Saturday, November 29, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 6: all kinds of wild justice - our top teen reads for Christmas

We're going up the years - from little ones, to 7+, middle grade - and now here's our favourite books for teens.

One of the themes of our favourite teen reads this year is justice - whether dispensed by half-crazed, one-eyed ex-politicians from the Florida swamps or by supernatural beings righting wrongs from an earlier life, our pick of favourite teen reads this year is a mixture of styles with one clear link - great writing!

Skink No Surrender - Carl Hiaasen - £10.99
When Richard learns his cousin, Malley, has taken off with a guy she met over the internet he's prepared for the police hunt, the huge billboards that announce her missing - he's even prepared that she might simply turn up safe and full of her adventure. What he doesn't expect is to meet Wild Skink -a ragged, one-eyed eco-warrior who thinks her best chance is for him to track Malley down. With Richard riding shotgun, the unlikely pair set off in pursuit, introducing Richard to dangerous swamps, guns and wild life that is even fiercer than the locals. A fantastic road-trip adventure that is both exciting and funny.

Messenger of Fear - Michael Grant - £12.99
"I remembered my name - Mara. But, standing in that ghostly place, faced with the solemn young man in the black coat with silver skulls for buttons, I could recall nothing else about myself. And then the games began...". A suspenseful, twisting tale that touches on many aspects of teenage lives - pressure to fit in, the impacts of bullying, the nature of justice - but in a quirky, twisted fantasy world that grips to the end. Grant's 'Gone' series is brilliant, this marks the beginning of an entirely new direction for the author.

Ghosts Of Heaven - Marcus Sedgwick - £10.99
A cleverly interlinked novel written in four parts by award-winning author, Marcus Sedgwick, about survival and discovery, and about the effect of the spiral, a symbol that has no end, on all our lives. The 'Ghosts of Heaven' can tell us a secret as old as time, and with amazing skill as a storyteller, you can read the four 'quarters' of this mesmerising and mysterious new novel in twenty-four different ways. Genuinely original and beautifully conceived.

The Manifesto on How To be Interesting - Holly Bourne - £7.99
Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. But when she's told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, 'The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting' is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life...

Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer - £7.99
A group of emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers are mysteriously picked for Special Topics English, tasked with studying Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' and keeping a journal. Each time the teens write in it they are transported to a miraculous other world called 'Belzhar' - a world where they are no longer haunted by their trauma and grief - and each begins to tell their own story. From NY Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, and John Green's editor, Belzhar is a surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance. It's original and the characters will stay with you long after you close the book. 

My True Love Gave To Me - Stephanie Perkins et al - £10.99
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ...This beautiful collection of joyful, festive stories features twelve gorgeously romantic stories set during the festive period, by some of our favourite YA authors, including David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins and Holly Black. The stories are filled with the magic of first love and the magic of the holidays. This hardback edition features a ribbon marker and pink sprayed edges, and makes a perfect gift for anyone suffering from 'Fault In Our Stars' withdrawal symptoms...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 5: Beauty and a whole managerie of Beasts: Our favourite reads for 10+

We've had books for those children just starting their reading journeys (7+) and we've had books for sharing with little ones. So now it is our almost-impossible job to select our absolute favourite books for what is euphemistically-phrased 'middle grade' (we say 10+, but 8-12 might cover it better). It's been a bit of a fight, because we couldn't all agree...

In our opinion, this is the most exciting, dynamic and consistently high-quality area of all publishing, an area under huge pressure from the encroaching Bug-Blatter Beast that is 'Young Adult' but also those books that will be the first to make a huge impact on impressionable minds, and remembered for the rest of their lives.

So with that in mind - with a big responsibility as booksellers - we offer up the following top picks. But as always - come into the shop for some hand-picked choices for a child you are buying for this Christmas!

Imaginary - A F Harrold and Emily Gravett - £9.99
Rudger is Amanda's best friend. He doesn't exist, but nobody's perfect. Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend - until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. This is a really wonderful, modern classic,and we can't recommend it highly enough. It's both brilliantly funny and chillingly scary at times, a moving read from the unique imagination of children's author and poet A.F. Harrold. And as if that wasn't enough, the whole book is astoundingly illustrated with integrated art and colour spreads by illustrator Emily Gravett. A perfect gift and a book we look forward to winning awards next year.

Apple and Rain - Sarah Crossan - £10.99
When Apple's mother returns after eleven years of absence, Apple feels whole again. She will have an answer to her burning question - why did you go? And she will have someone who understands what it means to be a teenager - unlike Nana. But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother's homecoming is bitter sweet, and Apple wonders who is really looking after whom. Like a brilliant hybrid of Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson, Sarah Crossan entices you into her world, then tells a moving, perceptive and beautifully crafted story.

PathFinder - Angie Sage - £12.99
We love recommending Angie Sage's 'Septimus Heap' trilogy - Sage is easily one of the best fantasy authors for children. 'PathFinder' is the story of Tod, set seven years after the final Septimus Heap book, Fyre. She has grown up a PathFinder, one of an ancient seafaring tribe. Her mother, who died when Tod was young, had a very different history. She was from a mysterious magykal desert-dwelling family. When Tod's father disappears she is not only alone, but soon finds herself swept into the path of an evil sorcerer. Now Tod must choose which of her pasts will help her to survive: PathFinder or Magician...exciting, transporting, fantasy writing at its best. And another beautifully-produced book.

She Is Not Invisble - Marcus Sedgwick - £7.99
Laureth's dad goes missing and her mum doesn't appear to care. So when Laureth gets an unexpected clue that Dad is in New York and in trouble, Laureth and her younger brother, Benjamin, sneak onto a plane to go and find him. As they struggle to follow Dad's weird clues about where he might be, they must stay one step ahead of the law and the baddies. But this is more than just a thriller or a road-trip novel. Novelist Dad is obsessed with coincidence and unravelling the clues takes Laureth into the scientific thinking of Jung and some number puzzles that make this a highly original and thought-provoking read as well as a great thriller. Marcus Sedgwick really is head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries in the way he presents ideas to children through impeccable story telling. A master at work.

Magisterium: The Iron Trial - Cassandra Clare and Holly Black - £12.99
From the imaginations of bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a heart-stopping plunge into the magical unknown. The Magisterium awaits...Most people would do anything to get into the Magisterium and pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. Call has been told his whole life that he should never trust a magician. And so he tries his best to do his worst - but fails at failing. Now he must enter the Magisterium. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister. And Call realizes it has dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future...

The Rising - Tom Moorhouse - £10.99
Tom Moorhouse was a guest in the shop in October, talking to children about his conservation work with water voles - and his thrilling, highly-acclaimed novel, 'The River Singers'. The sequel, 'The Rising', transports readers back into the vivid world of Kale and Strife, and the exciting, dangerous world of the riverbank and its creatures. The beautiful black and white illustrations by Simon Mendez only add to the enjoyment.

Feel the Fear - Lauren Child - £12.99
Ruby Redfort: supercool secret agent, code-cracker and thirteen-year-old genius. The fourth book in the scarily awesome Ruby Redfort series, by multi-million-copy bestselling author Lauren Child. This time Ruby must pit her wits against a seemingly invisible foe. How do you set your sights on catching a light-fingered villain if you can't even see him...?

Firestorm - Lauren St John - £6.99
The One Dollar Horse trilogy is that rare thing: books set in the world of horses, with wide appeal, imaginatively told, brilliantly plotted and endlessly surprisingly. And Firestorm completes the trilogy perfectly. Teenage eventing star Casey Blue has it all - fame, her champion horse Storm and a boyfriend who loves her. But when the country's hottest equestrian coach, Kyle West, walks into her life Casey knows right away she's in trouble. Who is Kyle and why are there so many unanswered questions about his past? And what is his connection to Anna Sparks, Casey's old rival? As the Burghley Horse Trials approaches, what's at stake is not just the Grand Slam, but Casey's life...

Itchcraft - Simon Mayo - £10.99
When a school trip to Spain for element hunter Itchingham Lofte ends in exploding currency and rioting locals, he knows that he has to look for answers. Itch knows the lives of those closest to him are at risk. He must track down a deadly enemy who will stop at nothing to take his vengeance...'Itch' is turning into a great series, packed with science and adventure.

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - JK Rowling - £12.99
The new editions of these classics feature instantly pick-up-able new jackets by one of favourite illustrators Jonny Duddle - he's the perfect choice to to bring Harry Potter to the next generation of readers, and for anyone about to enter the magical world. When a letter arrives for unhappy but ordinary Harry Potter, a decade-old secret is revealed to him that apparently he's the last to know. His parents were wizards, killed by a Dark Lord's curse when Harry was just a baby. He is transported to Hogwarts, a wizarding school brimming with ghosts and enchantments, Harry stumbles upon a sinister mystery when he finds a three-headed dog guarding a room on the third floor. You know the rest...

(And take a look at the fabulous Jonny Duddle-illustrated boxed sets of all seven books- a very special gift indeed)

Five Children on the Western Front - Kate Saunders - £10.99
A heart-wrenching sequel to E. Nesbit's classic Five Children And It, set on the eve of WWI. The five children have grown up, and the war will change their lives for ever. This time the Psammead appears for a reason, and his magic might have a more serious purpose.

Looking At The Stars - Jo Cotterill - £12.99
Jo Cotterill writes a staggeringly accomplished, gripping and uplifting book with the most difficult of subject matter - it's a book that deserves to be lavished with awards. The story of Amina - in an unnamed, but familiar-sounding country ravaged by war - is a triumph of the power of storytelling in times of little hope. Amina's journey, under oppression, fleeing after a 'liberating' army arrives, and ultimately her emergence as a leader is a cracking story and a modern-day parable.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 4: Books to make your mouth water...and your home looking great too!

If there is one category of books that sums up Christmas more than any other (apart from books on Christmas of course) it's cookery books. Here's a gift that might not just get read, but actually used. 

But cookbooks are funny beasts: they can become trusted friends in the kitchen but, like any friend, the way their advice is given to you is critical: whilst some like the direct, simple, no-nonsense approach to help them with day-to-day problems, others prefer friends that come along periodically and challenge you out of day-to-day routine. It's the same with a good cookbook: the style has to be right.

We hope your mouths are suitably watering by the end of this list. And not just because of the recipes, because we've got books for garden and home lovers here too...

River Cottage: Light & Easy - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - £25.00
Chef, entrepreneur, food activist and someone who has done more than most to raise awareness of the environmental consequences of our food production. After forays into Fruit and Veg, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall serves up 170 recipes that are dairy-free and wheat-free. These include fruity almond dairy-free shakes, wheat-free spinach wraps, ten-minute fish curry, spicy black bean tofu and raw chocolate and raspberry tarts amongst many other healthy alternative takes on a range of cuisines.

Cook The Perfect - Mary Berry - £25.00
A regular visitor to Abingdon (Mary has a grand-daughter at a local school) Mary Berry Cooks the Perfect is here to help you cook to perfection - just like Mary! Whether you're wondering exactly how to cook salmon so that it melts in the mouth, how to cook a steak to the perfect shade of pink, or how to bake a cake that is both beautiful and delicious, Mary will guide you every step of the way.

Plenty More - Yotam Ottolenghi - £27.00
If we had to pick a favourite cookbook from the last few years, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi wins hands-down - for its inspiring mixture of food, history, culture and a subtle message for peace. But before that, there was Plenty - the cookbook that brought Ottolenghi to a wide audience. Plenty More picks up where Plenty left off, with 120 more dazzling vegetable-based dishes, this time organised by cooking method. Grilled, baked, simmered, cracked, braised or raw, the range of recipe ideas is stunning.

Paul Hollywood's British Baking - Paul Hollywood - £25.00
Join Paul Hollywood for a personal tour around the regions of Britain and discover the charming history of their finest baked delights and learn how to create them in your own kitchen. A special treat for his legion of fans!

Handmade Gifts From The Kitchen - Alison Walker - £20.00
A beautiful collection of culinary gift ideas for you to make and bake at home for friends and family. In a world where mass-produced is the norm, 'home-made' carries a certain potency of care and thought. Show that special someone how much you care by making or baking a wonderful gift, whatever the occasion. Alison Walker shows you how!

Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Dishes - Tom Kerridge - £25.00
Tom Kerridge may be Blur to Paul Hollywood's Oasis (definitely? maybe!) but as the most down-to-earth but high-flying chef on the food scene, Tom Kerridge has become known for his big flavours and beautifully crafted yet accessible food. Find the big man's twists on loads of favourites including tomato soup, chicken Kiev and rice pudding. Contains more than 100 of his favourite recipes.

Inspirational Gardens Through the Seasons - Helen Gammack - £14.99
The National Trust looks after some of the world's greatest gardens, and this glorious guide follows their progress through the seasons. From delicate spring blossom and carpets of bluebells at Emmets Garden in Kent, to luxurious mid-summer roses and wild meadows at Tyntesfield in Somerset. From golden leaves and fiery autumnal landscapes at Stourhead in Wiltshire to winter topiary and snow-dusted statues at Chirk Castle in Wrexham. There is something for everyone in this beautiful book, whatever the season. Whether you enjoy visiting gardens, shaping your own outside space, or are simply an flower and plant enthusiast, this visual feast offers inspiration to everyone, and visits a wide range of gardens - from small herb and vegetable patches to sweeping landscapes

House & Garden Fifties House - Catriona Gray - £30.00
The post-war consumer boom of the 1950s, coupled with a desire for new, innovative design resulted in one of the most exciting decades in the history of interiors - a visual revolution. Here the best illustrations and photographs to show how the use of colour, pattern, homewares and furniture evolved through the decade. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 3: Swish-capes, Mistakes, Misfits - Favourite Fiction for Younger Readers

We've had plenty of gift ideas for grown ups over the past few weeks (history and biography and some special editions) so this week is given over almost exclusively for children (although we have a sneaky suspicion that several of these books will end up in bigger people's stockings).

Some might argue we're living in a golden age of children's books at the moment, and this selection of our favourite books for younger readers aged 7-9 can only strengthen that argument. Here we go...

The Sleeper and The Spindle - Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell - £10.99
A thrillingly re-imagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of two of our absolute favourites, author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell - weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish. Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift. This is one of those books you have to come in and pick up to truly appreciate - so please do!

Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories -Terry Pratchett - £12.99     
This collection of quirky, funny, delightful stories were started when Pratchett was just 17 years old, and give us an insight into the mind which went on to create the Discworld universe. With more than a hint of Roald Dahl about them, we learn the philosophy of the Joke Monks of Ben Drumlin, what happened when a very lazy Father Christmas goes to the job centre (on his days off), and the selfie-obsession of the Abominable Snowman. Great little stories for children, and a special treat for gown-up fans!

Goth Girl and The Fete Worse Than Death - Chris Riddell - £10.99
It's a Chris Riddell Christmas, with his second entry on our list. Preparations for the Ghastly-Gorm Garden Party and bake-off are under way. Celebrity cooks are arriving at the hall for the big event and, true to form, Maltravers, the indoor gamekeeper, is acting suspiciously. Elsewhere at Ghastly-Gorm Ada's wardrobe-dwelling lady's maid Marylebone has received a marriage proposal. Ada vows to aid the course of true love and find out what Maltravers is up to, but amidst all this activity, everyone, including her father, appears to have forgotten her birthday! The sequel to Goth Girl, and if anything even more witty, feisty and intelligent than the first book... 

Archie Greene and the Magician's Instruction - DD Everest - £9.99       
When Archie travels to Oxford to return a book to the Museum of Magical Miscellany, he meets family that he never knew he had - and discovers the world of the Flame Keepers, a community devoted to finding and preserving magical books. But the magical book under Archie's protection is extremely dangerous, and dark spirits hunt it out. With the help of his cousins, Archie must do everything he can to uncover the book's hidden powers and save the Flame Keepers from evil.

This is the first book in a thrilling fantasy adventure - and one of the most exciting debuts of the year. Find out much more about the author and book here when we took DD Everest to schools in Abingdon a few weeks ago...

Jet the Rescue Dog - David Long - £9.99       
Dogs, horses, cats (even birds, camels and elephants) have saved thousands of lives through instinct, intelligence, courage and devotion. Engaging, uplifting and deeply moving, these stories tell of these brave, silent heroes with sensitivity and gentle humour for readers age 8+. With black and white illustrations throughout.

Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island: The Lost Children - Gillian Philip - £5.99       
Molly and her brother Jack visit rich relatives on Ravenstorm Island, where eerie statues of children are dotted around the island. She's expected to be friends with her moody cousin, Arthur. But things become much worse when Jack disappears - and no one else on the island remembers he ever existed! Molly and Arthur must work together to save Jack.

Stinky & Jinks: My Hamster Is A Detective - Dave Lowe and Mark Chambers - £5.99
This is the sixth (and final) installment of the adventures of Ben and his hamster Jasper Stinkybottom (a creation of comic genius, trust us). This time Bruiser, Ben's neighbour's cat, goes missing, and at first Stinky the genius hamster is all ready to celebrate. But when Ben's sister's kitten, Delilah, disappears too, things start to look suspicious. It's time for tenacious twosome Stinky and Jinks to spring into action once more.

With sly literary references, nail-biting adventures and the world's most intelligent hamster, will appeal to even the most reluctant young reader (and you can learn more about author Dave Lowe when he flew halfway round the world to visit school children in Abingdon earlier this year!)

The Secrets of Flamant Castle: The Complete Adventures of Sword Girl and Friends - Frances Watts - £8.99
Fun and fantasy combine in this collection of six amusing stories about Tommy, a kitchen girl at Flamant Castle, who dreams of becoming a knight. When she is made the Keeper of the Blades, caring for all the swords in the castle armoury, it seems like her dream might come true. But trouble is never far away from Flamant Castle and the Keeper of the Blades is often in the thick of it. Luckily Tommy is both daring and curious, and has a cast of friends ready to help, including Lil the talking cat, the friendly Crocodiddle who lives in the castle moat and her best friend Jasper, the ghost of a young squire who inhabits one of the old swords.

Charlie Merrick's Misfits In Fouls Friends and Football - Dave Cousins - £5.99
Dave Cousins is a seriously funny author ('15 Days Without a Head' is a comic masterpiece for older readers) but this book for younger readers is the first in a new - and very funny - series about a football team (the inappropriately-named 'North Star Galaxy'). Charlie Merrick is the hapless team captain, and his long-suffering efforts to turn things around makes for a funny, gripping and surprisingly poignant story that appeals not just to football fans.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Finding, Binding or Minding? Five questions with Archie Greene author DD Everest

One of our favourite children's books of the year has been Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret, a thrilling and imaginative fantasy book set in the mysterious world of ancient books, old magic and with an Oxford twist. It marks the arrival of an extremely talented author, DD Everest, so when we were offered the chance by publisher Faber to take him to some schools in Abingdon, we jumped at the chance.

The first D stands for Des - so that's what the children were asked to call him. First stop was Our Lady's Abingdon, and he introduced himself by telling the children about his own children, and the children's football team he coaches...

...before getting into the story of Archie, a young orphan who - seemingly - accidentally gets taken on as a magical apprentice to the mysterious 'Old Zeb' in the bowels of an ancient Oxford bookshop...

Archie received a old, musty parcel containing a magical book - and a similar looking parcel turned up during the talk. We all had to guess about what might be inside.

In the magical world that Archie discovers, there are different routes available to apprentices, depending on whether children have the sharp eyes of a hawk ('Finders'), the wisdom of an owl ('Minders') or the quick hands of a monkey ('Binders'). When asked, there was a good spread of votes for all three amongst the audience, so that bodes well for any apprentices in the audience.

One of the great things about having a break between the two schools, was that we were able to bring Des to the shop and chat to him a bit about what makes him tick as an author. One of the interesting things was to learn more about his passion for Tolkien, and how all fantasy authors - to a greater or lesser extent - are writing in his shadow. What great fantasy authors do, however, is to take the furniture that is already in the room (so to speak) and make it their own.

Des also compared the world of journalism and writing books. With journalism, you write to a deadline, and that's a great skill to have. But when you have a publisher, and an editor, they remind you that what you are writing is going to have a longevity to it that most journalism doesn't have - they fire questions, and challenge about all aspects of the book, until it becomes bullet-proof. It's a very different process - and for one for which he is really grateful for having a publisher behind him.

The afternoon saw us at St Edmunds Primary School, where an enthusiastic group bombarded Des with questions about the characters and his writing...  
Having seen many different authors talk to children over the years, one of the things that impressed us particularly about Des was his skill in conjuring up the world of Archie Greene in the minds of the children in the audience. The children seemed to relish the opportunity to become apprentices themselves, and some of the terms in the book - such as nasty magicians called 'Greeders' conjured up just the right atmosphere or excitement and menace for the age it's aimed at.

The result was a whole host of very imaginative questions. On being told about the dangers of a 'Drawing' book (which don't sound very scary, but actually 'draw' you in to a book from which you may not escape) the children wanted to know who could pull you out, and whether you were yourself inside the book - or took on the part of one of the characters. And would you actually *know* that you were inside a book? Des wasn't given too much away - the fate of Archie in the story turns on some of the answers!

Des ended with some writing tips - and a poll on whether children liked the UK or US cover best - what do you think?

With 'Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret' already shortlisted for an award or two, we think DD Everest is an author destined for very big things, so we were keen to find out a bit more about him... 

Five questions with . . . DD Everest's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently working on the second Archie Greene book ‘Archie Green and the Alchemist’s Curse’. I’ve done the first draft with edits, so now just waiting for ‘feedback’ from my editor (Alice Swan) - it's a nerve-wracking time!

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

(Thinks for a moment) I'm not sure whether I should say this, because it sounds a bit simplistic but...writer’s write. They don’t talk about it, or sit around talking to other writers, they just get on and write. Ideas build and grow inside of you. If you talk to others about an idea, once you've shared that idea, you sort of burst your own balloon. Writing is lonely, it can be demoralising, but that’s what it is. You shouldn’t be intimidated by the blank piece of paper, you have to push through it.

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

The best thing is that children have very fertile, rich imaginations. They give you lots of licence to be imaginative – the canvas you are working on is wide and very open.

But the flip side of this is that fertile imagination is a double-edged sword. That imagination tens to question everything, and allows them to often get ahead of the plot, and if you have holes they will find them in a way that adults don’t – often adults are happier to go along with the story. Kids can also be brutally honest and blunt about what you write.

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

I think a writing ‘space’ is very important, but because I’ve been a journalist, I can write anywhere. When you are a journalist you don’t have the luxury of writer’s block – you are completely deadline-driven. However, I do like to declutter my desk: I’ve even been known to sweep everything off the desk, or hide things. Your desk is like a mirror of inside your head, or a metaphor for your writing canvas. I did used to have a ‘lucky’ desk years ago – but that went to the tip!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

I think there are two moment that I can remember, one creatively and one with becoming a bona fide author. I’d written the start of a story and my own kids were asking for more chapters, and that was a good sign. But for me the main breakthrough was sitting in the offices of Faber and Faber, and here were these ‘proper’ publishing people talking about my book and characters as though they were real people. It was a great moment – and I thought: whatever happens from here, I can’t imagine it feeling better than this.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 2: thrilling histories and blistering biographies

We started with sublime signed copies, then we shared our favourite special editions and books to share with younger children. Today we want to share with you some of our favourite history, biography and young reading titles to inspire you for Christmas.

History and Biography

How We Got To Now - Steven Johnson - £20.00
A companion book to his TV series, this is enthralling and surprising science and history, as Johnson picks six fundamental inventions (from the worlds of Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, Light) and tracks the surprising inspirations and unexpected consequences of the most influential innovations. He shows how simple scientific breakthroughs have driven other discoveries through the network of ideas and innovations that made each finding possible. Along the way we learn how ultrasound arose as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, and how the death ray 'laser' morphed into the barcode scanner - and paved the way for massive supermarkets. Delightful and unexpected.

Agincourt - Ranulph Fiennes - £25.00
On the eve of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, Sir Ranulph Fiennes casts new light on this epic event, revealing that three of his own ancestors fought in the battle for Henry V - and at least one for the French. It's an intriguing take on this momentous event in European history - and you get the strong impression that 'Ran' isn't wholly approving of some of his ancestors behaviour...

The Worlds War - David Olusoga - £20.00
David Olusoga is a British-Nigerian historian and film-maker, and in all of the books published this year about the first world war, we feel this offers a superb new take on the conflict, a unique account of the millions of colonial troops who fought, and why they were later air-brushed out of history. Allied armies were multi-racial and multi-ethnic, yet from the moment the guns fell silent the role of non-white soldiers was forgotten and airbrushed out by later historians. Sobering, shocking and a perspective that needs to be better understood.

Killers of the King - Charles Spencer - £20.00
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and nothing is colder that how Charles II set about enacting a deadly wave of retribution following his restoration. In January 1649, after seven years of fighting in the bloodiest war in Britain's history, Parliament had overpowered King Charles I and Parliamentarians resolved to do the unthinkable, to disregard the Divine Right of Kings and hold Charles I to account for the appalling suffering and slaughter endured by his people. A tribunal of 135 men was hastily gathered in London to seal his fate. Charles Spencer brilliantly details the shocking stories of the fates of the men who dared to kill a king. This book often reads like a page-turning thriller. Highly recommended.

Joan of Arc - Helen Castor - £20.00
A refreshing new take on the medieval world and the bloody civil war that was tearing fifteenth century France apart. Here is a portrait of a 19-year-old peasant who hears voices from God; a teenager transformed into a warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believed women should not fight. Joan and her world are brought vividly to life but one of our most gifted historians.

Please Mr Postman - Alan Johnson - £16.99
Born in condemned housing in West London in 1950, with no heating, no electricity and no running water, Alan Johnson did not have the easiest start in life. But by the age of 18, he was married, a father and working as a postman in Slough. This is the sequel to the award-winning and bestselling memoir 'This Boy', and a book which readers have raved about when coming into the shop. Please Mr Postman describes the next period in Alan's life with every bit as much honesty, humour and emotional impact as his debut, and a vivid picture of Britain in the 1970s, a country almost unrecognisable to us today.

Vera Brittain and the First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth - Mark Bostridge - £16.99
In the midst of her studies at Oxford when war broke out across Europe, Vera Brittain left university in 1915 to become a V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse. This is the remarkable story of the author behind one of the most loved memoirs of the era of the First World War. Published to coincide with the film adaptation released this Autumn.

Philip Larkin : Life, Art and Love - James Booth - £25.00
Meticulously researched, unwaveringly frank and full of fresh material, this definitively reinterprets the life and work one of our greatest and best-loved poets. Booth reinstates a man misunderstood: not a gaunt, emotional failure, but a witty, provocative and entertaining presence, delightful company; an attentive son and a man devoted to the women he loved.

Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming - £16.99
Mark's favourite memoir of the year, a journey of discovery for Scottish actor Alan Cumming's that started whilst preparing for an appearance on the family history show Who Do You Think You Are. Two stories intertwine, that of Alan's troubled and violent father, and Tommy Darling, his maternal grandfather who disappeared in the Far East after the Second World War. Both stories unfold in unexpected ways, and the revelations are at times jaw-dropping. The book effortlessly pulls you through to a thoroughly uplifting end, and also an unexpected meditation on the shadows - and light - cast by our ancestors. 

A Slip of the Keyboard - Terry Pratchett - £20.00
A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett's non-fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf's love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him. This is a book with all the humour and humanity that have made him and his novels so enduringly popular.

The Frood - Jem Roberts - £20.00
Jem Roberts' masterful book on the history of Blackadder was a favourite of ours in 2012, and Jem Roberts' new book is a fresh and welcome tale of the most celebrated creation of Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Frood tells the story of Adams' explosive but agonizingly constructed fictional universe, from his initial inspirations to the posthumous sequel(s) and adaptations, bringing together a thousand tales of life as part of the British Comedy movements of the late 70s and 80s along the way. Essential for fans, a treat for anyone interested in one of our most enduring cultural icons.

Fathomless Riches - Richard Coles - £20.00
The Reverend Richard Coles is a parish priest in Northamptonshire and a regular host of BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live. He is also the only vicar in Britain to have had a number 1 hit single: the Communards' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' topped the charts for four weeks and was the biggest-selling single of its year. Fathomless Riches is his remarkable memoir in which he divulges with searing honesty and intimacy his pilgrimage from a rock-and-roll life of sex and drugs to a life devoted to God and Christianity.

More Fool Me - Stephen Fry - £25.00
A second chapter in the life of our most wordsome of national treasures - and host of BBC favourite QI. In this, the follw-up to The Fry Chronicles (the biggest selling autobiography of 2010) this enters far darker territory, as Fry's demons threaten to overwhelm him as his blazed a trail from the 80s to the 90s.

Walking Home: My Family, and Other Rambles - Clare Balding - £20.00
A witty and eccentric love letter to the British from the much-loved TV and radio presenter. Ostensibly a story of taking her eclectic family for a 71 mile ramble along a footpath near her home, this is really a rapturous celebration of the British countryside and way of life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inspiring Maps and Thinking Caps - BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub and Tom Moorhouse at Oxford's Natural History Museum

On Monday, it was the BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub, where - amongst many things - we discussed the brilliant 'Maps' by Andrew Janes (see our review here), 'Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse' by David Mitchell (ahead of his Oxfordshire mini-tour on Thursday) and 'What If?' by Randall Munroe.

As always, you can listen again on iPlayer - fast forward to about 1 hour 6 minutes for about 45 minutes of bookish chat and recommends.

Later on we were very pleased to be bookselling in the august surroundings of Oxford's Natural History Museum with ecologist and children's author Tom Moorhouse, author of 'The River Singers'.

Tom was giving a talk to the Oxfordshire Mammal Group about his work with Water Voles, and we learned exactly why Water Voles have declined so precipitously (due largely to Mink), how quickly they bounce back when habits are restored and mink removed - and the challenges of choosing just which human traits you have to give water voles to make a great children's story. It was a great evening - and the refurbished Natural History Museum looks fab at night...

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 1: Beautiful books, special editions and sharing with children

Every year, all of us at Mostly Books pick our favourite titles to recommend to you that we feel make perfect gifts for everyone you might be buying for this Christmas: whether it's for a book-loving octogenarian, a tricky-to-buy-for Uncle who only likes fishing, a Minecraft-mad 12 year old - or a small person celebrating his or her first Christmas.

So for the next few weeks, our #FridayReads will feature a selection of our best picks - but of course, we're here to help when you come in. And you can always email or call ahead of time and we can have a selection ready for you to browse...

Beautiful Books and Special Editions

Lists of Note - Shaun Usher - £30
Letters of Note’ was one of our favourite books of 2013, an imaginative and beautifully put together collection of letters from the famous and legendary, many from key moments in history. Author Shaun Usher has done it again, this time with ‘Lists of Note’ – a record of the most important lists ever written, those that chart history from the notes people make and have left us with. With Shaun's insightful commentary, there are moving and inspiring lists including a role call of Egyptian slaves, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘to do’ list and Scott Fitzgerald conjugating the verb ‘to cocktail’. Surprising, often moving, an utterly fascinating way of presenting human history.

Matchbox Theatre - Michael Frayn - £12.99
'Matchbox Theatre' is a miniature sketch show of 30 dialogues and monologues from one of best-loved playwrights, journalists and writers, to be played in the theatres of readers' imaginations (or possibly their living rooms over the festive period). 

Knowledge is Beautiful - David McCandless - £30
A fascinating insight into our world, our lives and our minds - from questions and facts on history and politics to science and literature, all beautifully represented in an inspiring - and often surprising - visual style.

The stark beauty that emerges from imaginative ways of visually displaying information is at times breathtaking. This is a book that needs to be seen to be appreciated!

Maps: Their Untold Stories -
Rose Mitchell & Andrew Janes - £30

This magnificent collection, drawn from seven centuries of maps held in the National Archives at Kew, looks at a variety of maps, from those found in 14th Century manuscripts, through early estate maps, to sea charts, maps used in military campaigns, and maps from treaties. The text explores who the mapmakers were, the purposes for which the maps were made, and what it tells us about the politics of the time.

John Constable: The Making of a Master -
Mark Evans - £30

Published to accompany a major V&A exhibition, this book evaluates these aspects of Constable's work, placing the artist's naturalism and studio work in the context of his wider practice - in particular his talent for copying, and extensive print collection. This book shows how the artist's reverence for the Old Masters is not incompatible with his revolutionary handling of paint: where others competed with the Masters, Constable assimilated their ideas and values to imbue his own naturalistic vision with dynamism.

Books to share with young children

Princess Mirror-Belle & The Dragon Pox -
Julia Donaldson & Lydia Monks - £11.99

Ellen gets a big shock when her double appears out of the bathroom mirror, but Mirror-Belle is a double with a difference! She is a princess, and a mischievous one at that. She is sure that Ellen's chicken pox is actually dragon pox - and she is full of ideas about how to make the spots disappear...a fun, glitter-filled story from the author-illustrator team that brought you 'Sugarlump and Unicorn' and 'What The Ladybird Heard'!

Gigantosaurus - Jonny Duddle - £6.99
We love Jonny Duddle, and this story about Bonehead and his unheeded warnings of a really BIG dinosaur has all our favourite elements: a great story, the trademark larger-than-life illustrations and a subtle message about telling tall tales. His feet go STOMP! His jaws go CRUNCH! In the blink of an eye you ll be his LUNCH! 

The Dance Teacher - Simon Milne - £10.99
A beautifully illustrated, timeless story about ballet, effort and rewards, and a special relationship between a girl and her teacher. One day a little girl peers around the door of Miss Sylvie's dance studio. 'I want to be a ballerina,' she says...
Celebrating the joy of dance and the role inspirational teachers can play in our lives, The Dance Teacher will enchant readers young and old.

Moonlight Bear - Rosie Wellesley - £5.99
When Eva wakes up after drifting off to sleep with her favourite teddy bear, she finds Bear is gone. But her teddy has turned into a real bear, and he takes Eva on an adventure around the town at night. They play, have fun and see other children with their animals while they are out. After rushing home before sunrise, Eva falls back to sleep. But was it all a dream?

This is pitch-perfect bedtime storytelling and a great message about adventure and imagination for little ones.