4th birthday honours list: The BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub for July

It occurred to me that today is our 4th birthday. Yes, on July 1st 2006 we opened our doors, and whilst we'll think of something suitably celebratory to do *next* year (he said optimistically) for number five, it's nice to report that things are continuing to go well with the shop - if a little hectic as always.

Anyway - yesterday was the BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub for July - as always, you can listen here on the BBC iPlayer for my words of wisdom (available until next Wednesday - you'll need to fast forward about 1hour 12 minutes into the show), and five cracking holiday reading for children and adults.

In my book, holiday reads should be a) escapist and fun, b) features individuals and characters you might want to take on hiliday yourself, and c) leave you a bit of changed/inspiration for when you come back. So with that in mind, here's a summary of the books I recommended for July:

  • The Quest of the Warrior Sheep (Egmont, £5.99, PB)
    When a shiny metal object falls from the sky on to a sheep called Sal, it seems that an ancient ovine prophecy is about to be fulfilled. And so a ragtag group of rare-breed sheep (‘The Eppingham posse’) must travel North to aid Lord Aries in his battles against Lambad the Bad. Of course the ‘shiny object’ is actually a mobile phone dropped by a couple of high-tech thieves and they need it back rather desperately. This is mad, (lam)bad and very funny – with plenty of in-jokes about the fantasy genre, which should prove popular with children 7+. Think Shaun The Sheep meets Lord of the Rings...
  • The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean (OUP, PB, £6.99)
    What happens if someone told you something about your future, and you believed it completely? When Pepper Roux is born, his Aunt fortells that he will be dead before he reaches 14. So when his 14th birthday arrives (and with his family behaving as if ever-so slightly embarrassed by his still being alive) Pepper decides to cheat death, and stay one step ahead by jumping into other people’s lives. With a cast of rogues and thieves, and many twists and turns on water and land, this is a wonderfully original book whose madcap plot belies more serious questions of the effects of what we believe – and how people see what they choose to see. Geraldine McCaughrean is one of my favourite children’s authors – and she is never afraid to write different, challenging children’s literature that deliver the essence of good storytelling – you have to keep reading!
  • The Garden in the Clouds by Anthony Woodward (HarperCollins, HB, £16.99)
    ‘What d’ya want that old place for? You a farmer?’
    ‘No, I’m a writer’
    ‘Are you, bloody hell’
    Thus begins author and journalist Anthony Woodward’s attempt to ‘live the dream’ – and make real the ‘garden in his mind’ at Tair Ffynnon, a derelict Welsh smallholding high up in the Black Mountains, a place he fell in love with through a bizarre series of protracted ‘viewings’ whilst on brief visits from his home in London. There is of course local opposition, naive financial planning, ambitious plans that can never work. What marks this autobiographical tale out of the ordinary, however – and eventually wins you over – is the wonderful quality of the writing, and Anthony’s endeavours – through various Proustian visits to childhood memories – to understand what exactly drives him – and others – to reconnect with landscape and memory, and to make a garden.
  • “Dark Vineyard” by Martin Walker (Quercus, PB, £7.99)Set in the fictional Périgord town of St Denis in the Dordogne, this is Martin Walker’s second novel involving the laid-back but quietly effective Captain Bruno Courrèges. As in his first book (Bruno, Chief of Police), Courrèges attempts to balance the traditions of rural France against the march of progress, along the way dealing with hapless EU bureaucrats, Parisian politicos, and a delightful range of characters which stay just on the right side of stereotypes. This time arson seems to point to desperate attempts to stop a Californian winemaking scheme, but things are just a little bit more complicated. This is gentle, good-humoured crime fiction – but one with an undoubted love of France that let’s you get under the skin of this famous wine-growing region of France. One to pack if you are off on holiday to France this year...
  • “Chowringhee” by Sankar (Atlantic Books, PB, £7.99)
    A wonderful, escapist read from Sankar, one of Bengal’s most celebrated modern novelists, Chowringhee is set in Calcutta in the years following the end of colonial rule. Through the eyes of its young narrator and his fall from lawyer’s clerk to destitution, we then follow his rise as the newest receptionist at the Shahjahan, one of Calcutta’s finest and most opulent hotels. But behind the glittering facade, things are not what they seem. With beguiling prose, and improbable characters, this sprawling tale conjures up the sights, smells, climate and memories of another time and place, and - with a nod to traditional Indian fables - this newly published translation of a 1960s masterpiece is a holiday treat.


  1. Happy Birthday from me!

    Here's wishing you & the team many more.