Category Archives: Fiction

Posts about novels and other fiction titles

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.

Author Spotlight: John Grisham

With over thirty novels published and becoming bestsellers, the American novelist, John Grisham is one of our favourite legal thriller storytellers. 

Grisham began his career working in criminal defence and litigation and only wrote as a hobby each morning before heading to the office. It took him three years to write his first novel; A Time To Kill, and he has since written a book a year. 

Many of John Grisham’s novels have been adapted into blockbuster movies and his fan base (us included) are eagerly awaiting the release of his latest book Sparring Partners (which you can pre-order here). 

Here are six of our favourite Grisham stories.

The Firm  

He thought it was his dream job. It turned into his worst nightmare. When Mitch McDeere qualified third in his class at Harvard, offers poured in from every law firm in America. Bendini, Lambert and Locke were a small, well-respected firm, but their offer exceeded Mitch’s wildest expectations: a fantastic salary, a new home, and the keys to a brand new BMW. Except for the mysterious deaths of previous lawyers with the firm. And the FBI investigations. And the secret files. Mitch soon realises that he’s working for the Mafia’s law firm, and there’s no way out – because you don’t want this company’s severance package. To survive, he’ll have to play both sides against each other – and navigate a vast criminal conspiracy that goes higher than he ever imagined…

The Pelican Brief  

Two Supreme Court Justices are dead, their murders unsolved. But one woman might have found the answer. Darby Shaw is a brilliant New Orleans legal student with a sharp political mind. For her own amusement, she draws up a legal brief showing how the judges might have been murdered for political reasons, and shows it to her professor. He shows it to his friend, an FBI lawyer. Then the professor dies in a car bomb. And Darby realises that her brief, which pointed to a vast presidential conspiracy, might be right. Someone is intent on silencing Darby for good – somebody who will stop at nothing to preserve the secrets of the Pelican Brief…

The Client  

A US State Senator is dead. Only Mark Sway knows where the body is hidden. And he’s eleven years old. The FBI want him to tell them where it is, regardless of the risk to the boy and his family. The killer wants to silence him permanently. Reggie Love has only been practising law for five years, but she agrees to represent Mark pro bono, knowing she’s his best hope for survival. Against the twin threats of the cold-hearted American state and the schemes of a cold-blooded killer, Reggie must fight the case of her life. Or it might be the last case of her life.

The Chamber  

There are some cases you have to take. Adam Hill is a rookie lawyer at a top Chicago firm. The world is at his feet. So why does he volunteer to represent a KKK terrorist under threat of execution? And why is the defendant happy to put his life in a novice’s hands? The answer lies twenty years in the past, but there are darker, more shocking secrets to be uncovered

The Rainmaker  

The Rainmaker is a gripping courtroom thriller. Rudy Baylor is a newly qualified lawyer: he has one case, and one case alone, to save himself from his mounting debts. His case is against a giant insurance company which could have saved a young man’s life, but instead refused to pay the claim until it was too late. The settlement could be worth millions of dollars, but there is one problem: Rudy has never argued a case in court before, and he’s up against the most expensive lawyers that money can buy.

The Runaway Jury  

When justice is for sale, every jury has a price. In Biloxi, Mississippi, a landmark trial begins. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and soon it swerves mysteriously off course. The jury is behaving strangely, and at least one juror is convinced he’s being watched. Soon they have to be sequestered. Then a tip from an anonymous young woman suggests she is able to predict the jurors’ increasingly odd behaviour. Is the jury somehow being manipulated, or even controlled? If so, by whom? And, more importantly, why?

Enjoy!

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.

The Scariest Books on the Market

October seems a great time to dip into suspenseful or horror fiction – marrying our insatiable appetite for crime thrillers with an increasing enthusiasm for celebrating Halloween. Get your fill of spine-tingling chills with our selection of thrillers:

The Shadow House by Anna Downes

Anna Downes follows up her impressive debut with this hard-to-put-down domestic horror. Alex heads to rural NSW with her teenage son and her baby, to escape an abusive relationship back in the city. The ecovillage called Pine Ridge, with an idyllic location and welcoming residents, seems the perfect place for a fresh start. It doesn’t take long for Alex to realise that, in escaping her own shadowy past, she may have stumbled upon someone else’s – and this time, there may be nowhere to run. The Shadow House is a creepy, perplexing thriller that follows two mothers across dual timelines, as the past begins to repeat itself in sinister and increasingly bizarre ways.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Becoming a bestseller is just the beginning for The Last Thing He Told Me – in less than six months, it has become a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, appeared on holiday reading lists by Vogue and CNN (and others), and is now being adapted for Apple TV Plus (with Julia Roberts as star and co-producer).  The Last Thing He Told Me is about Hannah, who’s left alone with an antagonistic stepdaughter when her newly wed husband Owen disappears.  Then an unexplained bag of cash, and the FBI turns up.  To find Owen, and unravel his true identity, Hannah and Bailey will have to team up and learn to trust each other.  Laura Dave has crafted a fast-paced domestic thriller that is also a beautifully-written relationship drama.

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin

The Dark Remains is Ian Rankin’s labour of love  – he has completed a story started by the late William McIlvanney, whom he regards as his mentor.  This story is a prequel to McIlvanney’s Jack Laidlaw trilogy, widely regarded as the first “Tartan Noir” novels.  The Dark Remains is about Jack Laidlaw’s first case – back when he was younger, a misfit who didn’t make friends easily, but already gaining a reputation for having “a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets.” Besides the central whodunit around a murdered lawyer, what will delight readers are the evocative descriptions – of autumn in Glasgow in 1972,  a city awash in rain, whisky, vice and blood; and of the stoic Laidlaw in his formative years.  Ian Rankin has continued McIlvanney’s writing style seamlessly in this atmospheric, witty and sharp mystery.

The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

An unsolved mystery from the start of her career comes back to haunt, and potentially harm, seasoned journalist Olive Groves.  Dubbed the Housemate Homicide, the case involved three housemates – one dead, one missing, and one accused of murder.  Nine years later, the missing housemate is found dead on a remote property, and Olive (Oli) once again works on the story.  Paired with young podcaster Cooper, Oli unearths facts and secrets about the case that poses danger for her new family and threaten to destroy her present happiness.  Set in Melbourne, The Housemate is a crime procedural that also offers insights into journalistic practices.  Sarah Bailey’s storytelling shows great assurance, with a satisfyingly tense and complex build up until the flurry of revelations at the novel’s climax.

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter’s latest book weaves a dark, compelling legal thriller with the complex relationship dramas around siblings and with parents.  Leigh Coulton has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life after a traumatic and neglected childhood.  However, someone who knows the secrets of her past is threatening to bring it all down.  Leigh’s lastest client as a defence attorney is Andrew Tenant, a rape suspect in a high-profile case.  Leigh quickly realises that she was chosen by Andrew because he recognises her – and knows secrets that she has been hiding for 23 years, about a brutal crime involving her and her estranged sister, Callie.  How will Leigh avoid Andrew’s threats without compromising her case, whilst not exposing the secrets that will destroy her hard-won happiness?  False Witness is a gripping read that doesn’t shy away from tough topics, and excels at portraying family love and loyalty. This standalone thriller is a treat for current fans, and a great entry point for readers new to Karin Slaughter’s books.

My Best Friend’s Murder by Polly Phillips

My Best Friend’s Murder is an addictive psychological thriller about a toxic, multilayered friendship between two women – a “frenemy” dynamic that will be recognisable, perhaps even relatable for readers. Bec and Izzy have been best friends their whole lives, having been together through the many ups and downs of their teen and adult years – nonetheless, a persistent dark undercurrent has finally overwhelmed their relationship.  The book opens with Bec discovering a critically injured Izzy at the bottom of some stairs; we then learn more about their relationship through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards.  The tension builds as we explore the whydunit rather than the whodunit.  In this award-winning debut, Polly Phillips has created a pair of unlovely-but-memorable characters, and  has written about the complicated nature of close friendships with insightful perception.

The newest fiction hitting the market

While in lockdown many of us took up new hobbies, such as bread making, knitting, puzzle building, yoga with Adrienne, or podcasting, some of the clever clogs around the world wrote new books – and gosh are we thankful for that! There are so many new books hitting the market that we know you are going to love. This week we’re sharing new fiction titles and have chosen six that are highly likely to make your Christmas wishlist (is it too early to mention Christmas?). So sit back, and get ready to get clicking to let everyone know whether you want an audio, electronic or actual paper version. 

Cracked Pots by Heather Tucker

Cracked Pots s the much-anticipated follow-up novel from the author of The Clay Girl. The perfect girl, from the nicest family, vanishes. For once in Ari Appleton’s life, the mayhem is not the fault of her twisted mother or dead father – or is it? The tragedy unfolds, revelations surface, then one misstep cracks everything open, leaving 16-year-old Ari with terrifying questions. Are Appletons the root of all evil? From the waning flower-power ’60s in Toronto, through her East Coast university years, Ari fights to discover who she is and what it means to be the child of an addicted mother and depraved father. With wit, tenacity, and the incessant meddling of Jasper the seahorse in her head Ari rides turbulent waves of devilry and discovery, calamity and creation, abandonment and atonement on a journey to find her true self, and to find Natasha.

Cracked Pots is a story about a girl broken by both cruelty and truth. It is a revelation: that destiny is shaped in clay, not stone. It is also a celebration of rising after the blows, gathering the fragments, and piecing together a remarkable life through creativity, kindness, and belonging.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a distribution warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young-but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world? You can find Sally Rooney’s other books here.

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

Freckles is the brand new novel from million-copy bestselling author Cecelia Ahern. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. When a stranger utters these words to Allegra Bird, nicknamed Freckles, it turns her highly ordered life upside down. In her current life as a parking warden, she has left her eccentric father and unconventional childhood behind for a bold new life in the city. But a single encounter leads her to ask the question she’s been avoiding for so long: who are the people who made her the way she is? And who are the five people who can shape and determine her future? Just as she once joined the freckles on her skin to mirror the constellations in the night sky, she must once again look for connections. Told in Allegra’s vivid, original voice, moving from Dublin to the fierce Atlantic coast, this is an unforgettable story of human connection, of friendship, and growing into your own skin. Five people. Five stars. Freckle to freckle. Star to star.

After Story by Larissa Behrendt

When Indigenous lawyer Jasmine decides to take her mother Della on a tour of England’s most revered literary sites, Jasmine hopes it will bring them closer together and help them reconcile the past. Twenty-five years earlier the disappearance of Jasmine’s older sister devastated their tight-knit community. This tragedy returns to haunt Jasmine and Della when another child mysteriously goes missing on Hampstead Heath. As Jasmine immerses herself in the world of her literary idols – including Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Virginia Woolf – Della is inspired to rediscover the wisdom of her own culture and storytelling. But sometimes the stories that are not told can become too great to bear.

Ambitious and engrossing, After Story celebrates the extraordinary power of words and the quiet spaces between. We can be ready to listen, but are we ready to hear?

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

The Paper Palace is a magnificent literary debut about the myriad loves that make up a life. Before anyone else is awake, on a perfect August morning, Elle Bishop heads out for a swim in the glorious fresh water pond below The Paper Palace, the gently decaying summer camp in the back woods of Cape Cod where her family has spent every summer for generations. As she passes the house, Elle glances through the screen porch at the uncleared table from a dinner party the previous evening; empty wine glasses, candle wax on the table cloth, echoes of laughter of family and friends. Then she dives beneath the surface of the freezing water to the shocking memory of the sudden passionate encounter she had the night before, up against the wall outside the house, as her husband and mother chatted to the dinner guests inside. So begins a story that unfolds over 24 hours and across 50 years, as decades of family legacies, love, lies, secrets, and one unspeakable incident in her childhood lead Elle to the precipice of a life-changing decision. Over the next 24 hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her much-loved husband, Peter, and the life she imagined would be hers with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives.

Plum by Brendan Cowell

Plum is the wildly impressive, raucously funny and deeply moving second novel from award-winning writer, actor and director for television, theatre and film, Brendan Cowell. Peter ‘The Plum’ Lum is a 48-year-old ex-star NRL player, living with his son and girlfriend in Cronulla. He’s living a pretty cruisey life until one day he suffers an epileptic fit and discovers that he has a brain disorder as a result of the thousand-odd head knocks he took on the footy field in his twenty-year-career. According to his neurologist, Plum has to make some changes, right now, or it’s dementia, or even death. Reluctantly, Plum embarks on a journey of self-care and self-discovery, which is not so easy when all you’ve ever known is to go full tilt at everything. On top of this, he’s being haunted by dead poets, and, unable to stop crying, discovers he has a special gift for the spoken word. With spectral visits from Bukowski and Plath, the friendship of local misfits, and the prospect of new love, Plum might just save his own life. Plum is a powerfully moving, authentic, big-hearted, angry and joyous novel of men, their inarticulate pain and what it takes for them to save themselves – from themselves. It’s got a roaring energy, a raucous humour, a heart of gold and a poetic soul.

Enjoy!

The Booko Father’s Day Gift Guide

Father’s Day is fast approaching – and, for those of us who cannot celebrate with our father-figures in person, what better way to show our appreciation than through a well-chosen book? Easy to buy and send for the giver, and hours of enjoyment for the receiver! Here are some Booko favourites for Father’s Day gifting:

Blessed: The Breakout Year of Rampaging Roy Slaven by John Doyle

It seems entirely appropriate that the launch of Rampaging Roy Slaven’s memoirs coincides with this year’s Olympic Games – after all, Roy and his partner HG Nelson are two of Australia’s best Olympics commentators. Blessed is the coming-of-age story of this Australian icon, raconteur, and athlete of “unsurpassable sporting feats” – a record of Roy’s “breakout” year as a 15 year-old in Lithgow, rural NSW in 1967. Blessed is a tender and insightful depiction of a community on the cusp of great change -it handles some difficult issues with a light but respectful touch. With additional tantalising hints of the life of John Doyle, the fictional Roy’s creator, this intriguing fictional memoir is a must-read.

We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

Looking for a big, emotional story after finishing Boy Swallows Universe or Bridge of Clay? We Were Not Men may just do the trick (praised by Trent Dalton himself as “gut-punching” and “soul-restoring” ). We Were Not Men is a powerful, moving and ultimately uplifting story of twin brothers, Jon and Eden, and their grandmother Bobbie. Thrown together as the remnants of a family fractured by a shocking accident, we see the effort and bravery it takes to heal from unspeakable tragedy, and we also see the ebb and flow of the twins’ bond as they grow up, compete against each other, leave each other behind and catch up with each other again. Campbell Mattinson’s debut novel has been 30 years in the making – and is absolutely worth the wait.

Take One Fish: the New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland

Josh Niland is so respected that his masterclasses pack out concert halls. He is particularly known for “Scale-to-Tail” eating and cooking, adapting this sustainable and respectful approach from meat cookery. Take One Fish offers recipes for 15 global species of fish – from cheap and accessible sardines and herrings, to luxe coral trout and groper. These recipes utilise as much as 90% of each fish (nearly double of regular recipes) through innovative cutting and cooking techniques. Look out for his surprising and perfect recipes of fish versions of classic dishes, including Peking coral trout, swordfish schnitzel and John Dory liver terrine – terrific inspiration, especially for Foodies and pescatarians!

Halliday Wine Companion 2022 by James Halliday

Every year, the wine industry awaits the latest edition of the Halliday Wine Companion as eagerly as wine lovers. This bestseller is widely recognised as the go-to guide to Australian wine, with comprehensive reviews by a trusted team of critics. There’s information on wine ratings, alcohol content, best by drinking, regions, winery reviews and varietals, and it also highlights the best of the year’s output with its prestigious awards for wines, winemakers as well as for wineries. Halliday Wine Companion has all you need to know about wine buying and collecting, plus it makes a great guidebook for wine tourism!

Tales From The Perilous Realm by J. R. R. Tolkien

For father-figures who love fantasy, here is a beautifully-illustrated volume that collects Tolkien’s five novellas for the first time. Tales From the Perilous Realm contains Farmer Giles of Ham, Roverandom, The Tale of Tom Bombadil, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wootton Major – these are Tolkien’s take on fairy tales, and they are as full of magic, adventure and charm as his longer works. Their shorter lengths also make them great read-alouds! The delicate and detailed illustrations are by Alan Lee, who has a deep connection to Tolkien’s worlds through previously illustrating editions of The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit, as well as working on concept art for both film series.

How We Became Human: and Why We Need to Change by Tim Dean

Philosopher and journalist Tim Dean tries to make sense of our current social flashpoints – including racism, sexism, religious conflict and partisan politics – in his first book, How We Became Human. Tim suggests that, over thousands of years, humans have developed morality, and associated “moral emotions” (such as empathy, guilt and outrage), to differentiate between friend and foe. These are powerful tools that have helped humans co-exist in ever-larger, more productive societies. However, our morals have fallen out of step with our increasingly diverse world; so we will need to separate what’s natural from what’s right, in order to reframe morality for the modern world. How to Be Human is a compelling read for those who love to ponder life’s big questions.

Six of the newest contemporary fiction titles on the market now

Contemporary fiction has been growing in popularity and the number of titles hitting the market is skyrocketing. It is a genre that typically has reality-based stories with strong characters and a believable storyline. We have loved researching this genre and while staying safe at home we have had the chance to read a little more than usual. Here are our top six picks of the newest contemporary fiction books that are on the market now.

The Truth About Her by Jacqueline Maley

How can you write other people’s stories, when you won’t admit the truth of your own? An absorbing, moving, ruefully tender, witty and wise novel of marriage, motherhood and the paths we navigate through both, for fans of Ann Patchett and Anne Tyler. Journalist and single mother Suzy Hamilton gets a phone call one summer morning, and finds out that the subject of one of her investigative exposes, 25-year-old wellness blogger Tracey Doran, has killed herself overnight. Suzy is horrified by this news but copes in the only way she knows how: through work, mothering, and carrying on with her ill-advised, tandem affairs. The consequences of her actions catch up with Suzy over the course of a sticky Sydney summer. She starts receiving anonymous vindictive letters and is pursued by Tracey’s mother wanting her, as a kind of rough justice, to tell Tracey’s story, but this time, the right way. A tender, absorbing, intelligent and moving exploration of guilt, shame, female anger, and, in particular, mothering, with all its trouble and treasure, The Truth About Her is mostly though a story about the nature of stories, who owns them, who gets to tell them, and why we need them. This is an entirely striking, stylish and contemporary novel.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect? Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark, much older and worldly-wise, who bewitches her. Could this be love? When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it, not even her indomitable mother. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing unflinchingly explores the confusion of having expectations upturned, and the awkwardness and pain of being human in our increasingly dislocated world, and how, in spite of all this, we still try to become the person we want to be. It is a dazzling, original and astounding debut from a young writer with a fierce, intelligent and fearless new voice.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

32-year-old Nina Dean is a successful food writer with a loyal online following, but a life that is falling apart. When she uses dating apps for the first time, she becomes a victim of ghosting, and by the most beguiling of men. Her beloved dad is vanishing in slow motion into dementia, and she’s starting to think about ageing and the gendered double-standard of the biological clock. On top of this she has to deal with her mother’s desire for a mid-life makeover and the fact that all her friends seem to be slipping away from her . . . Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny, tender and painfully relatable, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships and the way we live today.

One Hundred Days by Alice Pung

One hundred days. It’s no time at all, she tells me. But she’s not the one waiting. In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world, and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble. Stuck inside for endless hours, Karuna battles her mother and herself for a sense of power in her own life, as a new life forms and grows within her. As the due date draws ever closer, the question of who will get to raise the baby, who it will call Mum, festers between them. One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the fault lines between love and control. At times tense and claustrophobic, it is nevertheless brimming with humour, warmth and character. It is a magnificent new work from one of Australia’s most celebrated writers.

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe

Can a wedding dress save a bunch of hardened criminals? The Full Monty meets Orange is the New Black in a poignantly comic story about a men’s prison sewing circle. Derek’s daughter Debbie is getting married. He’s desperate to be there, but he’s banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn’t spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture, to show her how much he loves her. But what? Inspiration strikes while he’s embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle, he’ll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of criminals is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons. But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers. This is a funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.

Enjoy!