Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forbidden books, dangerous secrets and a deadly species...it can only be the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

There was a lot happening in the book world on Monday. A quivering of anticipation about the Booker Shortlist and a national debate about a reading crisis among children. Oh, and the busiest time of year for new titles arriving at bookshops up and down the country.

What better time to step into the fray and recommend a few titles?

As always, you can listen to the show on BBC iPlayer until Monday Sep 15 - fast forward to 1 hour and 7 minutes - there is also a cracking interview with Kate Mosse in which she discusses her writing, and what inspired her to become an author.

Here are some of the books we discussed:


As far as themes go, they don’t get much bigger than the entire history of our species. Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ is one of those monumental works that gives a dizzying perspective on how we came to rule – and threaten – the entire planet. It starts with the changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we become farmers, develop religion, invent money, harness technology and threaten widespread extinction – including our own. The writing is superb – never dry, occasionally brazen, at times almost sardonic – and never afraid to come off the fence in areas that are controversial: did we domesticate wheat, or did it domesticate us? Did stockpiling food lay the psychological seeds for consumerism? Are we happier now than *any* of our ancestors? And what is going to replace our species, as surely as we replaced earlier species?


In 'Archie Greene and the Magicians Secret' by DD Everest, Archie receives a mysterious book on his birthday, written in a language he doesn't recognise, and one with a Special Instruction. Archie must then travel to Oxford to return the book to the Museum of Magical Miscellany. The journey leads Archie to discover the world of the Flame Keepers - a community devoted to finding and preserving magical books. But the magical book under Archie's protection is dangerous, and dark spirits hunt it out. With the help of his new-found cousins, Archie must do everything he can to uncover the book's hidden powers and save the Flame Keepers from evil.

Archie’s adventure takes place in an Oxford bookshop (one that sounds nothing like Mostly Books!), full of underground caverns that house the books of dark magic under lock and key, and fantastical creatures and people busy at work keeping magical books in the right conditions. It’s a fabulously imagined and exciting tale, beautifully produced, with a special Oxford flavour!


In terms of suspense, we don't think anything can match Tana French's 'The Secret Place', a journey into the dark heart of loyalties, rivalries and secrets in the intense emotional landscape of teenage lives. A murder at an exclusive girls school gives detective Stephen Moran the chance for his big break - and an open door into the Dublin murder squad. But the suspects he has to crack are a bunch of close-knit girls, to whom friendship is more important than playing by any other rules. Trying to get teenagers to talk is about as impossible as enjoying working with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider - with a background that couldn't be less like the suspects they are trying to win over. Both have a lot at stake and watching them in action is really compelling, particularly in the claustrophobic school setting as they move painfully closer to the truth. A really different, original piece of crime fiction.

To hear all these books - and plenty more (including the latest Martin Amis) click the link and fast forward to 1 hour 7 minutes...

(You'll remember last month we were raving about 'The Bone Clocks' by author David Mitchell? Kat interviewed David on the show yesterday and you can listen to *that* interview here by forwarding to 2 hours and 7 minutes...)

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