets we bury inside ourselves. It is an odyssey of true love and grave danger; of the darkness and the light; of bones and blue skies. A buoyant, beautiful and magical novel abrim with warmth, wit and wonder, a love letter to Australia and the art of looking up.

Enjoy!