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Afternoon book club with Jo Thoenes

You can catch the Afternoon Book Club on the last Wednesday of every month


Paws for History - Helen Peacocke

Chef and local food-writer Helen Peacocke and her trusty canine companion Pythius-Peaccoke are well known to Oxfordshire readers through her pub and walk reviews in The Oxford Times.

Following up on her excellent book 'Paws Under The Table', she has published a new collection of the best dog-friendly pubs and accompanying walks - this time each with a historical angle. Written in Helen's inimitable style - with canine contributions from Pythius, the only dog to be a fully paid-up member of CAMRA - this an excellent book with appeal to those who love great pubs and walking, and not just for dog lovers.

30-Second Theories (Edited by Paul Parsons)

Books of lists are increasingly commonplace - good ones are rare. "30-Second Theories" is one of my favourite books of the year so far for the quality of the scientific ideas included, and the way it has been edited and produced.

Both a lovely Father's Day gift book and brain-stretching read, this is a refresher on the most influential and important scientific ideas and theories in history, from Quantum Mechanics and Evolution to Occam's Razor and the Placebo Effect.

The World Cup: A Very Peculiar History

Here's a fantastic quirky children's book that provides a potted history of the World Cup which I can see a few Dads dipping into as well. Full of facts, quotes and some great little-known anecdotes from the glorious (and inglorious) history of the World Cup, it's a World Cup football book with a bit more depth than many of the football books published to coincide with the greatest tournament in the world.

Turbulence - Giles Foden

Predicting volcanic ash cloud movements has got nothing on the pressure of trying to predict the weather for one of the most important dates in history: June 6th, 1944.

Giles Foden - author of the Last King of Scotland - here brings his 'faction' style to bear on the men (or, in this case, one man) charged with trying to understand the chaotic nature of weather.

The skill of the author here is to make what might have been a dull subject - meteorology - not just interesting, but a page-turning race-against-time set against the backdrop of the drama of the imminent D-Day Landings.

Jubilee - Eliza Graham

It's the Queen's Golden Jubilee, and Rachel and her aunt Evie are celebrating with the crowds on the village green. The scene is tranquil, but Rachel and her aunt can never forget what happened exactly twenty-five years ago. On that day, Evie's young daughter Jessamy vanished. She hasn't been seen since.

Oxfordshire-based author Eliza Graham's third novel is a darkly plotted mystery which spans the post-war years - from the Coronation to the Queen's Golden Jubilee. As with her first two novels ('Playing With The Moon', and 'Restitution') it examines secrets uncovered by the current generation, which reveals the long shadows cast by war.


The Spirit Level - Richard Wilkinson / Kate Pickett

This is our biggest-selling book from the political 'shelf' in the run-up to the general election. It's an analytical tour-de-force, which looks at how the health of a society is dependent, not on how wealthy it is, but how equal.

It draws on extensive research to show how pretty much everything in society - from violence, depression, education and ultimately wealth - depends on how equal a society is. This book will genuinely change the way you look at the world, and may even influence the way you vote!

Tiny Campsites - Dixe Wills

Dixe Wills is a quirky eco-travel writer who specialises in finding beautiful and unspoiled places to holiday - without the need to fly (very topical!). 'Tiny Campsites' is his selection of 75 of the best tiny campsites (all an acre or under in size), each of which is guaranteed to give a unique family holiday experience.

Sex & Stravinsky - Barbara Trapido

Barbara Trapido is one of the country's best-loved writers, whose devoted fans include Hilary Mantel. She also lives right here in Oxford - and Oxford features prominently in her writing, as does her native South Africa.

Since arriving on the scene with 'Brother of the More Famous Jack', she has been three-times nominated for the Whitbread Award (now known as the Costas) as well as being long-listed for the Booker Prize with 'Frankie & Stankie'.

'Sex and Stravinsky' is her first novel for seven years, and shows all her trademark brilliance: a cast of compelling, intertwined characters, placed on a stage, who come together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.

Norris, The Bear Who Shared - Catherine Rayner

Norris loves porringes, ripe, delicious, candy-floss soft porringes, and he's waiting at the bottom of the tree for one to plop into his hands. So when Violet and Tulip arrive and start sniffing, touching and even licking the juicy fruit, what's Norris to do? A wonderfully gentle story about the unexpected benefits of patience and sharing from Catherine Rayner, winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway award last year for 'Harris Finds His Feet'.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary Pearson

One of the most original - and gripping - teen novels I have read, Mary Pearson's "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" is set against an at-times Orwellian backdrop of the future implications of medical science, and its impacts on ethics, identify and what it means to be human. A young girl awakens from a year-long coma, to be told she had an accident, and that her name is Jenna Fox. She doesn't remember anything about anything about herself or her life, but slowly - and chillingly - she begins to piece together the truth of her existence.


Hugless Douglas - David Melling

Douglas is a big brown, huggable bear, and he wakes up one morning after a lo-o-o-ong sleep in need of a hug. He tries hugging lots of different things, but somehow none of them seem right. David Melling is an Abingdon-based bestselling writer and illustrator, best known for his books 'Jack Frost' and 'The Kiss That Missed'.

Rowan The Strange - Julie Hearn

Rowan knows that he's strange, his family know that he's strange. But after hurting his sister, on the eve of the second world war, no-one can ignore the fact that Rowan needs help - and he is taken away from his family to an asylum, where a new and experimental treatment may offer hope.

Utterly compelling, this is as important a book as 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by an author born in Abingdon, and who still lives in Oxfordshire.

Solar - Ian McEwan

This appeals to me on so many levels: a favourite author, satirical dark humour, an unashamedly 'guy's' book, academic infighting and an environmental agenda. I haven't been disappointed. What McEwan has done (through his accidental - and at times repulsive - academic anti-hero Michael Beard) is bring the climate change debate down to an all-too-human level.

The Still Point - Amy Sackville

Our current shop favourite from the newly-published Orange Prize Longlist, Any Sackville's beautifully written debut novel starts with an ill-fated Arctic expedition, and its devastating impact on a young wife and child, then jumps forward three generations to compare a contemporary relationship through its prism.

Wedlock - Wendy Moore

The subtitle to this book is "How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match" and given the status of women in Georgian England - and the treatment they routinely received from their husbands - that's up against stiff competition. Wendy Moore skilfully tells the appalling, yet ultimately inspiring story of Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, and her marriage to the despicable grade-A rotter, Andrew Robinson Stoney.


Hardball - Sara Paretsky

The latest VI Warshawski tale from this legendary US crime writer.

The Birthday Boys - Beryl Bainbridge

Often cited as Bainbridge's finest achievement, this recently re-issued first-person account of Scott's doomed trip to the south pole should help to get the recent cold weather into perspective!

Operation Mincemeat - Ben Macintyre

As taut and gripping as a thriller, the true story of the bizarre WWII Operation Mincemeat that deceived the Nazis about the proposed invasion of Italy - and saved tens of thousands of lives.

Troubadour - Mary Hoffman

The Costa-shortlisted title from the Stravaganza author, who lives in West Oxfordshire. Set in the thirteenth century, this is a completely absorbing, well-research tale of adventure, murder and unrequited love on the eve of a brutal religious war.

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

With everyone busy on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, it's worth re-reading Malcolm Gladwell's ground-breaking book (originally published in 2000) that tells how social networks work, and when they achieve 'the tipping point' in terms of an idea whose time has come.


Anathem - Neal Stephenson

This novel, epic in scope, is a fine example of what science fiction does best: tackling the biggest big philosophical questions and the dilemmas of society.

The Girl with the Glass Feet - Ali Shaw

A remarkable debut novel from this Oxford-based author, a romance set on a bleak northern archipelago with time running out...

Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery - Martha Swift & Lisa Thomas

The story - and recipes - of two mumpreneurs who started baking cupcakes in their own kitchen, and ended up with their own bakery supplying Selfriges.

The Strangest Man - Graham Farmelo

Science biographies don't get much better than this, with the long-overdue life story of arguably the finest scientist Britain has produced since Isaac Newton.

The Bedtime Collection - Wendy Cooling

A wonderful bedtime collection of illustrated stories from a veritable whos-who of children's writers and illustrators.

Our book club expert

Mark Thornton moved around a lot as a child as his dad was in the navy, but at the age of 11 he went to boarding school where he remained till he was 18.

He always loved books but despite doing English a year early he was more interested in technology - and eventually found himself at the University of Birmingham doing a Computer Science degree.

Mark Thornton
Mark Thornton is the book expert on Jo Thoenes' afternoon show

He took a year off and worked in Berlin for a year on a European Union placement. Without a TV in his flat, he took to reading a great deal, buying second-hand English books from a seller in a Polish market in the East of the city, and reselling those books for about the same amount to an English-language bookshop in the Western part.

Mark got bitten by the eco-bug, and once he finished his degree in 1991 he managed to get transferred to another part of the University to study a PhD in passive solar building design.

After graduating he worked for a renewable energy consultancy in Birmingham. It was about this time that Mark met his future wife Nicki, the beginning of a partnership in more ways than one, and they moved to Abingdon.

He was head-hunted by an environmental technology company based in Harwell that used web technology to provide traceability and monitoring in areas of tropical hardwood timber, potatoes and pork production. Cue lots of trips to places as diverse as pig farms in Oklahoma, potato storage facilities in Canada, pygmy tribes in Cameroon and tropical forests in Congo and Indonesia.

By this time they had started a family, and after two particularly hairy trips to Indonesia and a diplomatic incident in the Congo, they decided enough was enough.

The couple had always talked about opening a bookshop, and although they had no experience in retail or the book business, they took the plunge and in 2006 "Mostly Books" was born. The shop has gone from strength to strength and in May 2008 it was given the "New Bookshop of the Year" Award at the British Book Industry Awards.

Running a bookshop is an incredibly difficult job - both physically and mentally demanding, with long hours. But Mark and his wife feel it is an incredible privilege - and they feel the community in Abingdon has well and truly accepted them and their shop into the family.

Presenter Profile: Jo Thoenes
06 Jul 09 |  TV & Radio


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