Friday, December 02, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016 - Haunted mountains, popish plotting and serpent slaying - simply the best new fiction of 2016

In the 1740s, in a little village in England, a group of excited people sat in a blacksmith's forge. The blacksmith himself sat on his anvil, and read aloud to the crowd from a newly-published novel, 'Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded'. Over a number of nights the villagers listened in rapt attention, and when - at the novel's end, and almost overcome with emotion at the book's happy ending - they flocked to the church to set the bells ringing.

Now, we can't promise that any of the following books will make you want to set bells ringing, but we all know that feeling that comes from finishing a really good book. Samuel Richardson would, we feel, approve - and we know (anecdotally, much like the story above) that novels are increasingly how we take a break from the always-on, screen-addicted, Internet-of-everything, twittering world in which we live.

Here are some of our favourites from 2016. Think of it as therapy, entertainment, deep thinking and digital firebreak all wrapped up in a centuries-old piece of communications technology. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you...the novel.

Himself - Jess Kidd
There is a freshness and lightness of touch here that collides brilliantly with the dark story of Mahony - drop-dead gorgeous, abandoned as a baby, his mother long-since disappeared - returning to his place of birth on a mission of discovery, conquest and (possibly) revenge.

Mulderrig is a rain-sodden speck of a place on Ireland's west coast, and Mahony brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the lies of his past. Playing against stereotypes, this darkly funny mystery has a cast of great characters (alive and dead), with a twisting plot and a shocking secret at its core. This feels like a bold new talent announcing herself - via Himself - to the world.

Don't miss out other debuts of the year - on a dedicated shelf in the shop (as shown above) - including 'The Girls' by Emma Cline, 'The Trouble with Sheep and Goats' by Joanna Cannon and 'A Boy Made of Blocks' by Keith Stuart

Cartes Postales from Greece - Victoria Hislop
This is a book which really does do justice to the phrase 'sumptuous'. At its heart it's the story of a young woman, who starts to receive a mysterious series of postcards from Greece. Initially wary, eventually beguiled, when the postcards abruptly stop - and a journal arrives detailing a young man's journey across Greece - the young woman sets off to discover the country - and investigate the mystery - for herself.. 

This is the latest novel from the bestselling author of 'The Island' and is a love-letter to a country Hislop has fallen in love with (she has even learned Greek, and has been doing book events locally in the language - now that is courageous). But it's the postcards themselves that are, in a way, the real star of this book. A lovely gift for any reader who wants to have their heart stolen...

Smoke - Dan Vyleta
Smoke is a visible manifestation of vice and sin, and provide a powerful metaphor for class division in this bold, original and compelling novel which weaves fantasy and superb characterisation throughout.

The working class pour Smoke freely and their vice and sin are shown openly and often revelled in - but aristocrats are taught from a young age to control their Smoke. In an Oxford boarding school, two young boys develop a bond as they receive their instructions in a world where the upper class are spotless. But on a trip to London, they witness something that seems to challenge all of their beliefs - and what follows is a tense, suspenseful and entrancing story with three young characters who are beautifully drawn and suck you into their world. One of Julia's big picks of 2016 - and definitely an author to get excited about!

Conclave - Robert Harris
Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world's most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth...

If there is one writer who can be guaranteed to deliver a thriller that combines page-turning tension, intellectual heft and world-shaking events, it Mr Harris. Last year he completed the Cicero trilogy, and this year he takes us deep into the mysterious world of a papal Conclave (literally from a Latin phrase "room that can be locked up") where a new pope is going to be elected. It was - in part - inspired by the revelation of an unpublished 'secret diary' of the 2005 papal conclave, Claustrophobic, gripping and all about the nature of power - and the opportunities that can arise to take it.

Thin Air - Michelle Paver
What could be more Christmassy than a good ghost story? Well, forget cosy fireside warmth, this is a ghost story which is chilling in every possible way, from a legendary children's author now making a reputation in the world of adult fiction. It weaves natural - and supernatural - terrors with the dizzying vertigo and oxygen-deprived heights of a pitiless mountain. And inspired by a true story...

The Himalayas, 1935. Kangchenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all. Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. But courage can only take them so far - and the mountain is not their only foe. Rivalry, class divisions, ego and pride. As the wind dies, the dread grows. Mountain sickness. The horrors of extreme altitude. A past that will not stay buried. And sometimes, the truth does not set you free...

To be read late at night, with the window opened, in the depth of winter. We don't think. Seriously unsettling.

Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry
When her debut 'After Me Comes the Flood' was published, we loved it, recommending it to readers (and on BBC Radio Oxford back in 2014). We recognised a major new talent arriving on the scene, and her new novel 'The Essex Serpent' cements it. Here's Nicki's review from earlier this year:

"The friends of newly-widowed Cora Seaborne in Victorian England are indulging their passions for science, medicine and social reform. Cora is just happy to be out of an abusive relationship and finding herself both independent and wealthy, she is determined to follow in the footsteps of her heroine, Mary Anning, and discover fossils. 

Her amateur geology draws her to a tiny village in Essex and rumours of a giant sea serpent, perhaps still living from prehistoric times. Science and Darwin have yet to penetrate the mud and the salt marshes and fear and rumour about the serpent means every crop failure, every death, is attributed to the creature. Local pastor, William, is having trouble convincing his flock and not allow myth and hysteria to take over.

A finely-tuned cast of characters get drawn to the beguiling Cora and her quest for science to be able to answer every question with reason. They all do battle on her behalf as she argues against superstition, pagan fear and religion. But whether it’s a community increasingly troubled by fear of the unknown, or the urban squalor Cora’s friends back in London are struggling to reform, the ideals of science have much to contend with in this rich and wonderfully human story of the clashes of the Victorian age. 

As rumours and sightings of the serpent persist, will the ideals of science triumph in this rich and wonderfully human story of the clashes of the Victorian age."

(And 'The Essex Serpent' wins the prize for book with the most exquisite cover as well!)

Nutshell - Ian McEwan
This is - very loosely - a retelling of Hamlet, from the perspective of an unborn child in the womb, who - in this rather privileged position - listens in as a murder plot which is seemingly unfolding.

It's also daring, original and darkly funny - full of McEwan's trademark humour, social observation and focus on small, key events. With a great twisting plot, and played with tongue firmly in cheek, this is great entertainment from a master novelist.

Golden Hill - Francis Spufford
Francis Spufford is a publisher's marketing nightmare - everything he writes is so completely different. He's written a series of historical vignettes charting the rise and fall of Khrushchev's Soviet Union (Red Plenty), a book on why Christianity makes emotional sense (Unapologetic) or how re-reading the books he read as a child gave him insight into the man he became (The Child That Books Built). But his erractic brilliance is our huge gain, because 'Golden Hill' is a fresh, original book - and one of Mark's favourite books of this (or any) year.

A young man arrives in the fledgling city of New-York in 1746, seemingly in possession of a fortune. Tongues are wagging, conspiracies are imagined but what is the truth? This book will utterly transport you to the very different time and place of America a generation before the Revolution, when Dutch and English settlers maintained an uneasy relationship with the British Crown. Foreshadowing the America to come, written in an 18th century novelistic style that shouldn't work but does, this is breathtaking, brilliant - you should read it!

Divine Countenance - Michael Hughes
In 1999 a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can't shake the sense he's been chosen for something. In 1888 five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master. In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns. And in 1666 poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later. But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?

Computer nerd Chris is working on the Millennium bug problem when he meets Lucy. What starts out as a boy meet girl story slowly transforms itself into a tangled web, with letters from Jack the Ripper, a journal from the time of William Blake and a story from Milton’s time seaping into each other. As Michael Hughes uses these four different voices to tell four interlinked stories which rub off each other and weave together to create an apocalyptic thriller.  This is a book of poetry, creation, obsessions and visions of the end of the world. A huge work of imagination!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016 - Fabulous Flowers, Frost Giants and Five-minute Festive Stories

Books can entertain and inform. They can inspire and give direction. And they can comfort and terrify in equal measure. And if - whilst doing all that - they can be bound up as an object of beauty and tactile wonder, well - what could be better?

Here is our selection of books that have a little bit of the 'wow' factor about them that make them almost irresistible to hold in your hands...

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts - Simon Holland
From Werewolves to Merpeople, Griffins to The Sphinx, this is a captivating book of folklore, myths and spellbinding stories of 16 favourite mythical creatures from around the world.

Discover why griffins collect a gem called agate, how to put out dragon fire, how mischievous elves can cause terrible nightmares, and why giants have been with us every step of recorded human history.

The best part of the book is the illustrations though. There are beautiful (and fold out) illustrations from some of our most talented artists and illustrators including David Wyatt, Helen Ward and Gary Blythe. We reckon this is a beautiful gift for any fantasy lover, young or old.

A Treasury of Songs - Julia Donaldson
The physicist Richard Feynmann once observed that his best work came as a direct result of teaching young people - and Julia Donaldson cut her teeth as a teacher, telling stories and writing songs way before becoming one of our most cherished and bestselling children's authors we have ever produced.

Julia is a gifted songwriter for children, and this Treasury of Songs contains over twenty of her best-loved songs, including fun-filled action rhymes, Aesop's fables, and songs based on Julia Donaldson's best-loved picture books, from Room on the Broom to The Gruffalo. Illustrated throughout with Axel Scheffler's warm and wonderful artwork, with a CD of all the songs performed by Julia herself, which will be familiar to anyone who has heard them on TV or radio or enjoyed one of Julia's live performances.

A Year Full of Stories - Angela McAllister
Celebrate your year from New Year's Day to Christmas Eve with this treasury of 52 best-loved stories from around the world. This rich resource collects together folk tales from home and legends and myths from distant lands to commemorate the changing seasons, cultural events and international festivals throughout the year. Stories include 'Father Frost', 'The Magic Porridge Pot', 'The Frog Prince', 'The Runaway Pancake', 'The Pot of Gold', 'The Hare in the Moon' and 'One Dark and Stormy Night'.

And if you want to mix it up a bit with poetry and stories, take a look at the gorgeous 'A Poem for Every Night of the Year', a wonderful collection edited by Allie Esiri, inventor of the poetry app 'iF Poems'.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Carousel Book - Lewis Carroll
This gorgeous edition of Lewis Carroll's famous children's classic is a fabulous book that opens out into a carousel shape, showing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in six visually enchanting 3-dimensional scenes.

Using original artwork by Sir John Tenniel and an abridged version of Lewis Carroll's original text, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Carousel Book is a delightful introduction to the story for younger readers. Peep into the story as Alice falls down the rabbit hole, grows and shrinks, meets the Cheshire Cat, joins the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, plays croquet with the Duchess, and attends the trial of the Knave of Hearts.

Botanicum - Katie Scott and Katherine J Willis
Big Picture Press scored a huge hit with Animalium (described by one of our customers - who also happens to be a scientist - as possibly the most inspiring science book she'd ever read). Now the same team has produced 'Botanicum', and is another awe-inspiring addition to their 'Welcome to the Museum' series.

It's a stunningly illustrated guide to plant life, curated by Professor Kathy Willis, with artwork from Katie Scott (who also did the artwork for Animalium). Botanicum gives readers the experience of a fascinating exhibition from the pages of a beautiful book. From perennials to bulbs to tropical exotica, Botanicum is a wonderful feast of botanical knowledge complete with superb cross sections of how plants work.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling
Prepare to be spellbound by Jim Kay's dazzling full-colour illustrations in this stunning new edition of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Breathtaking scenes, dark themes and unforgettable characters - including Dobby and Gilderoy Lockhart - await inside this fully illustrated edition.

With paint, pencil and pixels, award-winning illustrator Jim Kay conjures the wizarding world as we have never seen it before. Fizzing with magic and brimming with humour, this inspired reimagining will captivate fans and new readers alike, as Harry and his friends, now in their second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, seek out a legendary chamber and the deadly secret that lies at its heart...

Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge
Next we have three titles, all previously published favourites, now produced with illustrations by Children's Laureate Chris Riddell.

In 'The Lie Tree', Riddell is the perfect illustrator to bring Frances Hardinge's collision of Victorian social injustice, twisted science and dark magic spilling out onto the page and cover in a very special hardback edition. The Lie Tree was one of our favourite books of last year - and winner of the 'Costa Book of the Year' 2015. Find out more when we reviewed the book on BBC Radio Oxford right at the start of this year.

Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman
Here, Riddell's illustrations are combined with jacket designs and metallic ink to turn Gaiman's thrilling, wintry Nordic epic into an icy bookish treat.

It's a tale of legend, magic and adventure in which Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid on his village. And in the pitiliess Viking world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear ...and then Odd's destiny begins to change.

The Hunting of the Snark - Lewis Carroll
Finally, in our Chris Riddell triple-bill, Riddell's illustrations perfectly complement Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense rhyme.

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;

They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

First published in 1876, it features a cast of unlikely characters from The Jabberwocky. And whilst stocks last we have signed copies - even better!

5 Minute Festive Stories
A gorgeous gift collection of eight Christmas stories. Filled with festive fun and magical illustrations from best-loved illustrators including Tina Macnaughton, Tim Warnes and many more!

This collection has a tactile cover with holographic foil, and is the perfect present for little ones who are excited about Christmas!
Winnie the Pooh: The Best Bear in all the World
Celebrate 90 years of Winnie-the-Pooh with The Best Bear in all the World, the official sequel to the original stories by A.A. Milne. With brand-new stories from some of the most beloved children's authors writing today: Paul Bright, Brian Sibley, Kate Saunders and Jeanne Willis - each will transport you back into the Hundred Acre Wood for more adventures with Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and the rest of the gang.

With decorations by Mark Burgess, in the style of the cherished illustrations by E.H. Shepard. This book will delight fans old and new. Perfect bedtime reading for ages now-we-are-six and up.

The Storm Whale - Benji Davies
We've already included 'The Storm Whale in Winter' as one of our favourite picture books, but this is a beautiful slipcase edition of the original 'The Storm Whale' as well as 'The Storm Whale in Winter' from award-winning author and illustrator Benji Davies.

It's a poignant and moving tale about making new friends and learning that sometimes we have to let the things we love go.
We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

‘We’re going on a bear hunt 
We’re going to catch a...
Small cuddly fluffy one
In Mostly Books!

We all have our favourite classic childrens picture book, and many people will fondly say that theirs is 'We’re going on a Bear Hunt' by Michael Rosen with the gorgeous and timeless illustrations by Helen Oxenbury. This Christmas, along with the Channel 4 adaptation of the book, you can get your hands on the bear himself, in the form of an adorable plush toy. Perfect for children to curl up with on the cold winter nights, or even for the adults to stage their own bear hunt with!

Also: We have a special limited signed edition in hardback of the original story - email us if you'd like to reserve a copy!

A First Book of Animals - Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek
When Nicola Davies produced ‘A First Book Of Nature’ in 2012, it was one of most popular books to recommend (you can read about it here). Now she has written ‘A First Book Of Animals’, a glorious collection of factual information presented in a poetry format covering everything from Barn Owls to Beavers and beautifully illustrated by Petr Horacek to capture a child's imagination. Split into five sections, Big and Small, Colours and Shapes, Animal Homes, Animal Babies and Animals in Action this is a perfect first poetry book for your little animal lovers.

As a bonus we have a limited number of copies signed by both Nicola and Petr in stock. Email us to reserve yours!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016: Grooving in the jungle and stuck in the chimney - no boring picture books for Christmas!

A few months ago there was a bit of a hoo-ha when a very well-known music media mogul (who shall remain nameless) declared that he was writing his own picture book, because he found the current picture books 'boring'.

Difficult to know where to start with that one. On the one hand, huge kudos for setting a great example to Dads and reading to your child (just five minutes a day folks, huge impact, remember that). On the other hand, I would hazard a guess that his 'domain expertise' when it comes to the canon of picture books may not be as broad as perhaps his five minute search on the Internet might have turned up.

Anyway, at Mostly Books we are surrounded by incredible works of art and imagination in picture book form, and of course for every book on display there's a score or more that we can recommend and order in the next day. Picture books are some of our most cherished children's books.

Here are our recommends and books we feel have the 'X Factor' for Christmas 2016. They soar across magical worlds, and stimulate young imaginations like nothing else. Boring? You're having a laugh...
A Child of Books - Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Difficult to overstate how wonderful Oliver Jeffers is, with his sparse but incredibly expressive illustration style and huge drama and emotion packed into his illustratins. 'The Day the Crayons Quit' and 'Lost and Found' are modern classics (we recommended 'Crayons' to a local primary schools, and they have used it as the basis as a whole host of writing exercises).

In 'A Child of Books' Jeffers has joined forces with typographical artist Sam Winston to create an inspiring, lyrical tale about the rewards of reading and sharing stories. A little girl sails her raft "across a sea of words" to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure. Guided by his new friend, the boy unlocks his imagination and a lifetime of magic lies ahead of him...But who will be next? With real wow-factor, it's a wonderful gift for a young child from any book-lover.

Help - Sally Grindley
An interactive version of a classic fairy tale that follows the success of the bestselling 'Shhh!'. Based on 'The Three Little Pigs', 'Help!' physically involves the reader in the narrative and adventure. There's a wolf inside this book and the pigs need to catch him. Can you help them? Don't let him escape! Young children can lift the flaps and peep through the holes as they follow the adventure.

Anyone who has to read to a child should definitely discover Sally Grindley. Her books are almost as fun to read aloud, as to listen to...

Meg in the Jungle - David Walser and Jan Pieńkowski
Meg and Mog are as popular as ever - still illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski, since Helen Nicoll's untimely death in 2012, the stories are now written by David Walser - and they are just as engaging for young readers, with bright, bold shapes and colours.

In this new adventure, Meg, Mog and Owl explore the jungle, meet a friendly elephant, a sinister snake - and a tiger without any stripes! But can Meg's spell help or might things get a little more tricky for our hapless heroes?

Moomin and the Ocean's Song - Tove Jansson
It was a day that really ought to be filled with adventure...Moomintroll and his friends have heard of the legend of the Ocean's Song - held inside a shell, which only its finder can hear. Snufkin takes them to the island of the Hattifatteners but the friends have to turn back to escape a thunderstorm! Will they find the Ocean's Song, and get home in one piece?

This is a brand new picture book adventure based on the beloved Moomin characters by Tove Jansson - perfect for all Moomin fans young and old!

Nuddy Ned's Christmas - Kes Gray and Garry Parsons
Santa's sleigh was on its way just leaving Lanzarote. "Goodness Gracious," Blitzen cried. "Did I just see a botty?"

Yes, it's Nuddy Ned, running riot, completely starkers. Kes Gray does humour brilliantly for young readers (probably best known for his 'Daisy' books, and doing brilliantly with 'Oi Frog' at the moment). At Christmas, Nuddy Ned is desperate to meet Santa Claus, so let's hope there's a few flaps to protect Nud's modesty en route to the North Pole...

Oi Dog - Claire Gray, Kes Gray and Jim Field
Talking of 'Oi Frog', if you haven't already discovered it you must come in and take a look. And then take a look at this hilarious sequel which really will have children rolling around with laughter. After the indignities suffered in the first book, Frog's had enough, he's changing the status quo! Cat insists that there are rules - only mules sit on stools, no one but hares should sit on chairs and however irritating, dogs MUST sit on frogs.

'Well, I'm changing the rules,' said the frog. 'From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!' And everyone else is going to have to sit somewhere else too. Will Cat want to sit on gnats instead of cushy mats? Will spiders like sitting on gliders? Will whales be happy to sit on nails? And, most importantly, where is FROG going to sit?

The Storm Whale in Winter - Benji Davies
It's winter time and Noi's island is covered in a blanket of snow. Even the sea is icing over.

Noi is worried about the little whale he saved last summer: Can he survive the harsh conditions? Little does Noi know that it's the little whale's turn to save him. A magical and touching story about a lasting friendship. A truly beautiful work packing a real emotional punch.

Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake - David Melling
Who can resist Hugless Douglas. The big bear with the big heart can be found making sweet treats for his friends, and just like in his earlier adventures, things are not going entirely to plan...

The honey cakes are taking far too long, and the sheep are getting restless. There is some incredibly naughty behaviour, but the result is that Douglas doesn't have anything to eat. But help is at hand...containing an actual recipe for honey cakes, and David Melling's dynamic and mischievous illustrations, this is another Hugless book to treasure!

Tell Me a Dragon - Jackie Morris
Everyone has their very own dragon, and this book describes many different varieties of the beast, showing in words and stunning pictures exactly why their owners find them so entrancing. They range from a dragon as big as a village to a tiny dragon with whisper-thin wings, from a snaggle-toothed dragon to a sea-dragon which races dolphins on the waves - ending in a page inhabited by every dragon in the book!
Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa - Valerie Thomas
Korky Paul spent a magical afternoon in the Mostly Books garden earlier this year, so we were very excited to see this fabulously festive story with a spectacular pop-up ending! Winnie is going to be making her television debut early in 2017, so it's going to be a big year coming up for Winnie and and her long-suffering cat Wilbur...

When Winnie and Wilbur write their letters to Santa they never imagine that they are actually going to meet him on Christmas Eve! After the crisis of Santa getting stuck in their chimney, Winnie and Wilbur join him on his sleigh in a desperate race against time to make sure children everywhere wake up to stockings filled with presents on Christmas morning. What a magical memorable night! It's a fun and festive Winnie and Wilbur adventure!

Magnificent Creatures - Sue Tarsky
Anna Wright's stunning introduction to non-fiction and the natural world is enlivened by her gorgeously sophisticated and fun art style which mixes pen and ink, watercolour and fabric collage.

Find out what 'pronking' is and how one jellyfish can become two in the humorous descriptions. Both educational and beautiful Anna's unique picture book shows the character of these animals beyond their familiar forms.

Ollie's Christmas Reindeer - Nicola Killen
When a jingling sound wakes her from her sleep, a little girl's dreams come true when she meets a lost reindeer in the forest. Setting off on a magical adventure together it soon becomes a Christmas never to forget.

Nicola Killen's evocative illustrations are sure to enchant in this beautiful book with die cut pages, foil and flashes of festive red colour.
The Darkest Dark - Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers
After Buzz Aldrin, possibly the famous astronaut in the world is Commander Chris Hadfield, he of the guitar-playing exploits on the International Space Station, and regular commentator on space and science. This is his first picture book, and is based on the fact that Chris, when he was very young, was afraid of the dark.

It's a poignant story of a young boy who dreams of wanting to be an astronaut. And he's very busy; saving the planet from aliens is much more important than taking baths or going to bed. Because at bedtime the worst sort of alien appears - darkness. But when Chris watches the first televised moon landing, he discovers that there is a dark out in Space that is much darker than he's used to. It's the darkest dark ever, and he realises that the unknown can be ...exciting! 

Blue Penguin - Peter Horacek 
A heart-warming fable about a friendship and belonging from the award-winning illustrator Petr Horacek. "I feel just like a penguin," says Blue Penguin. "But you're not like us," said the other penguins and they left him all alone.

Poor Blue Penguin. Will he be able to convince the other penguins he is one of them after all? A moving and beautifully illustrated story from Petr Horacek, an illustrator described by the Washington Post as "the thinking tot's Eric Carle".

Coming Home - Michael Morpurgo
Yes, we know this is the story that the Waitrose ad is based upon, but the picture book is so-o-o much better! 

This is the story of the little robin's migration, as he endeavours to be home for Christmas. Few people do animal stories as well as Morpurgo, and this has all the makings of a modern classic.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016 - Magic, Murder and Clover Moon - middle grade mayhem for Christmas

This has definitely been the year of 'middle-grade', awesome stories for those 9+ confident readers who devour great books, but aren't quite ready for the gritty reality of teen titles. For most of us, what we're talking about here are "proper children's books" - and every year we're on the lookout for new classics to take their place alongside The Secret Garden and Swallows and Amazons, Stormbreaker and Skulduggery Pleasant.

Technology's relentless march seems to threaten reading for pleasure at every turn, and yet access to original stories and the highest quality books just for the fun of it has never been more urgent. Stories help all of us, and young people in particular, to navigate an increasingly complex and bewildering world. We grown-ups hold the key to children's reading, because our sharing of books put down deep roots of literacy and a love of stories is born. Just five minutes of reading a day with your child is powerful and transformative.

The world of middle-grade is about as competitive as it gets in publishing, but the upshot is that some of our best books anywhere in the world can be found right here. And here are our picks for Christmas. Let's go!

Cogheart - Peter Bunzl
When 13-year-old Lily's inventor father vanishes after a Zeppelin crash, Lily is determined to hunt down the truth behind his disappearance, helped by Robert, the local clockmaker's son, and her wily mechanical fox Malkin. But shadowy figures are closing in and treachery lurks among the smoky spires of London - along with a life-changing secret.

Be prepared to be swept away by airships and flabbergasted by dastardly plots in this extraordinary and wildly imaginative debut, bursting with invention and adventure.

A Most Magical Girl - Karen Foxlee
Magical machines, wizards, witches, mysterious underworlds, a race against time - and two most magical girls. Annabel Grey has been brought up to be a very proper Victorian young lady. But being 'proper' isn't always easy - especially when you can sometimes see marvellous (as well as terrifying) things in puddles.

But parlour tricks such as these are nothing compared to the world that Annabel is about to enter. After the rather sudden departure of her mother, Annabel is sent to live with her aunts. They claim to be Shoreditch witches, and from a very old family line of them too. They're keen to introduce Annabel to their world of transformation, potions and flying broomsticks (which seem to have strong personalities of their own) but are horrified when Annabel announces not only does she not know any magic, young ladies shouldn't believe in such things.

This is an original, sparkling and enchanting story - full of dark magic, complex plot,humour and adventure. Definitely one to curl up with in front of something warm!

Beetle Boy - MG Leonard
One of our favourite books of the year, this tale of Darkus, his missing Dad, and a mystery for which beetles hold the key is both original and totally absorbing.

Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever. A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad's disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer - if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find it...

"...a fizzing, delightful debut" - Piers Torbay

Mistletoe and Murder - Robin Stevens
Every so often a series of books comes out which become the new 'must read' amongst children, and the Murder Most Unladylike series is a definite candidate, with children eagerly coming in to get the latest book. At its heart is the pairing of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, two 1930s schoolgirls from very different backgrounds who develop an unlikely bond - and a penchant for solving murderous crimes.

In the latest story 'Mistletoe and Murder', Daisy and Hazel are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms - but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Three nights before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. But was it an accident. Before long, the girls are up to their necks in intrigue and mystery, irritating grown-ups and very real danger. This is a must for fans - of which we know loads!

Murder in Midwinter - Fleur Hitchcock
Talking of superb murder mysteries for children, we love this from children's author (and friend of Mostly Books) Fleur Hitchcock. Sat on the top of a bus days before Christmas, Maya sees a couple arguing violently in the middle of a crowded Regent Street. They see her watching, she looks away, and the woman disappears. Maya goes to the police, who shrug and send her away.

Then a body turns up...Now convinced she is a vital witness to a crime, the police send Maya into hiding in rural Wales. She resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery. Then the snow comes and no one can get out. But what if someone can still get in? Thrilling and twisting, and utterly satisfying - don't miss Fleur's other book out in paperback 'Bus Stop Baby' as well.

Clover Moon - Jacqueline Wilson
With over a hundred books behind her, and her status as a national hero of children's reading, Jacqueline Wilson's place in literature's pantheon is assured - and yet she still continues to write powerful novels, and in 'Clover Moon' introduces us to a brave new heroine to fall in love with.

Clover Moon's imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage - and the chance - to break free? 

Finding Black Beauty - Lou Kuenzler
Told from the point of view of a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to become a groom, this is the other side of the classic horse story Black Beauty.

Aspiring groom Jo comes to love Beauty and when they are separated she travels to London to find him - on the way solving the mystery of her long-lost mother. A sweeping tale of a young girl and her love for a horse, and the circumstances that divide them - in a wonderful gifty hardback edition.

Henry and the Guardians of the Lost - Jenny Nimmo
Jenny Nimmo's first book - The Snow Spider - was published in 1986, (this year available in a special - and sparkly - 30th anniversary edition!) but we've gone for the Charlie Bone author's latest fantasy offering 'Henry and the Guardians of the Lost'.

A harmless-looking yellow letter arrives at Henry's home, and within 10 minutes of the devastating news it contains, Henry is on the road - because he has a secret, and powerful forces are after him to get it. Desperate, his only hope is the protection of the Guardians of the Lost. Fast-paced, wildly imaginative - and a great new series.

Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor - Rick Riordan
Thor's hammer is missing again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon - the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds. But this time the hammer isn't just lost, it has fallen into enemy hands. If Magnus Chase and his friends can't retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn.

Unfortunately, the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer's return is the gods' worst enemy, Loki - and the price he wants is very high...

The Magnus Chase novels are doing for norse mythology what Percy Jackson did for the Greeks...

The Return of the Young Prince - A.G. Roemmers
The 'Little Prince' eventually became the young prince, and no longer content with his tiny planet, he sets off once again to explore the universe. And so begins another remarkable journey into the secrets and joys of living a meaningful life...

There have been many sequels to 'classic' children's books in recent years (some more successful than others). The Little Prince is such a cherished classic that we fear too many people will place too many expectations on this sequel, and instead miss a wonderful story in its own right, which needs to be approach with an open mind...and heart! As with the original, this is a fable about choosing to live a fulfilling life, and we think Antoine de St Exupéry would have approved.

The Song from Somewhere Else - AF Harrold and Levi Pinfold
We are huge fans of AF Harrold at Mostly Books, and not (just) because his beard is one that makes Philip Ardagh redouble his efforts. Harrold brings a poet's eye for language with a special talent for storytelling, and a surprising amount of edginess that really pulls you into the story.

Harrold is also blessed with working with some wonderful illustrators ('The Imaginary' featured Emily Gravett) and this is a sublime partnership with Levi Pinfold, whose illustrations add powerfully to the story, one of friendship, compassion and courage in the face of danger.

When Nick Underbridge rescues Frank from bullies one afternoon, she's not sure what to think. After all, no one likes Nick. He's big, he's weird and he smells - or so everyone in Frank's class thinks. And yet, there's something nice about Nick's house. There's strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever. But there's more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn't the only one keeping secrets.

The Song of Seven - Tonke Dragt
Deep in the woods, in a crooked house full of stairs, a young boy is kept prisoner by his uncle. He cannot meet other children, or have any friends. He holds the key to a secret.

Frans the schoolteacher, on the other hand, invents incredible stories of perilous deeds, shipwrecks, desert islands, and haunted castles to entertain his pupils, in which he is the hero. Then one stormy evening, a mysterious letter blows onto his doormat, summoning him to a meeting. Suddenly, Frans is on a real-life mission, one in which he will learn the secret of the Seven Ways, find seven allies and make a fearsome enemy...