The world's most dangerous sandwich - Matt Brown and Compton Valance visit Mostly Books

'Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe' is a funny, time-travel adventure based on a time machine disguised as a cheese and pickled egg sandwich.
It is Heart FM DJ Matt Brown's debut book. To celebrate, there will be sandwich ingredients hidden around Abingdon town centre shops throughout half-term. If you find them all, when put together, they may, or many not, give you the power to travel in time.

Gather together the secret ingredients and you may discover the key to time travel. You may, like Compton Valance, become the most powerful boy (or girl) in the universe. But beware. You wouldn't want to be guilty of putting the fabric of time at risk, or causing the custard cream-related extinction of the dinosaurs - would you? You wouldn't use your powers for anything other than good?

However, you may want to win a first prize of a terrific goody-bag of £40 worth of Usborne books.

And there will be tons of prizes of samples of Matt's book so that everyone can discover the hilarious Compton Valance for themselves - and a very loud whistle.

Start your sandwich trail at Mostly Books.

Just don't use any new amazing powers for evil. OK.

Update: Matt will be visiting several bookshops in Oxfordshire on Friday May 30 - and he'll be at Mostly Books at 2pm. Come on down, meet Matt, and blow those whistles...

Magical Storytelling for half-term at Mostly Books with Beltaine

We are delighted to be welcoming back Beltaine, the magical, musical storytelling partnership of Peter Hearn and Sarah Law.

If you've never experienced Peter and Sarah's captivating blend of stories, songs, music and humour then you are in for a real treat - and if you have been before, then come again!

If the weather is good enough, we will be hosting two session in the courtyard garden at 11.30am and 2pm on Wednesday May 28. And if the weather isn't good enough - we'll be in the shop.

The event should last about an hour, and is free to attend. But as space is limited, you must book. Parents must stay with children for the duration. To reserve a space for you and your child, email us, call 01235 525880 - or call in at the shop.

We hope to see you there!

Disgraced spooks and Dead Lions - an evening with Mick Herron

It’s the sort of story everyone loves to hear – an author who suddenly hits the big time and wins a major prize just at the point he thinks his writing career is in trouble.

Crime writer Mick Herron, who won the 2013 'CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger' for the Best Crime Novel of the Year, was at Mostly Books on May 21 to talk about two books set in the murky world of disgraced spies.

Dead Lions’, his prize-winning novel, is a wryly humorous tale of disgraced MI5 spies, who have been sent to Slough House as they can’t be sacked. Consigned to dull desk work, they are desperate to find a way back to the field work where they think they belong.

When a Cold War spook is thought to be active again, they suddenly have a chance of glory. But after years of being out of the game and all despising each other, there is as much comedy as action as we watch them all creak back into life and try to form a team that has even half a chance of getting results.

Mick Herron explained how, as his UK publisher wasn’t interested in the book, he thought his writing career was over. But then his US publisher stepped in, said they would take it on – and submitted it to the Crime Writers’ Association annual awards.

He beat a hugely impressive shortlist, including the much-lauded ‘The Shining Girls’ by Lauren Beukes, and Belinda Bauer’s ‘Rubberneckers’, among others, to take the dagger. In doing so he joins illustrious names such as Ian Ranking, Val McDermid and Reginald Hill as previous winners of the award.

At an evening at Mostly Books, Mick explained how the inspiration for his two very clever and funny crime novels was all sparked by a decrepit building he passed daily on his way to work that got his imagination going.

It may have been a building that sparked the initial idea, but Mick said he always starts with characters and a situation with his writing and finds his best plotting ideas develop as he goes along. And Slough House is peopled with some great characters – with tales of just how exactly they were disgraced leaking out throughout the books.

His journey towards his gold-dagger award-winning success has not been smooth. It took two years for this first novel to find a publisher in 2003 and he still only writes in the evenings after coming home from a full-time job.

It takes him about 18 months to write a novel - a slow process that involves more editing than writing and a great many semi-colons. But he has always written and always looks forward to that moment every day when he can get down to some writing.

‘Writing is an addiction you have to nurture. Most addictions you try to wean yourself off, but with writing you have to take that urge and encourage it and do it every day. I can’t wait for the part of the day when I switch my laptop on,’ he said.

With books involving such intriguing plots and such a large cast of characters, all of whom have a life of their own, he took plenty of questions about his writing style. He plots the first chapters scene by scene and only researches if he gets to a point in the plot where he feels he needs to.

The next step is that not only will he see all his previous novels back in print after his Dagger success – there will be a new standalone noir thriller, before he turns back to the folk at Slough House after that.

With a television series in the pipeline, we really hope far from a publishing career being over, that Mick is actually only at the start of a very successful career indeed.

Holding Out for a Hero: Tigerman, Pilgrim and Jin-Sung Jang - the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

When we are collecting together reviews of books, we often try to find a common theme (you can write catchier titles for your blog posts, if nothing else). And sometimes trying to find a theme between books is a fool's errand: hey, they're just different, get over it.

But for this Monday's BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub the theme was easy: heroism. Six different books, all of them about featuring (and in one case, written by) heroes, young and old, classic and anti-.

You can listen to the programme until 19 May 2014 here - fast-forward to approximately 1 hour and 9 minutes (although, if you want to grab your hairbrush and air guitar, start the show a few minutes earlier, and rock out to Boston's 'More Than A Feeling'. to get you in the mood).

We're reviewing Terry Hayes' 'I Am Pilgrim', Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's sublime 'Americanah', the explosive expose of the North Korea leadership in 'Dear Leader' by Jin-Sung Jang, Holly Goldberg-Sloan's quirky yet powerful 'Counting by 7s' and European publishing sensation 'The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair' by Joel Dicker.

I'm also raving about my favourite book of the year so far, 'Tigerman' by Nick Harkaway. Nick is coming to Abingdon on June 11 for an event with Mostly Books which we are officially announcing tomorrow, but in the meantime, listen to what I have to say about this blisteringly original contemporary novel at about 1 hour and 41 minutes...

(And if this link has expired, take a look at our reviews of 'I Am Pilgrim' and Joel Dicker's novel on our 3-4-Friday spot a couple of week's ago.)

3 4 Friday - Dead Bursars, Desperate Pilgrims and a Writer on the Edge - Mostly Books turns to crime...

It's tough on the High Street at the moment, so Mostly Books will be turning to crime over the coming weeks - well, crime fiction at least, with an in-shop event with CWA Gold Dagger award-winner Mick Herron. We've almost sold out of tickets, so email us if you would like us to reserve you a place.

In the meantime, here are three cracking - and very different - crime and mystery thrillers that we definitely think are worth your time and hard-earned money.

The first is ‘I Am Pilgrim’, the debut novel by legendary screenwriter Terry Hayes (who wrote, amongst many other films, the script for Dead Calm). ‘Pilgrim’ is the codename of Scott Murdoch, adopted son of a wealthy American couple, and member of the above-top-secret ‘The Department’ – which polices the actions of other US spies. Having anonymously written the ultimate book on forensic examination, he may have unwittingly allowed ‘the perfect murder’ to take place – and the NYPD need his help to solve it.

But soon there are bigger, world-threatening activities taking place as terrorist ‘The Saracen’ plans a frighteningly plausible attack on the United States. If you like your techno-thrillers weighty (in every sense), fast-paced, densely plotted, and nerve-shreddingly plausible you will definitely not be disappointed (oh, and the dialogue is everything you’d expect from a talented screenwriter). The bags under Mark’s eyes are testament to how gripping this book is – published in paperback on 10 April, and available to download as an eBookemail us to reserve a copy for you in the shop...

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair’ by Joël Dicker is another debut, but a totally different animal: a twisty, turny* whodunnit with a novelist as the main protagonist. Harry Quebert is the feted writer of ‘The Origins of Evil’ and his protégé Marcus Goldman looks to be following in Harry’s footsteps, destined to become the great American novelist. But as the deadline for his second novel ticks closer, writer’s block gives way to a sinister shock as a young girl’s body is discovered in Harry’s garden – and he is arrested for murder. Marcus sets off back to the small town of Somerset – but can he discover the truth of what happened to fifteen year-old Nola, clear the name of his mentor – and possibly complete his book?

Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor (who translated Laurent Binet's 'HhHH') the style is deceptively melodramatic and almost cod ‘noir’ which skillfully pulls you into a story far more complex than you initially think. Exploring recent US history and the turmoil lurking below the veneer of small-town America, it also contains a splendid riff on how to write a great book. Available in hardback in the shop - or downloadable here.

('Twisty, turny' is a technical bookseller term, in case you were wondering)

Thanks to Colin Dexter, we all know that you can barely move in Oxford without stepping over piles of corpses, but Oxford's association with murder mysteries is much older than that. We’ve loved the British Library Crime Classics, recently reissued, and our favourite is most definitely 'Death on the Cherwell' by Mavis Doriel Hay.

Students discover the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe and begin an investigation into the tangled secrets that led to the bursar's death - and the clues that point to a fellow student. A classic mystery novel, with its evocative setting in an Oxford women's college, is now republished for the first time since the 1930s.

So, much murder and mayhem to enjoy. It's been a bumper year so far for crime, so make sure you pop into the shop for some of our other recommendations...