Saturday, May 31, 2008

Financial Advice: Going Green

*A BIG THANK YOU to Ann from Random House who I had forgotten had mentioned this in the comments of my earlier financial post! :)

This is basically a postscript to the earlier post reviewing financial books, some of which centered on green or socially responsible investing.

Go Green, Live Rich by David Bach
A co-worker left this book on the counter the other day, and I picked it up and have been breezing right through it, much to my own surprise. I say that because this book is part of the "do something, Get Rich" series and I'm not a huge fan. (Probably for the same reason I'm not a huge fan of the "guides for dummies/idiots" books - I think they're rather crass). But I have to say that this book impressed me by the depth of the "going green" information that was dispensed in a handy little handbook sort of way.
There are different sections to the book that describe ways in which you can simultaneously switch to a greener, more environmentally friendly, and also more cost-effective way of living. It was gratifying to find that I do some of these already without even thinking about it. I carpool to work on days when it is possible (Shout-out to Darcy!), I bring my lunch to work in our new Happy-Sacks! and other reusable containers whenever possible, I turn off/unplug everything except my clock religiously in order to cut down on phantom electricity use (if you don't know what I'm talking about, read the book, page 43), etc. But there were some things I'm surprised never crossed my mind to wonder about; things like restaurant take-out (duh, I'm saying to myself, those little containers of Chinese food can hardly be recycled), taking myself off junk mail lists, and going on "Green" vacations (eco-tourism or even volunteering vacations - not that I have the time to vacation, but you know, it's a thought). There's even a small section in the back that talks about Green Investing!
The other positive, for me, element to this book is that it gives handy little websites and side tips/notes for each write-up of environmentally-friendly changes you can make, in case you want to go find some more information. It's always nice to be directed to exactly what you're looking for rather than trying the hit-and-miss Google search (though that can certainly yield some fruitful results). All-in-all, I give this book 2 thumbs up for what it is - a brief, breezy guide that shows you how to reduce your carbon footprint, and your financial output, all at the same time.
Paperback: 9780767929738 $14.95

Go Green!


Friday, May 30, 2008

Desert Thoughts

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you all are well. It is slighly busier than the average Friday evening, and a bit warmer today than earlier in the week. I have been missing desert landscapes, Reno (Nevada) and my grandmother today, so have been wracking my brain to come up with relevant books to recommend to you fine people. Sadly, I haven't been able to remember any good books about Reno, or even any that bring to mind that strange dry sensation of bathing in casino lights and moonlight at the same time, one foot on red rocks and one on concrete, sagebrush floating through the air on a breeze smelling of old beer and open space. God, I love that weird weird town.

Instead, I'll tell you about other books. The Guardians, by Ana Castillo, is solid . It is the story of a teacher's aide, young widow, and Mexican immigrant named Regina and her quest to look out for the pieces left of her family. I really enjoyed the story, and especially like how Castillo dabbled in mysticism without dipping the entire book in it. My grandmother is a Mexican immigrant named Benina who worked in an elementary school as a young woman too old to be unmarried, and yet unmarried. Maybe I'm telling you about this book because it reminds me of her. Maybe you should read it anyway.

All The Wild and Lonely Places: Journeys in a Desert Landscape, byLawrence Hogue (read a great review here) is another book that smells like the desert. A comprehensive natural history of the Anza-Borrego Desert, this book addresses (among other things) the extent to which desert regions were cultivated by native peoples. Hogue explores this thread in greater detail than I have seen elsewhere, and it is quite well done. I miss the Anza-Borrego Desert (especially on days like today. Now it is Saturday, humid and rainy and beautiful, but it does not smell like sagebrush and fresh life), therefore you should read this book. Ha, take that, steely-gazed logicians! Sorry, sorry, ok, again. I miss the desert, therefore I am especially invested in convincing you to read desert-y things, so that we can share the skeletal experience of thinking about a landscape we are not currently in.

The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey, is one that reminds me of Reno in a roundabout sort of way, and I'm not sure I could explain why. Here's my blurb
A book for those who love the southwest landscape, radical environmentalism, philosophical discussions on the ethics of land use policy, and those looking for a fun ride with a couple of explosions and car chases.I consider this book a classic in nature writing, but it is also a hilarious story.Abbey explores what motivates a small group of somewhat lost radicals to come together and fight industrial development, in violent, confused, entertaining, and flawed human ways.

Well folks, I'm takin' the week off. I will not see deserts, but I will likely fantasize about desert camping for a couple of minutes. I hope you all have lovely desert dreams as well. Ooh, you could help me think up books that refer to or feel like Reno, eh? C'mon, do some research on a weird old town, it is plenty strange enough to be entertaining. Take Care, all!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Children's Book Review - Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

Hello everyone!

A quick little review for you of a fantastic book I just plucked off the shelf. I've avoided returning this book to the publisher twice now, and never got a chance to sit down and read it. I finally did this weekend (Happy Memorial Day to you all!) and am promptly going to be purchasing this book on Tuesday because it's amazing and I need to own it. So, when you all come rushing in to buy a copy for yourselves, wait a few days because it won't be back in until probably Friday. :)

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume

(click on the title to go to Lesley M.M. Blume's Cornelia webpage!)

This was a surprisingly fabulous read! What made me want to read this book was the fascinating title and adorable cover art.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the content reflected both the title and the art! This book is a little reminiscent of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but shorter, updated, and the storyline is a different. Cornelia is the only child of two famous pianist parents, except she's never met her father, and her mother is always off traveling to some foreign part of the world giving piano concerts (hence the orphan-like existence of Sara Crewe). People, especially adults, often relate to Cornelia as this famous woman's daughter, rather than as Cornelia herself. As a result, Cornelia spends a lot of her time alone reading lots of books, especially dictionaries, coming up with longer and longer words to use to get people (especially her well-intentioned but nosy housekeeper, Madame Desjardins) to stop talking to her. When a new neighbor moves in across the hall, this famous Somerset sister opens up new worlds of adventure and imagination for Cornelia, with the unexpected improvement of Cornelia's happiness along the way. A must-read for anyone who loved A Little Princess or fun new books like The Penderwicks series. Simple, beautiful descriptive language, and the bonus of funny stories within the story make this a delightful summer read. This could be read aloud to anyone age 6 and up, probably a read-alone for anyone age 8/9 and up.

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
Paperback: 9780440421108 $5.99
Hardcover: 9780375835230 $15.95

Happy Reading!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Book Review - Nowtopia!!!

Hello Dear Readers,

Come in, sit down, and tell me, how
are you, really? I don't care about what you're supposed to say, what is really on your mind these days? Don't you wish our bookstore was like that? If you know us, it probably is, and if you don't, well, come back and start chattin'. It's quiet right now, and I would love to hear about what opera Mr. X saw with his lady friend, or how Mr. Y's alumnae cruise went, or how Mrs. Z's dilly-beans from last summer turned out. I understand wanting to find your books and get outa Dodge, but I especially love chatting over the counter about the weather and the local high school's plays and the pancake breakfast fundraisers and the local anti-war pro-gardens anti-walmart pro-union actions. This is a special sort of small town, indeed.

In honor of the special Pioneer Valley blend of small town agriculture and strong liberal movements, I'm writing to tell
you about Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! by Chris Carlsson (read more about it here, here, here, and this one's by Carlsson himself!)

This book knocked my socks off. It is an amazing summary of deeper social movements that are changing lives and living philosophies all around us. Forget political campaigns and policy changes (for a minute), this book is about movements that are directly addressing the fundamentals of how we live. From our food sources (community/vacant-lot gardens can feed many) to transportation methods (biofuels are covered, but aren't you wondering what makes an 'outlaw bicyclist'?) to employment choices (how does work become valued, and what role does unpaid work play in your life?) even down to software options (learn how the internet's creators fought to keep it an 'open commons', and how 'open source' works in practice) this book is an enthusiastic exploration of somewhat radical movements aimed at changing the way we live for the better in immediate, concrete ways. Even more than 'changing XYZ' it is about shifting your perspective on what choices are possible in your life. I feel like I've found my community-gardening Ubuntu-using bicycle-riding biofuel blending philosophical social revolutionary people! I love this book.

Oh, right, and therefore, you should too. (Have you guys noticed that I have given up on slyly convincing you to want to read what I want you to read? Seriously, just read everything I tell you to, the best way to start a revolution is to do exactly what someone else says. This works best if you follow the instructions of a mildly eccentric stranger.)

Chris Carlsson was at Food for Thought books last week, too! Sadly, I had to miss it, and maybe y'all did too, but you can probably still pick up signed copies there, and you can definitely pick up unsigned copies here.

All right, I've got to get out of this place and get into the last of the sunshine. Take Care, everyone!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tooting our own horn! and a book review - Still Waters

Hey Guys,

Hope all is well. Things here are busy, as usual, and also a bit rainy. So...Robin and Mary from 'Shrinking Violet Promotions; Marketing for Introverts' (I love that title!) profiled our store today. Thanks Guys! We're honored to have made your list. Check it out, eh?

Also, I just finished another creepy strange mystery-type book, Still Waters by Nigel McCrery. It starts with an elderly gardener looking after her grandchildren while they completely disregard her carefully prepared tea-party. They ask for something, she snaps under the pressure and starts cutting off fingers, and we're off! This one involves a lot of poisonous houseplants, and is the sort of story where you get a lot of information from the killer's perspective but still have to read a lot of the book to find a clear connection to the opening scene. Still Waters was quite entertaining, perhaps a bit gruesome at times but not consistently, and gripping enough for me to finish in a couple of days. It comes out in July from Pantheon, so put it on your list, or order it here!

That's all I've got time for this week, take care everyone. May showers ward off drought, right? who needs flowers when we can still go swimming?! Best,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Financial Advice for Females

Small disclaimer: Normally I don't like to "genderify" (yes, I know that's not a real word) things, but this book really does help women to understand their finances. Women still earn statistically $0.70 to every $1 men earn, and being financially independent is a necessity, especially with the rise of single mothers, single women, and main-household-wage-earning women out there.

Confession: I have been carrying around minuscule scraps of paper with bits of notes jotted down on them about different financial books for close to 4 weeks. Only someone truly suffering from 'intending to blog' syndrome would do that on the off-chance that
I have a spare second to sit down and share this with you. Well, this is your lucky day because I found a spare second! Pull out your pencils and notebooks, folks, because you won't want to miss this bonafide financial advice from someone not even remotely qualified.

First, I have to say that this isn't really financial advice. It's more advice about where to get the financial advice you may be seeking. Without fully revealing my financial status, let me just say that I find myself, a single female in my 20s, beginning to think about things like savings (any at all), graduate school (cross your fingers I get in!), retirement (someday I hear this will happen and by then Social Security will have run out), a house (though the odds of me being able to afford something with the way our current real estate market is looking are slim to none), a new car (dear my '99 Toyota Corolla, I know you've got a few hundred thousand more miles left in you please), and all those other time-of-life things that I suppose it's now my responsibility to care about. This being the case, and finding myself with friends in the similar position, a book was recommended to me which opened my eyes to
a world of financial responsibility and possibility. I will now share that book and others I have discovered on my way to financial autonomy.

On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar is knock-your-socks, stockings, and stiletto heels -off enjoyable! This book is amazing for what it accomplishes, all without making you feel like a complete moron for not knowing it in the first place, and building you up so you believe you can actually be financially savvy. I realize I may be one of the only people in the world who thinks learning about financial planning is fun, but this book makes everything having to do with money so easy to understand, it's actually not scary! That's probably one of the best ways to recommend this book. Everything is dealt with so matter-of-factly, there's no chance to be scared. Things you sort of knew about, things you sort of heard about, and things that haven't crossed your mind entirely are all addressed in a comprehensive, yet not overloading, sort of fashion. The first part of the book is all the basic stuff - budget, what you should be saving for, and how to go about doing that. The second part of the books delves a little deeper into things like investments. A very good introduction for any woman 18-108.
9781598691245 $12.95

From this point on, things get a little tricky. I had all of this great energy for doing everything the book wanted me to do, but I wasn't quite sure where to start for things like investing. Really, I'm just waiting for these women to write book two, which would delve deeper into the things discussed in the second half of the book, but no luck with that so far. That left me to my own devices. Personally, I'm interested in things like socially responsible investing and green investing. It's not only important that my money work for me, but that it does so in a way that isn't hurting anyone else. The big problem with this is that there are few books that deal with these subjects in general, and then I've found none of them to be a) geared toward a novice, b) geared toward women, or c) written very well at all. So, briefly, here are a few books I've looked at, and how they rank.

Green Investing: A Guide to Making Money Through Environment-Friendly Stocks by Jack Uldrich 9781598695823 $14.95
I hate to put my politics right in the forefront, but I'm sorry, any book that has a George Bush quote in the first paragraph - especially a book about investing in the environment, hello? Anyone else notice he undid about 10 years worth of environmental-protection legislation in his first 4 years in office? - is a book I usually want to throw right out. That aside, the rest of the book was okay, for being one of the only books out there dedicated to this subject. The main problem was that I was looking for a how-to, some information on how to go about practicing green-friendly investing. Maybe some companies to look into, how to diversify my portfolio (or whatever that means), etc. What I was not looking for? This guy's personal views on the economic structure of investing, ev
er. I'm a fairly intelligent human being, but I have to admit that the combination of long-winded sentence structure, the completely unnecessary elevated verbiage, and pages of superfluous information put this book way above my commitment level (case in point).

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Socially Responsible Investing by Ken Little 9781592577293 $16.95
Not to begin in a completely negative tone, but I hate the Idiot's Guides and the Dummy's Guides. I think they're tacky and insulting. And yes, I'm a hypocrite as I have at least one on my own bookshelf at home. Also, I think it's sad that the Idiot's Guide company came out with something like this first. That being said, this really wasn't that bad. It was pretty user-friendly, as are most of these books, and actually offered some easy how-to advice. As much as I hate to admit it, this book was the winner of these three extras being reviewed. Guess there's a reason these things are so popular after all.

How to Invest $50-$5000: The Small Investor's Step-By-Step Plan for Low-Risk, High-Value Investing by Nancy Dunnan 9780061129827 $14.95
If the previous book was a clear winner, then this book is the clear loser of the three. I made a lot of assumptions about this book. I thought, Hey, written by a woman - financial books written by women are not as common - must be pretty user-friendly and woman-empowering. I thought, Based on this title, clearly I will be able to find advice for my financial bracket - also hard to do as a lot of investment guides are geared toward people who have money to "play" with. What's that saying? Oh, yes: assume(ing) makes an ass of u and me. And so it does, and so it works both ways. Nancy Dunnan assumes a heck of a lot about the person reading her book. Things she says are not explained fully, leaving a lot of frustrated questions hanging. Points she makes are unclear to someone who is not fully versed in the financial matters to which she is referring. Lastly, forget that title. My $50 are going to continue sitting in my savings account, and I'm sorry, but something about that just doesn't seem quite like "investing" to me. All in all, I was thoroughly disappointed.

So there ya have it. What I've been carrying around in my pocket for the last month. Fresh from me to you. Good luck saving!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers

I'm ashamed to admit how long it's been since I've read a new adult book. Keeping up with all the great new children's books out there hasn't left me much spare time to sit down with something more appropriate for my own age and reading level. I admit, it was the cover of this book as much as anything that made me pick it up, and when I actually read it (4 weeks later) I was glad I did.

Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers. Doesn't that sentence have a lovely ring? As the title may give away, this is a novel about finding love (that someone it's "nice to come home to"), but it's also a novel about finding yourself. What I liked best about this book, and I mean this in a complimentary way, is that the novel doesn't take itself too seriously while exploring that vein. I admit to being a deep thinker; I tend to apply everything - books, movies, music - to feelings and situations in my own life (often way overdoing it!), and it was really nice to read something that spoke to me without taking me too deep.

The main plot involves the character Prudence Whistler - Pru for short. She's in her mid-to-late 30s, has just lost her job, and is about to lose her boyfriend. Suddenly she sees herself reflected in a stranger - a woman full of children, husband, and her place in life as mother/caregiver - and Pru is catapulted into uncertainty about where her own life is taking her without any of those things. Prudence Whistler is a woman of lists, of plans, of still waters running deeply without surface ripples giving away her inner deliberations. The plot unfolds as Pru struggles to find what it is she is really meant to be doing, really wants to do, and how any sort of romantic entanglement fits into all of that.

A small sub-plot involving her younger sister, Patsy's, romantic life only serves to underscore the things Pru is finding out about life, love, and herself. The subplot was well-done, adding some familial substance to the character of Pru, forwarding the plot just enough, without overwhelming Pru herself.

Now, even though I began this post by saying I'm glad things didn't get too hot and heavy into a discussion of topics such as life philosophy and the feminist female psyche (or as I put it earlier, "deep"), I admit to being a bit disappointed by how things worked out so well for everyone in the end. I won't write a spoiler, but I will say everything ends up as it should. Though on the surface Pru suffers - lost job, boyfriend, spoiling second romance, struggling career options - I really didn't feel Prudence taking enough charge of her own life. She went with the flow a bit too much for me, the universe threw a few too many good coincidences her way, and when she finally did stick up for her emotional well-being, the moment quickly became anti-climatic (which may have been the point, but really only served to take the wind out of my reading sails). As a list maker and planner myself, I didn't see enough determination, enough drive, enough (yes, I'll admit to it) ambition from her regarding her own life. Things sort of happened, she dealt with them, accepted them or didn't accept them, but there was something lackluster in her character, some missing spark or spirit that kept me from getting 100% behind her and fully celebrating for her at the end. Real life just isn't that pat of a story.

What really held the book for me was the solid writing. Though by no means a riveting page-turner, I consistently went back for more. Rebecca Flowers has a way of putting together a sentence that gets to the heart of the matter and makes you want to know what's coming next (even if it the event itself is slightly predictable). Overall, a good, light read, well-written and meaningful, without the headache of too many unanswerable life questions. Stop by the store for your very own autographed copy.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Children's Book Review - The Penderwicks/The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Are you all ready for two fantastic reads? The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is the most fun new series to hit the shelves! Get ready for some gushing praise because I love these books! The two tales center around the Penderwicks family made up of a father, 4 daughters, and a loveable, laughable dog. There's nothing better for a summer read than a series set right in New England!

Winner of the National Book Award, the first book, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, takes place in Arundel, Maine, where the Penderwicks go on their summer vacation. Their normal vacation spot is booked, so they end up renting a small cottage on the property of a large house. Before you know it, the four sisters are up to their noses in adventures, involving, at times, yes, two rabbits, the boy next door (friend or foe?), a bull, the gardner, the cook, and much much more. It's an unforgettable summer for the entire family, and it's sure to be an unforgettable read for you!

The second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, takes place back at home on Gardam Street. It's fall - school time - and also time for a visit from the girls' favorite aunt. Soon the whole house is in an uproar, though, when their favorite aunt suggests the unthinkable - that the girls' widowed father should start dating again! Everyone, Dad included, is horrified at this suggestion, and the girls soon hatch the Save-Daddy Plan. Hilarious incidents insue as the girls try to set their father up on one bad date after another. Handled with surprising tact and sensitivity for such a touchy subject, everyone's heart ends up in the right hands by the end of this book.

Jeanne Birdsall calls Northampton, MA her home. She will be visiting the Odyssey for a book signing in June - date will be posted soon!

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
Paperback: 9780440420477 $6.50
Hardcover: 9780375831430 $15.95

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
by Jeanne Birdsall

Hardcover: 9780375840906 $15.99


Odyssey Kids! - Kids Krafternoon/ATCs

Hello all! I'm thrilled to tell you about our first Kids Krafternoon, featuring Nisha Dawson and her family introducing us to the phenomenon of Artist Trading Cards (ATCs). First begun in Switzerland, ATCs are primarily an adult interest. They are baseball card-size, and people use all kinds of materials and mediums to decorate these cards, making them mini works of art, and then trading them with people. Nisha has been instrumental in introducing ATCs to children wherever she goes, and we were lucky to have her and her family with us on Saturday to show us how it's done.

We had quite the little crowd for our first Kids Krafternoon - it was held from 2-4 pm on Saturday, May 3, and people were welcome to come and go as they pleased during that time. We gave out little starter packets which included 1 Odyssey ATC, 1 card-protector sheet, and a handful of blank ATCs (1 of which had a background design to get you started!). Then we laid out crayons, markers, stickers, wrapping paper, construction paper, fabric, glue, and scissors, and let the kids go creatively-wild! We turned out some beautiful ATCs, and at the end, we had a great time trading them with each other.

Stop by the Odyssey to receive your free ATC starter kit. Then, at our next Kids Krafternoon
(sometime in July, date TBA), bring in your decorated cards and trade them with other friends!

To find out more about ATCs, or to just scope out some great decorating ideas, check out these websites:
Art in Your Pocket
Artist Trading Cards
or type "Artist Trading Cards" into your favorite Internet search engine.

Sending creative thoughts to all of you!


Friday, May 2, 2008

new bloggers on the block

Hello Dear Readers!

Happy belated Beltane! I hope you all have been smelling flowers and going for strolls in the grass and stretching out your limbs after the long winter. Sure, maybe it was 25 degrees out here yesterday morning, but we sure had some gorgeous weather last week, huh? I've got a gazillion things to tell you about, but I'll save most of them for later to avoid blowing your mind and rendering you speechless.

We have some dear bookfriends who just stepped into the blog world, and they are creating a really fantastic resource. Ann and Michael are sales reps from Random House, but their blog, is a mix of posts and podcasts of the conversations which just don't end at the end of the day. They read a lot of Random House books, but this project isn't officially related to Random House and isn't in any way limited to their books. It is a really great way to learn about new books & catch a bit of their infectious enthusiasm. go check it out right now. how 'bout now?

Ooh, please *please* check out the post about Infected, I read the book after reading Michael's recommendation and totally loved it. It took a moment for me to get over the flashiness of special agents checking their glocks and berettas before leaping into action, but it was so much fun to read, and so captivatingly creepy. They've written way more since that post, but I've been meaning to tell you guys about the book for a while and gosh darn it gets busy here. Neil is on vacation and we've been so busy filling his office with packaging peanuts and glueing his office supplies to the floor that I just haven't had time to write. (Kidding, kidding! We've actually been holding spring bonfires after hours, with the town fire marshal's full blessing, of course!)

Anyway, take care everyone! Stay tuned, I swear I'll write really soon about bagshare, Nowtopia, Mudbound, and eight thousand other fascinating book-related bits and pieces. We went to a Neiba conference yesterday which was pretty interesting, perhaps I'll tell y'all about that. Soon.