Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time-Travelers, Watchmakers and Sunlit Nights: Ten top reads for the Summer

Looking for some satisfying, independent-minded, hand-selected Summer Reading? Then here are ten top reads for the Summer as selected by all of us at Mostly Books. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas for your next favourite read, particularly as some of favourite books of the last few months are new out in paperback.

And of course - come in for personal recommendations at any time!

In 'Beside Myself' by Ann Morgan, Helen and Ellie are identical twins: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower. Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day. But Ellie refuses to swap back. And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up... 

This is much more than just an intriguing book on the nature of identity, it's actually a sensitive, accomplished and really gripping debut and a thoroughly engaging story. Constantly surprising, you find yourself desperate to discover how the story ends, with a twist that is brilliantly done and entirely satisfying. We think Ann Morgan is definitely an author to watch.

'Even Dogs In The Wild' is Ian Rankin's latest John Rebus thriller, and after 'retiring' Rebus a few years ago, and dabbling with other characters in Rebus' world, Rankin offers us a fantastic return to form - and a cracking thriller in which Rebus must join forces with DI Siobhan Clarke to stop a killer striking again.

Rankin's mastery of plot and characterization is complete, and Rebus's world is complex, brilliantly drawn, and utterly compelling.

The best holiday reads utterly transport you to places exotic and strange, and after the blistering temperatures of earlier this week, we recommend reading 'The Sunlit Night' by debut novelist Rebecca Dinerstein. Two very different people - one fleeing heartbreak, one looking to bury his father - meet on an archipelago in the Norwegian Sea, a hundred miles north of the Artic Circle.

Beautifully written, with a real sense of place, yet quirky, unashamedly romantic and hugely satisfying.

'The Immortals' by SE Lister is one of Julia's picks this Summer - published at the end of 2015, but new out in paperback. And get that cover!

When Rosa gets tired of living through 1945 again and again, she escapes from her parents and begins a rollercoaster ride back and forward through time and meets many strange and wonderful characters.There are so many effortless layers to Lister's writing that it allows the story to meander from one era to another. Can any human live, ever really live without a home and is a life spent without roots or relationships any real sort of life?

If Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quarter of novels has you hungry for more translated Italian fiction, we recommend you look at 'I'm Not Scared', originally published in 2001 by novelist Niccolò Ammaniti (and made into a film of the same name).

A classic contemporary thriller, it follows the story of nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, who makes a discovery in a dilapidated farmhouse so momentous, he dare not tell a soul - something that will have profound consequences on him and the world around him.

Another brilliantly inventive debut is Natasha Pulley's 'The Watchmaker of Filigree Street' which combines shades of Nick Harkaway, David Mitchell and Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' (now that's some combination!).

In a steampunkish London, a mysterious watch saves Thaniel Steepleton from a bomb which destroys Scotland yard - and then sends him on an increasingly frantic hunt for its maker. Questions of fate and destiny, as well as two remarkable female characters that Thaniel is increasingly torn between, this is a book of real ambition.

Talking of ambition, 'Arcadia' may be author Iain Pears' biggest yet. It's a story of three worlds: One present (1970s), one future and the third an invention from the mind of a writer called Henry Lytten. When these worlds collide a whole heap of trouble occurs. A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies and Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity. This is an eclectic mix of fantasy, history, science fiction and dystopian future which together make an engrossing read.

In 'Rembrandt's Mirror' by Kim Devereux, we are plunged into the world of legendary Dutch painter Rembrandt's later years, which were blighted by a string of personal and financial losses. This is a powerful a compelling story of the later loves of the painter's life and the clash of genius and the man inside.

The novel is steeped in Rembrandt's art; each chapter is named after, and in some way reflects, one of his paintings. The writing is laced with painterly description and art theory, giving the impression that we are looking at this world through an artist's eyes. Who can resist the charms of the Dutch Golden Age - now in a sumptuous paperback.

Want more? We reckon you should also take a look Sebastian Faulks' latest sweeping novel 'Where My Heart Used to Beat' and Edna O'Brien's story of a charismatic faith-healer on the West coast of Ireland ('The Little Red Chairs').

But come in for more recommends - because there are a whole collection of great reads out this Summer and we'd be happy to show you more!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Come and Meet Hugless Douglas!

On Tuesday 2 August, we're inviting you to come along and meet the big bear with the big heart - Hugless Douglas!

The last time Douglas visited Mostly Books we had a fantastic time, with scorching weather and hot hugs in the garden.

For anyone who came along and had fun with The Gruffalo a few weeks ago, Douglas isn't scary at all, and there will definitely be hugs all round...

This time round, Douglas gets involved with some baking, and as usual, things don't got entirely to plan.

In 'Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake' the sheep are baking cakes and Douglas can't wait to try them. However, he's sure that food without honey just isn't yummy. Can he ever be tempted to try something new?

There will be cupcake-making activities from the beginning of August - and on the day itself, Hugless will be making a special guest appearance. There will also be a book signing from award-winning author and illustrator (and creator of Hugless Douglas) David Melling.

We'd really love you to come along and transform our window with some brightly decorated cupcakes. There will be activities all week, and special prizes to win on the day itself. And there may even be the odd yummy treat to try if we're really lucky...

There is no need to book - but if you'd like more details of the event, including more details on timings closer to the day, please email us.

David Melling is an author who is an incredible talent of whom Abingdon can be particularly proud. Over ten years, David has taught children how to draw Hugless Douglastold us about his writing lifeproduced masterpieces live over the Internet sat as a 'live window display' while he has worked and hosted a goblins party in Abingdon Library.

We'd love to see you on August 2 in our courtyard garden - and celebrate one of most endearing picture book characters!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ten years of Mostly Books - a heartfelt thank you

Ten years ago - July 1 2006 - two nervous and extremely naive booksellers opened the door to their shop, and began a journey into the unknown. It was 9am, and already sultry on what would become a scorching hot day. The street was largely empty.

One of the booksellers had met Tim Waterstone at a book event a few weeks before and had asked him "If there was one piece of advice you would give to anyone opening a bookshop, what would it be?"

"Don't do it" he said.

After all, there was already trouble brewing on the High Street, Internet shopping and supermarket dominance was already well underway in transforming how we shop. But the future looked bright, the economy was healthy. The word 'Kindle' meant "to start a fire" and hardly anyone would have a clue if you mentioned 'subprime mortgage'.

What followed has been an incredible ten years - not easy, not smooth, but the most amazing adventure with many more highs than lows. We had plans to do a series of blogs on 'ten years in bookselling', or 'the best books of the last ten years'. That's for the next few months as we enjoy our tenth year. For now, we'd just like to say 'thank you'.

Thank you to everyone who has, over the years, helped this bookshop survive and thrive. We could not do what we do without you, but we feel incredibly blessed to have such a community of book lovers, engaged and passionate readers, and regulars who have come to be more friends than customers.

We believe bookselling is very different to almost every other form of retail. It is humbling what people share with you when they come into a bookshop: their hopes and fears, their frustrations and triumphs. We've met people who helped shape history but you wouldn't look twice if they passed you in the street. We've met a truly awesome array of inspirational authors. And there are the many hundreds of families who have given us a part of their children's future, allowing us to help them find books that they can grow with. There is no better feeling in the world than watching a small person grow in leaps in bounds - physically and intellectually - as literacy puts down deep roots and, month-by-month, you feel you have pressed fast-forward on a life blossoming in front of you.

Abingdon is an international town, a town with a long and proud history, a tradition of resilience, that sits at the heart of one of the most thriving and dynamic science communities in the world. We feel we have the most diverse customer mix anywhere, from Abingdonians who've lived here all their life, to others who choose to put down roots here from all over the world. Our country may feel like a more isolated place after recent events, but this can only be temporarily. The future belongs to people who know - and act on - a faith that more unites us than divides us. Those people tend to read books, and if a revolution is coming, we're betting it'll start in a bookshop.

Like most dynamic, outward looking towns, people do come and go. You hope it wasn't something you did or said (the deepest fear of the entrepreneur, which leaves you gasping in sweat-soaked panic at 4am). But the world of social media has allowed us to keep in touch with many ex-Abingdonians around the world.

Over the years, inevitably, often months after the event, you discover that a customer is no longer with us. It's can be heartbreaking, but it's a price you pay for sharing in a community. That is a price well worth paying.

We have so many special memories over the last ten years, it's impossible to pick just a few. But we've tried below. We'd love to hear yours.

We're holding a party tomorrow (Saturday July 2). We'd love you to come. There will be cake and champagne (the two essentials of a bookshop party). And will give us a chance to say thank you.

And if someone came up to us and asked me that question: "Would you open a bookshop?". We'd say "Are you crazy? Don't do it!". Because maybe, just maybe, if you ignore that piece of advice, you may have passed the first test in your steps to become a bookseller.

Thank you from all of us at Mostly Books.

Mark, Nicki, Karen, Julia, Imogen, Sara


Some highlights from the last ten years:

2006: Our first ever children's event (Charlie and Lola) and breaking every health and safety rule going to pack 54 people in the shop for Sophie Grigson
Some highlights from the last ten years:

2007: Sam Jordison v Didcot, Pirates take over Mostly Books, The Glastonbury of Food, and the World's Greatest Portrait Artist

2008: Raymond Blanc and the four hour signing, Martin Clunes and a dog or two, Survival Training in the Garden and celebrating winning *that* award.

2009: Susan Hill in the Roysse Room, Alan Titchmarsh, Gryff Rhys JonesAlice in Wonderland and Monsters and Muchamore

2010: BBC Oxford Bookclub, rockstar authors at Carswell SchoolDinopants at Thomas Readethe best event we ever did, Barbara Trapido, Ben Macintyrethe birth of Hugless Douglas, and Chris Bradford on World Book Day.

2011: Five questions, Frank Cottrell Boyce before the Olympics, Kennington Lit Fest, Our first Oxfordshire Book Awards, Cathy Cassidy in Didcota masterclass in dealing with the undead, John Hegley, Sentimental Amateurs.

(And of course, Jeffery Deaver and the launch of 'Carte Blanche' at the Diamond Light Source!)

2012: Ben Goldacre at the Oxford Union, from Black to Green, Clarissa explains it all, the launch of a sparkling new talent, Ann Cleeves, Bethan Roberts, the Olympic Torch goes past our windowFrances Hardinge at St Nicolas School and The Unlikely event with Harold Fry

2013: HL Dennis at OLA, exploring strange new world, Old Bear, Salley Vickers, Nosy Crow takeover, Carnegie Forum, Hot Hugs

2014: Too many to pick - but this montage gives you an idea! David Mitchell, The Gruffalo and awards aplenty!

2015: Suzanne Barton, travelling to Pluto and Caroline Lawrence!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Phoenix Comic-Making Workshop!

On Saturday, July 9 we're teaming up with legendary children’s comic ‘The Phoenix’ to hold our very own Comic-Making Workshop!

This is a chance for you to come along and work in a team to create an awesome comic story. You’ll be guided through the entire process, with ideas, inspiration and exercises to bring out the creative genius within.

There will be fun, there will be inspiration, there will be moustaches (more about that when you get here!)

There will be two sessions at 9.30am and 2pm, and we expect it to last 90 minutes. 

There are workshops happening all over the country, and the best entries will be chosen for a special anthology to be published by ‘The Phoenix’ in the Autumn.

Tickets cost £3 and places are limited, so if you have a child who is a budding author or illustrator, let us know if they’d like to come along.