Friday, May 22, 2015

3-4-Friday Out Of This Word: Exploding Moons, Astronaut handbooks and post-apocalyptic Shakespeare

(c) Daniel Bursch / NASA
"The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program" - Larry Niven

Abingdon sits at the heart of a lot of science - and increasingly that includes Space Exploration. Whether it's next generation spaceplanes at Culham, space test facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Labs or the new European Centre for Space Applications at Harwell, it seems like dozens of new space organisations and companies are springing up all over the place.

So no apologies if today’s 3-4-Friday has a slightly out-of-this-word, sorry, world feel to it.

This November, astronaut Tim Peake will be the first British astronaut to be launched into space on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and he’s written the forward for Louie Stowell's ‘The Usborne Official Astronaut's Handbook’. It's a funny and fascinating how-to guide for budding astronauts, and Usborne says it provides a 'crash course' on what it takes to travel into space (but hopefully not that sort of crash).

Given that it costs about £300 million per ISS mission, we reckon £6.99 is a highly cost-effective way of learning how to train for, get to and live in space for kids – without actually going there.

Of course, if we don’t learn how to live in space, we’re sitting ducks for any rogue asteroid, nearby supernova explosion – or just wandering exo-planet that might stray too close. And that is the starting point for Neal Stephenson’s epic new science fiction novel ‘Seveneves’, published yesterday. 

When something (or someone) blows up the Moon, humans are forced to evacuate the Earth – and we follow the survivors over the next several hundred years as they evolve in space. As with all Stephenson’s novels, the science is merciless, the scale is epic, and you have to be up for the ride. But the result is a blistering, catch-your-breath, against-the-odds tale that might just serve as an emergency handbook in case we ever have to leave Earth in a hurry.

And if you’ve ever wondered what a post-apocalyptic life on Earth might actually be like, then ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel won this year’s Arthur C Clarke award for the best science fiction novel of the year (it was also longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for women’s fiction).

It’s the elegiac story of Kirsten, who, part of a touring theatre group, performs Shakespeare to settlements that have grown up in the aftermath of society’s collapse. Haunting, yet strangely reassuring, it reminds us of what we can be thankful about in the absence of flu epidemics (or any other world-ending scenario).

For whilst we may strive to go off into space, we can't ignore what we have to protect here on Earth. If only there were a way of linking the two?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Could you write the next chapter for Mostly Books?

It is with excited anticipation, mixed obviously with sadness, that we would like to announce that Mostly Books is looking for a new owner.

In the last year we’ve hosted our biggest-ever event with David Mitchell, we’ve been recognised as one of the top three bookshops in the south-east of England by the Bookseller Industry Awards, and we’ve implemented our biggest ever initiative to support literacy in schools.

All of this has been achieved while never losing sight of that fact that we are first and foremost a community bookshop – serving both our local customers and visitors to the town with experienced bookseller knowledge, our hugely popular next-day ordering service, as well as providing a community notice-board and box office for events in the town.

As next year we will go into our tenth year we have started to think ‘what next for Mostly Books?’

No business can ever afford to stand still – and in the rapidly changing world of High Street bookselling, we reckon there needs to be a constant stream of new ideas. We feel that a new owner of the bookshop would come in with a host of new ideas – just as we did nearly ten years ago.

We feel that the best way we can ensure Mostly Books moves forwards, evolving and offering those robust services that people have come to expect is to find someone who will bring in fresh ideas, new creativity and an ability to ensure Mostly Books is still here, serving its community, another ten years from now.

The shop is now officially for sale.

We could not do what we do - nor have achieved the success that we have – without truly incredible support. We hope everyone will continue to support us through the transition and offer the same enthusiastic welcome we have received in our ten-year tenure, to the new owners.

We very much look forward to ushering in this new chapter and feel it is the way to ensure that the future will continue to bring excitement and enthusiasm, and continue to grow what is a very special cultural hub for books in Abingdon.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

John Henry Brookes: The man who inspired a university

On Wednesday, May 20 at 7.30pm we will be celebrating the life of John Henry Brookes, educationalist and founder of Oxford Brookes University, with Abingdon-based designer and author Bryan Brown, to coincide with the launch of his ground-breaking biography ‘John Henry Brookes: The man who inspired a university’.

When John Henry Brookes (JHB) became head teacher at the Oxford School of Art in 1928, there were just two members of staff teaching 90 students. By the time he retired in 1956, the institution had grown significantly and was by then called the Oxford College of Technology. He had set the foundations and ideas enabling it to grow into the internationally recognised university of today. 

During his 28 year career, Brookes, believing that education should be available to all, also helped to create two other schools; Oxford Spires Academy and Cheney School, as well as the Oxford College of Further Education, now known as the City of Oxford College.

"A goal of all formal education should be to graduate students to lead lives of consequence" - JH Brookes

This was a truly remarkable achievement during one of the most challenging periods in British history, including the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s, World War 2 and its deprived aftermath.

With photography dating back from the early years of the 20th century, and beautiful colour reproductions of artwork produced by Brookes, the biography will provide a compelling insight into the life of a man who was determined to change education for young people in Oxford. 

As well as an insight into one of the most influential educational leaders of the 20th century, the book explores how the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement influenced the development of education in Oxford. 

Bryan Brown is closely associated with John Henry Brookes. He was born in Oxford, attended Cheney School (founded by Brookes), and similarly trained as a designer. In 1992 when Oxford Polytechnic became a university, he recommended the name and developed the brand identity for Oxford Brookes University.

In 2005, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the University and in recent years has led a campaign to reassert John Henry Brookes’ fading legacy. 

The event takes place at Mostly Books on Wednesday, May 20 at 7.30pm. Bryan will be discussing the man, his legacy and how what he did and achieved hold lessons for today's educationalists.

Tickets are £4, including a glass of wine, and redeemable against a purchase of the book on the night, which will be on offer at a special price.

We hope you can join us. Email us to reserve a place.

(Keen to learn more about JHB? Visit his page on the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques website)

Friday, May 01, 2015

Super Thursday indie-style: is that the sound of Summer Reading we hear?

Sometimes in the Autumn, it seems like every Thursday is "super-Thursday", a day when huge numbers of books are published, and bookshops up and down the land struggle to cope with the number of boxes coming in.

Generally speaking the book trade loves these events - it generates huge interest in books, and creates a real buzz about the big-hitters that are going to bring customers into the shop in the crucial Christmas period.

Independent bookshops tend to have a more mixed feeling about these days (particularly those checking books into stock!). We are much simpler folk, tending to mistrust the pile 'em high philosophy of traditional retail, and prefer instead a steadier stream of great titles that we can sort through, curate, and introduce to readers by placing a book into someone's hands.

But here's the curious thing. Inevitably, about six months later, many of these big titles get published in paperback. On the same day. Along with quite a few big-hitting new titles. And yet - not a peep it seems from the publishing world?

Now there may or may not be a few other things happening next Thursday, but - in the spirit of independent retail, and on the basis that the majority of readers prefer paperbacks and wait for them eagerly to be published as paperback (particularly fiction, particularly bookgroup books, particularly as the holiday reading season approaches) we're having our own 'Super Thursday' in the bookshop next week.

We can't promise scantily-clad publicity assistants (of either gender). Or features on Start The Week. Although Mark may bare his knees if you are unlucky...

But we can promise some great reading to fire the gun on some of favourite reads ahead of Summer...

Kate Atkinson's dazzling 'Life After Life', explored the possibility of infinite chances, as Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In 'A God in Ruins', Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula's beloved younger brother RAF bomber pilot Teddy.

This is a highly engrossing and often heartbreaking journey though post-war Britain from the point of view of someone who witnessed so much death in his young life, his greatest challenge becomes to face living in a future he never expected to have. It manages to be a story about death, about life and also about narrative and story itself and certainly deserves to be considered a masterpiece and to be treasured as such.

One of our favourite books when it was published back in the Autumn (and with a much friendlier picture of Alan for the paperback cover!) 'Not My Father's Son' by Alan Cumming is part memoir, part family-history mystery, and part whodunnit as an appearance on Who Do You Think You Are sets off a landslide of family secrets and half-truths that make for a genuine page-turning read with a hugely satisfying ending.

You cannot help but get sucked into the entwined tale of two strands of Alan's family and the revelations at times are jaw-dropping. An uplifting, effortless read that's also an unexpected meditation on the shadows - and light - cast on us by our ancestors. 

We love Louise Levene - her debut 'A Vision of Loveliness' brilliantly evoked the dark-edged realities and possibilities of being a young woman in 60s London. So it's appropriate the we've moved into the 1970s with 'The Following Girls' (and we love that cover!)

Amanda Baker is part of a school gang 'the four Mandies', girls who are constantly in trouble at school. Stuck in the 1970s, where there is still a fight over woman having jobs and not being bound to the house all day, they have the teenage mindset of hating everything; from school to their parents rules. A funny, sharp story about growing up, life and friendship that could be more dangerous than good. This is one of Imogen's picks for the Summer.

One of Mark's favourites from last year is 'The Axeman's Jazz' by Ray CelestinA killer is on the loose in New Orleans at the end of World War. A letter to the police promises to kill on a specific date, but also to spare anyone in whose house ‘a jazz band is in full swing’. Thus starts a frenetic jazz-fuelled race against the clock in the sultry, swampy, racially-charged state of post-war Louisiana. Corruption is rife, but it’s in everyone’s interest – politicians, police and Mafiosi – to catch the killer. But just who is responsible for the Axeman’s Jazz? Original, suspenseful and based on true events, this is cracking entertainment.

The death of Terry Pratchett was widely - and fittingly - mourned throughout the reading world, so it's very appropriate that Julia has voted for 'A Slip of the Keyboard', published in paperback on May 7. This collection of the best of Terry Pratchett's includes observations on subjects as diverse as animal rights, Gandalf's love life, banana daiquiris - and the disease that eventually killed him. With a forward by Neil Gaiman (with who he collaborated on the book 'Good Omens') this is a fine way to honour one of our greatest writers. 

A few times a year, a book is published that isn't just a bestseller, but a literary phenomenon. David Nicholls' book 'One Day' certainly fell into that category, but the tone is altogether darker in 'Us' which arrives in paperback ready for one of our big Summer reading picks.

With their teenage son all grown up, is there any reason for Connie and Douglas to stay together? Unwisely they plan an elaborate last family holiday – taking in the whole of Europe. What follows is a well-observed, sometimes hilarious, often painful bittersweet story of a marriage.

A new No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel from Alexander McCall Smith is a cause for shouting for huge numbers of readers (and a celebratory pot of redbush tea), so we're delighted that 'The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe' arrives in paperback on May 7. 

This is Mma Ramotswe's fifteenth adventure (can you believe that?) and this time the focus is fully on Mma Makutsi, Ramotswe's enthusiastic, ambitious business partner (although officially she's only 'an assistant full partner' of course). Launching her own new enterprise, the 'Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe' ("only for the fashionable people") she's soon up to her neck in grumpy chefs, drunken waiters. So who's she gonna call? Mma Ramotswe, of course.

One of our favourite children's authors, Frances Hardinge, is riding high at the moment with her novel 'Cuckoo Song' being read across the country by children shadowing the Carnegie Award. And 'The Lie Tree' is another blistering original piece of storytelling that seems destined for awards.

In Victorian England, Faith knows she has no future as a scientist like her father. But when he is murdered she discovers women can be good at influencing and manipulating behind the scenes and she sets about trying to uncover the truth, even though no-one will believe it. Another thought-provoking, imaginative tale that weaves science and fantasy - Frances Hardinge is definitely at the cutting edge of YA writing.

(Frances had some cracking writing tips for aspiring authors when she came to Abingdon a few years ago - if you are interested about her writing process, our interview with her is well worth reading)

Back to non-fiction, and this was a giant of a book last Autumn - and a book we recommended a lot (and even spoke about on the radio). As far as themes go, they don’t get much bigger than the entire history of our species. Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ is one of those monumental works that gives a dizzying perspective on how we came to rule – and threaten – the entire planet. It starts with changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we became farmers, developed religion, invented money, harnessed technology and threatened widespread extinction.

The writing is superb – fresh, brazen – and never afraid to come off the fence in areas that are controversial: did we domesticate wheat, or did it domesticate us? Did stockpiling food lay the psychological seeds for consumerism? Are we happier now than *any* of our ancestors? And what is going to replace our species, as surely as we replaced earlier species?

Another incredible book from one of Imogen's favourite authors - particularly relevant because two of our staff (no names!) will be travelling down to London later in May to a big event with author Sarah J Maas...

'A Court of Thorns and Roses' is a unique retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Follow Feyre as she is dragged from her home to live in a world dangous for Mortals. Filled with fey and magic, nothing is ever as it seems, and as the time she spends there lengths, she realises that the fey she lives with are hiding more than just their faces under the masks that they wear. Perfect for any fairytale loved, the magic of this book will not leave you even after finishing the last page...

With a highly prolific career - including a fictional retelling of the battle of Waterloo - it may surprise you to learn that 'Waterloo : The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles' is Bernard Cornwell's first ever non-fiction title.

Cornwell combines his storytelling skills with a meticulously researched history to give a riveting account of every dramatic moment of the battle of Waterloo, from Napoleon's escape from Elba to the smoke and gore of the battlefields. Through letters and diaries he also sheds new light on the private thoughts of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, as well as the ordinary officers and soldiers. Published to coincide with the bicentenary this year, Waterloo is a tense and gripping story of heroism and tragedy - and of the final battle that determined the fate of Europe...

Finally, mystery stories are big at the moment for children, and we are big fans of Lauren Child and her undercover, wisecracking, teen sleuth Ruby Redfort. With funky new jackets for the whole series, book 3 arrives in paperback on Thursday: 'Catch You Death'. Ruby finds herself in a survival situation, with tigers and other wild animals on the loose. But if anyone can solve the mystery, it's going to be Ruby...

So - twelve of the best for Super Thursday. The odd one not (strictly speaking) published on that day, but near enough. And with other hardback titles from Mostly Books favourite Jeffery Deaver (Solitude Creek, the new Kathryn Dance novel), Kathy Reich's latest on paperback ('Bones Never Lie') and Wilbur Smith's 'Desert God' there will be a lot of activity in the shop next Thursday...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't get caught in 'The Rain': five questions with Virginia Bergin

Before Easter, we did a fantastic school event with YA author Virginia Bergin, author of 'The Rain' and it's newly-published sequel 'The Storm'. Fantastic because Virginia was born and brought up in Abingdon...and we got to take her back to her old school, Fitzharrys.

The Rain tells the story of Ruby Morris, and what happens when something seeds the rainclouds and wipes out large numbers of the world's population. What really sets this dystopian novel for young adults apart - and why we love it - is it's British setting, and the central character of Ruby - who already had plenty of problems before the world started to end...

As you might guess, having always been a writer, Virginia was never the most likely pupil to be up on stage when at school, so the opportunity to stand up and talk to pupils was both exciting and terrifying.
After an (understandable) wobble at the start, Virginia got into her stride, and if there is one thing Virginia can do brilliantly it's to pick a great piece from her book, and read it to great effect. The pupils were stunned, and responded brilliantly...

Virginia signed copies for students, and gave them advice on everything to do with writing their own books.

Given her Abingdon heritage, we were particularly interested to learn as much about her writing life as possible - particularly with 'The Rain' coming out as H2O in the US (with an extremely cool cover with the effect of drops of rain burning through the book jacket!). Here's what she said... 

Five Questions with...Virginia Bergin's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Being a multi-tasking octopus! Having just got back from The Rain/The Storm UK schools tour, I’ve got tons of news posts to do for my website, blogs to write, photos to post, emails to respond to and people to thank (including you, Mr Mostly Books!), plus Rain has just come out in Germany and I need to work on the American version of The Storm. Writing-wise, it’s pretty quiet – which is no bad thing as last year was non-stop crazy – but I’ve got a couple of new story ideas I’m thinking about. I can’t say more than that because they’re top secret at the moment!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Hmmm . . . I’ve been writing seriously for about 20 years, so I’ve taken part in a lot of workshops and courses and writers’ groups and picked up a lot of tips . . . but I think you learn more by doing, so I’m going to tell you my favourite writing exercise instead! It works best when you don’t know why you’re doing the first part, but . . .

Pick a subject – any subject – and give yourself 5 minutes to write down as many words as you can think of that you’d associate with it. Your subject could be ‘rain’, for example, so you’d write down things like ‘pouring’, ‘wet’, ‘drip’, ‘drop’, ‘torrential’, ‘cloud’, ‘storm’, etc. Be thorough. Be imaginative. Test your vocabulary.

Now . . . give yourself 10-15 minutes to write a seriously chunky paragraph all about rain WITHOUT USING ANY OF THOSE WORDS.

(You can even do this with a friend; just swap your lists of banned words and challenge your friend to write about your subject.)

It is fiendishly difficult – but it will really push your writing!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
OK, I'm going to change this question to 'Writing for Young Adults', OK? OK. The best thing? Up until the Rain/Storm schools tour, I would have said the best thing was the freedom it gives you. I like to have quite big/serious themes and ideas in my writing, but I also like to tell a cracking good story – and when I write for young adults I feel free to do that. It’s really liberating! But . . . maybe now I would say it’s getting to meet young people. It was brilliant!

The worst thing? Not having enough time to chat to those young people! Students usually have to rush off to their next lesson, I need to make sure I sign everyone’s book, so we’re all under time pressure. It’s still great to meet everyone, though!

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, e.g. a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
No . . . but I think I work best in my little writing room in my flat. I’ve tried writing in other locations, but I find it too distracting. I’m so used to working in this tiny room I don’t even see the walls, I just see whatever it is I’m working on. Then I step out of it and realise my kitchen is in a mess and I’ve forgotten to go shopping.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Both in terms of my own writing and in terms of success in the outside world, it has to be The Rain. When I was writing the first draft, there was a time when I wanted to stop. Apart from the usual worry about whether what I was writing would be any good, I was afraid it was too horrific a story to write . . . but I found I couldn’t abandon Ruby Morris, my main character, so I kept going. 

I did it! I finished a novel! And then Macmillan wanted to buy it! 


Friday, April 10, 2015

Marginals, Mad Men and Adam Smith's Dinner - vote for books this General Election

Shortly before opening Mostly Books, another bookseller told us to always remember that “bookselling is a privilege”. Over the years I've spent a lot of time trying to work out exactly why that is.

Of course, books are wonderful, transformative gateways to other worlds and ways of thinking. Reading delivers so many benefits you sometimes wonder why it isn’t available on the NHS (perhaps it is?). But in terms of being a bookseller, I think the ‘privilege’ part comes from being the gatekeeper between customer and the entire book world. We are the people who talk to customers, try – sometimes socratically, often obliquely – to understand what they are looking for, coming up with suggestions that allow them to move beyond the obvious, the best-selling and the hyped.

It’s a great responsibility. And with great responsibility comes great power (I think that’s right?).

Power – and its pursuit – inevitably leads to the General Election, now less than a month away. Mostly Books finds itself in one of the most marginal constituencies in the country (Oxford West and Abingdon) which means campaigning will be fierce, and inevitably there will be a lot of political talk in the shop.

This year, on Tuesday April 14 at 6pm, we'll be chairing the Abingdon Chamber of Commerce Business Hustings at the Abingdon Guildhall (you'll need to email the Chamber if you want to attend).

So if you fancy grilling the candidates - or just informing yourself of the facts ahead of the vote - here is our pick of some of the best new political books. You may be surprised by some of our selections...we've tried to pick books that reflect the candidates standing and the conversations we've already had in the shop.

Last year we had a special selection of books ahead of the Scottish referendum vote, and after Nicola Sturgeon's solid performance in the election debates, let's start with 'The Dream That Shall Never Die' by Alex Salmond. This is the inside story of the IndyRef from Salmond's point of view (although your enjoyment of the book will probably align with your opinion of Salmond himself). Whatever you think about the referendum, or how the vote eventually went, the energy and engagement shown by the Scottish people is something we hope spills across the border into this year's General Election, so it's a fitting book to begin with.

Many people get infuriated with politics at the best of times, so the intensity of campaigning in Abingdon this year may require an escape valve. We recommend John Crace's satirical pop at the status quo in 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Short Guide to Modern Politics, the Coalition and the General Election'. Crace - better known for his 'digested reads' in the Guardian - hits the nail on the head of coalition politics by conjuring up some fly-on-the-wall imagined conversations that various politicians might have had. It works brilliantly and hilariously - but may actually soften harsh judgments about how certain parties 'sold out', and the realities and compromises that are inevitable in any coalition...

It's easy to be cynical about modern politics - and the 'they're all as bad as each other' approach is an easy response that let's you off the hook of any responsibility to get involved. The more difficult job of course is to actually bother to think about the issues, do some digging to discover who the good guys are - and give them your support...

In 'Honourable Friends?', Green MP Caroline Lucas explores the results of her own digging during her five years as an MP. This book - a heartfelt and passionate argument about wholesale political reform - rises above narrow party allegiances simply by dint of the high respect Lucas is held in by other MPs, and the wide-ranging experience she has had before her election to Westminster (she was a Green MEP - and she held an Oxfordshire County Council seat in the late 90s).

Lucas was awarded "MP of the Year" in the 'Women in Public Life' Awards in 2011 - but it's the role of women in economic life that is examined in Katrine Marcal's fantastically witty 'Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?'. Arguing that it's women who are the 'missing mass' in failed economic systems (throughout history) this walks a perfect line between angry polemic and incisive argument. As Marcal states in the opening paragraph "Feminism has always been about economics. Virginia Woolf wanted a room of her own - and that costs money."

We have a very active Christian community in Abingdon, and in recent years - particularly following the appointment of Justin Welby as archbishop - the church has strongly reengaged with politics. Recent books such as John Sentamu's 'On Rock and Sand' have argued for more Christian values in politics, but we've plumped for Andy Flannagan's 'Those Who Show Up', which encourages those involved in religion to roll up their sleeves and get active - because it is often members of the church, through involvement with food banks and debt counselling, who end up helping the victims of society's failings. The title is a quote from Bart Simpson of all people - giving you a flavour of Flannagan's contemporary, humorous style.

After last year's close IndyRef, the possibility of a British exit from the European Union is a distinct possibility, and 'Brexit' by ex-Labour MP, and former Europe minister Denis MacShane provides a timely look at the UK's relationship with Europe - from Churchill to UKIP. MacShane is probably better known for his expense-fiddling (for which he was jailed in 2013) but this is a sobering look (from someone who 'was there') at the context of our relationship with Europe, the pros and cons of membership, and how Britain really is sleepwalking towards an EU exit.

Most of us are born in it, die in it, and spend considerable amounts of time in it during our lives. It directly employs 720,000 people, and we spend 9.4% of our GDP on it (less than the EU average of 10.2%, interestingly). With an ageing population and an obesity epidemic, it is no wonder few subject stir passions as strongly as the NHS. But what about our own personal relationship with this behemoth? Dr Phil Hammond - author, comedian and doctor - has written 'Staying Alive: How to get the best from the NHS' which not only does what it says on the front, but contains a lot of sensible advice on how to improve the NHS written from someone on the front line. Dr Phil visited Abingdon in 2009 - and he is a passionate, intelligent, trusted and highly entertaining guide to the realities of 21st century healthcare. Highly recommended for both personal and political reasons.

We're going to be subjected to a lot of propaganda via the media and advertising hoardings over the next month, so get the low-down on politicians and their relationship with advertisers and the press with the following two books.

'Mad Men and Bad Men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising' by Sam Delaney, starts with the well-known history of Saatchi et al in the 1980s, and tells you what happened next. The anecdotes are at times genuinely shocking and frequently hilarious, with Delaney talking to many of the key players. A brilliantly entertaining (if slightly sinister) history of political advertising.

'Beyond Contempt' by Peter Jukes is (we feel) the best account of the phone hacking trial. To be read with Owen Jones' 'The Establishment', it's a remarkable look at how power operates in this country. Ultimately depressing but thoroughly recommended.

A lot of people feel extremely patriotic during an election, and there really can be nothing more patriotic than recalling the plucky individuals that helped us to defeat the axis powers in World War Two. Zia Chaudhry's 'Just Your Average Muslim' recalls the 400,000 muslims that did just that - and if you are passionate about returning to a time when Britain stood up to the world, this book works hard to dispel some of the more modern, lazy stereotypes of muslims in British society - and encourages us to work harder to reflect on our similarities, not our differences.

No matter who you vote for, the government always seems to get in, eh? Political education needs to start young, so we're going to recommend DK's 'Who's In Charge?'. With a foreward by Andrew Marr, this is the perfect introduction to power and politics for the young. There are big challenges to our continued existence on the planet - it's the youth who are going to be resolving them. Start them young!

P.S. Feeling politically awakened? Want to support something that every major political leader has called for? We recommend voting for books, with the 'Read On. Get On' manifesto for reading.

P.P.S. The bookseller who offered us that 'privilege' advice nearly ten years ago? Anna Dreda of Wenlock Books, still going strong and definitely a bookshop you must visit

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The winner of the UK YA Book Prize is...

This week the winner of the UK's first ever Young Adult (YA) Prize was announced - so we thought it was a good idea to catch up with our newly-established YA Book Group, led by our own Imogen Hargreaves, recently shortlisted for 'Young Bookseller of the Year'...


So at the beginning of February, we started up the YA book group in the shop, with the aim to read a few of the shortlisted books on the YA book prize this year.

The winner was announced last week, so we thought it was a perfect time to talk about the book group and YA books.

So the three books we, as a book group looked at were 'Half Bad' by Sally Green, 'Say Her Name' by James Dawson and 'Ghosts of Heaven' by Marcus Sedgwick.

'Half Bad' was a wonderful book to talk about. There were only the three of us the first week, but we had a long conversation about good and evil, and the way we view them both. What is good, and is anyone actually completely 'good'? If they believe they are doing the right thing, does that make them good? Questions, really, that don't have answers, but we tried to find them anyway. (and we are all not-so-patiently waiting to read Half Wild, published this week).

'Say Her Name' was great fun as well. It creeped us all out enough that we didn't even want a water jug on the table, thinking a hand would suddenly reach out of it towards us. This was also the week we found out we are all Harry Potter fans, so I guess that's a plus as well!

Finally, we read 'Ghosts of Heaven', and I think this was the one we all thought might win. It was a brilliant book, one that had something for each of us. Divided into four parts, this book also divided us; which parts we liked, which part was the most effective, and what on earth the ending meant. Also, we all read it in different orders so each of us had a different view on it.

But none of these were the eventual winner. It was, in fact, a book I had read a week earlier. 'Only Ever Yours' is a book about a terrifying future, where girls are genetically made to be perfect and beautiful; because girls are not people. They are objects. Only Every Yours is a book I would definitely recommend to older teenagers and adults; but probably not one we will not be reading with the younger teens that are members of the book group.

So that's the past three weeks: what about the future?

Well, we still have space if you are interested in coming along and being a part of the group (Does bribery work? If anyone else wants to join, I might start buying biscuits. Because what's better to start a Saturday than books and biscuits?)

On Saturday March 28 we are taking a step away from the Book Prize and looking at a historical novel called 'Black Dove, White Raven', by Elizabeth Wein (the author of Carnegie-shortlisted 'Code Name Verity'), and on the April 18 we are looking at a fantasy book called The Young Elites by Marie Lu.

Why, I hear you cry, should I join this book group? Well, it will get you to read different things, and it might allow you to discover your next favourite author. And you get 15% off any books we read, and cheaper books is always a plus.