Thursday, March 26, 2015

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 09, 2015

See Inside Your Head!

This year's Abingdon-on-Thames Science Festival ATOM! takes place between March 18 - 21. As part of the festival, we're excited to host an inspiring event for all the family at Abingdon's Guildhall entitled 'See Inside Your Head' on Saturday, March 21 at 1.30pm.

Take a tour through your brain! Science writer Alex Frith explains the intricacies of the human brain. From the simple science of synapses to more complex brain functions such as how memories are stored, discover the world of neurological science in this informative, fun and interactive event that makes a complex subject easy for inquisitive minds to understand.

Neuroscientists Chris and Uta Frith, expert consultants on the book, will also be on hand to answer questions about how the brain works, and describe what brain discoveries remain for the next generation to find…

Tickets cost £4 per person, and will be ideal for ages 5-11. Tickets are on sale at Mostly Books, and we expect demand to be strong, so please email us to reserve tickets as soon as you can!

This year ATOM! will coincide with the partial solar eclipse across the UK on Friday 20 March. There will be loads of inspiring science events and it all takes place as part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival.

It’s a great chance to see live demonstrations, hear about cutting-edge research  - and provide inspiration for young and old in one of the country’s science hotspots. Find out more on the official website here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Detectives, Desperados and Dr No: Caroline Lawrence at the Abingdon Joint Author event 2015

Yesterday nearly 600 children from ten Abingdon schools were inspired by tales of Greek heroes, locked-room mysteries and sharp-shooting Wild West cowboys...

The annual Abingdon joint-author event took place at Abingdon School's Amey Theatre with bestselling children's author Caroline Lawrence. The event is a bit of an Abingdon institution, and previous authors have included Alan GibbonsMarcus SedgwickJulia Golding and The Two Steves

Caroline enthralled the audience with tantalising mysteries to solve and how she came to write her own books. She also shared some top screenwriting secrets and powerful tips on how to write compelling stories that work in any medium, from books to films.

Caroline is best-known as a writer of some of our best-loved historical mystery stories. She has a reputation for distilling her passion for art, history, language and travel into cracking mysteries for children. She published her first book, The Thieves of Ostia, in 2001 and there are now seventeen books in the series. It was also filmed as a highly successful children's series for the BBC.
Her latest series, the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries, are set in Virginia City, a Nevada town that grew up in the years after the California Gold Rush. Whatever images are conjured up by the phrase 'The Wild West' you would have found them in Virginia City - so when 12 year Old P.K. Pinkerton sets herself up as a Private Investigator she's in one of the most wild, unruly, unholy and downright dangerous places in America...

Caroline explained that she was not allowed to bring her six-shooter (or possibly a seven-shooter) in to show the children (something to do with health and safety) but she did display slides of various artifacts from the period, including something called a spittoon that - if you really want to know more about, you can go visit Caroline's website.
Caroline signed copies of her books afterwards... well as posing for photos of one of her infamous roman artifacts - a sponge on a stick.
Everyone had a chance to guess *exactly* what this might have been used for in Roman times, but we'll give you a clue: it wasn't for brushing your teeth...

Naturally we took the opportunity to find out more about the California-born author who we now happily claim as our own...

Five Questions with...Caroline Lawrence's Writing Life
1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Well, it's very exciting. I'm about to sign a four-book deal for a new series called 'Seekers' set in Roman Britain. It involves five children, and it takes place in 94 AD (towards the end of the reign of the emperor Domitian). The first book is called 'Escape from Rome' and they will be investigating all kinds of mysteries!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Oh wow, I've got lots of writing tips! But only one? OK - read your work out loud as a form of self-editing. You've got to know how your words sound when read out.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is the children! I love writing for children, and I'm basically a permanent 11 year old. I love the response you get from children, and when they give you feedback on your books. The worst thing? I really can't think of anything (when I suggest some authors hate the fact that kids read in a day what took a year to write, she exclaims "No, I love that! We need more children reading like that!")

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
Not really, but it's always a challenge to stay off the Internet. I'm training myself to go into a different room or work on a different machine. But I'm not like Shakespeare (in 'Shakespeare in Love') where I have to turn around three times and spit on my hands. The other challenge I have when writing is not to start snacking!

5.   What was your biggest breakthrough?
When I was introduced to a man called John Truby who is a script doctor. He has something called the 22 steps (or beats) to telling a powerful story. Seven of these are absolutely key. and once I knew these, I have been guided by them in all of the books I've written.


Thanks very much to Caroline, and on a personal note - having seen it many times on the Internet - I feel incredible privileged to have been photographed with her and the famous sponge stick!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Half Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo - Physicist or Spy?

On the eve of the publication of his new book, 'Half Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo - Physicist or Spy?', Professor Frank Close will reveal his discoveries about the atomic scientist Bruno Pontecorvo.

Pontecorvo was an Italian physicist who worked on the British atomic bomb project at Harwell, and his son, Gil, was about to start his second year at Abingdon School. However, on August 31, 1950, in the middle of a holiday in Italy, he abruptly left Rome for Stockholm with his wife and three sons without informing friends or relatives. The next day he was helped by Soviet agents to enter the Soviet Union from Finland.

World-renowned scientist and writer Frank Close reveals the full story of Pontecorvo, bound up in the murky world of scientific research as the Second World War turned into The Cold War. What nuclear secrets did Pontecorvo take with him? Who was the M15 mole at the School? What role did Kim Philby play?

Close has had unprecedented access to archives, letters, family members and other scientists in telling Pontecorvo’s story. Pontecorvo worked on the Anglo-Canadian arm of the Manhatten Project and was privy to many secrets. He uncovered a way to find the uranium so coveted by nuclear powers.

Close is professor of physics at the University of Oxford and a former head of the theoretical physics division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He is author of bestselling books including Lucifer’s Legacy and Antimatter and has twice won the Association of British Science Writers award.

Frank will be speaking at the Amey Theatre, Abingdon School on Wednesday, March 4 at 7pm. Copies of his book will be on sale on the night, which Frank will be delighted to sign. This is a free event, and will be unticketed, but please email us to register your interest and let us and the school know that you will be attending.

(And take a look at this special BBC 'On This Day' news report from 1950)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Dozen Read Books for Valentine's Day

Whilst a dozen red roses might be lovely this Valentine's Day, we're going to give you a dozen read books (see what we did there?) as is now traditional at this time of year.

As I hope you'll expect, our picks for a lovely gift for your Valentine might be slightly on the quirky side, but as ever, come in for a hand-picked recommend for your loved one.

Apparently, we have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for linking St Valentine to romantic love, so where better place to start than 'My True Love Gave To Me', a series of short (romantic) stories, all with a Winter theme, by authors including stalwart Young Adult writers such as Ally Carter, Holly Black and Rainbow Rowell. A favourite of Imogen's in the shop, this is highly appropriate given that Valentine's Day sees the launch of our YA Bookgroup.

2015 will see the BBC screening a remake of 1970s classic Cornish-set saga 'Poldark' (and we've learned that this Sunday evening the first trailers hit the TV) but until it's shown, the original Poldark novels by Winston Graham (beginning with 'Ross Poldark') have been reissued. They feature some rather spectacular covers, and although we would never suggest anyone is shallow enough to buy them for the covers, they do look rather good...

In terms of beautiful little gift books with a romantic theme, we love 'The Peanuts Guide to Love' (featuring everything from Woodstock falling in love with a worm to Charlie Brown's obsession with the Little Red-Headed Girl). But given that this year it's 150 years since the publication of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' come take a look at the little gem of a book that is the 'Little Folk's Edition', small, red and beautifully gilt-edged collector's edition.

Who knew more about the mysteries of the human heart than Jane Austen herself? In the wry, wise and witty 'The Jane Austen Rules : A Classic Guide to Modern Love' feminist and academic Sinead Murphy answers the question: what's a strong, independent-minded woman supposed to do in a world of insipid dating guides? Who has more time-tested secrets than Jane Austen, whose novels continue to captivate us—read after read—almost two hundred years later?

But for something a bit quirkier, how about the gift of happiness into someone's life? According to the UN, Denmark is the happiest county in the world, so when journalist Helen Russell moved to rural Jutland, she decided to try to discover just why the Danes are so happy. The result is ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ (which has to be our favourite book title of the year) and some of her findings may surprise you. However, Helen is convinced that we can all be a bit happier if we put a little Danish into our lives, and this book – amusingly, thoughtfully – shows you how.

There's been some great new fiction in the shop, and we'll always suggest good new fiction makes the best gift. 'Not Forgetting The Whale' by John Ironmonger is one of the most original, and wonderfully surprising new titles out in February.

When Joe Haak is rescued, naked. from the Cornish beach of St Piran, he is immediately adopted by the curious group of different people that call the fishing village their home. But what they don't know if that Joe fled London, having written a computer program Cassie, that has predicted the end of the world. But is the end of the world about to happen, and can Joe convince the people of St Piran to seal themselves off from the rest of the world? Warm, witty, endlessly surprising, this is already one one of our favourite books of the year.

And we get even quirkier with Stephen May's subversive and brilliantly fun 'Wake Up Happy Every Day'. Ever wondered what would happen if you did suddenly wake up one morning with everything you wanted? This happens to Nicky when his awesomely wealthy mate Russell drops dead, and Nicky takes the opportunity to step into his shoes. A fabulously unique take on the 'be careful what you wish for' story, told with verve, passion, anger...and cake?! Highly recommended...

Of course, a big dollop of cash would be nice, but most of us might have to turn elsewhere for a bit of happiness. We have a range of 'colouring for therapy' books in the shop at the moment, with our pick being 'Color Me Happy : 100 Coloring Templates That Will Make You Smile'. Come in and feel your stress reduce...

Actress Sheila Hancock is already a bestselling author. Her memoir of her late husband John Thaw, The Two of Us, was a number one bestseller. Nicki has loved 'Miss Carter's War', her first work of fiction and a bold storytelling sweep through the last century - through the end of the World Wars, the rise of the Labour Party, the Swinging Sixties, to the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties and the race towards a consumer society. It is all told through the life of Marguerite Carter, one of the first women to receive a degree from Cambridge. who has to be as adaptable to the century as she was brave working for SOE behind enemy lines in France and is a remarkable chronicle of our life and times.

If it's just a bit of pampering you want, look no further than the 'Neal's Yard Beauty Book'. This is a real revolution in home-made cosmetics and beauty products from the legendary Covent Garden-based alternative beauty company - and offers real, luxurious alternatives to the over-priced, chock-full-of-chemicals mainstream beauty industry.

Finally, is there a formula for love? Well, turns out there is and in 'The Formula : How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems ... and Create More" author Luke Dormehl reveals how algorithms are increasingly coming to dominate our lives, and what pleasures - and perils - await us in a world that seems increasingly to anticipate out every move.

The perfect give perhaps for a Don Tillman-out-of-the-Rosie Project character? Come in for more recommends!

Want more recommends? Take a look at our picks for last year and 2013!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Launch of the Mostly Books YA Bookgroup

It’s a big jump from reading children’s books into reading adult books and one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic areas of publishing in recent years has been books aimed at creating great reads that particularly appeal to children of twelve and over – ‘YA’ books (or 'Young Adult').

There's some very exciting things happening in the world of YA this year - so we'll hand over to Mostly Books YA expert Imogen to tell you more about her passion for YA, the YA Book Prize 2015 - and the launch of our new YA Bookgroup...


"Anyone who knows me knows that I have one huge book weakness: the Young Adult section in any book shop I come across.

Over the past few years, this section has bloomed. With the success of books like 'The Hunger Games' and 'The Fault in Our Stars', it has rocketed into the minds of both teenagers and adults alike. As that has happened, more and more books have come out, meaning that YA is no longer just a ‘genre’ but a group of books that stand out all on their own.

There is no one way you can sum up Young Adult books. It holds infinite worlds inside its name, from the alien invasion where you cannot trust a soul ('The 5th Wave') to the assassin who must work for her enemy for the chance at freedom ('Throne of Glass') and finding friendship and love in an unlikely place ('Anna and the French Kiss') to a dark fairytale set in the future ('Cinder').

What I love about this collection of books is that the word ‘Young’ does not put people off reading them. In fact, many parents will pick up a book after seeing their teenager read it, and end up wanting to read more.

This sudden growth in the YA sales, alongside the successes of films such as ‘If I Stay’ and ‘Mockingjay: Part One’ have prompted people to start thinking about this as a whole new section. Before, it might have been put down the end of the children’s books, or hidden near the adults, but treated like people were not sure what to do with it.

There are many awards that both adult and children’s books can win - the Costa Book Awards, Blue Peter Book awards, etc. - but YA have never had one for themselves.

Until now!

The YA Book Prize is a brand new award for 2015, and it looks at YA books from both the UK and Ireland. Shortlisted this year are:
  • A Song for Ella Grey, David Almond
  • Salvage,  Keren David
  • Say Her Name, James Dawson
  • Lobsters, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
  • Half Bad, Sally Green
  • Finding a Voice, Kim Hood
  • Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill
  • Goose, Dawn O’Porter
  • Trouble, Non Pratt
  • Ghosts of Heaven, Marcus Sedgwick
Well, my To-Be-Read list just grew...

The winner of this award won’t be announced until March, but to coincide with it, we’ve decided to start something in the shop. For teenagers that love to read, or just want to try something different, we’re starting a YA Bookgroup. 

I have a passion, not only for the YA books, but for getting teenagers and young people to grow into reading them as well. The excited spark in their eyes as they talk about books they have found and loved, and the debates about what character/book/series is the best...


So - fancy getting involved?

We will read three of the titles nominated for the first YA Book Prize before the winner is announced. The first book we are going to read will be Sally Green’s thrilling ‘Half Bad’ about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches, blending the hard-hitting realism of ‘The Hunger Games’ with a supernatural twist (Kate Atkinson described it as 'Brilliant and Utterly Compelling' and film rights have already been sold...).

If you are over twelve and would enjoy the chance to get your teeth in to the best in YA fiction and join in to discuss what you loved/loathed about the books, then we’d love to welcome you to this new book group. Let us know you’d like to join and all you need to do is to have read the book in time for the first meeting on Saturday Feb 14 at 9.15am in the shop. You get 15% discount on the book if buying it from the shop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

She swoops to conquer: H is for Hawk wins the Costa

A few years ago, we were very honoured to be part of the Costa Awards judging team. In terms of its ambition, scope and bellweather of what's 'hot' in the book world, we feel the Costa is arguably the UK's most important book award - it's certainly insanely ambitious given the sheer number of books that pass through the judges' hands.

Given the collegiate nature of the judging set-up, and the fact that almost invariably the judges won't be able to agree given the sheer range of books, some years you get the feeling that the overall winner is something of a compromise candidate. But not this year.

We felt last year was a strong line-up of finalists, with a worthy overall winner - this year even more so. 'H is for Hawk' is one of those rare books that is genuinely original, because you cannot think of anything quite like it. As you read Helen Macdonald's searingly honest story of how she came to train her Goshawk 'Mabel' - along the way coming to terms with her own grief at the death of her father, and revealing deep truths about our relationship with nature - shadows of other authors and books sometimes rise up: the heart-on-sleeve emotion of Anna Funder's 'Stasiland', the relationship with nature that you get from Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog' or the smack-in-the-chops revelations of Kate Summerscale's 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. Yet it's like none of these books and is entirely original.

Last week we discussed this book on the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub. Fast forward 1 hour and 6 minutes to listen to the show. Despite a somewhat breathless and over-enthusiastic (!) description of the book, the recommendation is just to read it. H is for Heavyweight Winner...