Sunday, March 30, 2008

Children's Book Review - The Mysterious Benedict Society

Hello dear readers!

I'm going to work very hard to not make this a sort of purging post encompassing all my children's book knowledge, past and present. I just get so excited about kids books! (Really, I do.)

Today I'll hold the post to the book I just finished called
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

First of all, great title and great author name. Let's face it, we all judge books by their covers, and I've noticed an astonishing correlation between good book titles, good author names, and good reads. Admittedly this doesn't always ring true, but try it with your favorite books and see if my theory holds up.

So this's been called a science fiction book but I'm a little bit against placing books in a particular categoy. There are so many stereotypes and connotations (both positive and negative) that go into those words and I'd much rather judge a book on its cover than in its classification. Regardless, I thought it might be a good place to start and then I can break down that science fiction box for you and explain why it's just a good read.

What is "science-fiction-y" about this book is the central plot-line. Someone has been sending subliminal messages through television and radio broadcasts. They are undetectible by most humans and so though people are receiving and reacting to these messages they're not conscious or aware of that fact. Mr. Benedict (the one of the "Mysterious Benedict Society") IS aware. He's a genius scientist (and one of the good guys in the book) who has figured out a way to translate and record these messages. Even though he used to be well-respected in the government, no one will listen to him now because they've all been slowly brainwashed by those subliminal messages.

This is the best part because this is where the kids come in. Certain children have the ability to resist these subliminal messages because they are young enough and value truth enough that their brains automatically do their best to resist the evil messages. So Mr. Benedict puts together a team of children as secret spies to go into enemy territory and gather as much information as possible about who and what are sending these messages.

real story is how this team of four unlikely child heroes have to work together to solve this mission before it's too late and they themselves can't resist those messages anymore. All four children have special and unique talents, but they don't all know how to work together or even how to be friends. This book is packed with adventure (though it's not scary), good laughs (though the children in the book don't always think it's funny), friendship and teamwork and yes, a few fights. It will keep you engrossed right to the very end with some surprising twists and turns. For instance - why did Kate's dad disappear? Does Sticky's family really not care about him? Why is Constance such a sleepy grouchy baby? Will Reynie ever see Miss Perumal again? How can Mr. Benedict appear to be in two places at once? And how on earth are these 4 kids going to stop THE WHISPERER?

The Mysterious Benedict Society to find out!

- Rebecca -

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
Paperback: 9780316003957 $6.99

Hardcover: 9780316057776 $16.99

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Update from My Mom

Hello Dear Readers,

Well, it snowed big fat wet clumps this morning, but I swear to you spring is here. The first crocus buds in my front yard blossomed into flowers yesterday, and whether they freeze to death or not we saw them, and knew. Spring.

Meredith is leaving us in a couple of weeks to follow her dreams in Germany, Caitlin is leaving us in a couple more weeks to follow her post-college destiny, and Jillian is leaving us in a couple of months for post-graduate-degree success in a foreign land, exact plans TBA. Sara will be graduating with another advanced degree soon after, and one of my housemates should earn her Masters in just over a year. With all of these wonderful people using the skills learned here in the Pioneer Valley to carve their destinies out of the smoke and sand, I'm feeling restless and shamefully unscientific for a so-called scientist. For this reason, I've been studying more than usual, and I've been enjoying it far more than in the past but it hasn't left a lot of time to read the type of book you might like to hear about (but let me tell you, 'Modern Physics, Vol II' has some pretty gripping parts). For this reason, I will instead summarize some recent book reviews from my mom. Hope they're accurate:

The Feasting Season - Nancy Coon, Algonquin Books, 7/07
My mother thought that this was a really enjoyable read, part travelogue and part food novel with a sprinkle of romance. Meg, our heroine, is in a somewhat unsatisfying domestic situation when she lands an assignment writing a guidebook about France. She is assigned a smokin' French photographer as a collaborator, and they argue and eat and fall in love and it is quite fun to read about. Now my mother gravitates toward darker novels, she was quite impressed by American Pastoral (Philip Roth) for example, so Coon's tale must have the depth to keep her attention. You should probably read it for yourself and find out.

The Secret Between Us - Barbara Delinsky, Doubleday, 1/08
This one earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, but my mom found it sadly predictable. She said that it had some elements which could have been put together well (mother and daughter are in a car accident together, mother pretends to have been the driver in order to take the blame, both proceed to have issues, and a variety of interesting issues are explored) but Delinsky just couldn't make them work. Bummer.

Ok, so I did pick up an ARC of Madness: A Bipolar Life (Marya Hornbacher, Houghton Mifflin, 6/08) yesterday to give away or something (surely not to interrupt my seriously studious studying) and found it completely gripping and kind of triggering. I was a couple pages in before I realized what I was doing, and now I think I might have to read it before giving it away. Regarding the triggering aspect, I want to read this one in it's entirety to get to the satisfying conclusion where you believe that everything is going to be ok, but I'm a bit worried that this isn't that sort of book, and there will be no reassuring denouement, only a harsh clarity like neon lights, and I'll end up wishing I hadn't put myself through the journey. I'll let y'all know if I get to reading it.

Anyway, take care everyone!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

YA up there with classics

Working at a bookstore, even in the back with numbers, delights me because I am in the world of reading and new finds. I have to admit, when I am on the floor, usually helping parents find books for young people, I still rely on the "classics" of LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, and McKillip and for the read-aloud set Wrede and Alexander.

Lately, I have found two books that I have added to my backlist collection. A favorite fantasy writer of mine, Guy Gavriel Kay, wrote a YA book called Ysabel. It is historical and modern, a young man telling the story, some romance, magic and action.

Another series I am enjoying is Pellinor series by Alison Croggan. I got pulled in despite myself, having some resistance to the bleakness. I did notice that neither of these authors comes out of an american culture. Hmmm.

There is always Stephenie Meyer's quartet, a series that defines the usual genre. Very American.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Woo Hoo Physics!!

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you are enjoying this blustery spring day and not wading through three feet of floodwater somewhere. I hear we have been having good weather for sugaring (freezing nights + warmer days = good maple sap), and it is nearly time to start gardening. We actually had a couple of bulb shoots popping up on the edge of my front lawn, but I'm pretty sure I stepped on 'em last night. oops. Anyway, this post is about science (non) fiction.

Remember that other day when I mentioned asking for a book from our fantastic Random House reps? Well it came yesterday, and I have not been able to put it down. This thing is like easter candy, like sugar on snow, like fresh daifuku shaped like neurons (!) for the nerdy nerds in your life. The book is Physics of the Impossible, by Michio Kaku, and it is so much fun. Kaku takes a broad swath of science fiction standards (laser cannons, force fields, time travel, etc) and divides them into level of impossibility. Class III impossibilities violate current laws of physics, so becoming possible in the future would represent a fundamental paradigm shift. Class II impossibilities lie at the limit of our understanding, so they need not break laws of physics to occur, but if possible they would indicate new laws and demonstrate previously unknown behavior. Kaku considers these to become possible in millions of years, if at all. Class I impossiblities are simply impossible with today's technology, but do not break any known laws of physics and could concievibly become possible in the next couple of generations. This book is light on the math, which makes for easier reading, but it is full of thorough descriptions of why something doesn't currently work, and what would probably be necessary to make it work. This thing is so much fun, seriously. I would recommend it to all the science fiction people in your life, and anyone who enjoys 'physics for laypeople' type books. Seriously, come in and look at it.

Ok, that's all for now. Take Care, Everyone!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just So You Know

I've started hoarding gardening books (and vegetable oil, incidentally) in response to the gently warming weather. The latest is Organic Kitchen Garden by Juliet Roberts. It was a remainder from last year so it is around $10.00, and I think we've got one left. Spring is so exciting.

That is all.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Hello Dear Readers!!!!

Welcome to the Odyssey Bookshop's new *new* blog. I'm completely overwhelmed with work and sort of worn out from bookselling events, so I think it is the perfect time to move our blog to a new platform. As you may have noticed if you followed our older blog, it was on myspace. Sure, social networking may be an important part of commerce in this web 2.0 world, and sure there are workshops and all about how businesses can make use of myspace in this networked landscape, but it is time for this store to put on its big kid pants and step out into (I can't believe I'm actually uttering these words) 'the blogosphere'.

We will update and enrich this new place as time allows (heh, do you know what that phrase means to independent booksellers?), but I wouldn't expect to see anything drastically different from the myspace blog. We'll probably continue to rely on the store webpage and our email newsletter to tell y'all about events, and I'll continue to intend to post at least weekly (hopefully more), and I promise to rope, wrangle, and heckle other people around here into writing. Wasn't it nice to hear from JP and Victoria the other day? Maybe one day Mr. P or Mz. C (you know who you are, oh bookfriends with the fabulous library lives) will give in and write something for y'all. Also, sorry for leaving you post-less for 2 weeks, I caught a bit of flu and had to spend all my not-sick time catching up from it.

Emily R. posted a while back about loving this job (in part) because of the free books, and I completely agree. We just got in a really fun looking new science/nonfiction title (Physics of the Impossible, Michio Kaku), and I've been lusting after it since Mr. UPS carried it in the door in a delicate bed of less-worthy books. After a bit of prodding I contacted our Random House sales reps (Hi Ann! Hi Michael!) to see if any ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) were printed and happen to be lying around taking up valuable space somewhere. Not only were they totally nice about me flat-out asking for free stuff, they dropped a copy in the mail for me! Woo Hoo Free Books!! What sort of a business are these people running, if I can just ask for something and they'll send it? You guys will have to come in and let me sell you a couple of copies to prove that it was worth it.

I mentioned being tired from bookselling events, so let me explain. We have been returning unsold textbooks to their publishers and changing that section of the store into remainder-land, meaning that Seth, Neil, and I have been packing and moving a lot of very heavy boxes, but that was all last week. Regarding this week, Wednesday night we hosted a Fundraiser for Western Mass Jobs with Justice (Joan's husband John is president so we've got an 'in') with Jim Hightower before his reading event across the street at Mt. Holyoke. It was tons of fun and I think I have to read his new book too (Swim Against the Current; Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow), but it was also a 10.5 hr workday. Last night Rebecca, the Emilys, and I went to an 'Emerging Leaders' reception thing hosted by NEIBA which was mellow, fun, and somewhat inspiring. I started bookselling because I think it is an important thing for healthy communities (and because I needed an employer when they needed an employee), but I've been loosing sight of that as the paperwork builds up and the hours get longer. This event reminded me of the reasons people have for getting into bookselling, and of the important role that bookstores can play in people's lives. Maybe this isn't such a bad place, and hey, I could see myself sticking around for a while and enjoying it, even. I hope we do more 'Emerging Leaders' things, it feels like a resource I could really use. Again, useful fun and educational (thanks for the drinks, NEIBA!) but a long day.

I'd love to tell you about the fantastic books I've been reading, but frankly I'm out of time. Again. It's been lovely, welcome to the new blog-space, and come by the store to say hello sometime, eh? Oh, also, the next full moon is coming up, as is the vernal equinox (I think they are less than a day apart this year, next Thursday and Friday), so get ready for another jolt of wonderful weird charged life energy, as light and dark balance with light 'gaining power'. Should be a good time to listen to the world beyond the parking lot. Which is not to say that parking lots aren't influenced by full moons, but they're probably less aware of 'em than, say, owls.

Take Care, Everyone!