Friday, February 28, 2014

Our Favourite Books of 2013 Part 2: Julia's Picks

Last month Nicki picked her favourite books of 2013. This month, Julia at Mostly Books looks back on her favourite books of 2013...

How do you pick just a few favourite books from 2013 when you have read so many? After much deliberation I decided to pick the ones that stuck in my mind the most - and no surprise, they are all sci-fi.

I like an exciting read, a book that draws you in and takes you to somewhere you have never been before and never will. Exotic planets, possible futures and post apocalyptic devastation seem to be my favourite, and teen read ‘Earth Girl’ by Janet Edwards definitely falls into these categories.

On a future Earth most of its inhabitants are throwbacks, people who cannot survive on other planets due to their inadequate immune system. At birth they are ‘ported’ to earth and then in 97% of cases they are abandoned by their parents, who wish only to escape the shame of birthing an ‘ape’ and are then brought up in government run facilities similar to group homes. These handicapped children will never be able to leave the planet. Jarra, who is turning eighteen, decides to study history at an off-world university, as he first year is studied on Earth, at the New York archaeological dig site with children from other planets.

This is a wonderful story that explores how prejudices can influence how people are perceived and how the lines between truth and lies can slowly blur together. And if you love this book, you will definitely want to read the sequel 'Earth Star' which is also out in paperback.

Another book I liked this year was ‘Dark Eden’ by Chris Beckett where John Redlantern lives in a world of perpetual darkness. Their light comes from the bioluminescent flora and fauna of Eden that grow in their small almost tropical enclosed valley that is surrounded on all sides by snow and ice.  Everyone who lives there is descended from Tommy and Angela, two astronauts who crashed on the planet 180 years ago.

John becomes unhappy with his life and wonders if there is anything outside their small valley and his determination to escape to a better place splits the Family apart, but how much is John's plan motivated by a desire for humanity to survive on Eden and how much to appease his own ego? This is a great exploration of a new society whose whole history all comes from the life and experiences of only two people, and how quickly a tight knit community like this can break down when resources dwindle and beliefs are challenged.

Chris is working on a sequel to Dark Eden (tentatively scheduled for later this year) entitled 'Mother of Eden'. It's currently being serialised Aethernet magazine, but the novelization may be slightly different.

My third choice although not published in 2013 was new to me and I think was possibly my favourite read of the year. ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion ticked all the boxes for me. It had everything: zombies, monsters, romance and a few surviving humans all set against a post apocalyptic landscape. When ‘R’ kills and eats a human called Perry he finds himself seeing parts of Perry's life through his own eyes and how this boy had loved a girl called Julie, a girl that is about to be killed and eaten by his fellow Zombies. For reasons he cannot understand he decides to save her. As they spend more time together he begins to realise he is slowly changing, not just internally but externally too.

I loved the zombie ‘R’ and his character just got better and better, as he fell for Julie and remembered what it means to be human. Profound and poetic with a touch of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ this is a novel for everyone. Totally gripping and sometimes wildly funny this is a great boy meets girl love story with a twist. Interestingly, Marion has written a prequel to this book 'The New Hunger' to coincide with the launch of the film. 

I was going to stick with three but had to include one more title, a picture book written by two band members of Mcfly called ‘The Dinosaur Who Pooped A Planet’ and with a title like this what more could you want. Danny and Dinosaur are best friends and when confronted with a choice of chores or space they choose space. They steal a rocket and head of into the great beyond. But after a while Dinosaur gets hungry and eats everything in sight.  When he realises that they can’t get home without their rocket he does the only thing he can to get it all back! In space, No one can smell your poop…

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Life, The Universe...And Stuff! A fun, family science event with Christiane Dorion

As part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival 2014 and Abingdon-on-Thames' Festival of Science (ATOM!), Mostly Books is proud to be hosting a fun and brilliant family science event with multi award-winning children’s science author Christiane Dorion.

Christiane grew up in Quebec City, Canada, training teachers in environmental issues and geography, before moving to England in 1987 to study for a PhD. She was responsible for environmental education guidelines for the National Curriculum, and her amazing pop-up books have seen her shortlisted for numerous books awards, including the Blue Peter book award – as well as winning the Royal Society Young People’s Book Award in 2011.

In ‘Life, The Universe...and Stuff!’ she will be doing experiments, demonstrations and offering hands-on fun to inspire and encourage children to explore the complex systems of the world we live in. Asking the BIG questions such as ‘How big is the universe?’, ‘How did life begin?’ and ‘Why does the sea move?’ kids (and adults!) will have great fun joining in to answer these and many other puzzling questions.

The event takes place in Abingdon's Guildhall on Saturday, March 22 at 11am. Tickets cost £3 and is fully redeemable against any of her books on the day. Family and group tickets are available - email us for more details.

You can discover more about Christiane and her fabulous books on her website, but here is what she says about her writing:

“My passion for writing children’s books stems from the thousands of questions I asked as a child, which remained unanswered. How big is the universe? When did life begin? Why do volcanoes erupt? Why do we build cities around active volcanoes? Why isn’t there water everywhere around the world? Through my books, I aim to inspire and encourage children to explore the complex systems of the world we live in and to take positive actions to protect our planet for future generations."

"I am particularly interested in how we can learn to design and make things in a different way so we can use the earth’s resources more wisely and reduce the amount of waste we produce. I am also very interested in how we can learn from nature and our fellow creatures to turn waste into precious resources.” 

We hope to see you at the event - but you can discover much more about ATOM! and events with Jim Al-Khalili, Frank Close and Robin Ince on the official website here.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Rocket parts and a cuckoo-clock heart - a dozen different reads for Valentine's Day

Ahh. Valentine's Day. It's easy to get a tad cynical as you spy shop windows full of helium-filled hearts, but it's also a marvellous excuse to buy a little gift for someone special.

We may be biased, but we think books hit the spot on that score. So just in case you are thinking of buying a gift for someone on Feb 14th, we’ve put together our usual list of quirky and off-the-wall suggestions.

The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart’ is a wonderfully written gothic fairytale for adults by hugely talented French author (and singer) Mathias Malzieu. It tells the beautiful tale of Little Jack, born in Edinburgh on the coldest night the world has ever seen, with a frozen heart. To save him, a doctor replaces it with a cuckoo clock. Growing up, he is told neither to love or hate, for it would strain his ticking heart. But of course, he does fall in love, and that leads to a journey through the world to win the girl's affections.

Along the way, he meets all sorts of characters (including a girl with an eye that changes colour with the weather) and together they weave a fairy tale that makes you think of love, life and everything strange in between. It’s a lovely translation by Sarah Ardizzone – and is a lovingly-produced little hardback.

If you are looking for a genuinely feel-good fiction read, we heartily recommend ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion. It’s unashamedly sweet, clever and very funny.

Scientist Don thinks he can take a scientific approach to everything – from time management, calorie intake, work and exercise. He’s not so hot at the social skills, however, so he devises a ‘Wife Questionnaire’ he thinks will help him find the perfect partner. But when Rosie (who would answer all the wrong questions) seeks his help, he’s thrust into a chaotic and madcap world, from which he may never recover? And will he find the perfect wife? This has got to be the most fun rom-com of the year...

Mark thinks there's nothing more romantic than the stars. Well, let's be clear, what he means is 'space' - and this book, 'The Martian', published on 13th February, is already one of his favourite books of the year.

A life-threatening situation, a man stranded, a world watching agog as a high-stakes rescue mission looks to go horrible wrong. And most of the action takes place on Mars. Meticulously researched, and, yes, even a deep-space romance to boot, this is intelligent, accessible, exciting with possibly the most nail-biting lift-off ever written. The term 'tour-de-force' has become a cliché, but, honestly, we can't think of a better gift for anyone even vaguely interested on what it might be like to live on Mars with current technology.

If you yearn for some exotic travel slightly closer to home, and food is your idea of a romantic gift, we might as well declare that we are fans of the peculiar brand of British craziness and eccentricity which are ‘The Hairy Bikers’. They might have made a big splash with their dieting recently, but Dave Myers and Si King are still at their best on a good old-fashioned gastronomic road trip. And next week is the first in a six-part BBC series ‘Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure’. We are seriously impressed with the tie-in cookbook, which takes traditional recipes from Hong Kong food stalls to Japanese temples, often giving them a genuinely British spin. We particularly love the Korean ‘kimchi’ recipes, which are both fun and extremely ‘in’ at the moment – and we have the book at £3 off in the shop.

So far so good - fairy tales, romance, food and interplanetary space travel. How about poetry?

There are probably no more than a handful of poets who put poetry into everyday life as brilliantly as Pam Ayres. Clever, wistful, wry and very, very funny, Pam definitely seems to get better with age, and in 'You Made Me Late Again' Pam is tackling subjects as diverse as your son leaving home for university, becoming a gran for the first time - and even the terrible consequences of a night out trying to recapture your youth.

We think this might be a lovely gift for anyone who declares that 'they are really too old for all this Valentine's nonsense'...

If a star is romantic, how about a whole constellation, or even a galaxy? In '30-Second Astronomy' the fifty biggest and most baffling discoveries in astronomy are explained in 30 seconds. This is a great dip-into book that provides plenty of inspiration and the latest thinking on how the universe works. So - if you are looking for a gift for a stargazer, and the idea of 'Dark Energy' sounds exciting (oo-er), then this might be the perfect Valentine's gift...

Back to fiction next, and author Deborah Moggach has followed up her huge success with 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' with 'Heartbreak Hotel'. 

Here we have Buffy - surprised to find he is glad to be on the run from too much gentrification from his home in London - and surprised how easily he slips into the rural life. He hits on a wheeze to fill his dilapidated B&B rooms by running 'courses for divorces', but ends up acting as a lonely-hearts, agony aunt for people who think they may have got a little too old to ever find someone to share their bed. It’s difficult to think of anyone who does this sort of 'social comedy for the third age' better. Bill Nighy as Buffy anyone?

Rainbow Rowell's 'Fangirl' is the story of Cath, who has to move out when she and twin sister, Wren, go off to university. But Cath would rather sit in her room and write 'Simon Snow' fanfiction than make friends. Her roomate, Reagan, and the always smiling Levi, won't let that happen, however, and slowly Cath learns to open up and admit that love doesn't just happen in books.

It's another remarkable and instantly easy to relate to story from Rainbow Rowell, author of 'Eleanor & Park', and it's a book that shows magic isn't just found in the pages of a fantasy, and that the story never ends with the last page...

And finally, if you like a good dose of reality with your love stories, 'Mrs Hemingway' by Naomi Wood provides it in a rich dose.

Ernest Hemingway is a struggling poverty-stricken writer and when rich and glamorous Fife appears on the scene it's not difficult for her to position herself in his life. But if he's so easily lured away, will Fife be able to hold onto him? A beautifully realised, real-life story of the four extraordinary women who will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation.

(It also, incidentally, has one of the finest opening paragraphs you will read - setting up the book perfectly).

So that's nine books for you - want another three to round it up to a dozen? Then take a peek at our reviews of 'Life After Life' by Kate Atkinson, 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt, and 'Longbourn' by Jo Baker.

And a big hug from us of course!