Friday, May 01, 2015

Super Thursday indie-style: is that the sound of Summer Reading we hear?

Sometimes in the Autumn, it seems like every Thursday is "super-Thursday", a day when huge numbers of books are published, and bookshops up and down the land struggle to cope with the number of boxes coming in.

Generally speaking the book trade loves these events - it generates huge interest in books, and creates a real buzz about the big-hitters that are going to bring customers into the shop in the crucial Christmas period.


Independent bookshops tend to have a more mixed feeling about these days (particularly those checking books into stock!). We are much simpler folk, tending to mistrust the pile 'em high philosophy of traditional retail, and prefer instead a steadier stream of great titles that we can sort through, curate, and introduce to readers by placing a book into someone's hands.



But here's the curious thing. Inevitably, about six months later, many of these big titles get published in paperback. On the same day. Along with quite a few big-hitting new titles. And yet - not a peep it seems from the publishing world?

Now there may or may not be a few other things happening next Thursday, but - in the spirit of independent retail, and on the basis that the majority of readers prefer paperbacks and wait for them eagerly to be published as paperback (particularly fiction, particularly bookgroup books, particularly as the holiday reading season approaches) we're having our own 'Super Thursday' in the bookshop next week.


We can't promise scantily-clad publicity assistants (of either gender). Or features on Start The Week. Although Mark may bare his knees if you are unlucky...


But we can promise some great reading to fire the gun on some of favourite reads ahead of Summer...



Kate Atkinson's dazzling 'Life After Life', explored the possibility of infinite chances, as Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In 'A God in Ruins', Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula's beloved younger brother RAF bomber pilot Teddy.

This is a highly engrossing and often heartbreaking journey though post-war Britain from the point of view of someone who witnessed so much death in his young life, his greatest challenge becomes to face living in a future he never expected to have. It manages to be a story about death, about life and also about narrative and story itself and certainly deserves to be considered a masterpiece and to be treasured as such.



One of our favourite books when it was published back in the Autumn (and with a much friendlier picture of Alan for the paperback cover!) 'Not My Father's Son' by Alan Cumming is part memoir, part family-history mystery, and part whodunnit as an appearance on Who Do You Think You Are sets off a landslide of family secrets and half-truths that make for a genuine page-turning read with a hugely satisfying ending.

You cannot help but get sucked into the entwined tale of two strands of Alan's family and the revelations at times are jaw-dropping. An uplifting, effortless read that's also an unexpected meditation on the shadows - and light - cast on us by our ancestors. 

We love Louise Levene - her debut 'A Vision of Loveliness' brilliantly evoked the dark-edged realities and possibilities of being a young woman in 60s London. So it's appropriate the we've moved into the 1970s with 'The Following Girls' (and we love that cover!)

Amanda Baker is part of a school gang 'the four Mandies', girls who are constantly in trouble at school. Stuck in the 1970s, where there is still a fight over woman having jobs and not being bound to the house all day, they have the teenage mindset of hating everything; from school to their parents rules. A funny, sharp story about growing up, life and friendship that could be more dangerous than good. This is one of Imogen's picks for the Summer.

One of Mark's favourites from last year is 'The Axeman's Jazz' by Ray CelestinA killer is on the loose in New Orleans at the end of World War. A letter to the police promises to kill on a specific date, but also to spare anyone in whose house ‘a jazz band is in full swing’. Thus starts a frenetic jazz-fuelled race against the clock in the sultry, swampy, racially-charged state of post-war Louisiana. Corruption is rife, but it’s in everyone’s interest – politicians, police and Mafiosi – to catch the killer. But just who is responsible for the Axeman’s Jazz? Original, suspenseful and based on true events, this is cracking entertainment.

The death of Terry Pratchett was widely - and fittingly - mourned throughout the reading world, so it's very appropriate that Julia has voted for 'A Slip of the Keyboard', published in paperback on May 7. This collection of the best of Terry Pratchett's includes observations on subjects as diverse as animal rights, Gandalf's love life, banana daiquiris - and the disease that eventually killed him. With a forward by Neil Gaiman (with who he collaborated on the book 'Good Omens') this is a fine way to honour one of our greatest writers. 

A few times a year, a book is published that isn't just a bestseller, but a literary phenomenon. David Nicholls' book 'One Day' certainly fell into that category, but the tone is altogether darker in 'Us' which arrives in paperback ready for one of our big Summer reading picks.


With their teenage son all grown up, is there any reason for Connie and Douglas to stay together? Unwisely they plan an elaborate last family holiday – taking in the whole of Europe. What follows is a well-observed, sometimes hilarious, often painful bittersweet story of a marriage.


A new No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel from Alexander McCall Smith is a cause for shouting for huge numbers of readers (and a celebratory pot of redbush tea), so we're delighted that 'The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe' arrives in paperback on May 7. 

This is Mma Ramotswe's fifteenth adventure (can you believe that?) and this time the focus is fully on Mma Makutsi, Ramotswe's enthusiastic, ambitious business partner (although officially she's only 'an assistant full partner' of course). Launching her own new enterprise, the 'Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe' ("only for the fashionable people") she's soon up to her neck in grumpy chefs, drunken waiters. So who's she gonna call? Mma Ramotswe, of course.

One of our favourite children's authors, Frances Hardinge, is riding high at the moment with her novel 'Cuckoo Song' being read across the country by children shadowing the Carnegie Award. And 'The Lie Tree' is another blistering original piece of storytelling that seems destined for awards.

In Victorian England, Faith knows she has no future as a scientist like her father. But when he is murdered she discovers women can be good at influencing and manipulating behind the scenes and she sets about trying to uncover the truth, even though no-one will believe it. Another thought-provoking, imaginative tale that weaves science and fantasy - Frances Hardinge is definitely at the cutting edge of YA writing.

(Frances had some cracking writing tips for aspiring authors when she came to Abingdon a few years ago - if you are interested about her writing process, our interview with her is well worth reading)

Back to non-fiction, and this was a giant of a book last Autumn - and a book we recommended a lot (and even spoke about on the radio). 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 changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we became farmers, developed religion, invented money, harnessed technology and threatened widespread extinction.

The writing is superb – fresh, brazen – 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?

Another incredible book from one of Imogen's favourite authors - particularly relevant because two of our staff (no names!) will be travelling down to London later in May to a big event with author Sarah J Maas...

'A Court of Thorns and Roses' is a unique retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Follow Feyre as she is dragged from her home to live in a world dangous for Mortals. Filled with fey and magic, nothing is ever as it seems, and as the time she spends there lengths, she realises that the fey she lives with are hiding more than just their faces under the masks that they wear. Perfect for any fairytale loved, the magic of this book will not leave you even after finishing the last page...

With a highly prolific career - including a fictional retelling of the battle of Waterloo - it may surprise you to learn that 'Waterloo : The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles' is Bernard Cornwell's first ever non-fiction title.

Cornwell combines his storytelling skills with a meticulously researched history to give a riveting account of every dramatic moment of the battle of Waterloo, from Napoleon's escape from Elba to the smoke and gore of the battlefields. Through letters and diaries he also sheds new light on the private thoughts of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, as well as the ordinary officers and soldiers. Published to coincide with the bicentenary this year, Waterloo is a tense and gripping story of heroism and tragedy - and of the final battle that determined the fate of Europe...

Finally, mystery stories are big at the moment for children, and we are big fans of Lauren Child and her undercover, wisecracking, teen sleuth Ruby Redfort. With funky new jackets for the whole series, book 3 arrives in paperback on Thursday: 'Catch You Death'. Ruby finds herself in a survival situation, with tigers and other wild animals on the loose. But if anyone can solve the mystery, it's going to be Ruby...

So - twelve of the best for Super Thursday. The odd one not (strictly speaking) published on that day, but near enough. And with other hardback titles from Mostly Books favourite Jeffery Deaver (Solitude Creek, the new Kathryn Dance novel), Kathy Reich's latest on paperback ('Bones Never Lie') and Wilbur Smith's 'Desert God' there will be a lot of activity in the shop next Thursday...

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