Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mother's Day 2014 - we recommend twelve top titles for a special Mum

Last year, our 'Baker's Dozen' of twelve titles for Mother's Day seemed to go down extremely well, so we've raised the bar again for Mum this year. All the staff have pitched in with suggestions for a special gift for Mum this Sunday, and as usual the selection is a mix of things you might expect, and quirky stuff that you get from an indie bookshop.

All you need to do is clear a decent amount of space in the diary for her to enjoy her we go...

In 'The Road to Middlemarch', writer Rebecca Mead writes passionately about her relationship to this remarkable, much-loved Victorian novel, and shows how we can live richer and more fulfilling lives through our profound engagement with great literary works. Investigating George Eliot's unconventional, inspiring life, Mead reflects on her own youth, relationships and marriage.

This is a gift for every lover of literature who cares about why we read books and how they read us.

You might think 'the last thing Mum needs is another cook book' but please take a look at 'The Ginger & White Cookbook' by food stylist Tonia George. A cookery writer for eight years, and former editor of Waitrose Food magazine, Tonia has taken inspiration from the famous Hampstead cafe, and you can now bring bring some Ginger & White magic into your own kitchen.

There are recipes for four puff pastry tarts, a range of modern cakes and lunches (lots of tasty gluten-free ideas as well - a real bonus). With 80 super-simple yet indulgent recipes for salads, soups, sandwiches, cakes and more, you can enjoy their Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Garlic Mayo on Potato Sourdough, famous Stem Ginger Loaf, and best-ever Lemon Polenta Drizzle Cake at home.

(No, we're not sure what a 'food stylist' is either, but it sounds a lot of fun, and Tonia George is extremely good at it!)

Journaling is gaining popularity around the world, as people seek to escape from the digitization of their lives, and instead document their thoughts and experiences (and express themselves artistically) through a journal. We stock the Moleskine 'Japanese Albums' which allow you to get artistic and creative, but Canadian author Keri Smith takes an altogether more extreme view with Wreck This Journal.

Described as an anarchist's 'Artist's Way', this books is for anyone who has ever wanted to journal, but had trouble keepping going (or starting, for that matter). It's a super-subversive collection of suggestions, and challenges readers to muster up their best mistakes, and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the book (and destroy them). Inspirational, mad and totally unique for the creative Mum.

A superb reimagining of 'Northanger Abbey' by top crime writer Val McDermid is our next pick. The wonderful McDermid ups the menace, suspense and the secrets in the second of 'The Austen Project' contemporary reworkings of Jane Austen's novels.

Unworldy Cat Morland is charmed by Henry Tilney and is thrilled to be invited to his gothic pile 'Northanger Abbey'. But are there secrets among the crumbling stonework and sinister empty rooms? Or is it simply Cat's imagination, sparked by too much romantic reading and a sheltered life? A great way into Jane Austen for teens, or simply a new way to enjoy the novels, it follows the successful 'Sense & Sensibility' by Joanna Trollope last year.

We already featured 'The Rosie Project' by Graeme Simpson in our Valentine's Day picks last month, but it's such a funny, original and uplifting read we've picked it again for Mother's Day.

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, madcap world. Will his world ever recover?  And will he find the perfect wife? Definitely the most fun rom-com of the year, and now out in paperback.

Good writing makes even the quirkiest subject matter a delight to read, and we reckon 'Love Nina' by Nina Stibbe deserves to be a modern classic. Stibbe was nanny to LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers's children in the 1980s. Her letters from Wilmers's house at 55 Gloucester Crescent - witty, irreverent and brilliantly observed - provide a fascinating glimpse into 80s literary London.

Frequent visitors included Alan Bennett, Michael Frayn, Jonathan Miller and Deborah Moggach (amongst many others) but it's the dialogue and interplay with the children that is this book's core delight - and laugh-out-loud-funny.

'Mary Berry at Home' featured on last year's list, but this year we're recommending her autobiography 'Recipe for Life' as an unashamed treat for any of her legion of fans.

Packed with photos, interspersed with recipes from a very British childhood, Berry's autobiography is the story of a life of juggling that working mums everywhere will recognise. It's a warm, engaging story, told honestly, and proving that you can be a style icon and at the pinnacle of your career in your 70s.

'Me and My Mummy' is a wonderful little box set of four picture books to share each one about the love between Mums and their children, ‘Little Bears Special Wish’, ‘My Mummy and Me’, ‘The Most Precious Thing’ and ‘Big Bear Little Bear’ in a nice little slipcase.. It also has a lovely Mothers Day card and some stickers to decorate it with so is overall a perfect gift for that special day (and a hint for anyone buying on behalf of a little one!)

We always try to get one 'business' book into the selection, and - admittedly - this isn't what might immediately spring to mind. But 'Toast and Marmalade' by Emma Bridgewater is both a celebration of her distinctive pottery and designs, and also a heartfelt and extremely moving story of how she came to be one of our best-loved designers.

Packed with photos and stories, this is one for both fans and anyone who appreciates the global success of this particularly English brand.

'Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase' by Louise Walters is a beautifully told tale with a dual-time narrative that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction who will also appreciate the modern storyline.

Working in a bookshop, Roberta discovers, among some donated books, a letter written by her grandfather. This contradicts the fact that he died in 1940 and Roberta, intrigued, sets about investigating. She uncovers a secret long buried by her grandmother, and its discovery will have ramifications in the present. It's a story of loss, missed chances and enduring love that is charmingly told – and there are wonderful descriptions of the joy of handling books.

'Americanah' is the latest novel (now out in paperback) by acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's the story of two Nigerian sweethearts: one goes to America, the other heads for Britain, in the search for opportunity. It’s an epic tale that takes in modern attitudes to race, and is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

This is Adichie's third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.

Letter writing seems to be seeing a resurgence (and not just ex-president Jimmy Carter who writes by hand 'to stop being spied on'). A hand-written note or a heartfelt letter can have a huge impact in our electronic, ephemeral age - and we have some beautiful Letter Sets now in stock by the fabulous Roger La Borde.

With a gorgeous butterfly design in a beautiful wallet, they are a lovely gift for just £6.99.

Finally - and yes, it's a baker's dozen again - if you are buying a gift for a gardening Mum, we can recommend 'Of Rhubarb and Roses', the Telegraph Book of the Garden.

Writer, historian and Telegraph columnist Tim Richardson has dug through the gardening archives of the newspaper to put together this eminently dip-in-and-out-able collection on subject as diverse as box hedges, foreign gardens, extreme weather and large vegetables. Contributors include Sarah Raven, Bunny Guinness, Sir Roy Strong and Germaine Greer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Our Favourite Books of 2013 Part 3: Imogen's Picks

In January, Nicki picked her favourite books of 2013. Last month if was the turn of Julia to select her favourites, and this month staff member Imogen rises to the challenge of selecting just a few of her favourites from 2013...

According to my list, I read over two hundred books in 2013. They ranged from fantasy, to historical, YA and adult, but what I can say about most of them is that I loved them. So when I was asked to choose a few to talk about, my brain stopped, and my only thought was: how could I choose? Luckily, there were a few that really stood out from the rest.

My first favourite book is the last one I read (having finished it on the 28th of December) but instantly, I knew it was the best Sci-fi I had read all year. ‘These Broken Stars’ by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman is a double narrative book, from the point of view of Tarver Merendsen, a war hero and officer, and Lilac LaRoux, the apparent stuck up daughter of a rich and famous man.

The story follows them as they meet on board a spaceship (with a bit of the usual fighting, arguing, hating each other) but then tragedy strikes, and the spaceship crashes in a strange world.

Trying to find help and other survivors, the pair start to travel this alien world - but everything is not what it seems. When they start to hear strange whispers and see strange visions, they begin to pull apart the stories they were told to get to the dark truth of what is really going on.

What is it about this book I like? Everything. The characters are so convincing, when you read it, they feel real, and (if you read it in the middle of the night like I did) you swear that the whispers you read about…you almost hear. It is an amazing YA book, and one that I am sure will turn out to be a brilliant series.

'The Universe Verses Alex Woods' by Gavin Extence was by far my favourite adult book. A book without magic or other worlds, even I would not have thought this would have made it to my list. But I loved it. From the very first sentence, I was hooked. Why on earth was this 17 year old boy coming back into the country with an urn, marijuana and seeming to be proud of it?

The story, filled with humour, friendship and unlikely heroes, is one that will make you smile and cry, and remind you of what friendship is.

I loved this book because of its simplicity- but also because it’s a story you want to be involved in…just to say ‘I knew a boy that was hit by a meteorite!’

And lastly, here is the fantasy that people would expect from me. ‘Crown of Midnight’ by Sarah J. Maas. I believe there is only one thing better than a fantastic first novel: an even better second one! This follows on from ‘Throne of Glass’ (my favourite book of 2012).

Celaena, as the newly appointed King's Champion, finds it hard to adjust to life killing the king's enemies, so she does everything she can to rebel against it without getting caught. With spies round every corner, and treachery lurking in the shadows of the castle, Celaena does not know who to trust - can she even trust the people in her heart?

A fantastic, fast paced fantasy that leaves you with the best cliff hanger (the kind that makes you scream and curse the author because of how amazing they are) as you close the last page: this book is what fantasy is all about.

So those are my three books of 2013, but I didn’t just read new books last year. My actual favourite one that tops absolutely everything else I read was ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ By John Green, which was technically published in 2012. This is a rollercoaster of a read - one that makes you laugh and cry…sometimes both at the same time (trust me, it’s possible). I think, sometimes, books are not read because they are labelled - for example, this is a 'Young Adult' book. But if there is any book that should be read by everyone, it’s this. Because being YA…it just means that its suitable for teenagers- it doesn’t mean only teens should read it.

This is a book that will really make you think, make you want to go back no matter how many tears you have to see through.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

World Book Day 2014 - David Melling at Mostly Books

It's World Book Day this Thursday (March 6) and we will be joining in the celebrations about books and reading for children that are taking place across the country.

Publishers produce special books that sell for just £1. Many children get a World Book Day voucher for £1. And booksellers give everyone £1 off a children's book if they have a voucher.

Result - happy children and the opportunity to get a free book. What could be better?

Well, how about meeting the author of one of the books on World Book Day itself?

This Thursday, our very exciting news is that author David Melling will be in the shop for anyone wanting to meet the creator of 'Hugless Douglas'.

David Melling and Hugless Douglas is a firm Mostly Books favourite, and this year he is one of the World Book Day authors. Loveable Hugless Douglas features in his own £1 adventure, 'Hello Hugless Douglas'.

We're delighted that David will be calling into Mostly Books from 2.45pm - and that if you use your voucher at Mostly Books on Thursday, we'll let you 'double-up' - use your voucher to get a copy of 'Hello Hugless Douglas' and still get another WBD title, or £1 off as well.

At 2pm, we are also inviting pre-schoolers to join us in Mostly Books at a special World Book Day storytime. No need to book - just turn up.

From 2.45pm, children can meet David, and get any books signed.

We love Hugless Douglas. They are great stories to share and read aloud about slightly clumsy Douglas, whose friendliness and enthusiasm sometimes get him into scrapes - but his friends are always around to help him out. an exclusive piece of David Melling artwork!

What book will you buy with your voucher? Will you try a new author? Or have you been saving up for a favourite book?

Until the end of March, if you tell us you what you think about a children's book you have bought at Mostly Books (it can be a couple of lines, or a full review) you will be in with a chance of winning an exclusive piece of David Melling artwork drawn specially for us on World Book Day.

Sound exciting? Then we hope to see you here on Thursday for what we hope will be a smashing, hug-filled day!

Want to know more about World Book Day? Mark talked about World Book Day on the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub this week. He also discusses books by Tracey Corderoy, Jo Cotterill and Christiane Dorion. Fast forward to 1 hour and 6 minutes...