Friday, November 29, 2013

3 4 Friday - A riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...stuck in a book

If this Saturday is the day you start your Christmas shopping, then today's 3-4-Friday #Fridayreads represent three very different yet beautifully-produced books that have real wow-factor when unwrapped.

(And if you are coming into Abingdon this Saturday there is plenty going on for the Extravaganza)
Letters of Note by Shaun Usher is a collection of the world’s most inspiring and unusual letters. It's a collection lovingly curated with a real eye for the dramatic, the poignant - and the sometimes just plain wacky, There's a job application from Leonardo da Vinci, a very touching letter by Iggy Pop to a troubled fan - or (my personal favourite) a letter scribbled by Elvis Presley during a flight to meet President Nixon asking to be made into a federal agent. Endlessly fascinating - and made more poignant in an age when letter-writing is a dying art.

If you enjoyed the breathtaking stop-motion visuals of The Great British Year on telly earlier this Autumn, then the BBC have pulled all the stops out to produce a book which - in its own way - is as breathtaking and inspiring as the television series. With award-winning photography, eye-opening page spreads and tons of behind the scenes material, this is one of those books that showcase all that is best about a physical book. There are also loads of resources and suggestions about how you can get out and enjoy the British countryside - whatever the season or the weather.

And finally, a true love-letter to the physical book by 'Star Trek' director and 'Lost' creator J.J. Abrams working with novelist Doug Dorst. At the heart of the mysterious book S is a regular book, but wrapped around this is annotations by two readers, together with items they have swapped whilst trying to work out the enigma that lies at the heart of what happened to the author.
The book is just the start...
Thanks to Gaskella who handily photographed the treasure-trove of items, ephemera and clues that lie within (see the picture in all its glory on the blog). This is a treat for any Abrams fan - or just anyone who wants to get (genuinely) 'lost' in a good book...

Friday, November 22, 2013

3 4 Friday - Excitement, Extravaganza and Exposing a Mystery Guest

No, no clues. You'll have to see for yourself!
Someone unexpected has appeared in our window.

At first glance, it looks very much like Father Christmas; the beard, the red clothes dusted with snow. A big fat tummy.

But we are fairly sure it is someone in disguise. If you think you can identify our mystery visitor you might win him! We have entry forms in store - all you need to do is to let us know who you think is disguised as Father Christmas. Come on down and take a look...

We think it's all to do with the annual Abingdon Extravaganza on Saturday 30 November. It’s a day-long celebration featuring a parade at 11.45am, fun in the market square all afternoon (including reindeer!) with the big Christmas lights switch-on at 5.30pm followed by a grand firework display.

All day at Mostly Books, we’re inviting you to enter our competition to win £30 of Usborne books – simply come into the shop and take part in our Christmas colouring competition. You will also be able to make a Christmas decoration that you can take home – and grab a free Usborne goodie bag whilst stocks last.

Finally, there’s a fab Christmas competition running all around town this December – the Abingdon Independent Christmas. Collect your special Christmas tree from any of the 20 shops taking part (including Mostly Books) and every time you visit one of them, you’ll get a star to stick on your Christmas tree. Collect ten stars from ten different shops – and enter a competition to win a £20 voucher from one of the shops.

So there we are – three ways to win this Christmas. And if you need some ideas, take a look at our special Christmas recommends newsletter that should have arrived last week. If gremlins or overzealous spam filters stopped you receiving it last week, you can view an online version here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

3 4 Friday - Eloquence and Englishness...and Elves

Once a year (about now), we send out a special Bumper Christmas recommends newsletter, jam-packed full of recommendations for young and old of all the best (in our humble opinion) books available for Christmas.

Believe it or not, planning for this marathon recommend-a-thon starts in July (you gotta love retail) when we try to spot some early favourites. Then in August, when everyone else is enjoying a well-earned Summer break, we draw up the 'longlist' and start the process of writing reviews.

No, no, that's not a snowman. move along...
Come September, as books start coming in, and there are 'oohs' and 'aahhs' from staff, we throw half of what we've written out, and then engage in bouts of grown-up discussions and measured debate about what should stay in.

This lasts for about 10 minutes, and then we resort to lot-drawing or arm-wrestling to resolve differences of opinion. Egos need to be smoothed. Sometimes cash changes hands.

October and November is then a mad whirlwind of reading, review-writing and getting the formatting to work. (I'm also notorious for slipping in something at the last minute without telling anyone. This doesn't help anyone's stress levels, I can tell you).

Anyway, we hope you like it. Something for everyone, including the tricky 'gift for someone who doesn't like books'...

Copies are now available in the shop to pick up - but a PDF copy is available here to download, or alternatively take a look at all our recommends on one big web page here.

In the meantime, as part of our 3-4-Friday 'FridayReads, here are three books taken from the selection.

First up is Mark Forsyth's sublime work of genius that is The Elements of Eloquence. Having unexpectedly topped the Christmas bestseller charts for the last two years with The Etymologicon and The Horologicon, Mark is back with a book on the rules of rhetoric.

Or as he cheerfully writes 'In an age unhealthily obsessed with substance, this is a book on the importance of pure style".

Rhetoric is a huge subject, and strictly speaking Mark reveals the forgotten ‘figures of rhetoric’, the hidden tricks of writing to make phrases powerful and memorable. Along the way, in his own whimsical but deliciously subversive style, he reveals why Shakespeare was not a genius, why Yoda is the master of the Anadiplosis - and the real reason why ‘The name's Bond...James Bond’ sticks in the mind (why didn't he just say ''My name is James Bond"?)

Mark visited Abingdon School the week before last, and spoke to the boys there about rhetoric and the art of turning the perfect English phrase.

One of the worries from the audience was that, if the book sells well, there is a risk of everyone suddenly injecting a bit of hyperbaton or diacope into their writing.

Will that happen? Will that happen? We'll just have to see if it does.

In the meantime, if you would like to listen to an extract from the book, we discussed it on this week's BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub. If you are listening before Nov 19, simply click on the link and fast-forward to approximately 1 hour 19 minutes to learn more...

With his dapper appearance and huge collection of dictionaries lining bookshelves, Mark would probably be just the man to appear in The English Room.

It's a celebration of the favourite spaces, public or private, of many beloved personalities, and these represent a truly opulent collection. Personal insights as well as beautiful photography make this a book to dip into and to share with others.

With contributions from Stephen Fry, PD James and, yes, the dashing Mr Cumberbatch, this might be a guilty pleasure for many over the festive period. Not to mention providing a few interior design tips...

Finally (and also discussed on the show on Monday) we have the wonderful Winter's Child by Angela McAllister and illustrator Grahame Baker Smith. His artwork for the book FArTHER (which won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2011) is a combination illustration and photographic montage, and is both striking and memorable.

In Winter's Child, when Tom wishes winter would never end, he meets another boy who shares his love of snow and ice. Playing together every day, Tom hardly notices that spring doesn't come - until he realises the terrible effect the delay is having on the countryside and his sick grandma. His friend is Winter's child, and for the seasons to go on the friends must say goodbye until next year.

This is a heartwarming story with the most amazing illustrations. A perfect gift for boy or girl this Christmas.

In the mood for more Christmas recommends? Then click here...

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Really, Really Big Event: Five Questions with Anne-Marie Conway and the Oxfordshire Book Awards 2013

The Oxfordshire Book Awards is one of the highlights of our year - in terms of the sheer exhuberance of everyone that attends, there really isn't another event like it. It's a fantastic mash-up of authors and illustrators, readers and book lovers - and there's a whole heap of passion and excitement in the air...

So what exactly are the key elements make it such a success?

How about authors signing and meeting children? Check.
Richard Byrne

Opportunities for photographs with favourite authors? Check.


The winning books made out of cake? Check, check, check...
Crack bookselling team and extremely long book stall? Defo check.



All you need now is to let loose approximately 360 children and a critical number of librarians in the hall, and the result is intense, frantic - and rather wonderful.

This year's winners included Richard Byrne for The Really, Really Big Dinosaur. We'd obviously sold out of that book early on in proceedings (ug), but here he poses with his latest book The Great Moon Confusion. Given my love of space-themed books, this is already a favourite (I mean, the racoon is called Aldrin...how cool is that?)
There were special guests as well - Piers Ibbotson, son of the late Eva Ibbotson, talked about his mother's last book 'The Abominables' (published posthumously), and there was also a guest appearances by author Jo Cotterill.
Jo Cotterill
As well as 'Wonder' by RJ Palacio, the other winner was the brilliant Anne-Marie Conway, with her story of relationships and secrets set in a tiny English village, Butterfly Summer.


In between mouthfuls of cake, we asked a Anne-Marie a few questions about how she writes...

Five Questions with...Anne Marie Conway's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

It's a book called 'Purple Ribbon' due on next May. It's almost finished!

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

Never send your work our early, by which I mean - when it isn't the best it can be. I know you need to set deadlines, but you sometimes only get one chance to impress a publisher or agent, and it needs to be the very best it can be.

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

I get very nervous about public speaking, so speaking to a large group isn't something I enjoy. I much prefer, at events like this, to talk individually to children. And that's the best thing about being a child's writer - talking one-to-one with children who've read and enjoyed your book!

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

I have a collection of stones from Brighton Beach which are on my desk. Sometimes I write the names of characters on them in pencil - but then rub them off! I hope that doesn't sound too weird...

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

I was shortlisted for the Times / Chicken House award. Up until then I really hadn't had a great deal of success, but afterwards publishers started asking me for my work.

(Thanks so much to the organisers for our invitation, and to sterling support from Julia, Sally and Jo on the bookstall. I promise I'll get some cake for you soon. For some other takes on the award ceremony, see Jo Cotterill's write-up here, and OUP also covered the event here)

Friday, November 08, 2013

3 4 Friday - young love can seem earth-shattering (literally and figuratively) with these top teen reads

Is there any area of publishing hotter than teen fiction? It's a few years since Twilight and The Hunger Games, so who are the current names to watch that keep teens hooked on books?

For today’s 3-4-Friday – three of our current favourite teen reads...

Soulmates’ by British author Holly Bourne has an original and extremely clever concept at its heart – we all know young-love is earth-shattering, but what if it were so...literally?

When Poppy and Noah meet, they have no idea what they are. But when they fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems as the world around them falls more and more into disrepair, and the chase is on – led by a shadowy international agency – to stop them before they accidentally destroy the world...witty, intelligent and crackling with energy.

If you like something grittier and set in the real world, then we can definitely recommend ‘Split Second’ from top Brit teen thriller writer Sophie McKenzie.

After a terrorist attack on a London market, two teens are bound together by what happened. Thinking at first they are very much alike, as the story goes on it begins to seem that one knows more about the attack than first thought. This is a tight and tautly-written book, that shows what can happen when courage and loyalties are tested...

Finally, a US pick by Imogen, who was persuaded out of reading dystopian fiction by the lure of John Green. He hit the big time with ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ and has teamed up with two other teen writers (Maureen Johnson and the unlikely sounding Lauren Myracle) to bring some festive fayre in 'Let It Snow'.

Through three intertwining short stories, we follow Jubilee, on Christmas eve, as she gets stuck in Gracetown after the train has to stop, Tobin, when his friends go to meet the cheerleaders from that train, and finally, Addie, who is still smarting from her week-old break up. Heartwarming, funny with a unashamedly festive theme, it’s enough to put a smile on your face while waiting for Christmas Day to come...

Friday, November 01, 2013

3 4 Friday - weaving tales of the weird and the wonderful with words - Tartt, Trollope, Faulks and Forsyth

In celebration of Mark Forsyth's return to Abingdon next week (more below) today's '3-4-Friday' #FridayReads celebrates three authors who certainly know about the power of language to write a great book.

The finely-drawn story of Theo Decker, struggling to navigate how to live his life after being cast adrift by the death of his mother, is the subject of one of the biggest novels published this year - Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, her first book in ten years.

Theo’s journey through the dinner parties of rick New Yorkers, the brash of Las Vegas, all the while remaining always on the outside, is a masterpiece of multi-layered storytelling that grips right from the start and brings to mind Pip from ‘Great Expectations’.

Full of acute observational writing, enough twists to keep the pages turning and an ending that turns up the tension to thriller territory, ‘The Goldfinch’ rewards putting aside some serious time for some seriously indulgent enjoyment. A good wallow about life, death and art to immerse yourself in. Definitely Nicki’s top ‘must-read’ of the year.

PG Wodehouse should definitely feature in anyone’s list of great English writers, and next week sees publication of a book we’ve been immensely looking forwards to  - ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’. This is Sebastian Faulks’ recreation of PG Wodehouse’s beloved characters of Jeeves and Wooster and plunging them into another brilliantly-farcical, totally new story. All the hallmarks are there – a country house in monetary trouble, marriages on the line, unlikely plot twists and ridiculous set-ups. We can’t wait.

But if we line up a list of the greatest English writers, *very* near the top (hovering just behind Shakespeare) would have to be Jane Austen. The Austen Project is an audacious attempt by some of our greatest contemporary writers to update all of Jane Austen’s book and place them in a modern setting – starting with Joanna Trollope’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’.

Sisters Elinor and Marianne are forced out of their home by their brother and his new wife when their father dies. They move to Devon when they are offered a cottage by Sir John Middleton, but they all have to leave behind something that they care about.

Keeping both characters cleverly near the originals, but with added help from the internet and modern technology (love that iPod-style cover), this is a wonderful retelling of a coming of age book.

And so to the event next Wednesday (Nov 6)...

But how on earth do you go about putting one together for yourself?

If you decided you fancied yourself as a writer - whether it be for songs, radio plays, speeches or just more powerful emails - then you might want to ask Mark Forsyth for help. For the last two years, he’s been an unlikely figure at the top of the bestseller lists with his books ‘Etymologicon’ and ‘The Horologicon’. Exploring the unexpected and remarkable connections between words and how they evolve, Mark has now turned his attention to ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ – his latest book published next week.

An eloquent speaker, Mark appeared at The Guildhall last Christmas - and returns next Wednesday (Nov 6) to talk about his latest book at Abingdon School. He’ll be examining the language of the great poets, orators, song writers and religious texts to understand how to say something well – even if you have nothing to say...

The event is an early-afternoon affair (1.30pm on Wednesday, Nov 6) at the Amey Theatre, Abingdon School. You are cordially invited and the event is free – but you’ll need to let us know you are coming.

And if you cannot attend, we would be very happy to arrange a signed copy of ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ for you – Icon Books have published it as another beautifully produced hardback at £12.99 – please email us to reserve a signed copy...