This week on the blog we are looking at the world through the eyes of Sir David Attenborough, one of our favourite broadcasters, biologists, natural historian and authors. Be sure to check back on Thursday.
A Song for the Dark Times is the newest thriller in the Rebus series. It’s about crime, punishment, and redemption, from one of the mystery world’s most acclaimed masters, Ian Rankin.
Click through to read more.
Inspiring people come into our lives at all different times, some are there from the beginning guiding us with their values, others are friends during our schooling years holding our hands through challenging times, and some are fleeting interactions where someone offers us words of wisdom when we needed it most.
It it with the memory of these amazing people that we are looking into the world of biographies this month. There are so many people who we can learn from, be inspired by and propelled forward by. This week we are exploring art and entertainment biographies. We have found six of our favourite stories but hold on tight because they are a mixture of amusement, heartache and devastatingly honest views of the world and each offers us a little nugget of inspiration to take away.
In 1985, Mark Bryan heard Darius Rucker singing in a dorm shower at the University of South Carolina and asked him to form a band. For the next eight years, Hootie & the Blowfish, completed by bassist Dean Felber and drummer Soni Sonefeld, played every frat house, roadhouse, and rock club in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, becoming one of the biggest independent acts in the region. In Only Wanna Be with You, Tim Sommer, the ultimate insider who signed Hootie to Atlantic Records, pulls back the curtain on a band that defied record-industry odds to break into the mainstream by playing hacky sack music in the age of grunge. He chronicles the band’s indie days, their chart-topping success and near-cancelation of their major-label debut along with when the band inspired a plotline on the TV show Friends, also the lean years from the late 1990s through the early 2000s and one of the most remarkable comeback stories of the century. Featuring extensive new interviews with the band members, some of their most famous fans, and stories from the recording studio, tour bus, and golf course, this book is essential reading for Hootie lovers and music buffs.
Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis
In this book, you will meet a little girl named Viola who ran from her past until she made a life changing decision to stop running forever. This is Viola’s story, from a crumbling apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to the stage in New York City, and beyond. This is the path she took to finding her purpose and her strength, but also to finding her voice in a world that didn’t always see her.
In her words: As I wrote Finding Me, my eyes were open to the truth of how our stories are often not given close examination. They are bogarted, reinvented to fit into a crazy, competitive, judgmental world. So I wrote this for anyone who is searching for a way to understand and overcome a complicated past, let go of shame, and find acceptance. For anyone who needs reminding that a life worth living can only be born from radical honesty and the courage to shed facades and be…you. Finding Me is a deep reflection on my past and a promise for my future. My hope is that my story will inspire you to light up your own life with creative expression and rediscover who you were before the world put a label on you.
A Funny Life by Michael McIntyre
Laugh along with Michael McIntyre as he lifts the curtain on his life in his long-awaited new autobiography. Michael’s first book ended with his big break at the 2006 Royal Variety Performance. Waking up the next morning in the tiny rented flat he shared with his wife Kitty and their one-year-old son, he was beyond excited about the new glamorous world of show business. Unfortunately, he was also clueless . . . In A Funny Life, Michael honestly and hilariously shares the highs and the lows of his rise to the top and desperate attempts to stay there. It’s all here, from his disastrous panel show appearances to his hit TV shows, from mistakenly thinking he’d be a good chat show host and talent judge, to finding fame and fortune beyond his wildest dreams and becoming the biggest-selling comedian in the world. Along the way he opens his man drawer, narrowly avoids disaster when his trousers fall down in front of three policemen and learns the hard way why he should always listen to his wife. Michael has had a silly life, a stressful life, sometimes a moving and touching life, but always A Funny Life.
Spinning Plates by Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen discos became a source of much needed escapism, catharsis and sequinned joy for a swathe of the population during lockdown. From knackered mothers and fed up fathers, to cooped up partiers with nowhere to go, Sophie’s gloriously chaotic Friday kitchen performances have cheered and revived us. Now Sophie is bringing that same mixture of down to earth candour and optimistic sparkle to her first book. Part memoir, part musings, Sophie writes about the conjuring act of adulthood and motherhood and how her experience of working while raising her five sons has given her the inescapable lesson of how to navigate life in the face of failure and imperfection.
Covering relationships, good enough parenting, the importance of delusion and dancing, Sophie writes about the things that take on greater importance as life becomes more complicated. From the non negotiables (solitude, music, glitter) to the unimportant (clean hair, deadlines, appropriate behaviour), this is a book about learning from our experiences and not being afraid to smash a few plates for the sake of what we actually need want and value.
The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think by John Hockney
Technically this book isn’t a new release, but it’s a goodie. The Hockneys is a never before seen insight into the lives of one of the world’s most famous artists and his family by youngest brother John, from growing up in the Second World War in Bradford through to their diverse lives across three continents. Hardship, successes as well as close and complex relationships are poignantly illustrated by both famous and private pictures and paintings from David Hockney. With a rare and spirited look into the lives of an ordinary family with extraordinary stories, we begin to understand the creative freedom that led to their successful careers and the launchpad for an artist’s work that has inspired and continues to inspire generations across the world.
To the End of the World by Rupert Everett
Okay, so this isn’t totally new…but it is a new paperback version, and also a great read. Rupert Everett tells the story of how he set out to make a film of Oscar Wilde’s last days, and how that ten-year quest almost destroyed him. (And everyone else). Travelling across Europe for the film, he weaves in extraordinary tales from his past, remembering wild times, freak encounters and lost friends.
There are celebrities, of course. But we also meet glamorous but doomed Aunt Peta, who introduces Rupert (aged three) to the joys of make-up. In ’90s Paris, his great friend Lychee burns bright, and is gone. While in ’70s London, a ‘weirdly tall, beyond size zero’ teenage Rupert is expelled from the Central School of Speech and Drama. Unflinchingly honest and hugely entertaining, To the End of the World offers a unique insight into the ‘snakes and ladders’ of filmmaking. It is also a soulful and thought-provoking autobiography from one of our best-loved and most talented actors and writers.
Having written over 66 novels, Agatha Christie has developed some of our favourite characters. Which is your favourite Agatha Christie character?
This week we are diving into the world of Agatha Christie. She’s an amazing author who has published numerous bestsellers. We’re kicking off the week with some of her wise words.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight novels which have been translated into thirty-four languages in thirty-five countries. Jodi has a penetrating insight into the hearts and minds of real people and writes these insights in page-turning detail.
Born and raised on Long Island in America, Jodi thought her uneventful childhood would not help her as a writer, in fact it was the opposite. The core of a family and the tangle of relationships is something that is central to all of her stories. Jodi studied creative writing at Princeton and published two stories while studying and then went on to further her study with a Master’s of Education at Harvard.
Jodi is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, and the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit. Her stories have also been made into movies and television series.
Here are six of our favourite Picoult stories (you can buy all of Jodi’s books here)
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukaemia that has plagued her since childhood. Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate, a life and a role that she has never questioned until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
Told from multiple points of view, My Sister’s Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Should you follow your own heart, or let others lead you? What happens when emotion catches up to scientific advances?
Set in a small town in the wake of a horrific school shooting, Nineteen Minutes features the return of two beloved Picoult characters – Jordan McAfee, the lawyer from The Pact and Salem Falls, who once again finds himself representing a boy who desperately needs someone on his side; and Patrick Ducharme, the intrepid detective introduced in Perfect Match, whose best witness is the daughter of the superior court judge assigned to the case. As the story unfolds, layer after layer is peeled back to reveal some hard-hitting questions about the nature of justice, the balance of power and what it means to be different. Nineteen Minutes is a riveting, thought-provoking tale with a jaw-dropping finale.
In this contemporary tale of love and friendship, Jodi Picoult brings to life a familiar world, and in a single terrifying moment awakens every parent’s worst fear: we think we know our children – but do we ever really know them at all? For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other – they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born. So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet – a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.
The Pact paints an indelible portrait of families in anguish, culminating in an astonishingly suspenseful courtroom drama as Chris finds himself on trial for murder.
For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight. He is a pillar of his local community. He is also a murderer. When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed. As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love – and revenge.
At her controversial and compelling best, Jodi Picoult explores the moment when boundaries break down, and when the only step left to take is a leap of faith. As Mariah White struggles with depression her seven-year-old daughter Faith seeks solace in a new friend – a friend who may or may not be imaginary. Faith talks to her ‘Guard’ constantly and begins to recite passages from the Bible-a book she’s never read. After a succession of visits to psychiatrists, all of whom conclude Faith is not hallucinating, the unimaginable starts to seem possible: perhaps Faith may actually be seeing God. When Faith’s cachet is enhanced by reported miracle healings and alleged stigmata, she is touted as a prophet. Amidst the gathering storm of controversy, most disruptive of all is the arrival of two men: one a renowned television atheist who plans to debunk Faith’s claims and help boost his flagging ratings, and the other her divorced father whose fear for his daughter’s safety leads him to battle for custody. As Mariah finds herself fighting to keep her daughter, she has to push past her own insecurities and stand up for herself and her competence as a parent. Keeping Faith explores a family plagued by the media, the medical profession, and organised religion in a world where everyone has an opinion but no one knows the truth.
Dawn thinks she knows everything there is to know about dying. As a death doula she helps her clients fix what is left undone so they can peacefully make the final transition. But when her plane plummets from the sky and she thinks she is experiencing the last moments of her life, she is shocked to find that she isn’t thinking of her husband or teenage daughter – but of a road she strayed from 15 years earlier, when she turned her back on her PhD studies. Against all odds, Dawn survives, and the airline gives her a free ticket to wherever she needs to get to. in alternating chapters, we see possible choices: Land – returning to her husband, a quantum physicist who studies the possibilities of parallel universes, she is faced with a test to her marriage and a daughter who is struggling with self-image issues. And Water: returning to her studies and the archaeological site she worked on 15 years earlier, where the man she abandoned is about to make the discovery of a lifetime. But time may not be as straightforward as we think. As Dawn explores her possible futures, she is finding out what a well-lived life means, what we leave behind of ourselves when we leave the earth, and who she might have been…
While they are all such wonderful page turners and challenge you to think about your own values, there must be a favourite Jodi Piocult book you have. Ours is My Sister’s Keeper, what’s yours?
Jodi Picoult has a brilliant insight into the hearts and minds of people and it’s her clever writing which made us choose her for our Author Spotlight this Thursday on the blog. Be sure to pop back to read it.
Why is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling? How about The Matrix or Harry Potter? Author Kate Messner offers a few tricks for writers looking to build a fictional world in this Ted Talk.