Ask Agatha: hay fever, lies & true crime nuts

Our book advice column is back, and so is our wise and learned bookseller Agatha, who is ready to answer all your tricky (book-related) questions.

If you have a question for Agatha please email


My friend has lent me a book they absolutely LOVE and which I absolutely hate. Do I need to pretend I enjoyed it or can I admit my true feelings?

I know the truth can set us free, but so does a sweet little fib. There is no need to let your friend know that you think their taste in reading matter is severely limited. There is no need to hurt anyone’s feelings. And everyone’s truth is different.

Hiding our so called truth is a worldwide phenomenon. This decline of honesty began decades ago, and in The Death of Truth, former New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani takes a penetrating look at the cultural forces that contributed to this gathering storm. It’s a truly solid read that will make you feel grateful to only have to decide whether to give an honest opinion or not about a novel.

Of course, if the truth is too scary then you could always take a leaf out of Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck which you may consider a welcome antidote to the ‘let’s-all-feel-good’ mindset that has infected modern society. Mason would say, let them know that they should never, ever recommend another book as long as they live.

Anyway, your call but I reckon telling a porkie every now and then makes life a tad easier.


My head is about to roll off my body I’m so full of hay fever. The blossoms may look pretty but they are getting right up my nose. Will I need to stay inside for the whole of Spring?

There’s a theory that eating locally produced honey can help reduce hay fever symptoms in the long-term (a theory that I pass onto you while reminding you that I’m not a medical doctor). Bees are extremely important regardless; from a doomsday prepping point-of-view, a hive on hand is invaluable. Consider beekeeping. The Australian Beekeeping Manual and Backyard Bees are good books to help you get started.

Giving your garden a makeover with native plants that are pollinated by insects and birds (rather than wind) might also help create a low-allergy chill zone. Have a look at The Australian Native Garden for some ideas. Of course having a convenient excuse to stay inside for the whole of spring is hardly a disaster if you have a teetering reading pile to get through. You can check out our booksellers' spring stacks, and our September new releases here.


My 15-year-old teenage daughter is obsessed with crime stories at the moment. Any books you’d recommend? Or should I be worried about her new morbid obsession?

Please don’t be worried – I read crime novels widely as a teen and I’m almost positive I turned out relatively normal. There’s a current boom in young adult crime and thriller stories, so I can heartily recommend the following excellent books. For a classic closed-room whodunnit, look no further than One Of Us Is Lying , a bestseller that is best described as ‘ The Breakfast Club plus murder’. I loved Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious; it combines a cold kidnapping case from the 1930s with a contemporary murder, all wrapped up in a remote boarding school setting. One important thing to note: this is the first of a trilogy, so the murderer isn’t revealed by the end of Book 1.

If you’d like to nudge your daughter slightly sideways into more tangential crime narratives, hand her All That Impossible Space which riffs on the famous Australian historical case of the Somerton Man, or the award-winning Catching Teller Crow, which tells a haunting story of arson, trauma and the resilience of Aboriginal women. Lastly, if you have caught your daughter secretly binge-listening episodes of My Favourite Murder, then Courney Summers' Sadie brings to life the current fad for true crime podcasts. You should also check out our extensive recommendations of crime fiction, mysteries & thrillers for teens. And relax, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a budding Dexter on your hands!