Friday, June 29, 2012

3 4 Friday: Independent Booksellers Week special editions

Tomorrow (Saturday June 30) is the start of Independent Booksellers Week, an annual celebration of everything that is good about independent bookshops, independent shops in general and -  ultimately - the importance of vitality and diversity on our high streets.

This year, several publisher have made exclusive limited editions available to independent bookshops, and we would urge you - wherever you live in the UK and Ireland - to seek out your local independent bookshop, and find out what events and hand-picked recommendations they have coming up in the next week - and beyond.

For today's '3 4 Friday' selection, we've picked three of the exclusives available through indies this year - and several can be found on our
Special Buys page on the blog.

Firstly, Antony Beevor's 'The Second World War' will vie with Max Hastings' recent publication to be the definitive single-volume account of World War Two.

In some ways this is the book that Beevor was destined to write, with previous books such as Stalingrad and Berlin - published to critical acclaim and commercial success - honing a style that brings a soldier's eye to the realities of battle strategy, with a compelling writing style that is well suited to a huge canvas.

The limited first editions are specially produced and signed by the author. We think it makes an excellent gift - and deserves a place on the bookshelf - for anyone interested in 20th century history.

Next up is a limited edition re-issue of an absolute classic, and a great example of someone who completely reinvented themselves in the process from ageing rocker to new-age farmer and author. Chris Stewart, erstwhile original drummer with Genesis, upped sticks, took his family out to a remote region of Spain, and attempted to ingratiate himself with the locals to mixed, sometimes poignant but eventual success.

'Driving Over Lemons' is funny, in parts outrageous - and is a book which led the way for many memoirs about restarting in another culture. But its success was less the subject matter and more a genuine talent for autobiography which we think everyone can read and find uplifting.

And finally, following recent bookgroup discussions of 'A Sense of an Ending', we definitely have a Julian Barnes appreciation society underway at Mostly Books, so how exciting to be able to have a special, indie collectable exclusive in the form of a £1.99 essay entitled 'A Life with Books'?

Barnes is a novelist who can touch on many things - emotions, the nature of reality - with just a few words, or a vignette, and in this lightly written love letter to reading, he gets to the heart of what it means to have a life lived in books, and what impact the right books can have on your life.

I can think of no better book to celebrate independent bookseller's week with - and we hope you can celebrate with your local indie over the next dew days!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest blogger: Sylvia Vetta author of Oxford Castaways

For over four years, Sylvia Vetta has interviewed over fifty inspirational people who all have a connection with Oxfordshire, for the Oxford Times 'Limited Edition' magazine. Earlier this year, the first fifty interviews were collected together and published for the first time as 'Oxford Castaways'.

Sylvia is a recent member of the Oxford Writers Group, as well as being the programme organiser for the annual  Kennington Literary Festival. She has also been a strong supporter of Mostly Books, so we invited Sylvia to be a guest blogger and talk about her book and life - in the style of her castaway interviews. Over to you Sylvia...


"Every month since 1998, I have written features for The Oxford Times’ Oxfordshire Limited Edition magazine. My latest series is Castaway. I enjoy listening to Desert Island Discs and often find the castaway’s choice of luxury and book more revealing than their choice of music. That observation led to an idea. ‘What if I asked castaways which object, work of art or book they would like with them if marooned on a desert island?’

The formula is similar to Desert Island Discs - the castaway can suggest several items but in the end has to choose one of them.

My choice of first castaway was not difficult. In Oxfordshire, we are privileged to have the world’s first public museum, The Ashmolean. Christopher Brown has presided over its world class redevelopment and he agreed to be my guinea pig.

Since January 2008, the feature doubled in length and its emphasis moved from the objects to the profile of the castaway. After the fiftieth interview, with the help of editor, Tim Metcalfe, and artist and castaway, Weimin He, I put them together in a book titled 'Oxford Castaways'.

All 50 are inspiring people so you will understand my initial reluctance to fulfill Mark’s request that, for the Mostly Books blog, I should treat myself as a castaway!  Here are the names of just a few of the fifty - Sir Roger Bannister, Colin Dexter, Bettany Hughes, Sister Frances Domenica, Brian Aldiss and Shami Chakrabarti

But if I wasn’t a sucker for a challenge, I wouldn’t even have started to write for the paper so here it is….

Castaway 56: Sylvia Vetta

Sylvia knows that if she had not passed her 11 plus, her life would have been completely different. She also believes that chance encounters can change lives.  A chance encounter that changed hers was in the Midlands town of Smethwick, in 1963, when she met Indian born Atam Vetta.

Atam came to the UK via Ethiopia with the ambition of reading for a PhD. He thought he had saved enough to complete it at Birmingham University. Then, in August 1963, realising he hadn’t sufficient funds to sustain a second year, he applied for a late advertised post for a maths teacher at Smethwick Hall Grammar School. (Atam later earned his PhD at University College London) In the meantime, Sylvia had applied to go abroad as a VSO volunteer. Alec Dickson, VSO’s founder, realising she was not quite 18, suggested she go instead to Smethwick to teach English to immigrant children under the umbrella of the just started Community Service Volunteers.

That year was a dark one in British political history. It was the year of the parliamentary leper and racism in Smethwick was open and overt - even the Labour Club operated a colour bar.  Sylvia met Atam when she learned of his desire to open a multi–racial youth club. Their relationship was put under considerable pressure in that climate with the consequence that they had to be serious if it was to survive. Three children and six grandchildren later, they are still together.

Sylvia likes to think that she is embarked on a third career, after teaching, trading and running antique centres. (Oxford Antiques Centre - The Jam Factory). In 1998, she began writing about art and antiques in Oxfordshire Limited Edition magazine and in various specialist magazines, including the opinion page in The Antiques Dealer Magazine and hopes that was not the reason it ceased production!

She is a keen walker and, with the help of Tim Metcalfe, wrote and produced 'Oxfordshire Rambles', a book of ten walks originally led by Margaret and Jack Ibbott, fundraising for development projects supported by the villagers of Kennington. It is still on sale in Oxford (and at Mostly Books!) and the profits go to KOA: (
Sylvia is a member of the Oxford Writers Group and has successfully completed the Diploma in Creative Writing at Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. That course and her passion for art and history- including a lifelong interest in China and India - is the inspiration for a novel focusing on The Stars Art Movement of 1979 (when Ai Wei Wei began his career). The novel, 'Little Winter Paints the Stars' is based in China 1960-1993 and in California to the present day. 

She says “Now I am faced with the daunting task of seeing if I can find an interested publisher.”

So which work of art, antique or book would she take on the island of Oxtopia?

"In 1987, an Oxford house clearer came to me with two ginger jars. They were badly damaged. He said he had been called to clear the back of a barn and these were among the pieces he found there. He asked £15 for the pair and I gathered from his body language that he expected me to haggle. To his surprise, I gave him £15 and became the proud owner of a pair of soft paste porcelain vases. I had an idea what I was buying but began to research them.

They were made in Delft, in Holland. Under the vases, in blue paint, are the initials PVM. Looking up PVM - in my venerable copy of Chaffers - I discovered that the maker was one Petrus Van Marum. I suspect his real name was really ‘Pieter’ (Dutch for Peter) but he thought it sounded better in Latin?  He was proud of these jars or he wouldn’t have signed them. He was, however, proud of a failure. He was trying to copy ‘the must have’ luxury in Europe at that time.

In the late seventeenth century, the Dutch dominated international trade in goods from the Far East. When the ships, coming from China, were unloaded; they admired this amazing ‘new’ material called porcelain. It was to have a profound influence on the visual arts in Europe. Until then, the wealthy ate from silver plates whilst the middle classes used pewter and the poor, wood. Suddenly, like magic from the east, appeared this exquisite substance which was beautiful, strong and durable. The Dutch imported over 12 million ceramics. Considering the population of England in those days was around  4 million, this represented a huge demand.

Peter wanted to get in on the act. He was not the only one. In England, entrepreneurs were also trying make porcelain. An alchemist named Johann Friedrich Boettger, with the help of Walther von Tschirnhaus, was the first to succeed. He produced it, for the Elector of Saxony. The formula was a jealously guarded secret. The Prussians even tried to abduct him! For some time the poor man was locked in a castle until he made gold. He failed in that but he did discover the formula for porcelain and it became Dresden’s gold. The Meissen factory broke the Chinese monopoly and became one of the wealthiest companies in Europe. So England, France and Holland wanted the knowledge to break the Meissen monopoly! When I hold my vases I am in touch with one of the most exciting quests of the eighteenth century. They are not hard and strong like porcelain but rather light and fragile, hence the description ‘soft paste porcelain’. It is a miracle they survived at all. 

They represent the reason I became involved in the antiques trade for 24 years.  I love history, art, design and story-telling and it seemed to me that they are all present in the world of antiques. After family photographs, these vases would be the first thing I would rescue if our home were to flood."


'Oxford Castaways' (£8.99) and 'Oxfordshire Rambles' (£3.99) are currently both available at Mostly Books.

Friday, June 22, 2012

3 4 Friday: Events: Search and Rescue (and breathe out)

For today's 3 book pick from the shelves of Mostly Books, we've focused on three books to coincide with three events coming up in the next few weeks.

Books often get described as a 'phenomenon' these days, but 'Where's Wally' can truly be described as such - not just because, 25 years after it launched, it still sells in the tens of thousands a year, but because it was (and is) a book that continues to reach out and turn children on to sitting with a book, where other books have failed.

A firm fixture in our culture - think spin-offs like 'Where's Stig' and 'Where's the Meerkat' (amongst many others) we are holding a month-long Abingdon Where's Wally? Hunt starting on June 29. There'll be fun and prizes galore...

For the parents amongst you (and that includes us) we could all do with a bit of 'Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting' from time to time, so this book by childcare guru Nöel Janis-Norton offers down-to-earth, practical, common-sense advice to help improve our relationship with children, and have happier children at home and in school.

We are delighted to be welcoming Nöel to Mostly Books on Monday, July 16th - and intend to create a relaxed atmosphere (including the odd glass of wine) in which Janis can talk about her philosophy, give advice and answer questions.

Finally - little girl heaven. We appreciate that not every girl is into princesses (or animals), but for those who are, how about a brand new series of early reader books which have 'action' princesses who rescue animals in danger?

We think these are a great new series, and we've lured Rescue Princesses author Paula Harrison down to Mostly Books to host a Rescue Princess Party on Tuesday 7 August from 10.30am.

She will be helping you make crowns, tiaras, animal masks - and judging the best dressed Prince, Princess or Animal on the day!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Going underground: Frances Hardinge at St Nicolas School

One of the lures of becoming a full-time writer is that it gives you certain freedoms in terms of how you work, and what you do from week to week. Children's author Frances Hardinge is no exception, although her ability to claim dangerous speleological activities and volcano hiking trips against tax seems to indicate an particularly devious, creative and resourceful mind.

We suspected as much, because - as far as we are concerned - Frances possesses a fearsome imagination which has produced some of the best books for confident readers that we sell in the shop.

By a huge slice of luck, Frances spends a large chunk of time in Oxford, so it was a delight to welcome her to Abingdon and take her into one of its best primary school's:
St Nicolas.
The school had certainly prepared well for Frances' visit, with the day structured around a talk given by Frances followed by some very creative workshops which inspired the children to come up with their own weird and wonderful characters.
The teachers and children made her feel very welcome as Frances told them about her books - and how she writes. Frances talked about her latest book 'A Face Like Glass' (which we have absolutely loved - read our review here - it deserves to be on every children's book award shortlist going, in our honest opinion).

The book tells the story of Neverfell, who arrives - dramatically - by falling (literally) into the life of Grandible (or rather, his cheese vat). Grandible is an artisan cheesemaker who lives apart from the rest of his underground society, the world of
Frances read from the book, as well as describing the wonderful world of Caverna, where artifacts are made to such a high standard, they possess remarkable and almost magical qualities, but where children are born without the ability to show emotions. They have to be taught facial expressions, and this means that everyone (or nearly everyone) is perfect at lying, and the world of Caverna is one of courtly intrigue and subterfuge.
There were some really imaginative questions from the children - no "where do you get you ideas from"-type questions here; seduced by Frances' wonderful storytelling style, we had some of the most imaginative questions I think I've ever heard from an author event:
  • Do you write each individual book, or are they photocopied?
  • Do you create a world inside your head which you can then enter? (what a great question!).
  • Is writing books fun?
  • and (my absolute favourite): What makes a great book?
The children were then set a specific writing task by Frances: to create a character. Given some guidance as to those elements most important in creating a character, the children went back to their classrooms and a formidable creative effort followed.

Frances joined in, ostensibly to help, but more often to marvel at the creativity and imagination of the children.

Here were some of the guidelines to think about:
There were some great creations. Amid all the evil super-villains ('Dylan The Villain' being a favourite, although 'The Annihilator' ran a close second) Frances was keen to emphasise that characters must have a weakness - characters without any weaknesses become very dull in a book...

The children regrouped in the hall to read out some of their creations. We had characters who burst into flames when they got angry, goblins masquerading as parents and trying to poison the children, slaves leading revolts - and all kinds of monsters, robots and regular folk with unusual powers. Sea serpents bursting out on demand and under command, that sort of thing. People who couldn't deal with loud noises, bright lights - or indeed, bad music (I think we can all relate to that, maybe not so much to the sea serpents?).

Frances shared other writing tips - and, put on the spot, left us with a few of the writers that had inspired her as a young child: 
Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Leon Garfield, lots of detective fiction and a favourite book: 'Watership Down'.

Unusually for June, it was hot and sunny outside, so we quickly decamped to the playground where Frances signed copies of her books:

It was an inspiring visit, just what we hoped for, and the St Nicolas teachers deserve huge credit for the amount of work and preparation that went into the event. Thanks very much to them, and also to Frances. I really hope we get to another event with her (and St Nicolas!) soon.

In the meantime, we were keen to catch up with Frances and her writing life, so she was put on the spot and asked the inevitable five questions...

Five Questions with...Frances Hardinge's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on two books at the moment. The first is a changling story from the 1920s, but the second is altogether weirder. It’s a pirate story, but set on an otherworldly sea in a parallel world in which memories from our world take physical form in this world.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

When sending your work out, treat your rejections as triumphs, your rejection slips as trophies. Getting rejected means you are getting out there, it means you are making progress. Listening to criticism and making revisions is all part of the craft. It's a toughening up process, and you need a thick skin for when your books gets published!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The best thing is the freedom – being able to set your own schedule, working when you like, getting up when you like. But the worst thing is: the freedom! Having the freedom to do anything means you need iron discipline to sit and write, sometimes deadlines seem far into the future. To counter this, I belong to two writing groups. One group meets weekly, and if I haven’t produced anything new by the time I go, I get laughed at. It's a great way of enforcing discipline.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work?

Well, I split my time between Oxford and Isleworth. I have a room in which I write in Isleworth (well, it's sort of used as a storage room) but I have a desk in Oxford and most of the writing gets done here. But there are other activities which I consider to be just as essential to the writing process. Every Thursday, for example, I do a 10 mile hike and this allows me time away from the screen and to think.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

Obviously the moment I landed a contract was a big breakthrough, but creatively it was my first ever reading in front of a bookgroup. I had written a short story, and we were all sitting around in a student sitting room. I was absolutely terrified, but started to read - and there was this absolute silence. Then about halfway through someone knocked at the door, and there was a collective groan because the story had been interrupted. At that point I realised that the silence was because everyone had been listening intently to the story, and at that point it dawned on me that perhaps people might be interested in what I might write. This was my real creative breakthrough.

Friday, June 15, 2012

3 4 Friday: More Father's Day picks

Last week we picked out a few of our favourite Father's Day reads, so if you didn't have a chance to look at this last week, take a look at our Father's Day Dozen as picked by all of us here at Mostly Books.

Now, we definitely recommend you buy a real book for Dad this Sunday (tell him to switch off the gadgets, and drop off the grid...the health benefits of real reading are
not to be sniffed at). But someone did ask this week if there was anything we could recommend for Dad if they *didn't* want a book. So - here are three sneaky suggestions for our top Dad (non-book) gifts:

We love Moleskine diaries and notebooks (I think just about every staff member has a Moleskine diary). Effortlessly cool, highly usable and produced to a very high quality, last year's Star Wars themed notebooks went down very well in the gift-buying stakes. But this year they have produced some must-have Lego-themed limited edition ruled notebooks. With a brick embedded into the cover, and stickers included, we think these are the item no cool Dad should be without (and he can sneakily play with Lego). There are two sizes and two designs to choose from - take a look when you come in.

We put as much effort into our hand-picked mugs as we do books, and recent additions to our range have included these Scalextric Racing Club mug design, which might be just what Dad needs to perk up his morning cup of tea. In its own gift box, at £7.99 it may be just what you are after for a groovy Father's Day gift.

And take a look at the Hornby railway mugs in the same range...

Finally - and something completely different - Candlestick Press have produced a fantastic range of poem books that can be sent as a card. As well as collections for mother's, gardeners, cyclists, Ten Poems about Fathers is an inspiring collection from some of our best-loved contemporary poets. Many a Dad will appreciate the practical, plain-speaking father in Tony Harrison's 'Flood' and his preoccupation with plumbing matters; many will likewise recognise the potato-stuffing father in 'Hot Food' by Michael Rosen.

Oh, and, did we mention our
other Father's Day picks here?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - review

When June’s uncle, a renowned painter, dies, she isn’t prepared for all the family secrets that begin to emerge in this really engrossing, emotional coming-of-age tale that adults or teens will enjoy.

The small intricacies of growing up are beautifully invoked – the rising recognition that adult behaviour is less than perfect. Before too long, June begins to have secrets of her own to keep from her family. 

June and her sister, Greta, used to be close, but Greta is going up fast and June (13), has learned to look out ‘for the nice things buried in the rest of the mean stuff’.

June is a loner, her time is spent fantasising about living in Medieval times. She likes nothing better than going into the woods to pretend she’s in another time and she feels Greta has become a stranger,  ‘In every corner, clothes lay crumpled and piled. Lipsticks and eyeliners that had rolled to the edge of Greta’s uneven desk and rested against a photocopy of the South Pacific script.’

Devastated by her uncle’s death from a mysterious illness, June makes an attempt to reconnect with her sister, but she only doubts when Greta is suddenly keen to invite her to parties. Instead she finds she is drawn to a strange man who hovers on the sidelines at her uncle’s funeral.

How could her beloved uncle have been so close to someone June has never even heard of? What is she to make of a friend she never knew existed and someone her mother clearly hates?

It’s a wonderful story about how to try to reconnect with your family as you are growing up, the changing relationship between siblings and how you can lose someone by not accepting them for what they truly are.

It’s also a story about love and loss, and how these can take many forms. But mostly it is about how when one falls in love, the world changes, all your friends and family can recede into the distance, and whether relationships you shared as children – can they ever be recaptured?

It’s a fine coming of age story, with an unusual angle on ‘first love’ and the gradual understanding of complex family relationships. It’s a great story about sisters and how re-finding that simple closeness you shared as children doesn’t always come easy when you leave childhood behind.

And it’s a great story about how the people you love don’t always do the best things for all the wrong reasons, but that compassion can make us whole again. Enjoy.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Father's Day Books 2012: Going for Gold...for Dad

Now we know what you are thinking. Dad - he's into his gadgets, he's always fiddling with his mobile and reading off of a screen.

But we reckon that's why it's so important to give your Dad a real book. Tell him to put down the gadgets, drop 'off the grid' for a while, relax and make time for a book. It's one of the fastest ways to de-stress and he'll feel loads better for it...

So, with that in mind, and building on our
hugely popular father’s day selection from last year, here is our Father’s Day dozen for this year:

Imagine – How Creativity Works’ by Jonah Lehrer (HB, £18.99, Canongate) is a fast-paced, highly readable look at how creativity works, and the fact that everyone has it in them to be creative and come up with great ideas (we know one author who has flashes of inspiration sitting at a table drinking coffee in Abingdon’s market square!). Lehrer delves into the latest thinking about the brain, and gives an explanation of just how and why creativity works.
Does your Dad complain he never has enough time? Then why not give him a book which unlocks the mysteries of the subject, and our perception of it? ‘Time Warped’ by Claudia Hammond (PB, £14.99, Canongate) takes a quirky and, again, extremely readable and entertaining look at how we perceive time.

For anyone who has listened to Claudia on Radio 4’s ‘All In The Mind’, it’s great to discover that she writes as well as she presents. It’s full of fascinating characters, experiences (the Wimbledon Champion who cannot remember the final is particularly striking) and examples which may lead you to start thinking like Albert Einstein: perhaps ‘time’ may not actually exist at all. Spooky…

If your Dad likes a good book about the war, one of our current favourites is definitely ‘Ian Fleming’s Commandos’ by Nicholas Rankin (Faber & Faber, £6.99, PB). This was the book we gave as a gift to Jeffery Deaver at our James Bond event last year, and looks at the history of 30 Assault Unit, set up at the instigation of Ian Fleming, as a unit of commandos whose primary aim was to swipe enemy intelligence.

It works as a gripping story of a little-known area of the war, but it’s doubly fascinating to discover which real-life events and characters subsequently popped up in Fleming’s James Bond adventures…

The Sunday Times described ‘All Hell Let Loose’ by Max Hastings (PB, HarperCollins, £9.99) as “unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written” and we find it hard to argue.

Hastings is a natural at this kind of thing, but here he has allied his formidable journalistic skills and domain expertise with a flair for pulling out individual stories that bring the entire conflict into sharp – and very human – focus.

The public appetite for spy stories is well served by Ben Macintyre, and his latest ‘Double Cross’ (Bloomsbury £16.99) is another tour de force showing the reality of wartime spies at work. It’s a great tale of how German agents active in the UK were used by MI5 to deceive Hitler as to the location and timing of the D-Day landings by feeding him false reports. It’s full of details of what it was really like to be a spy (not quite like the spy novels of the 1930s) and thrillingly leads up to the crucial D-Day landings.

Some of the agents are the ones who popped up in Ben's previous book, the brilliant Operation Mincemeat (which he talked about on his visit to Abingdon in 2010), and as if that isn’t good enough, we have a few signed first editions in stock...

In Olympic Year, the unsung heroes of the London Underground will be slaving away in the heat to ensure that transportation runs without a hitch, and for anyone in love with trains (either above or below ground) we can recommend this superb passenger’s history entitled ‘Underground, Overground’ by Andrew Martin.

Whether you are seasoned Londoner who understands that the real underground doesn’t include the ‘cut and cover’ sections, or you are (like me) someone who gets strangely excited whenever you travel on the tube, this book is a constant delight. There’s a fantastic and highly entertaining review by the mighty Will Self here if you want to get a Londoner’s view on the book…

'Breverton's Encyclopedia of Inventions' (Quercus, HB, £9.99) by Terry Breverton is both an entertaining read and a reference book examining the key innovations and breakthroughs in history and the genius behind them, starting with the building of the pyramids. Full of little-known facts – who really discovered penicillin or the electric light? – Breverton celebrates brilliant men and women across the globe, and is right up to date, including recent surgical advancements, the smart card and genetic engineering.
In the insightful ‘Running with the Kenyans’ by Adharanand Finn (Faber, PB, £14.99), the author tells of the six months he spent in the heart of Kenyan life, trying to work out why many of the world’s best runners are from this African country. He packed up his young family from Devon to move to a ramshackle town where one in four people is an athlete.

Part training manual, part spiritual journey, he describes his new training regime as well as the Kenyans he gets to know. Can training with the Kenyans make him as fast? Are there secrets and tips he can learn and pass on? Or is it all a lot more complicated than that? Fascinating and beautiful reading which may well inspire Dad to get his running shoes out!

If your dad likes a novel of ideas, then we think ‘Angelmaker’ by Nick Harkaway (Cornerstone, HB, £12.99) is difficult to beat for inventive, unhinged delight. The story is complex – it starts with a clock repairer, son of a notorious gangster who is determined to live a quiet life, and who has unwittingly repaired a potentially apocalyptic device. Shady characters abound, unlikely plot twists abound, humour abounds, hideous robotic bees abound, in a race to save existence itself. Author Nick Harkaway manages to sit lightly between the twin weights of being the son of John le Carré and being dubbed ‘the English Neal Stephenson’. Mark has really enjoyed this one, and adds: a) there's a bit of Douglas Adams in there as well, and b) your Dad is going to love this.
Debut novelist Sam Leith’s exuberant ‘The Coincidence Engine’ (Bloomsbury, PB £7.99) is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining debut novels you'll come across for ages. It centres around the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable - an organisation so secret that many of its operatives aren't one hundred per cent sure it exists. But when something so-extraordinary-it-should-be-impossible happens, the race is on to see if someone has succeeded in inventing a device that plays around with probability itself. It’s mad, frenetic stuff, sometimes downright weird, with more than a nod to the X-Files.
If a book that’s a great, engrossing read with vivid fleshed-out characters, and a few well orchestrated surprises sounds like the kind of thing your dad might like then try him with ‘The Art of Fielding’ by Chad Harbach (Harpercollins £8.99). The Pulitzer-nominated work (which apparently took ten years to write) was revered in the States as a Great American Novel, but it’s basically an old-school coming of age story wrapped in a buddy-buddy story around sport (specifically baseball). You don’t have to be a sports lover to enjoy it, however. With plenty of male relationships, and a feelgood plot, this is highly readable, beautifully written – and you will know a lot more about baseball by the end. Another terrific debut.
Brilliant Stuff to do with Dad’ by Michael Cox (Scholastic, HB, £6.99) is full of fun, exciting, challenging, ‘why didn't I think of that’ things for any child to do with their dad. Featuring building a commando assault course in the garden, keeping tarantulas, making dinosaurs out of bendy balloons, drawing a strip cartoon, making a zombie-head cake, clipping a topiary monster, changing a car wheel, beach combing, playing miniature golf and even starting your own country.

So, any others? Any large sporting events coming up we should consider? Well, how about this selection to make it a baker's dozen:
You know what'll happen at the Olympics. Dad will plonk himself in front of any old sport being shown on the Beeb, and suddenly become an expert on fencing, or the modern pentathlon...or even synchronised swimming. So why not get a book that actually turns him into an instant expert on any of the Olympic sports. 'How To Watch The Olympics' by David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton is inspired, highly readable, and phenomenally well researched. We reckon it's just the ticket - if you weren't able to get tickets for the world's biggest sporting event...

Friday, June 01, 2012

3 4 Friday: Out and About with buggies, children and Flora Thompson's younger sister...

As well as books for cycling around this beautiful part of the world, we do a fairly mean collection of local walking books. So today's Friday selections include two fabulous new walking guides for families - and one book deeply rooted in the heritage of Oxfordshire.

All this week, we have been working Kate, our work-experience student, extremely hard in the heat - and here are her reviews of the first two new titles:

Kiddiwalks in Oxfordshire, Ruth Paley (Countryside Books, £9.99, PB)
"Kiddiwalks has come up with an amazing guide to the best child friendly places in Oxfordshire. All 20 of the walks are simple, short and stimulating; like all walks should be. Each walk will help you see what a beautiful place the Oxfordshire countryside is."

Buggy Friendly Walks in the Thames Valley, Catharine Gregory
(Countryside Books, £7.95, PB)

"Catharine Gregory has come up with 20 breathtakingly beautiful places in the Thames Valley that vary from lovely riverside walks to delightful ones along country lanes. These walks are most suited for new parents and their children in mind, investigated and tested by the writer and her family."

If you are out and about in the Oxfordshire countryside, a new publication from Wychwood Press 'More Tales from Lark Rise' brings into publication for the first time the childhood memoirs of Betty Timms - younger sister of Flora Thompson. Including a beautiful account of (appropriately enough) Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897, the early success of her writing likely influenced Flora in later year. Read more here...

And finally, if you are interested in book local to Abingdon, you may want to take a look at 
our curated Mostly Books Abingdon Collection.

Have a lovely weekend!

More Tales from Lark Rise by Betty Timms

Betty Timms was born in 1886 in the North Oxfordshire village of Juniper Hill. She was the younger sister of Flora Thompson, the author of the trilogy 'Lark Rise to Candleford'.

The Timms family were certainly blessed with literary talent. Like Flora, Betty became an accomplished writer, best known for her children's book 'The Little Grey Men of the Moor', published in 1926. Its success may have inspired Flora to write her novels.

After Betty's death a draft typescript for an autobiographical novel was discovered among her possessions: it forms the body of this book and recalls a childhood spent in the villages of Juniper Hill (Lark Rise in Flora's books) and Cottisford. Schools days, holidays, celebrations, working days, evenings in the poublic house and afternoons in the cottages are all described in detail. Flora described the 1880s, Betty gives us a portrait of the 1890s and includes the Queen's Jubilee.

Betty's observations and new stories cast fresh light on the Timms family life. A number of characters can be recognised as those who appear in Lark Rise. Queenie is a notable example. Betty develops the lives of some very interesting individuals into wonderful cameos, seen through the eyes of a child growing up among them.

Betty's stories will undoubtedly delight those who were echanted by Lark Rise. All will be spellbound when they peep into the pin-a-sight that she has so lovingly created for us.

This book is currently exclusive to a number of independent bookstores, and can be ordered directly from Mostly Books:

£9.99 at Mostly Books (£12 with postage within UK):