Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Half Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo - Physicist or Spy?

On the eve of the publication of his new book, 'Half Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo - Physicist or Spy?', Professor Frank Close will reveal his discoveries about the atomic scientist Bruno Pontecorvo.

Pontecorvo was an Italian physicist who worked on the British atomic bomb project at Harwell, and his son, Gil, was about to start his second year at Abingdon School. However, on August 31, 1950, in the middle of a holiday in Italy, he abruptly left Rome for Stockholm with his wife and three sons without informing friends or relatives. The next day he was helped by Soviet agents to enter the Soviet Union from Finland.

World-renowned scientist and writer Frank Close reveals the full story of Pontecorvo, bound up in the murky world of scientific research as the Second World War turned into The Cold War. What nuclear secrets did Pontecorvo take with him? Who was the M15 mole at the School? What role did Kim Philby play?

Close has had unprecedented access to archives, letters, family members and other scientists in telling Pontecorvo’s story. Pontecorvo worked on the Anglo-Canadian arm of the Manhatten Project and was privy to many secrets. He uncovered a way to find the uranium so coveted by nuclear powers.

Close is professor of physics at the University of Oxford and a former head of the theoretical physics division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He is author of bestselling books including Lucifer’s Legacy and Antimatter and has twice won the Association of British Science Writers award.

Frank will be speaking at the Amey Theatre, Abingdon School on Wednesday, March 4 at 7pm. Copies of his book will be on sale on the night, which Frank will be delighted to sign. This is a free event, and will be unticketed, but please email us to register your interest and let us and the school know that you will be attending.

(And take a look at this special BBC 'On This Day' news report from 1950)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Dozen Read Books for Valentine's Day

Whilst a dozen red roses might be lovely this Valentine's Day, we're going to give you a dozen read books (see what we did there?) as is now traditional at this time of year.

As I hope you'll expect, our picks for a lovely gift for your Valentine might be slightly on the quirky side, but as ever, come in for a hand-picked recommend for your loved one.

Apparently, we have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for linking St Valentine to romantic love, so where better place to start than 'My True Love Gave To Me', a series of short (romantic) stories, all with a Winter theme, by authors including stalwart Young Adult writers such as Ally Carter, Holly Black and Rainbow Rowell. A favourite of Imogen's in the shop, this is highly appropriate given that Valentine's Day sees the launch of our YA Bookgroup.

2015 will see the BBC screening a remake of 1970s classic Cornish-set saga 'Poldark' (and we've learned that this Sunday evening the first trailers hit the TV) but until it's shown, the original Poldark novels by Winston Graham (beginning with 'Ross Poldark') have been reissued. They feature some rather spectacular covers, and although we would never suggest anyone is shallow enough to buy them for the covers, they do look rather good...

In terms of beautiful little gift books with a romantic theme, we love 'The Peanuts Guide to Love' (featuring everything from Woodstock falling in love with a worm to Charlie Brown's obsession with the Little Red-Headed Girl). But given that this year it's 150 years since the publication of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' come take a look at the little gem of a book that is the 'Little Folk's Edition', small, red and beautifully gilt-edged collector's edition.

Who knew more about the mysteries of the human heart than Jane Austen herself? In the wry, wise and witty 'The Jane Austen Rules : A Classic Guide to Modern Love' feminist and academic Sinead Murphy answers the question: what's a strong, independent-minded woman supposed to do in a world of insipid dating guides? Who has more time-tested secrets than Jane Austen, whose novels continue to captivate us—read after read—almost two hundred years later?

But for something a bit quirkier, how about the gift of happiness into someone's life? According to the UN, Denmark is the happiest county in the world, so when journalist Helen Russell moved to rural Jutland, she decided to try to discover just why the Danes are so happy. The result is ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ (which has to be our favourite book title of the year) and some of her findings may surprise you. However, Helen is convinced that we can all be a bit happier if we put a little Danish into our lives, and this book – amusingly, thoughtfully – shows you how.

There's been some great new fiction in the shop, and we'll always suggest good new fiction makes the best gift. 'Not Forgetting The Whale' by John Ironmonger is one of the most original, and wonderfully surprising new titles out in February.

When Joe Haak is rescued, naked. from the Cornish beach of St Piran, he is immediately adopted by the curious group of different people that call the fishing village their home. But what they don't know if that Joe fled London, having written a computer program Cassie, that has predicted the end of the world. But is the end of the world about to happen, and can Joe convince the people of St Piran to seal themselves off from the rest of the world? Warm, witty, endlessly surprising, this is already one one of our favourite books of the year.

And we get even quirkier with Stephen May's subversive and brilliantly fun 'Wake Up Happy Every Day'. Ever wondered what would happen if you did suddenly wake up one morning with everything you wanted? This happens to Nicky when his awesomely wealthy mate Russell drops dead, and Nicky takes the opportunity to step into his shoes. A fabulously unique take on the 'be careful what you wish for' story, told with verve, passion, anger...and cake?! Highly recommended...

Of course, a big dollop of cash would be nice, but most of us might have to turn elsewhere for a bit of happiness. We have a range of 'colouring for therapy' books in the shop at the moment, with our pick being 'Color Me Happy : 100 Coloring Templates That Will Make You Smile'. Come in and feel your stress reduce...

Actress Sheila Hancock is already a bestselling author. Her memoir of her late husband John Thaw, The Two of Us, was a number one bestseller. Nicki has loved 'Miss Carter's War', her first work of fiction and a bold storytelling sweep through the last century - through the end of the World Wars, the rise of the Labour Party, the Swinging Sixties, to the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties and the race towards a consumer society. It is all told through the life of Marguerite Carter, one of the first women to receive a degree from Cambridge. who has to be as adaptable to the century as she was brave working for SOE behind enemy lines in France and is a remarkable chronicle of our life and times.

If it's just a bit of pampering you want, look no further than the 'Neal's Yard Beauty Book'. This is a real revolution in home-made cosmetics and beauty products from the legendary Covent Garden-based alternative beauty company - and offers real, luxurious alternatives to the over-priced, chock-full-of-chemicals mainstream beauty industry.

Finally, is there a formula for love? Well, turns out there is and in 'The Formula : How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems ... and Create More" author Luke Dormehl reveals how algorithms are increasingly coming to dominate our lives, and what pleasures - and perils - await us in a world that seems increasingly to anticipate out every move.

The perfect give perhaps for a Don Tillman-out-of-the-Rosie Project character? Come in for more recommends!

Want more recommends? Take a look at our picks for last year and 2013!

Friday, February 06, 2015

See Inside Your Head!

This year's Abingdon-on-Thames Science Festival ATOM! takes place between March 18 - 21. As part of the festival, we're excited to host an inspiring event for all the family at Abingdon's Guildhall entitled 'See Inside Your Head' on Saturday, March 21 at 1.30pm.

Take a tour through your brain! Science writer Alex Frith explains the intricacies of the human brain. From the simple science of synapses to more complex brain functions such as how memories are stored, discover the world of neurological science in this informative, fun and interactive event that makes a complex subject easy for inquisitive minds to understand.

Neuroscientists Chris and Uta Frith, expert consultants on the book, will also be on hand to answer questions about how the brain works, and describe what brain discoveries remain for the next generation to find…

Tickets cost £4 per person, and will be ideal for ages 5-11. Tickets are on sale at Mostly Books, and we expect demand to be strong, so please email us to reserve tickets as soon as you can!

This year ATOM! will coincide with the partial solar eclipse across the UK on Friday 20 March. There will be loads of inspiring science events and it all takes place as part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival.

It’s a great chance to see live demonstrations, hear about cutting-edge research  - and provide inspiration for young and old in one of the country’s science hotspots. Find out more on the official website here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Launch of the Mostly Books YA Bookgroup

It’s a big jump from reading children’s books into reading adult books and one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic areas of publishing in recent years has been books aimed at creating great reads that particularly appeal to children of twelve and over – ‘YA’ books (or 'Young Adult').

There's some very exciting things happening in the world of YA this year - so we'll hand over to Mostly Books YA expert Imogen to tell you more about her passion for YA, the YA Book Prize 2015 - and the launch of our new YA Bookgroup...


"Anyone who knows me knows that I have one huge book weakness: the Young Adult section in any book shop I come across.

Over the past few years, this section has bloomed. With the success of books like 'The Hunger Games' and 'The Fault in Our Stars', it has rocketed into the minds of both teenagers and adults alike. As that has happened, more and more books have come out, meaning that YA is no longer just a ‘genre’ but a group of books that stand out all on their own.

There is no one way you can sum up Young Adult books. It holds infinite worlds inside its name, from the alien invasion where you cannot trust a soul ('The 5th Wave') to the assassin who must work for her enemy for the chance at freedom ('Throne of Glass') and finding friendship and love in an unlikely place ('Anna and the French Kiss') to a dark fairytale set in the future ('Cinder').

What I love about this collection of books is that the word ‘Young’ does not put people off reading them. In fact, many parents will pick up a book after seeing their teenager read it, and end up wanting to read more.

This sudden growth in the YA sales, alongside the successes of films such as ‘If I Stay’ and ‘Mockingjay: Part One’ have prompted people to start thinking about this as a whole new section. Before, it might have been put down the end of the children’s books, or hidden near the adults, but treated like people were not sure what to do with it.

There are many awards that both adult and children’s books can win - the Costa Book Awards, Blue Peter Book awards, etc. - but YA have never had one for themselves.

Until now!

The YA Book Prize is a brand new award for 2015, and it looks at YA books from both the UK and Ireland. Shortlisted this year are:
  • A Song for Ella Grey, David Almond
  • Salvage,  Keren David
  • Say Her Name, James Dawson
  • Lobsters, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
  • Half Bad, Sally Green
  • Finding a Voice, Kim Hood
  • Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill
  • Goose, Dawn O’Porter
  • Trouble, Non Pratt
  • Ghosts of Heaven, Marcus Sedgwick
Well, my To-Be-Read list just grew...

The winner of this award won’t be announced until March, but to coincide with it, we’ve decided to start something in the shop. For teenagers that love to read, or just want to try something different, we’re starting a YA Bookgroup. 

I have a passion, not only for the YA books, but for getting teenagers and young people to grow into reading them as well. The excited spark in their eyes as they talk about books they have found and loved, and the debates about what character/book/series is the best...


So - fancy getting involved?

We will read three of the titles nominated for the first YA Book Prize before the winner is announced. The first book we are going to read will be Sally Green’s thrilling ‘Half Bad’ about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches, blending the hard-hitting realism of ‘The Hunger Games’ with a supernatural twist (Kate Atkinson described it as 'Brilliant and Utterly Compelling' and film rights have already been sold...).

If you are over twelve and would enjoy the chance to get your teeth in to the best in YA fiction and join in to discuss what you loved/loathed about the books, then we’d love to welcome you to this new book group. Let us know you’d like to join and all you need to do is to have read the book in time for the first meeting on Saturday Feb 14 at 9.15am in the shop. You get 15% discount on the book if buying it from the shop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

She swoops to conquer: H is for Hawk wins the Costa

A few years ago, we were very honoured to be part of the Costa Awards judging team. In terms of its ambition, scope and bellweather of what's 'hot' in the book world, we feel the Costa is arguably the UK's most important book award - it's certainly insanely ambitious given the sheer number of books that pass through the judges' hands.

Given the collegiate nature of the judging set-up, and the fact that almost invariably the judges won't be able to agree given the sheer range of books, some years you get the feeling that the overall winner is something of a compromise candidate. But not this year.

We felt last year was a strong line-up of finalists, with a worthy overall winner - this year even more so. 'H is for Hawk' is one of those rare books that is genuinely original, because you cannot think of anything quite like it. As you read Helen Macdonald's searingly honest story of how she came to train her Goshawk 'Mabel' - along the way coming to terms with her own grief at the death of her father, and revealing deep truths about our relationship with nature - shadows of other authors and books sometimes rise up: the heart-on-sleeve emotion of Anna Funder's 'Stasiland', the relationship with nature that you get from Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog' or the smack-in-the-chops revelations of Kate Summerscale's 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. Yet it's like none of these books and is entirely original.

Last week we discussed this book on the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub. Fast forward 1 hour and 6 minutes to listen to the show. Despite a somewhat breathless and over-enthusiastic (!) description of the book, the recommendation is just to read it. H is for Heavyweight Winner...

Friday, January 16, 2015

It takes a village to raise literacy

We get approached very often by schools who wish to partner with us in promoting literacy and celebrating books and reading. By far the most popular services are around matching authors visiting our area to go into schools as part of a school author visit.

But demand from schools always outweighs our ability to match an author to a school at an appropriate time. And we only have a limited capacity to go out to schools and keep the shop running as well.

So over the Christmas break we got thinking. After all, the ReadOnGetOn initiative urges everyone to get involved in raising literacy, and we feel very passionately that independent bookshops - with their community connections and route to discovering new authors and ideas - have a small but critical part of the jigsaw to reverse the decline in literacy in the UK.

Can we work together better with schools, teachers, parents, librarians and authors to do our part in fostering a love of reading? And can we do it in a way that allows us stay in business on the High Street?

We're not sure, but we suspect the answer is yes. So we've put up a page on the website with a few ideas, starting with the fabulous WOBOD, the World Book Day Award in which your school could win a library-changing sum of money to spend on books...go take a look.

You see, if old Victor was around today, perhaps the thing that he would find so astounding is the speed at which ideas can propagate around the world: a well-timed blog, a couple of hundred retweets, perhaps the odd pic on Instagram to add a visual stimulus. Remarkable. But the basic mechanism he would recognise: using words to neatly formulate an idea, and have that idea race off into the world and start transforming it.

That's the essence of literacy: the use of words. Reading them, writing them, understanding them. Stringing them together to write a story, or make a speech. Or to ask for a payrise, tell a good joke to your mates down the pub, talk through the loss of a loved on, decide on who to vote for. And whilst a picture might be worth a thousand words, a picture with a few words on it is even more powerful.

And a thousand words is as good as a picture. Which means words trump imagery because they take us to places we can't go, like the past and the future. The pen is mightier than the sword and the camera, neat huh?

But words still need time to percolate in the brain. Time and space need to be created away from the overwhelming buzz and chatter of the modern world to allow those words to soak in, top up the reservoirs and be marshaled in the brain for use in the wider world. That's why we're championing family reading.

It takes a village to raise a child. And we reckon it takes a 'village mentality' to raise literacy. We hope you can take part in this, and the first step might be into your local independent bookshop?

Friday, January 09, 2015

Mostly Bookbrains 2015 - Charity Literary Quiz in Abingdon

It's the most eagerly-awaited, hotly-contested contest of the year. And not a sequin in sight...

Yes, the ‘Mostly Bookbrains’ Charity Literary Quiz takes place on Friday, Feb 6 at The Manor School, starting at 7.30pm. We're looking for teams of book lovers to pit their wits against each other, competing to be named 'Mostly Bookbrain 2015'!

The focus of the quiz is very much on the ‘fun’ side of things - and of course raising lots of money for a local charity. This year it is the Footsteps Foundation and we want to raise as much money as possible for them. We are looking for team entries of up to eight people, and tickets are £7 per person in advance. As in previous years, there will be a bar, and the bookswap table – so if you did get an unwanted book for Christmas, now’s your chance to swap it for your next favourite read.

It really is huge fun, so if you, your work colleagues, your bookgroup or your family and friends fancy taking part, please email us to reserve a table as soon as possible. All questions are on a bookish theme – but there is something for everyone and it’s an enjoyable way to raise lots of money for a very worthwhile cause.

To reserve your ticket or team table, call 01235 525880, call in at the shop or email books@mostly-books.co.uk