Saturday, August 30, 2008

Children's Book Review - Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Today I finished a book that made me cry. If I had been alone, I probably would have cried more, but as it was, I was at work on my lunch break, so only a tear or two escaped. But the mere fact that I had the inclination toward tears is a big deal. I am not a crier. Yes, tears welled at the news of Walter in Rilla of Ingleside (by L.M. Montgomery, and if you don't know the news, I'm not telling), and okay, I admit it, I am a HUGE movie crier (lord knows why but I swear I shed a tear at something in almost every movie these days), but about books, and most importantly, in real life? Not a weeper. Have you ever seen The Holiday with Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Cameron Diaz? Jude Law has a funny bit in it about being a major weeper. Not. Me.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, I have not read a lot of children's books lately that have reached in and pulled at my heartstrings, so I wanted to post today to tell you about one that has. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Amazing.

The main character, Taylor Markham, is 17 and lives at the boarding school on Jellicoe Road. Her mother abandoned her when she was 7. She doesn't know anything about her father. She is also the new leader of her House at school, and the unwillingly chosen leader of all of the House leaders. The leaders don't believe in her. Her House barely knows her. And Taylor doesn't want any of the responsibility, but has no choice but to shoulder it.

There's a war, you see. A war that began almost 20 years ago and is faithfully carried out while school is in session. Townies vs. Cadets. vs. the Houses of the school on Jellicoe Road. The Townies are kids who live in the town nearby. The Cadets are boys from the military academy that comes to that area for training ever year. There are property boundary lines, invasions, retaliations and retributions, fist fights, broken bones, treaties, and perhaps a hidden tunnel.

There's Taylor's closest-thing-to-family, Hannah, who has just disappeared. There's Raffy, Talor's BFF, who tells her the truth and keeps it from her when necessary. There's Santangelo, leader of the Townies, with his sidekicks - The Mullets, and his history with Raffy. Lastly, there's Jonah Griggs - betrayer, former run-away mate, who knows too much about Taylor for his own good, and is currently the leader of the Cadets.

Betrayed numerous times beyond measure, hurt, afraid to hope for love, and reluctant leader, Taylor can't keep it together. She falls apart. But the surprise is who is there to help put her back together when she does. Who is Taylor? Where is Hannah? Where is her mother?
Who will win the war? And in the end, does it matter? Trust me, the end does NOT disappoint.

If all that isn't enough, here's a taste of the book - just the first two lines should do it:

"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted."

Read it.


Hardcover: 9780061431838 $17.99

Thursday, August 28, 2008

airplane reading for physicists

Hello Again Everyone,

Dying to know what I'll be carrying with me to read on Sunday? I know you were wondering, 'cause I know how much you care. Here's the short list:

Dancing Wu-Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics - Gary Zukav, Harper
I'm 1.5 chapters in, and Zukav is annoying me a little bit with his breathy awe of all things quantum, but really I love teasing out the philosophy (and lack of certainty) that forms the bedrock of modern physics and I am quite enjoying this ride. I love mixing new physics with Eastern philosophy (how could you not see the connections?), so I'll forgive Zukav his frequent waxing poetic. I mean, I guess that is kind of the point.

Luminous Fish - Lynn Margulis
Ok, first off I *love* this cover, and the subtitle ('Tales of Science and Love'). Margulis's short stories all explore desires that drive scientists, from knowledge and fellowship to lust and insecurity. I keep cringing at the personal choices these people make, and at the same time they feel deeply, uncomfortably familiar. Here's a great publisher's quote about it: "All of us who struggle to balance family, professional, and social commitments with intellectual quest will be intrigued by the humanity of these tales." Nice, right?

Labor of Love: A Midwife's Memoir - Cara Muhlhahn
I am not sure if I can handle this book, but I intend to find out. As you may or may not know, I have a very strong maternal urge and it manifests all the time as this bone-deep wanting that leaves me feeling weak. I cry at births on movies, I cry at births on TV commercials, heck, I cry each time I see Warf deliver Keiko's baby on that Star Trek episode with the 'quantum filament' problem (honestly, they'll put quantum on anything these days. I have some quantum dust bunnies behind the couch...). I'm totally drawn to this book, but I know it will be an intense emotional experience, as this 'candid and fascinating memoir chronicles Cara's experiences as a midwife; the joys, the heartbreaks, and the hundreds of mothers and babies she has come to know. It is both an insider's look at childbirth and an engaging story of a woman who is living her passion." (Publisher's Marketing)

I might also bring a full novel, but I don't remember what I have that wasn't sold at the yard sale or already boxed to ship. Maybe City of Refuge (Tom Piazza), our Sept First Edition Club pick, or that new Neal Stephenson book Anathem, I've never read him before. The ARC is gigantic, but it comes with a CD of something, perhaps background music for monasteries and mathematics? Apparently Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh)is something amazing, but I gave my copy away and besides, my capable replacement is writing you fine people a blogpost about it so I shouldn't even bring it up. Anyway, I guess there is a bit of actual work around here to still get done, maybe, or at least I'd better pretend.

Take Care Everyone! Be good to each other, read everything Joe and Rebecca tell you to, and check out the store in person if you get a change. I mean, surely it will all go totally downhill after I leave but it'll still be an interesting place to visit ;)


the end. for real, I mean it this time.

Hello Dear Readers,

As usual, I hope you are all well. It is a gorgeous late summer day here in Western Massachusetts, a warm sunny day sandwiched between cool nights. I saw a tree starting to turn on the way to work today which clearly places us on the edge of Fall, a beautiful time in New England but always a time of great change for me. I am a Fall child after all, being a Libra and whatnot. Anyway, the fabulous E.C. drove 'cause my car is *gone*!! Sorry if you were hoping to make an offer, but I got my asking price, and this sweet kid in Easthampton got a new project, complete with free car-repair items and bumper-stickers!

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Everyone Else, today is my very last day at the Odyssey. Good thing, too, 'cause my plane leaves on Sunday! I suppose most people goof off on their last day, or call in sick or something, but I'm finding it kind of difficult to let go of the things I'm responsible for. Ok, I'll be honest, I'm having trouble letting go of the First Edition Club. I have put a huge amount of ongoing time and effort and thought into keeping it running smoothly with minimal mistakes and high quality mint condition books, delicately yet efficiently handled from bookstore arrival to shipping date, and I can't seem to just let it go. I'll probably be sending Joe notes for the next month as I think of little tricks we used to minimize mistakes or mylar quickly or something. I also really enjoy talking with First Edition Club members too, and being able to find special editions or have books specially inscribed or simply offering something unusual. Basically I like being able to put in a bit of extra effort and providing a specialized service. *Sigh* I guess maybe I like retail. Maybe. It is pretty rewarding to be able to get great books to friendly people, tho, and the overwhelming majority of our club members are friendly people. So friendly, in fact, that one actually sent me a book as a going away present! Just to be clear, he pays for the books that we send him, it is a business transaction, and sure we talk books once or twice a month, but wow, he gave me a book as a thank you for selling him books. This guy sent me an early printing of Silent Spring (Rachel Carson) after he learned of my Environmental Science academic plans. Seriously, where else could this happen? I love independent bookstores. And the Odyssey Bookshop most of all, of course. (Ooh, Terry Tempest Williams is coming to the store this fall for her new book! Take note, environmentalists!)

You may have noticed my love of the El Camino, but you may not know that Ford produced a similar car-truck between '57 and '79, the Ford Ranchero (read about it here). You might know that my mom is one of our most regular readers, perhaps because I don't call home enough (sorry mom!) so she sometimes learns things about me via blog. Well I recently learned from her that my parents actually owned (and drove) a Ford Ranchero shortly after getting married, when they were living in a tiny apartment in LA and carving newlywed dreams out of concrete and seaweed. WooHoo, that's puts me one step closer to ownership, being directly related to people with such a car/truck/miracle rather than just living next door to 'em. Somehow the they never thought to fill the bed with water (what's the point if you can just drive/walk/bikeride into the Pacific), but these fun folks did! I'm not actually sure if this is an El Camino or a Ford Ranchero, but it is pretty awesome either way. This concludes my multi-day muscle car/wading pool digression.

Well, I guess I'd better go do some work, after all that talk about not letting go. I'll tell you guys about my airplane reading later today.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Books on books

I've recently become interested - fascinated by? feel compelled to read? - books about reading books.

It began with what I consider the cream of the crop of book lovers' tributes: Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. I read this maybe 4 or 5 months ago, and still consider it to be one of my literary highlights of the year. This book is an ode to love of reading, and books, and the role those play in a book lover's every day life. Not to mention, Anne Fadiman is a superb essayist; the pages pass too quickly, you laugh heartily and sigh deeply, and still, always, you want to read more so you can say, Yes! That's me! I do that too!, and not feel alone in your connection and possible devotion to the books in your life.
Paperback: 9780374527228 $11

(If you just love essays, as I do, Anne Fadiman's book of familiar essays, At Large and At Small, is equally wonderful. Hardcover: 9780374106621 $22, Paperback: 9780374531317 $12)

My interest in things literary was then continued when I recently picked up a copy of Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara? by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy. Subtitled "The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books", this book, written in the form of small chapters, uncovers and reveals delicious little tidbits of information about authors' lives, everything that influenced them into producing well-known works, from the Bronte sisters and Dostoevsky to J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown, and everyone in between.
Paperback: 9780143113645 $13

The latest book in this growing collection I discovered last week, mainly because the title is something so near and dear to my own heart. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan is absorbing me to the point that I considered saying those exact words to the poor waitress at breakfast the other morning. I didn't, I politely declined a refill of my tea water, and then went back to reading what is essentially a memoir through books. Taking a surprisingly feminist reading of books and authors that influenced her life, Maureen Corrigan dives into detective novels, action-adventures stories, and what surprised me the most, Christian literature. Not having read a single "Catholic-matyr narrative" (as she mentions in the introduction), I'm actually excited and interested to see what she has to say, from a feminist point of view, about these texts, and how they fit into a modern, non-practicing (in terms of an established relgion), feminist woman's life.
Paperback: 9780375709036 $13.95

So, if you, like me, not only love to read, but for some reason also love to read and identify with other people's books about loving to read, then there are three suggestions for some darn good book-readin'. Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Review - The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Hello folks!

So I admit it, I've jumped on the "popular book" bandwagon. I picked up The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry a couple of weeks ago and have just had a chance to sit down and tell you what I think about it.

My opinion in a nutshell: I disagree with any review that calls this a "fast-paced" novel. For me, anyway, it certainly wasn't. I didn't dislike the book; in fact, I enjoyed reading it very much. But you know what I DID like about it? It was one of those books where I could put it down, read something else, and come back to it without losing the train of the book. Each time I read it, I got involved with the story, with the characters, but it wasn't something I just had to read until it was done.

The basic premise, for those who don't know, is that this woman grew up in Salem, MA, in a family of lace readers - women who could read the future in patterns of lace. There is some childhood trauma, and Towner (as she now calls herself - her name used to be Sophya) leaves Salem for good. Many years later, the mysterious death of her beloved great-aunt brings her back to town to face not only the town and the memories she left behind, but the ghosts, both dead and alive, who are still there.

Towner had, at one point following the trauma, been institutionalized, even given shock therapy, and maybe that explains why the book reads in a sort of monotone voice. There is an omniscient narrator; there is Rafferty's voice - he's the police officer/love interest who is investigating not only the great-aunt's (Eva's) death, but also the mysterious disappearance of a young pregnant woman; there is Towner's voice; there is Eva's ghostly voice, lingering through Towner. Throughout all those voices, however, the story doesn't really change in tone or pitch, which is what makes me call it written in monotone. Though a mystery, the story doesn't read as a suspenseful drama, which I think does give a bit of extra oomph to the excitement of the final chapters.

To be honest, the little twist or revelation at the end came as a surprise for me because I hadn't really been aware that that was a plot point! Okay, I'm thinking to myself as I read, so there's the dead great-aunt - was she murdered? what is the real story of her death?; there's the missing girl - was she murdered? who's baby is she carrying? where does she fit in?; there's Towner herself - is she crazy? is she going to stay in town? will she solve these mysteries? what's up with her and Rafferty?; but where's the real suspense to all of this? Perhaps if I had read the book straight through instead of putting it down, I would have picked up on the secret little plot twist before the end, but as it was, I greatly enjoyed the little gasp of surprise I gave at that revelation.

I think I need to go back and read it again, all the way through, so that I can get the full impact others are talking about, because as much as I enjoyed the book for the good read, the suspense just wasn't there for me. I'll tell you one other thing the book did very well, though - I now need to take a trip to Salem, Massachusetts to see how beautiful the town is in person!

Also, Ms. Barry was here in store last night, for a wonderful book reading/talk/signing, so drop on by the Odyssey to pick up your signed copy of The Lace Reader today!


The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Hardcover: 9780061624766 $24.95

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quickie Post - Baby Names

No, this is not a baby announcement. I just happen to be a baby name collector, for that time roughly 5-7 years from now when I begin seriously thinking about beginning my own brood. Nieves showed me the most original baby name book I've seen in a long time, and I just had to share it with all of you.

It's called A is for Atticus: Baby Names from Great Books by Lorilee Craker.
Paperback: 9781599950204 $12.99

It's wonderful! Each name has a little paragraph next to it placing the name in history and in literature (and even throws in some pop-culture references). Lorilee even thoughtfully talks about the crossover of names from male to female and vice versa, or ambigender names (of which I'm a big fan).

Because I'm not planning on having babies for at least 5 years, I'll share with you some of my personal favorites. Some of these I found in this book, some of them have been in my head for years.

Scarlett Auden (called Auden, though, not Scarlett)
Scarlett is for Scarlett O'Hara - Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, is one of my favorite books of all time. Auden for W.H.Auden.

Barrett Phinneaus
Honestly, I just like both these names. Perhaps I'll call her Phin for short. Not sure yet.

Loren Jude
I've always loved the name Loren spelled this way. Jude is a family reference - my mother loves the Beatles, particularly the song "Hey Jude". When she and my father were dating, he used to sing it to her - with one little change. My mother is Jewish, so my father used to croon, "Hey Jew" instead.

Lucan (no middle name for this guy yet)
One of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table

Joscelyn Roarke
Joscelyn is the name of one of the heroes in a favorite series of mine - the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. It's wonderful fantasy fiction series (two trilogies make up the entire series), with amazingly researched and then fabricated world wars and religious history and great political intrigue, amazing plot and character development, fantastic sex, humor and adventure. Couldn't put them down. Am crying the series is over. Roarke is a name I've always loved, but particularly as the incredibly dreamy and dangerous husband of Lt. Eve Dallas in the "in Death" series of books by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts - yes, I read her, don't judge me).

Lastly, I really want the middle name of a child to be Blake, for William Blake, one of my all-time favorite poets, but I don't have a first name yet. I'm not sure Lucan Blake works. Jury's still out on that one.

Feel free to write in and share your favorite names too!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Speaking of Springfield...

Hello Dear Readers,

Hope you're all well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying the sunshine. Throw on some sunscreen and go soak up the Vitamin D! Do it quick tho, I think we have rain scheduled for the evening.

Bob, our illustrious used and rare book buyer, has been rather busy this week receiving and pricing crates of antiquarian textbooks, poetry, and assorted gems from various sources. One of his recent acquisitions is a photography book by Donald D'Amato of Springfield, Massachusetts chronicling the last 350 years of the city's history. What a wonderful cornerstone for "Springfield Residents United"! Or some such internet thing. C'mon people of Springfields, unite! Or just come in and paw through this book, it is pretty interesting. It is way out of print, but we do have this one barely used copy on the shelf, until someone takes it home. The book is Springfield - 350 Years; A Pictorial History, by Donald D'Amato, 1985, and is signed by the author. I'd show you a picture, but I can't seem to find any. Y'all will have to look it up.

Also regarding Springfield: Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is Sept 27- Oct. 4, 2008. The Springfield (MA) Library is either celebrating rather early or very late, but they are celebrating Banned Book Week nonetheless with priceless information about our local area. Did you know that the very first book banned in the New England Colonies was written by the founder of the colony of Springfield, MA? That's right, our very own William Pynchon brought The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption to New England in the Fall of 1650 after publishing it in London earlier that year (how's that for quick shipping!). You can read the full article here, and please also thank the Springfield (MA) Public Library for supplying us with this information. I'd say that Springfield (MA) is #1 in all Springfields in the nation for informative and helpful public libraries. Anyone else wanna step up to the plate, or are you all gonna just roll over and give up? C'mon Springfield (VT), I heard you had some fight left in ya!

Alright, Take Care everybody. And of course, be good to each other, buy my car for a million dollars, and read everything I tell you to right now.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Yard Sales, El Caminos, Springfield anywhere, and zucchini mechanics.

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you are all well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying this Pacific Northwest-style summer. It is awfully strange for it to rain every afternoon here, but I'm pretty sure someone upstairs arranged it to ease my transition to the actual Pacific Northwest, so thanks weather folk! I mean, I think most people are getting kind of tired of it, but I do sincerely appreciate the sentiment.

So today I have a number of rambly things to mention, rather than a specific book review to post. Good thing I'm leaving, or someone might find this level of disorganization irritating. Here goes:

I'm having a yard sale. People call them 'tag sales' out here, but people to crazy things all the time and I can't be bothered to keep track of all of it. My tag sale will be outside my house, which is in Northampton. There will be signs. If you want to buy houseplants, books (lots of books!), furniture, clothing, old tapes and cds, weird surplus items, and possibly some zucchini bread, you should visit old south street on saturday and follow the signs to our sale. How does this relate to books? Well, you know who calls these events 'tag sales'? Crazy people like Martha Stewart, that's who. Order this book, by Mz. Stewart, read up on how it works, then come buy my stuff.

So my ode to the El Camino is somewhat of a hit on our blog, altho I can't really explain why. In honor, I have found you fine people this other person's Ode to the El Camino. His trumps mine 'cause he has actually owned one, where I have only lived next door to one. Also, I realize this is sounding a bit flippant, so let me bring a veneer of authenticity to this topic by introducing you to the real, original, camino, 'El Camino Real'. North America's oldest and longest road, this is what I remember most vividly of elementary school social studies. A road. Anyway, pick up this book and learn all about it, eh? 'Cause who doesn't love learning?

So a friend of mine (and fellow bookseller, soon to join the Harvard Bookstore, woot woot yay Nicole!!!) was visiting this weekend, and we hatched a fantastic plan. Apparently there is a town, city, village, or hamlet named Springfield in every state in the union. We think someone (hopefully someone who does not live in Springfield) should start a blog/forum/web application to unite the people of Springfields, so that they can revel in the unique yet universal benefits of living in Springfield. Confused by the lack of relevance to your world, or lack of context in this post? Just check out these two books (a, and b), and take a moment to respect the place The Simpsons has carved out in American pop culture. Yeow.

Ok, last thing I swear. This weekend I buggered some basic car maintenance and got air stuck in my fuel injectors (yes, that car is still for sale! I'll drop the price if you mention the blog!) and had to get the car towed to my mechanic. It was even more fantastic than usual. First off, he was there on a Sunday, which is wonderful. Next, he showed me how to bleed the injectors myself so I could fix this on my own next time. Lastly, I paid in zucchini bread. Seriously, I brought him bread to thank him for being around on Sunday, and he didn't charge me anything for fixing my problem or showing me how to fix it myself. Wow. So this doesn't relate to a book but I just have to plug is shop in this, my only public forum, 'cause seriously this guy is amazing. So, anyone in western mass need some car work, maybe have an interest in alternative fuels and/or learning to take care of your car yourself? Go to Seven Sisters Auto in Hatfield, MA. They are a fantastic shop.

Ok, that's all I'll subject you people to today. Take Care, be good to each other, and of course, read everything I tell you to right now ;) Best,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Hello faithful readers,

I know, it has been way too long since I've posted to our blog. Darcy has been so much better about that than I have this past month. But today being August 1st, I have firmly resolved August will not get away from me - I WILL post, especially when I've read a delightful book I want to share.
Lucky you, dear readers, because I just finished such a book yesterday, and so I will post about it now!

First, this title - it's absolutely yummy. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Doesn't that make you want to dive right in and take a big bite out of the book itself? What is this society? What's Potato Peel Pie? Who is in it, how did it get started - so many questions come to mind when you read such a deliciously convoluted title. Ah, and the book does it's part to answer them.
The book itself is an epistolary novel (thank you to Emily Crowe for supplying me with that word; for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was), which means it is told entirely in the form of lette
rs. And they're good letters too! I love this form of novel because it feels so much more intimate. You're not just getting this tale, you're getting the thoughts and feelings behind the actions, which for some reason people feel so much freer and more able to put down on paper (in the form of letters) than when they're verbally describing a situation. If all the letters don't actually describe the situation, then they serve to tantalize you with glimpses of the plot and tease you into reading more!
The letters are all to, from, or about Ms. Juliet Ashton, the central character in this novel - an absolutely delightful woman who is a writer by trade, so her letters are wonderfully descriptive, yet nonetheless are never verbose and always leave you wanting to read whatever letter comes next. She receives a letter herself from a man on the island of Guernsey who had purchased a book written by Charles Lamb, which had been previously owned by Ms. Ashton. He writes her to say that he really enjoys this first taste of Charles Lamb and wonders if she would be able to help him in procuring more works of similar literary quality and merit. Ms. Ashton takes up a correspondence with Mr. Dawsey Adams (the man who wrote her), and is thus introduced to the society he is apart of - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The current year being 1946, people are still recovering and rebuilding their lives from the devastation of World War II. This society was begun during the German occupation of the Channel Islands, of which Guernsey is a part. Soon Juliet is corresponding with many of the members of this society, slowly uncovering the stories of German wartime occupation - the love, loss, friendship, and courage that occurred on this isolated island during the war - and getting a first-hand look at what that means in her own life.
No part of this book disappoints. I simultaneously wa
nted to rush through it to see how and what happens, and never wanted it to end. Now that it has ended, I'm sending it to three people I know, and starting it all over again myself. For fans of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and/or Letters from an Age of Reason by Nora Hague (all three of which are fabulous books and if you've liked one, you should read the others) will love this book as well.

The Guernsey Literray and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Hardcover: $22 9780385340991