Thursday, February 25, 2016

World Book Day 2016: A few of our favourite things

We love World Book Day. We love the buzz and excitement created by authors going into schools, children dressing up as their favourite book characters, and the arrival of new titles by some of our favourite children's authors. Best of all, we love to see children coming in to bookshops - some of them for the very first time - clutching their £1 vouchers to exchange for a book - or to get £1 off any other children's book, don't forget.

(We also love the fact that, despite the name, the UK celebrates World Book Day on a totally different day from the rest of the world. How did that happen? Well, it's all a bit complicated, and some of the exact dates are disputed, but basically the Spanish started the tradition early in the 20th century to honour 'Don Quixote' author Miguel de Cervantes - who died on this day - and given the fact that Shakespeare died on this day too just seemed to make it doubly appropriate, but given that England celebrates St George's Day already, the UK decided to hold World Book Day on the first Thursday in March. All clear?)

Anyway, irrespective of how it started, who who it celebrates, World Book Day has become one of the big events in the bookselling calendar. We are involved in 11 (!) events with 17 schools (!!) over the coming two weeks - and there are thousands of events happening across the UK.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself with a World Book Day voucher, we thought you might like to know about some of the fantastic new children's book freshly arrived in the shop this week. We're excited about them - and we thought we'd share them with you!

(Mark appeared on BBC Radio Oxford on Friday to discuss these books with Alex Lester - you can listen to the interview by clicking on this link, and fast-forwarding to about 1 hour and 38 mins into the programme)

The Shadow Keeper - Abi Elphinstone
Trying to keep safe from their enemies, a group of gypsies are hiding out in seaside caves, but danger swirls out of the sky and the sea and Moll and her friends must find powerful ways to fight the terrifying magical creatures trying to hunt them. The only weapon powerful enough is an amulet and the friends set off facing certain danger to seek it out, with just their strong friendship and determination to help them.

This is thrilling, atmospheric writing, with wonderful imaginative baddies, a feisty heroine and a gripping sequel to 'The Dreamsnatcher' - one of our absolute favourite children's books of 2015. Abi Elphinstone has already become a firm favourite with children based on her storyteller heroics at schools, and this book looks set to cement her reputation as one of our most exciting new authors.

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth - Katherine Woodfine
Another book we've been eagerly awaiting is Katherine Woodfine's follow up to her exciting mystery-adventure 'The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow'. The disappearance of a fabulous jewel sparks a thrilling investigation by Sophie and Lil - and it's another rip-roaring adventure featuring dastardly criminals, thrilling pursuits, and some extremely cunning disguises.

Stories featuring children foiling criminals among glamorous locations are doing really well at the moment - and this, a mystery set among Edwardian debutantes, will appeal to those tweens with the spirit of adventure.

The Astounding Broccoli Boy - Frank Cottrell Boyce
What can we say about Frank Cottrell Boyce. Almost unique in style, original, contemporary plots, with sophisticated humour and totally wild storytelling. His latest title has arrived in the shop fresh out in paperback, and it features killer kittens (well, not really), green children (that bit's true), superpowers (we think) and mysterious goings-on in the London capital which might just involve an alien invasion. Confused? Well, not as much as Rory Rooney and the doctors looking after him. Something's turned Rory green, but does this mean he has superpowers? One thing is for sure, his favourite book 'Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared' has given him plenty of preparation for finding out - but is the world ready for possibly its most unlikeliest superhero?

Oi Frog - Kes Grey
Here's a brilliantly witty, pitch-perfect picture book from another favourite author of ours, Kes Grey.

In 'Oi Frog' our green hero is expected to sit exactly where he's told - on a log. But Frog does not want to do this, oh no. Rhyming silliness ahoy as Frog learns that all animals have their special places to sit...

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Greatest of these is Love: the Mostly Books Valentine's Day selection for 2015

This year's Valentine's Day selection is our typical mix of the traditional and the quirky (which you would expect from the team that offered up Potatoes and Zombies in 2013, and 'The Martian' in 2014).

Whether buying a gift for a special person - or treating yourself to a romantic read - love takes many forms, and can be found in all kinds of books. Enjoy.

The true romance of 'Pure Juliet' is how it came to be published. Stella Gibbons will always be the author that wrote 'Cold Comfort Farm', but she came to resent this book squatting on her reputation, overshadowing her achievements as a poet and the many other books she wrote. So when, in 2014, her family discovered this unpublished manuscript Vintage Classics took the opportunity to publish.

Written in the 1970s and 80s, it's a novel ahead of its time, with the character of Juliet definitely 'on a spectrum somewhere', obsessed with the maths and physics she excels at, but clumsy and baffled by the messiness and unpredictability of relationships and love. 'Pure Juliet' will be a joy to fans, told with wit, wry observation and sensitivity. It adds a welcome dimension to an author often described as our '20th century Jane Austen'.

Celia Imre might just make the transition from one of our best-loved actors to authors with her debut novel 'Not Quite Nice'. Bellevue-Sur-Mer sits on the French Riviera, just outside Nice.

When Theresa - sick of her spoilt daughter and equally obnoxious grandchildren - loses her job she heads off to the south of France to contemplate her future. Cue a Kate Fforde-esque tale of oddball characters, and plenty of twists and turns in the Sun. But what sets this apart is the pace and humour - a real joy to read.

Erotic poetry might make a few people do a double-take when viewed on the table of our family-friendly shop, but then Gaius Valerius Catullus wasn't your average erotic poet. His yearning, pining love poems track a doomed obsession during the tumultuous years of Rome in the first century BC, and as such are packed with tantalising glimpes of a different Rome than is found in other literary works of the period.

Mocked in his own lifetime, he boasts plenty of modern fans including Robert Harris, historians Dan Jones and Tom Holland, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) Boris Johnson (who, one suspects, has deployed a few stanzas over the years!). Their praise adorns the cover of 'Catullus' Bedspread' this fabulous book by debut author and classical scholar Daisy Dunn. It's part biography, part imagined travelogue and part analysis of his works. Original, accomplished and a lot of fun, this might be the perfect gift for anyone with an interest in Roman life - or the unchanging hopes and desires of the human heart over the millennia.

How about a romantic gift that does double-duty as an adorable picture book? As has happened to just about everyone in the shop, you will absolutely fall in love with 'I'll Never Let You Go' by author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrator Alison Brown.

Beautiful illustrations and a sensitive story will quickly make this a firm favourite at bedtime - but also something to soothe any worry lines on little brows.

On the same lines, but in a lovingly-produced gift edition, 'Love...' by Emma Dodd is another beautifully produced book from one of our absolutely favourite publishers, Nosy Crow (who celebrate their fifth birthday this year).

Celebrating the love between parent and child, with delightful rhyming text - we have some exclusive, limited edition matching cards to give away with every book purchased to make this an extra special gift!

Last Summer, our Courtyard Garden was packed to listen to debut novelist Laura Barnett talk about her book 'The Versions of Us', a book that takes a what-if approach to the vagaries of the human heart.

And who hasn’t wondered ‘What if?’ about their own life? What if you’d taken a particular job, taken that path instead of this one, or that one chance – said ‘yes’ one time instead of ‘no’? 

The outcome of a chance meeting - or not - between Eva and Jim on a Cambridge path is followed in three alternative strands, which is constantly surprising and not at all what you might have expected. Thought-provoking and now out in paperback.

We reviewed 'Crooked Heart' by Lissa Evans on BBC Radio Oxford last week - a fun, brilliantly plotted, enjoyable and rollicking good story, told with dark humour, showing how different people, with different skills, can be thrown together and blossom in the confusion of war.

Click to read the full review here and you can also listen to Mark discussing the book with Alex Lester during the show.

'It's never too late to have a fling, for autumn is just as nice as spring ...' Christopher Matthew's latest collection of comic verse negotiates the perils and pitfalls of romance in later years in 'A Bus Pass Named Desire'.

Love is revealed in the most unlikely places, with the most improbable people seeking it. Whether in Dorking, Diss, Clapham Junction or West Wittering, there are amorous opportunities waiting to be seized at the bridge table, on the tennis court, in the herbaceous border, on a bicycle made for two, or simply in warm companionship.

Delightful and stirring tales of late-flowering love (and even mild debauchery in a retirement home, of which Catullus - see above - would be proud!) this is a celebration of life for the young at heart.