Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Books for Christmas Part 6 - Cupcakes, Cult Recipes and Crafting Creations

Last year, we collected together some of our favourite cookbooks - and we mused on how a great cookbook can be a trusted friend in the kitchen - but the style has to be right. Recently there have been a spate of programs on telly about how important diet is to, well, almost everything. But if you need inspiration about new recipes and ways of eating, how about a new cookbook for Christmas?

Here are our favourite cookbooks - and a few other creative endeavours - to give you the inspiration to try something new in 2016.

Nopi: The Cookbook – Yottam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (£28)
Ottolenghi is possibly the hottest chef right now, with his unusual background for a chef, and his reputation of combining the best of Middle Eastern flavours: Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian, Israeli and Armenian. His is a positive story about a region of the world which has its fair share of troubles, and his cookbook 'Jerusalem' (with Sami Tamimi) is the closest a cookbook comes to a peace process in our opinion.

'Nopi: The Cookbook' includes over 120 of the most popular dishes from Yotam's innovative Soho-based restaurant Nopi. It's written with long-time collaborator and Nopi head chef Ramael Scully, who brings his distinctive Asian twist to the Ottolenghi kitchen. They range in their degree of complexity so there is something for all cooks. There are dishes that long-time Ottolenghi fans will be familiar with - a starter of aubergine with black garlic, for example, or the roasted squash with sweet tomatoes - as well as many dishes which will stretch the home cook as they produce some of the restaurant's signature dishes at home, such as Beef brisket croquettes or Persian love rice. It's inspiring and we have some signed copies in the shop.

The Book Of Spice – John O’Connell (£14.99)
Spices were once a rare and exotic thing with many varied uses. But now you pop to your local supermarket to get what you need, and we have perhaps forgotten what a marvel these things are.

The 'Book of Spice' introduces us to their properties, both medical and magical, and the fascinating stories that lie behind both kitchen staples and esoteric luxuries. Discover why Cleopatra bathed in saffron and mare's milk, why wormwood-laced absinthe caused eighteenth-century drinkers to hallucinate and how cloves harvested in remote Indonesian islands found their way into a kitchen in ancient Syria.

Spuntino: Comfort Food (New York Style) - Russell Norman (£25)
New York Cult Recipes – Marc Grossman (£20)
One of the great things about the shop is sometimes you get fantastic recommendations from customers - and 'New York Cult Recipes' by Marc Grossman is a wonderful collection of inspirational New York inspired food. From the Humble sunnyside-up egg (that’s fried egg to us) to Sloppy Joes and beautiful photography this is a small slice of the city that never sleeps.

This conversation came about because we have been recommending 'Spuntino', which is a totally fabulous collection of New York-inspired restaurant of the same name. Spuntino will take you on a culinary adventure from London to New York and back, bringing the best of American cuisine to your kitchen. The 120 recipes include zingy salads, juicy sliders, oozing pizzette, boozy desserts and prohibition-era cocktails. You'll get a glimpse of New York foodie heaven as Russell maps out his walks through the city's cultural hubs and quirky neighbourhoods such as East Village and Williamsburg, discovering family-run delis, brasseries, street traders, sweet shops and liquor bars.

We love New York, we love the inspirational food - so take a look at both these books for a great addition to your kitchen!

Hello Tokyo – Ebony Bizys (£14.99)
'Hello Tokyo' by Japanese blogger, crafter and designer Ebony Bizys is a cute and quirky guide to living a handmade lifestyle, inspired by Ebony's life in Tokyo. Capturing the charm, humour and originality of her eclectic and highly successful blog, Hello Sandwich, Hello Tokyo presents over 30 craft projects, as well as other tidbits and a peek into Japanese culture. Learn how to make hand-sewn cushions, charm necklaces, a memory walking book, corsages and a 'party-in-a-box' as well as handmade stationery including notebooks and envelopes, quirky post packages and gift tags, and much more.

Children’s Christmas Baking Kit – Usborne (£14.99)

Usborne have done it again with another brilliant cookbook for you littlies. This is everything they need to bake delicious cakes and biscuits for the festive season.

It comes with two cookie cutters and some specially designed cupcake cases and a book with twenty step by step illustrated simple Christmas recipes.

How To Knit – Mollie Makes (£16.99)
Ever wanted to knit but didn’t know where to start? Then this is the book for you, with basic patterns and easy step-by-step instructions you will be knitting before you know it and once you have mastered the basic two stitches you can make a gift for a loved one with patterns for a baby blanket, bouquet of woolly flowers or a cute bulldog puppy.

Bring your home up to date by making an on-trend footstool, plant pot or neon rug. Or wear your makes with pride - whether you go for a classic pair of socks, or a more daring pompom headband or loopy poncho. And if you want to know who knitted the little cat in the picture above - it was Julia in the shop!

Everyday Super Food – Jamie Oliver (£26)
Has there been one person who has had more of an impact on the nation's diet than Jamie? In 'Everyday Super Food', Jamie's done all the hard work for you - all you need to do is choose a delicious recipe, cook it up and, most importantly, enjoy it. Every meal in this book is a good choice that will bring you a step closer to a healthier, happier you.

The book is divided into sections by meals and each recipe gives you a breakdown of fat , sugar and calories etc so you can eat Smoothie Pancakes with Berries, Banana, Yoghurt and Nuts for breakfast, Tasty Fish Tacos with Game-Changing Kiwi, Lime and Chilli Salsa for lunch and Griddled Steak and Peppers with Herby-Jewelled Tabbouleh Rice for dinner, and still be healthy!

Handmade Christmas (£14.99)
Save money and have fun with this beautiful collection of Christmas makes. There are three chapters
covering a wide range of different crafting techniques - from papercutting and collage to embroidery and sugarcraft - with projects which take inspiration from different festive cultures and traditions. Start with Decorations, where you will find delightful ideas such as a traditional advent calendar and colourful embroidered Christmas stockings, brighten up your dinner table with tin candle holders that will glimmer and shine, and welcome carol-singers with a pretty wreath for your door.

The Hairy Bikers Blood, Sweat and Tyres: The Autobiography (£20)
Not quite cooking but they are possibly our favourite TV chefs and this is their new book about friendship, hilarious misadventure, love, life and family. From their humble beginnings in the north of England  where they both had their own childhood challenges to becoming the well loved TV duo who have quite literally eaten their way around the world. Heart-warming and funny treat for any Hairy Bikers fan.

Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food - Nigella Lawson (£26)
Part of the balance of life lies in understanding that different days require different ways of eating...'.  Whatever the occasion, food - in the making and the eating - should always be pleasurable.

'Simply Nigella' taps into the rhythms of our cooking lives, with recipes that are uncomplicated, relaxed and yet always satisfying. From quick and calm suppers to stress-free ideas when catering for a crowd, or the instant joy of bowl food for cosy nights on the sofa, here is food guaranteed to make everyone feel good. Whether you need to create some breathing space at the end of a long week, indulge in a sweet treat or wake up to a strength-giving breakfast, Nigella's new cookbook is filled with recipes destined to become firm favourites.

Simply Nigella is the perfect antidote to our busy lives: a calm and glad celebration of food to soothe and uplift. And the only thing better than that is a signed copy - so get them whilst we still have some!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Books for Christmas Part 5 - Wild Wolves, Imaginary Friends and A Slice of the Moon - Middle Grade Grandeur for Christmas

At Mostly Books, we call them 'confident readers', the wider book world increasingly likes the phrase 'Middle Grade' (or 'MG' as it fights back against the downward-pressing, all-conquering, social media-fuelled 800-pound gorilla that is YA).

For everyone else though, it's the brilliant time in life when children are reading independently, flexing their individuality, and discovering the books that will have a profound effect on them for the rest of their lives.

(We're always a bit flexible in terms of age-guidance - so do take a look at our recommends for younger readers too.)

At Christmas we look for those gorgeous editions that combine the best writing with the best that publishers bring to the physical book. Beautiful, desirable and shouting out to be read - what more could we ask. Here's our favourites this year...

The Wolf Wilder - Katherine Rundell (£12.99)
Feodora and her mother live surrounded by the snowbound woods of Russia and with only wolves for company. In a world where there is a huge divide between rich and poor, the rich have taken to taking wild wolves as pets. But if they turn savage, they are brought to Feo and her mother - wolf wilders. But with such a divide between rich and poor, revolution is brewing and when Feo is unwittingly caught up in the fight, suddenly, having wolves on your side can make you very sought after – for good reasons and by bad people.

In Katherine's trademark style (which readers will know from Girl Savage and multi award-winning Rooftoppers), Feo is left with no option but to go on the run, finding friends and fighting foes, finding out what her skills and her strengths really are. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back, rich in language and lore and with a spirited protagonist you will be rooting for all the way.

Published as a gorgeous hardback edition, complete with atmospheric illustrations, this is a book to treasure in every way.

An Eagle in the Snow - Michael Morpurgo (£12.99)
A brand new fiction title from Michael Morpurgo is always an exciting event, and in 'An Eagle in the Snow' Morpurgo again tells a dramatic and extraordinary tale - partly based on a true story - and painted onto the canvas of the Second World War.

Barney and his mother, their home destroyed by bombing, are travelling to the country when their train is forced to shelter in a tunnel from attacking German planes. There, in the darkness, a stranger on the train begins to tell them a story. A story about one of the most decorated soldier of WW1, who once had the chance to end the war before it even began, and how he tried to fix his mistake. But sometimes doing the right thing is hard to see - and even harder to live with. This will delight Morpurgo's legion of fans - and further cement his reputation as one of our finest living storytellers.

Little Stars - Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt (£12.99)
This is the wonderful new Hetty Feather story from the legendary author Jacqueline Wilson - the fifth book in the series. Hetty and her dearest friend Diamond, having escaped from Tanglefield's Travelling Circus, are determined to find positions as glamorous music hall artistes. Hetty and Diamond quickly become the 'Little Stars' of Mrs Ruby's show.

But the Cavalcade proves a dangerous place, and Hetty must fight to protect Diamond, whilst struggling to understand her feelings for Bertie - and for Jem, whom she has never forgotten. Hetty dreams of a glittering future for herself and Diamond. The bright lights of the London theatre world beckon - will Hetty become a true star?

Hetty is developing into a classic series, and with the foundling's tale having been turned into a West End production and serialised on CBBC, It's a beautiful, sparkly edition with bags of appeal to new readers and fans alike.

The Imaginary - AF Harrold and Emily Gravett (£7.99)
We recommended 'The Imaginary' when it came out as a beautiful hardback last year - and the paperback is just as stunning. It's an extraordinary tale of love, loss, imagination and not really being there, definitely for fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, by the world's most famous bearded poet AF Harrold (and that award is up against stiffer competition than you might imagine).

Rudger is Amanda's best friend. He doesn't exist (but then nobody's perfect). Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend - until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger...

It's funny, scary and moving, and gorgeously illustrated by the award-winning Emily Gravett. Highly recommended...

Mountwood School for Ghosts - Tony Ibbotson (£6.99)
Fredegonda, Goneril, and Drusilla are Great Hagges, much more important and much rarer than regular old hags. They think that ghosts these days are decidedly lacking and that people haven't been scared of ghosts for years. So one day they decide that something needs to change - it's time for these ghosts to learn a thing or two about being scary. And what better way to teach them than to set up their very own school for ghosts? A funny ghost story from Toby Ibbotson, son of award-winning author Eva Ibbotson, and based on an idea conceived by her. The cover is by Alex T. Smith.

Pathfinder - Angie Sage (£6.99)
Another book we raved about in hardback - now out in paperback.

Tod has grown up a PathFinder, one of an ancient seafaring tribe. Her mother, who died when Tod was young, had a very different history. She was from a mysterious magykal desert-dwelling family. When Tod's father disappears she is not only alone, but soon finds herself swept into the path of an evil sorcerer. Now Tod must choose which of her pasts will help her to survive: PathFinder or Magician. Magyk will allow her to fight like with like, but her PathFinder heritage gives Tod something special - the edge. Angie Sage's new book combines breathtaking action with fabulous plotting. The characters are instantly engaging, the tension is relentless and Angie's superlative storytelling weaves the threads seamlessly together for an utterly satisfying read.

The Seal's Fate - Eoin Colfer & Victor Ambrus (£7.99)
A stunning coming-of-age novella by international bestselling author and current Irish Children's Laureate Eoin Colfer (author of 'Artemis Fowl'), beautifully illustrated by Greenaway winner Victor Ambrus. School's out and Bobby Parrish is spending the summer on his dad's boat. Job number one is to deal with the seals infesting the peninsula. The money's good - but Bobby knows, deep down, that he hasn't got it in him. Eoin Colfer's trademark humour and lightness of touch and Victor Ambrus's classic artwork evoke a strong sense of place, character and vitality. An ideal gift for lovers of a fantastic artist and writing team, from reluctant-reader specialist Barrington Stoke, who bring all their experience in developing a love of reading for all children.

A Slice of the Moon - Sandi Toksvig (£9.99)
The brand-new action-packed story of one family's journey across the world from author Sandi Toksvig. Slim Hannigan and her family are poor but happy. Theirs is a life filled with love and laughter - and a pet pig called Hamlet. But things change overnight and suddenly they find themselves facing hunger and danger like they have never known. So they leave their village in Ireland to journey to America where, they hope, family and fortune await them. Can one brave girl keep her family together no matter what is thrown at them?

The delight of this book is the surprising amount of humour, and emotional depth Toksvig brings to a story full of danger and heartbreak. It's another beautiful hardback edition to treasure as well.

Top of the Class (nearly) - Liz Pichon (£10.99)
From the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Red House Children's Book Award, the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Blue Peter Best Story Book Award 2013, comes the ninth (can you believe that?) amazing instalment of the Tom Gates adventures. Tom Gates is a superb, accessible voice for children of 9+, and great for reluctant readers who may struggle to get into reading.

Return to the Secret Garden - Holly Webb (£8.99)
Return to Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeless classic, 'The Secret Garden', in this magical sequel by bestselling author Holly Webb. It's 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house - a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary, and a garden. A very secret garden... Holly Webb is the author of The Truffle Mouse and the Emily Feather series. 

The Astounding Broccoli Boy - Frank Cotterill Boyce (£10.99)
Frank Cottrell-Boyce is one of our favourite authors - his special genius is to tell stories that grip and unfold through the eyes of the children he's created, which allows him to generate incredible twists in perspective that are a totally delight.

After 'Cosmic' and 'Millions' this is another funny and wildly imaginative modern-day adventure. When Rory Rooney turns inexplicably green he is convinced he has super powers, but after being whisked off to a research facility, he must team up with his worst enemy - and some penguins - to find out what's happened. Why does London seem to be under attack from aliens? Will he ever be normal again? And will he be able to drive the bin lorry he's just stolen? Crazy, super-powered and just fantastic!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Books for Christmas Part 4 - Guinea Pigs, Pugs and Polar Bears - Favourite Fiction for Younger Readers

Giving books as gifts for young children is possibly the best part of Christmas - we've already told you about some of our favourite activity books for children - but here are some of favourite new fiction books throughout the year for ages 7+.

Knight In Training: A Very Bothersome Bear -
Vivian French and David Melling (£4.99)
David Melling has become renowned as the creator of bestseller (and everyone's favourite dispenser of hugs) Hugless Douglas, but before the cuddly bear he was already critically-acclaimed as the illustrative genius behind 'The Tale of Jack Frost' and 'The Kiss That Missed'. 'Knight In Training' is a new young fiction series inspired by the hapless Knight from that book, and has been written with author Vivian French.

Following the tale of Sam J. Butterbiggins (whose only ambition is to be a Very Noble Knight) it manages to harness the energy and quirkiness of the original, as Sam discovers a magical scroll listing the six quests to be completed to become a knight. Along the way he helps a grumpy dwarf, a dunderheaded bear and an island of tiny elves. Huge fun and bags of young reader appeal!

Atticus Claw on the Misty Moor - Jennifer Gray (£5.99)
The world's greatest cat-burglar turned cat detective is back! With the Cheddar family celebrating New Year's Eve in a Scottish castle, it isn't long before Atticus is up to his whiskers in hidden treasure, an ancient family curse, and sightings of a mysterious giant cat on the moor. Police Cat Sergeant Claw's detective skills will be needed once again, and with danger lurking everywhere, can Atticus solve the mystery? Imaginative, very funny, this series of books keeps getting better.

Olga da Polga - Michael Bond (£20)
Be prepared for a lot of very cute animals in this wonderful new edition of the classic guinea pig tales illustrated by the wonderful Catherine Rayner. Olda da Polga loves telling tales of her adventures to Graham the tortoise, even though he's not sure they all actually happened! A feast of adventure and fun - and utterly charming illustrations.

(We have a very few copies signed by Catherine in the shop - email to reserve one!) 

Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales - Saki (£6.99)
In 'Gabriel-Earnest', local landowner Van Cheele is stunned when his aunt decides to take in a wild-looking boy found on the estate, buying him a suit of clothes and naming him Gabriel-Ernest. Van Cheele is suspicious, especially when it is revealed that there is something supernatural about their new ward...

Saki was the pen-name of Hector Hugh Munro. and his short stories were strange and satirical, poking fun at the mores of the Edwardian age. This republished book (with new illustrations by Quentin Blake) is a mischievous collection of stories which find an echo of Roald Dahl a generation before.

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour - Anne Michaels (£10.99)
Meet the utterly irresistible Miss Petitfour (a name of unknown origin but possibly descended from bakers of tiny delicious cakes). She loves baking and making and dancing with her cats, but most of all she loves to fly. All she has to do is pick up a favourite tablecloth (preferably the one with the paisley print), catch the breeze and she swooshes off on an adventure - with her many cats dangling paw-to-tail behind her.

In five utterly captivating stories of gentle adventure, delicious edibles (with cheese for the cats), occasional peril and heart-zinging warmth, poet and novelist Anne Michaels (author of award-winning 'Fugitive Pieces') makes a charming, purrfect debut as a children's author.

Meet at the Ark at Eight! - Ulrich Hub (£6.99)
Snow and ice and ice and snow all around, and nothing for three penguins to do but fight with each other and smell slightly of fish. But are they good penguins or bad penguins? And if they're a bit bad then what's the worst that...What? Building an ark? The whole world is going to be flooded? Well! They should probably get on that ark.

Meet at the Ark at Eight is a delight: a funny, odd and strangely moral story of three penguins, a plump, over-worked dove, a beautiful butterfly that may or may not get done in, and a quite apologetic God.
Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright - Chris Riddell (£10.99)
What a year for Chris Riddell. With Goth Girl winning prizes galore, delighting huge numbers of children - and being appointed Children's Laureate, it's difficult to appreciate that Chris started his illustration journey almost 30 years ago.

In 'Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright' - the third in the Goth Girl series - sinister happenings are surrounding Ghastly-Gorm Hall during Lord Goth's Literary Dog Show. The esteemed judges are in place and the contestants are all ready to win. But there are mysterious footprints, howls in the night and some suspiciously chewed shoes. Can Ada, the Attic Club and their new friends the Vicarage sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) work out what's going on before the next full moon?

The Storm Leopards - Holly Webb (£8.99)
From best-selling author Holly Webb comes this charming wintery story: the countdown to Christmas has begun, and Isabelle is enjoying a family day out at the zoo. As her sister watches the penguins, Isabelle is the only one to catch a glimpse of a snow leopard, with its beautiful spotted silver-grey coat and long fluffy tail. Fascinated by these rare and endangered creatures, Isabelle tries to find out what she can do to help protect them. Little does she know she's about to be whisked into her very own magical snow leopard adventure, where a mother and her cubs are in danger...

My Father is a Polar Bear - Michael Morpurgo (£11.99)
Drawing on Michael Morpurgo's own childhood experience of first seeing his real father on television, 'My Father Is a Polar Bear' tells the story of two young brothers rediscovering their birth father in the most unlikely of places - and in an entirely unexpected guise! A warm and delightful tale of family bonds and love told by a master storyteller and beautifully illustrated by Rome-based artist Felicita Sala.

How to Fight a Dragon's Fury - Cressida Cowell (£12.99)
It's taken twelve years, spawned two films (a third is in production), cracking audio book voiced by David Tennant, and now the final book has arrived!

It is the Doomsday of Yule. At the end of this day, either the humans or the dragons will face extinction. Alvin the Treacherous is about to be crowned the King of the Wilderwest on the island of Tomorrow. His reign of terror will begin with the destruction of dragons everywhere. The fate of the dragon world lies in the hands of one young boy as he stands on the nearby isle of Hero's End with nothing to show, but everything to fight for. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third's Quest is clear. As Doomsday draws to an end can Hiccup be the Hero of the hour? A mixture of sadness and celebration with a splendid end to a modern classic series.

(Revisit Cressida's visit to Kennington back in 2012 when we interviewed her!)

Refuge - Anne Booth & Sam Usher (£7.99)
This is a poignant and wonderfully told take on the Christmas story and what follows: the fleeing of Jesus, Mary and Joseph from Herod's soldiers to Egypt. In a beautiful hardback format, it’s a book that takes the Christmas story and makes the reader consider it from the point of view of today’s refugee crisis.

Nosy Crow and the wider book trade are ensuring that £5 from the sale of each book will go directly to the charity War Child, which is caring for Syrian refugee children in camps and host communities in Jordan and Northern Iraq.

(Mark reviewed this book, and the next one, on BBC Radio Oxford during Children and Need - you can listen to his review on iPlayer here at approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes)

A Boy Called Christmas - Matt Haig (£12.99)
This is a completely different take on Christmas, the childhood story of a figure we all know well. It tells of the upbringing of a young Father Christmas, before the responsibilities of getting toys to children, before he came to live at the North Pole. It’s brilliantly imaginative, as a young Nickolas escapes from a Dahl-esque wicked Aunt, and travels North to discover what happened to his father – lost on a polar expedition. Along the way he befriends a reindeer named Blitzen...but not everything runs as smoothly as you might imagine.

This is an instant classic, and we think children will love the flawed but determined Nickolas, and the obstacles he overcomes to fulfil his destiny. It’s witty, a few aspects of modern consumerism are neatly skewered – and the illustrations from Chris Mould, one of our favourite (and, in our opinion, underrated) illustrators just turns this into a seasonal delight.

Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella - Cerrie Burnell (£8.99)
A beautifully written, lyrical tale featuring a cast of funny and loveable characters, created by CBeebies' presenter Cerrie Burnell and stunningly illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. Harper lives in the City of Clouds with her Great Aunt Sassy and her beloved cat Midnight. When Midnight goes missing - together with all the cats of the neighbourhood - Harper realises that only her magical scarlet umbrella can help her find him...When Harper steps out with the umbrella in her hand, she is carried up into the sky on a series of amazing adventures. And Midnight isn't all she finds when she stumbles upon the Midnight Orchestra and its wild conductor... 

Pugs of the Frozen North - Philip Reeve (£8.99)
The Race to the Top of the World! It comes around once in a lifetime, and the prize? Your heart's desire. Shen and Sika can't resist the chance to win, but competition is fierce. The path to victory is littered with snow trolls, sea monsters, and a gang of particularly hungry yetis. But Shen and Sika have something the other contestants don't have. Actually, they have 66 other things; pugs to be exact. That's a 264 paw-powered sled. Let the race begin! This beautifully illustrated story by the award-winning team of Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre will enchant fans of their previous books, 'Oliver and the Seawigs' and 'Cakes in Space'.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Books for Christmas 2015 Part 3 - our ten favourite children's activity books for Christmas

All of us in the bookshop are passionate about getting children to read - but we're also keen to emphasise that a book can be so much more than a story. It might be a gateway to getting creative, learning to play (or even write) a game, or stimulating a desire to get up, get outdoors and get your hands mucky. Or you just might want five minutes peace post Christmas dinner!

The key word here is 'activity' - and each year we try and pick some truly inspirational books and games that fire up the imagination and get children active. Our shop is full of inspiration at the moment, so to whet your appetite here are a few of our favourites this year.

The Epic Book of Epicness – Adam Frost - £6.99
After last year's 'Awesome Book of Awesomeness' comes Adam Frost's latest collection of brain-scrambling facts and wacky activities 'The Epic Book of Epicness'. Learn how to hard-boil an Ostrich Egg (serving suggestion: feeds 20 people), send an intergalactic message to other planets, and calculate how many zombies there would be if everyone who ever died on Earth came back to life (clue: it's a lot).

Learn where on Earth you need to go to see a red waterfall, discover which sharks you can safely swim with (and those you can't) and all the things an elephant can do with its trunk. Perfect for a wide primary-school age-range, reluctant readers and anyone, male or female, who loves FACTS!

Lift-the-Flap Computers and Coding – Rosie Dickens - £9.99
We love inspiring children to code in the shop - we help run a primary school coding club, and we ran a huge half-term coding competition in the shop (which you can still enter).

Coding is now a compulsory topic in the National Curriculum, and Usborne have used over 30 years of experience writing coding books for kids to produce a wonderful, interactive guide to information and communication technology, which explains what goes on inside computers and what makes them do what they do. With lots of flaps to lift and look beneath, fact-hungry children will devour the fascinating data contained in this bright and engaging non-fiction book.

Pigs In Pants – Orchard Toys - £8.50
We're really proud of our Orchard Toys section, and we've a wide range of children's toys that are fun to play, but get little minds working and learning.

It's safe to say that 'Pigs In Pants' is a big favourite at the moment, perfect for children aged 4+. If you can match the pants, you get to keep them, and the player with the most pairs at the end is the winner. Fun to play and share together.

Belle and Boo Christmas Sticker Fun – Mandy Sutcliffe - £4.99
Belle and Boo love Christmas and want you to come and join in the fun as they build a snowman, decorate a the tree and bake some spice biscuits. There are lots of things to do: colouring, sticking and games. Packed with fun for the little Belle in your life.

Personalised Friendship Bracelets – Klutz - £9.99
Almost no-one does child-friendly crafting inspiration like Klutz. Whether it's Clay Charms, Nail Art or Finger Knitting, we've chosen 'Friendship Bracelets' as our top recommend. It contains everything you need to make a gift for your 'bestie' (we're down with the kids here) but it could be for your Granny...or even your cat! This wonderful kit has all you need to make intricate personalised bracelets with over 45 meters of floss in five different colours and 150+ different designs. With picture by picture easy instructions this will provide hours of satisfying fun.

Nature in a Nutshell for Kids: Over 100 Activities You Can Do In 10 Minutes or Less – Jean Potter - £9.99
Getting outside isn't always easy over the Winter months, but this book provides plenty of inspiration to get out into nature. Discover its beauty and wonder all year round with these quick, easy experiments and activities that can be completed in ten fun-filled minutes or less, and the clear step-by-step instructions and illustrations help you get it right every time.

Build A Rocket - Ian Graham - £14.99
We're mad on space at Mostly Books (see here for more details) and this December -all being well - British astronaut Tim Peake flies to the International Space Station - so for the wannabe astronaut in your family, why not get them their very own spaceship? It may only get you to the Moon in your imagination, but it'll be huge fun on the way. At least you'll feel prepared for the trip with this great book and a press out and build model of the mighty Saturn V which took astronauts to the Moon. With fascinating facts and inspirational illustrations, consider it training for a future flight...

(And if you want to see one fully built, come look at the Mostly Books window from the end of November!)

Stampy’s Lovely Book – Egmont - £7.99
For any child that is Minecraft-obsessed this is a must-have book. Stampy Longnose (aka Joseph Garrett) is the YouTube sensation that most people probably have never heard of - but is currently in the top ten of most watched YouTube videos worldwide thanks to his Minecraft "Let's Play" videos. 

In his first book, join Stampy and his favourite friends, Ballistic Squid, Amy Lee and Rosie in this wonderful activity book. It's packed with crafts, puzzles, quest’s, mazes and even cake baking and let’s not forget stories, secrets and tips for making your own YouTube videos. See you in the 'Love Garden'...

Awesome Ideas for Lego - £16.99
Are you ready for the most awesome Lego adventure yet?! With six incredible worlds to travel through there is a whole world of adventure in just one book. From a Chaise Longue to a research lab and an apple to a Steam train. Almost everything you can think of is in here with useful notes and model breakdowns to help you build the world of your dreams.

Slot Together Victorian Dolls House - Anna Milbourne and Barry Ablett - £25 - £20
After last year's slot-together castle was such a hit, this year Usborne has done it again with a slot-together, historically accurate Victorian doll's house, complete with furniture, home accessories and a family of dolls. Press out the sturdy, foamboard pieces, slot together following the simple instructions and you're ready to play. Includes a book about life in a grand Victorian house, providing an insight into the social history of the period. Inspirational, educational, what more would you want? How about £5 off the £25 RRP whilst stocks last - and you can get a glimpse of how it looks in the Mostly Books window!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Books for Christmas 2015 Part 2 - Adult Colouring and Books for the Child Within

If last week's selection of our favourite history titles seemed somewhat 'heavyweight', today's selection is much more on the lighter side. We are always on the look-out for gifts for family and friends who may not be big readers, but nevertheless you want them to have their nose in a book come Christmas morning.

The adult colouring craze which seems to have swept the country shows no sign of slowing, and no wonder. Sophisticated colouring books seem to work wonders for smart children, stressed adults, people recovering from illness, engaging in mindfulness and anyone looking to take a break from technology, or just wanting a good laugh.

Not all the titles are colouring titles (we have many more in the shop), and we already mentioned the splendid Harry Potter colouring book a few weeks ago. Some poke fun at the genre - and some spoof the 'back to childhood' vibe generally.

But here are our picks for the 'child within'...enjoy.

Haynes Cutaway Colouring Book (£6.99)
There are plenty of inspiring themes for colouring-in books in recent years, but amongst the flowers, animals and decorative patterns, with links to mindfulness and art therapies, this is possibly our favourite one at the moment that takes a more structured and mechanical approach.

The legendary Haynes black and white cutaway manuals seem tailor-made for colouring anyway, and this collection of 90 cutaways - with classic cards and a history of the Haynes Manual itself - seems a stroke (engine) of genius.

Sherlock: The Mind Palace - Mike Collins (£9.99)
The (colouring) game is afoot in 'The Mind Palace', a unique celebration of the rich visual landscape of Sherlock, featuring over 50 intricate pieces of artwork by artist Mike Collins. Recreate classic scenes, add colour to intricate interiors and illuminate the fascinating world of Sherlock with the power of your imagination.

The touch we particularly like is that within each scene there is a vital clue from each episode hidden within the black and white illustrations, and only by completing the scene can they be found. Surprisingly well-thought through, this is for a much wider appeal than just Cumberbatch-fans (though it will definitely appeal to them as well!) 

Lost Ocean - Johanna Basford (£12.99)
In 2013, a young Scottish illustrator started to create intricate black and white illustrations as a way to relax. Weaving in quests and stories into her pictures, her illustrations - initially published on her website - we're picked up by a British publisher, and 'The Secret Garden' has gone on to sell more than a million copies worldwide, translated into 14 languages and was - for a time - the biggest selling book in France.

'The Lost Ocean' is her latest - and beautiful - creation, and takes you on a magical journey beneath the waves. The book also features a large double-sided pull-out poster to colour with others and keep. We think it might prove an unexpected hit - and alternative - to a family board game on Christmas Day!

A Magical Christmas - Lizzie Mary Cullen (£9.99)
From Lizzie Mary Cullen, the illustrator behind hit colouring book 'The Magical City', comes a brand new treat for the winter. Settle down in your favourite chair and immerse yourself in this mesmerising new colouring book, with Christmas celebrations from across the world and throughout the years. There's at the Rockefeller Center to surfing in Sydney and frost fairs on the Thames to Victorian toy shops. Travel with the wise men following a star, spot Santa's sleigh skimming over the rooftops and discover dazzling gingerbread houses with Lizzie's intricate inky illustrations.

Crap Colouring in:Mindless Art Therapy for Modern Life - Joe Sumner (£7.99)
If you firmly believe that life isn't an 'Enchanted Kingdom', and you like your colouring-in a bit more age-appropriate, then 'Crap Colouring In' by Joe Summer is the book you've been waiting for. 

Over a hundred pages, from shopping trolleys to speed-bumps, leaves on the line and detailed grey clouds, it's adult colouring with a gloriously cynical British-humour twist. For those who like to vent as part of their art therapy!

The Ladybird Book of the Midlife Crisis - Jason Hazeley (£6.99)
Last year, we loved recommending the compelling (if disturbing) Scarfolk (which contained spoofs of the Ladybird genre, with mocked-up covers of books such as 'The Ladybird Guide to Bucolic Middle England'). Jason Hazeley has managed to go one better, with a whole raft of actual Ladybird books, using imagery from the original books, but squarely aimed at the adult reader.

Including such useful titles as 'The Ladybird Book of the Hipster' and 'The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness' come and have a peek at the range in the shop. We reckon you'll know in a very short space of time if these might be the gift you are looking for - we think they are extremely well-produced and very, very funny!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Books for Christmas 2015 Part 1: Horrible (and not-so-horrible) History

For the last, ooh, how long is it now...eight years (No! Really? Can it be that long?) we've worked extremely hard to curate our favourite books published over the previous year, to produce a series of blog posts and newsletter editions that represent our favourite books for Christmas.

Now, we know it's only October, but it is almost the *end* of October, and besides last year there were so many good books that we almost ran out of time - so we're starting a little bit earlier this year...

We're starting with our favourite History titles of 2015. Enjoy...

The Great British Dream Factory – Dominic Sandbrook (£25.00)Our manufacturing base is a shadow of its former self; the Royal Navy has been reduced to a skeleton. Russian officials dismiss us as 'a small island'. And yet there is still one area in which we can legitimately claim superpower status: our popular culture.

It is extraordinary to think that J K Rowling has sold more than 400 million books; that Doctor Who is watched in almost every developed country in the world; that James Bond has been the central character in the longest-running film series in history; that The Lord of the Rings is the second best-selling novel ever written (behind only A Tale of Two Cities); that the Beatles are still the best-selling musical group of all time; and that only Shakespeare and the Bible have sold more books than Agatha Christie. To put it simply, no country on earth, relative to its size, has contributed more to the modern imagination.

Historian and broadcaster Dominic Sandbrook explores the success, origins - and meaning - of Britain's popular culture, from Bond and the Beatles to heavy metal and Coronation Street, from the Angry Young Men and Harry Potter, to Banksy and Damien Hirst.

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear –James Shapiro (£20.00)
Talking of Shakespeare, author and English professor James Shapiro focuses on another annus mirabilis (can you have more than one of those?) in the life of The Bard, '1606'. Using the same biographical style that he used in '1599' (which won the Samuel Johnson Prize), Shapiro traces Shakespeare's life and times from the autumn of 1605, when he took an old and anonymous Elizabethan play, The Chronicle History of King Leir, and transformed it into his most searing tragedy, King Lear.

1606 witnessed the bloody aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, saw divisions over the Union of England and Scotland, and an outbreak of plague. But it turned out to be an exceptional one for Shakespeare, who before the year was out went on to complete two other great Jacobean tragedies that spoke directly to these fraught times: Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra. Absorbing, compelling - and further proof of the way Shakespeare still speaks powerfully to us across the centuries.

(There's a great interview with James Shapiro on the excellent History Girls blog here)

The Nation Through Its Portraits - Simon Schama (£30.00)
A history of the British people told through portraits, tying in to a major five-part BBC TV series and an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. From the divine paintings of Elizabeth I to the iconic photograph of 'bulldog' Churchill; from Victorian portraits of dead children to Hockney's of his elderly parents; from anonymous workers to the artists themselves, Simon Schama uses a stunning and surprising array of images to tell the story of the British from the Tudors to the present day, changing the way we see Britain and each other.

The Secret War - Max Hastings (£30.00)
Historian, journalist and author Max Hastings plots the fabulous espionage networks created by the Soviet Union in Germany and Japan, Britain and America, and explores the puzzle of why Stalin so often spurned his agents, who reported from the heart of the Axis war machine. The role of SOE and American's OSS as sponsors of guerrilla war are examined, and the book tells the almost unknown story of Ronald Seth, an SOE agent who was 'turned' by the Germans, walked the streets of Paris in a Luftwaffe uniform, and baffled MI5, MI6 and the Abwehr as to his true loyalty. 

'The Secret War' links tales of high courage ashore, at sea and in the air to the work of the brilliant 'boffins' at home, battling the enemy's technology. Hastings tells the stories - often bizarre, sometimes with the highest prices at stake - with excitement, panache and the highest quality of writing as befits his reputation as a brilliant military historian and journalist. Hugely enjoyable and informative and a great choice for any family or friends who love reading about the Second World War.

The Cooler King - Patrick Bishop (£17.99)
Max Hastings pulls out personal dramas to illustrate his big-picture histories, but in 'The Cooler King' military historian Patrick Bishop tells the astonishing story of William Ash, an American flier brought up in Depression-hit Texas, who after being shot down in his Spitfire over France in early 1942 spent the rest of the war defying the Nazis by striving to escape from every prisoner of war camp in which he was incarcerated.

It is a saga full of incident and high drama, climaxing in a break out via a tunnel dug in the latrines of the Oflag XXIB prison camp in Poland - a great untold episode of the Second World War. Alongside William Ash is a cast of fascinating characters, including Douglas Bader, Roger Bushell (who would go on to lead the Great Escape) and Paddy Barthropp, a dashing Battle of Britain pilot who despite his very different background became Ash's best friend and shared many of his adventures.

Bricks and Mortals – Tom Wilkinson (£9.99)
We don't just look at buildings: their facades, beautiful or ugly, conceal the spaces we inhabit. We are born, work, love and die in architecture. We buy and sell it, rent it and squat in it, create and destroy it. And because architecture moulds us just as much as we mould it, understanding architecture helps us to understand our lives and our world. 

Through ten great buildings across the world art historian Tom Wilkinson reveals the powerful and intimate relationship between society and architecture and asks: can architecture change our lives for the better?

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Mary Beard (£25.00) - signed copies whilst stocks last
Britain's favourite classicist lifts the lid on the Roman Empire; its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess. Its myths and stories - from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia - still strike a chord with us, and its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today. SPQR covers 1,000 years of history, and casts fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire.

Beard has achieved something remarkable, producing an enthralling, genuinely original history of Ancient Rome which never sacrifices scholarship and yet has wide appeal. She explains why Ancient Rome still matters, and why the Roman Empire is something against which we still judge ourselves. A wonderful book.

Ferguson's Gang : The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters
Sally Beck and Polly Bagnall (£15.99)
The year is 1927 and Britain's heritage is vanishing. Beautiful landscapes are being bulldozed, historic buildings are being blown up. Stonehenge is collapsing. Enter 'Ferguson's Gang', a mysterious and eccentric group of women who help the National Trust to fight back...

The Gang raise huge sums, which they deliver in delightfully strange ways: Victorian coins inside a fake pineapple, a one hundred pound note stuffed inside a cigar, five hundred pounds with a bottle of homemade sloe gin. Their stunts are avidly reported in the press, and when they make a national appeal for the Trust, the response is overwhelming. 

Yet somehow these women stay anonymous, hiding behind masks and bizarre pseudonyms such as Bill Stickers, Red Biddy, the Bludy Beershop and Sister Agatha. They carefully record their exploits, their rituals, even their elaborate picnics, but they take their real names to the grave. Now Sally Beck and Polly Bagnall can reveal the identities of these unlikely national heroes and tell the stories of their fascinating and often unconventional lives. A triumph of British eccentricity combined with a truly priceless legacy.

This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC– Charlotte Higgins (£12.99)
Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian's chief culture writer, steps behind the polished doors of Broadcasting House and investigates the BBC. Based on her hugely popular essay series, this personal journey answers the questions that rage around this vulnerable, maddening and uniquely British institution. Questions such as: what does the BBC mean to us now? What are the threats to its continued existence? Is it worth fighting for? Higgins traces its origins, celebrating the early pioneering spirit and unearthing forgotten characters whose imprint can still be seen on the BBC today. She explores how it forged ideas of Britishness both at home and abroad. She shows how controversy is in its DNA and brings us right up to date through interviews with grandees and loyalists, embattled press officers and high profile dissenters, and she sheds new light on recent feuds and scandals.

Parish Church Treasure: The Nations Greatest Art Collection - John Goodall (£25.00)
Our parish churches constitute a living heritage without precise European parallel. Their cultural riches are astonishing, not only for their quality and quantity, but also their diversity and interest. Fine art and architecture here combine unpredictably with the functional and the curious, from prehistory to the present day, to form an unsung national museum which presents its contents in an everyday setting without curators or formal displays.

Because church treasures usually remain in the buildings they were created for, properly interpreted they tell from thousands of local perspectives the history of the nation, its people and their changing religious observance. John Goodall has expanded his weekly series in Country Life to tell this remarkable history afresh.

Metropolis: Mapping the City – Jeremy Black (£30.00)
More than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, and by 2030 this number will swell to about 5 billion. But mapping urbanization is challenging, and is as much about capturing the essence of where we live, and the promises and reality of our urban lives.

The first city atlas, the Civitates Orbis Terrarum, was published in 1572 for the armchair traveller interested in a world that was opening up around him. In 'Metropolis', British history professor Jeremy Black looks at the development of the mapping and representation of the city revealing how we organize the urban space. From skyline profiles, bird's eye views and panoramas, to the schematic maps of transport networks and road layouts to help us navigate, and statistical maps that can provide information on human aspirations, cities can reveal themselves in many ways. Both a fascinating insight and a sumptuous treat for anyone interested in the city in which they live or with the desire to explore the history and culture of a metropolis overseas.

The Celts: Search For A Civilization - Alice Roberts (£20.00)
We know a lot about the Romans: they left monuments to their glories and written histories charting the exploits of their heroes. But there was another ancient people in Europe - feared warriors with chariots, iron swords, exquisite jewellery, swirling tattoos and strange rituals and beliefs. For hundreds of years Europe was theirs, not Rome's. They were our ancestors, and yet the scale of their achievements has largely been forgotten. They were the Celts, and unlike the Romans they did not write their history, so the stories of many heroic Celtic men and women have been lost...

Alice Roberts goes in search of the Celts, their treasures and their achievements in a narrative history to accompany her new BBC series. 

Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters - Laura Thompson (£25.00)
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah, and in the 1930s their stark - and very public - differences in outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade...

Told with wit, verve, and a particular attention to their early lives, 'Take Six Girls' by Laura Thompson shows how the intertwined stories of their lives continue to fascinate decades later.

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf (£25.00)
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist: more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon...

His colourful adventures read like something out of a Boy's Own story, and in 'The Invention of Nature' Indian-born historian and writer Andrea Wulf shows why his life and ideas remain so important today. Humboldt predicted human-induced climate change as early as 1800, and 'The Invention of Nature' traces his ideas as they go on to revolutionize and shape science, conservation, nature writing, politics, art and the theory of evolution. He wanted to know and understand everything and his way of thinking was so far ahead of his time that it's only coming into its own now. This is epic history with broad appeal.

Kissinger – Niall Ferguson (£35.00)
No American statesman has been as revered and as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Hailed by some as the "indispensable man", whose advice has been sought by every president from John F Kennedy to George W Bush, Kissinger has also attracted immense hostility from critics who have cast him as an amoral Machiavellian - the ultimate cold-blooded "realist". In this remarkable new book, the first of two volumes, Niall Ferguson has created an extraordinary panorama of Kissinger's world, and a paradigm-shifting reappraisal of a man who rose from poor immigrant, WWII GI, Nazi interrogator and adviser to presidents.

The Invention of Science – David Wootton (£30.00)
This is a landmark book, charting the way we came to live in a world made by science. Historian David Wootton argues that the discovery of America in 1492 shook the prevailing orthodoxy, because up until then it was assumed that all significant knowledge was available. With concepts of 'discovery' and progress, Tycho Brahe's nova of 1572 proved that there could be change in the heavens, and the telescope (1610) rendered the old astronomy obsolete.

The new science did not consist simply of new discoveries, or new methods. It relied on a new understanding of what knowledge might be, and with this came a new language: discovery, progress, facts, experiments, hypotheses, theories, laws of nature - almost all these terms existed before 1492, but their meanings were radically transformed so they became tools with which to think scientifically. 'The Invention of Science' changes our understanding of how this great transformation came about, and of what science is.