Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Review: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
9780446198172, $13.99

Published May 2009

I have been a Jacqueline Carey addict since high school. That is when my sister and I first discovered the Kushiel series. I honestly don't remember who discovered it first. I think it was me, but I'm never quite sure, and anyway, we were pretty much trading those books back and forth from the moment either of us found them. The Kushiel series is 6 books - two trilogies combined to make a series. There is soon going to be a new spin-off book, Naamah's Kiss, published in June 2009. I haven't read that one yet, but will review it as soon as I have.

Santa Olivia is not of that series. Santa Olivia is a different beast entirely, but one that has proven just as effective by sinking its claws into me. Carey has this incredible ability to create new worlds out of something that seems so familiar. For instance, this story takes place in an isolated town in the no-man's-land border between the United States and Mexico - perfectly plausible, given the state of the world today. Not a part of either country, the U.S. military runs the town that surrounds the military base. The people of Santa Olivia (the town) have been forgotten by the world, and it is into this controlled, neglected, forgotten wasteland that Loup Garron is born.

The daughter of a human woman and a genetically-modified "Wolf Man" (a project of the U.S. military - genetically modify humans to make them faster, stronger, fearless, fighters), Loup has been taught by her mother and brother to hide who she is so the military doesn't take her away. Her father was forced to leave for his own safety, before Loup is born, so upon her mother's death, Loup goes to live with the other orphans at the town church. The orphans know her secret and help her to conceal it, while simultaneously working together to right some of the wrongs in the town. Hence, the living legend of Santa Olivia - already the patron saint of the town - is born. When Loup's brother is killed in a boxing match set-up by the commander of the military base, Loup vows to fight and win, even knowing this would mean exposing herself, thus leading to her capture and possible death.

A beautiful side-story is Loup's relationship with her fellow orphans. As a half Wolf-Man, Loup always feels a little different; though they love her, her fellow orphans recognize that difference, especially when they start growing up and pairing off. Loup tries kissing, tries dating, even tries sex, but it is a surprise to them all, with whom Loup actually ends up being. Wolves mate for life, and the love between these two is no exception. But what will become of it, with Loup's fight looming closer and closer? What, and who, will Loup choose? Avenge her brother? Stay with her lover? Be herself? How can she possibly win everything she's fighting for?

I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will say, it in no way disappoints.

- Rebecca

Read this post on my own blog here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Weekend of Reading

I have a little time this afternoon before I have to prepare for our event this evening with Ms. Sara Houghteling, debut author of Pictures at an Exhibition
(which wins the 2009 award for the year's most beautiful cover), so I thought I would sit down and catch up on my blogging.

My husband and I, for the past three weekends, have been traveling to visit friends in New York, going to baby showers, and seeing our respective families. In short, we're a bit worn out.

So, this weekend, I have promised myself that beginning at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning (Saturday) until Sunday at 11 p.m., I will do nothing but read. This is not a punishment I've inflicted upon myself, it is like spending an afternoon at a spa.

Here is what I'm looking forward to reading:

1) I still haven't finished The Girl Who Played With Fire. It's shameful, really. I've been looking forward to this book for months and I can't stay awake long enough to read more than 20 pages. It has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I'm just extraordinarily tired.

2) The Blue Notebook by James Levine. Our Random House rep, Ann Kingman, says this is absolutely amazing and I'm excited to read it.

3) A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. A book about books and women writers. Need not say anything further. I was sold at the word "book."

4) Tinkers by Paul Harding. Admittedly, I don't know much about this one, but the great Michelle Filgate at River Run in Portsmouth, NH, recommended it to me, so I'm anxious to pick it up.

5) Little Bee by Chris Cleeve. I seemed to have missed the boat on this one, but it's getting rave reviews from tons of independent booksellers, so naturally, I'm curious to see what the fuss it all about.

There is little to no chance that I will finish all of these books in one weekend, but I hope to at least delve into each one. Wish me luck!

Emily Russo Murtagh

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review: Darling Jim

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
9780805089479, $25 Published APRIL 2009

I read the first 100 pages of this novel holding my breath and barely blinking. Here is what I discovered: 1) I should never begin a new book at work because then I will read it even when I'm not supposed to and not get any work done, and 2) Christian Moerk is a new voice to be reckoned with. Boy, oh boy, did I get the creeps! Spine tingling, goosebumps, morbid fascination with whatever twisted secret will be revealed next - the whole nine yards.

In a sleepy little village in Ireland, a postman discovers the bodies of three dead women. Two were discovered right away - a bloody fight to the death that resulted in them both leaving this world. The third woman was discovered later, hidden behind a wall. Death and murder, by their very nature is a pretty creepy business, but there's already a twist. All three women were related: the two young girls are the nieces of the older woman, and it looks like the older woman held them captive, slowly starving and poisoning them to death. Even later it is discovered that another person was also held captive in the house, but apparently managed to escape. No one knows why this gruesome episode took place.

No one, that is, until a different postman discovers a package in the post office, sent by one of the dead girls! He steals the package and opens it to find a diary, kept while the girl was held prisoner in her aunt's house. As he reads her diary, she begins to tell him a tale of sisterly love and devotion, an aunt's unstable mind, and a traveling bard named Jim who ensnares women far and wide.

His life already out of control (fired from his job, evicted from his apartment), the postman sets off on a quest to the village the girls are from, to find out what led them all to their pitiful end. The diary haunts him, her story haunts him - so honest, so lacking in self-pity or remorse. And what of the third person held in that house? Who was it and where are they now?

Almost a Sidney Sheldon-like psychological creepiness, you won't be jumping at bumps in the night, but you'll definitely feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The plot development is absolutely wonderful, the prose is crisp and clear, and the characters are ones that will stay with you long after the book has ended. Everything about this book was a sinister pleasure.


Click this link to read my co-worker's blog about her visit with the author.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Children's Book Talks

One of my favorite parts of my job is giving book talks to people. Whether it's one individual in my bookstore or an entire classroom of people, there's almost nothing I love better than to gush about my favorite books to avid listeners.

Today I had the rewarding experience of speaking to a class I had once taken. As an undergrad at Mount Holyoke College, I had taken a Writing Children's Literature class with professor/author Corinne Demas. During that class, one Friday morning, we traipsed across the road to the Odyssey Bookshop where the now-retired Cindy Pyle, then the Children's Department Manager, gave us a book talk about all sorts of amazing books and publishing trends in the children's literature world.
Corinne's Newest Book!
Available here.

Four years later, now the Children's Department Manager at the Odyssey Bookshop myself, I had to the pleasure of giving just such a book talk to Corinne's latest Writing Children's Literature class. It was an amazing and rewarding experience. Though I have further dreams (*ahem*owning my own children's store*ahem*), in a way, you know you've made it when a former professor says, "I've learned so much from you!"

Thanks to Corinne's class for being a supportive listening audience, for being interested in a subject so close to my heart, and for asking some great questions. I hope to see you all back here soon!

If you would like to inquire about a book talk for your school (or for any other reason!) - all ages, all reading levels, etc. - email me at the Odyssey at


Books for Math Nerds (or Maths Nerds, for our UK friends)

I was always a bit of a nerd growing up, but it wasn't until I attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science that I found my bats, to use a Stella Luna reference. I'm a word girl now, but there was a time when numbers were my passion.  Physics was my first love in high school. Alas, I wasn't quite clever enough to pursue it as a career because after a certain point I couldn't really wrap my head around the whys and wherefores of the essential maths required to pursue it at a higher level.  Differential calculus kicked my butt and I've been hanging my head in shame ever since.  But I still have a love for numbers and numberplay, even if I'm not particularly good at any of the hard stuff (isn't that just tragic?). 

So that's why I'm telling y'all about this new book published by Hodder and Stoughton called Venn That Tune.  The first time I heard about it was during a visit with my sales rep.  Apparently I was the first buyer among his accounts to order a small stack of this marvelous little book.  The then-associate textbook manager, Darcy (the one who left us to pursue graduate school in physics, actually.  Sigh.), and I were doubled over with laughter about this book--every page brought a new wave of laughter--the kind where you think you can finally stop and then one hiccough later it starts all over again, despite the tears that are now trickling from your eyes and the aches in your abs.  It really was *that* funny.  

Have you ever wondered what the intersection of math geekdom and a love of pop culture might look like?  If so, look no further!  Andrew Viner has put together an entire book of classic song titles in the forms of Venn diagrams -- you know, the various sets of circles whose overlapping qualities form a subset.  For one example: you've got three circles depicting Things That Have Been Done For Me, Things That You Have Done, and Things That Have Been Done Lately.  Where all three intersect, there's a question mark:  it's the venn diagram of Janet Jackson's 1986 pop hit, "What Have You Done For Me Lately."  It's clever, it's nerdy, and it's a whole lot of fun.  Take it from somebody who knows: it's *perfect* for the math geek in your life.  

If you're interested, give us a call to order it: 413. 534. 7307.  For some reason, it doesn't show up on our website to order, but we've got it in stock!  

~Emily C.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smitten. Or, How the Mountain Went to Muhammad

That title about sums it up.  I met a literary hero of mine today, the man who wrote the best book out of the last couple hundred or so that I've read.  I am in deep smit, as a friend of mine says.  My colleagues, Joan and Emily, and I traveled with about 300 books to Boston today so that we could get them signed for our First Editions CLub (FEC).  Abraham Verghese wrote an amazing first novel (he's written two previous memoirs), but beg and plead as we did, we weren't able to schedule a reading at our store.  His book is a big to-do this season and every major store was clamoring for him.  Being off the beaten Boston-NYC-Washington DC path as we are, we didn't really stand a chance.  Well, if Muhammad can't come to the mountain, the mountain must find a way to go to Muhammad.  Hence packing up the car and makin
g the roadtrip today, meeting up with two sales reps from Random House, and getting Commonwealth Hotel's security team to help us maneuver two flatbeds' worth of books up to Verghese's hotel room.  The day was just about perfect as far as I'm concerned: a few hours of booktalk, a nice lunch, visiting a really nice bookstore for the first time (the Wellesley Booksmith), and, of course, going all fangirl over meeting Mr. Verghese.  He was as lovely as can be, gracious and engaging, soft-spokenly charming.  In a word, delightful.  He also happened to mention that somebody at Knopf had shown him my earlier blog post in which I gushed about his book, and he even joked that he had taken extra care shaving this morning before meeting his fan.  

You know how every once in a while you read a book that you want to tell everybody about?  Cutting for Stone is like that for me.  It's really everything that a great epic novel should be, with incredibly sharp observations on the human condition, realistic and complicated characters and their interpersonal relationships, all set against the wider background of important world events, with nuanced social commentary as a constant undercurrent.  I loved it.  And I have the feeling that it's a book I may turn to again & again.  But in the meantime, go down to your local independent bookstore or library to secure your own copy of Cutting for Stone.  I'm serious--the time you invest reading it (it ain't short, that's for sure!) will heap dividends upon you.  

p.s.  my apologies to Emily RM for duplicating so much of her post in mine, but it took me a  while to get home and get my thoughts sorted out and i wrote mine before realizing she 
had posted.  but really, anything regarding Verghese or his new novel is worth saying twice.  :)

This picture is of Mr. Verghese at his desk with Ann, our Random House sales rep, standing behind him. 

Here's a photo of us in Verghese's room, with hotel security coming through the door to help us get the 30 boxes of signed books back down the freight elevator.  L-R: me, Mr. Verghese, Emily RM, and Joan

~Emily C.

February 10th: Henceforth known as a great day for books.

For a couple of us here at the Odyssey Bookshop, February 10th will go down in history as a great day for books.

This morning, Joan, Emily Crowe and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Abraham Verghese whose new novel, Cutting for Stone, was released early last week, and already a 2009 favorite for the three of us.  The novel was selected by the Odyssey for our Signed First Editions Club, so we had to wake up at 7:00 this morning to drive 1 1/2 hours to Boston to get over 300 books signed.   

At 10:00, along with two reps from Random House, we bombard this poor man's hotel room near Fenway Park with over 30 boxes of books, and he couldn't have been more gracious. Upon entering the room, he immediately asked if he could order us any room service, get us coffee, or soda, and we spent the next hour talking about the Odyssey, books, the author's work, and the release of the new Amazon Kindle (of which you can probably guess we're not "huge" fans of).

But, what I'm going to remember most is how genuinely appreciative he was that we selected the book for our club.  Now, I hope no one reads this the wrong way, as everyone we've picked has been gracious, wonderful, and thankful, but there are a select few who can you tell by the look in their eyes, they're still in awe of everything that's happening to them, and as independent booksellers, we hope that they'll remember us in future years as champions of their books.

He was simply nothing less than a delight.

Moving right along: since the signing went faster than anticipated and we were forced to leave Abraham's company to give him time to prepare for an interview, Joan, Emily and I took a small detour to visit the Wellesley Booksmith in Wellesley, MA.  None of us had been there before and we're always looking for new ideas to incorporate into the Odyssey by visiting other venues.  I succumbed to my book addiction and bought a couple of new books, Roads to Quoz and Julian Barnes' Nothing To Be Afraid Of.  I always try to buy a book at every independent bookstore I visit.  I often get made fun of for this since I get a major staff discount at the Odyssey, but I consider it an effort in solidarity and hope that they'll return the favor someday.

Finally, this evening, we had a lovely event with debut novelist Lewis Robinson, whose novel, Water Dogs, was published in early January with Random House.  

As I mentioned in my introduction of Lewis, I was a little bit behind on reading this one and didn't get a chance to pick it until about a month ago.  I was immediately swept away, back to my home state of Maine and into the cold March winters with his vibrant characters.  After turning the last page, I knew I wanted to select it for our Breakout Fiction Program.

I wrote the publicist a long e-mail, apologizing profusely for waiting so long to read it, explaining how embarrassed I was, but that I wanted to select it for this program.  

Her response:  "Please, PLEASE, don't apologize when you're giving me good news."  That same day, a glowing review was announced in the New York Times, which made the selection all the more special for me.  Nothing is better than taking a chance on a book and having your taste confirmed by a good review.

Lewis, too, was one of those dream authors who is so easy-going, appreciative, and let's not forget, an extremely talented writer.

I woke up this morning cursing my alarm, somewhat dreading the 14 hour day I had ahead of me, despite the treasures of the day awaiting us.  I can honestly say, however, that never again will I complain about having to get up early to meet wonderful writers and staying late to meet more (okay, well, almost never. :))

Emily Russo Murtagh

Indies Represent!

Here is a post I poached from my own blog, but thought would fit in nicely here as well.

I was sadly not one of the lucky hordes who attended the Winter Institute conference this year (WI4, as it is known), yet nonetheless, I have firmly jumped on several bandwagons colleagues have brought back with them from that laudable event. Here is the latest:

Become an IndieBound Affiliate

What does this mean, exactly? Well, almost every time someone mentions a book, it is linked to be purchased from...where? Did you guess Amazon? You'd be right! That's a whole heckuva lotta sales that the independent bookselling world is missing out on.

A lot of people may not know that there are independent sites, similar to, that help you purchase books online. I'd like to personally encourage each and every one of you to link to IndieBound (I'd prefer "instead of Amazon", but I'll settle for "alongside Amazon") whenever you link a book to an online distributor.

Please check out this site to find out how you, too, can become a friend of the independents and help to save us. Clap if you believe in faeries. Clap if you want to save us. Link if you want to save us. Do you believe? Do you?

(BTW, if you're looking for someone to explain this a little more thoroughly, Bookavore has a great post on this; she was actually at WI4, and is much more eloquent.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - 2009 Newbery Award Winner

2009 Newbery Award Winner - The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I realize I may be one of the last people to finish this book - my co-worker, Nieves, has been trying to get me to read it since it first came out (congratulations to her for reading a book before me and being the first to gush about it!) - but I finally finished it last night and so am here to tell you all about it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Hardcover: 9780060530921 $17.99

Great book! Am thrilled it won the award! Enough said!

(he he, just kidding)

Honestly, though, it was a great read. Completely engaging; kids are going to love this Newbery. (Unlike winners of previous years, and the rather recent discussions about the lack of kid street cred given to those winners...hmmm...I wonder if that influenced a decision at all?)

The Graveyard Book grabs you from the first moment and maintains a steady interest throughout the story. What's fascinating, and is one of the reasons Gaiman is such a genius, is that it's a rather morbid, even slightly horrific base story, yet the book is not a scary read. Perhaps this is because Bod - Nobody Owens, the main character - seems to know no fear.

Barely escaping murder as an infant (by the nefarious Jack, of the notorious Jack-of-all-Trades organization), Bod has been raised by ghosts and his guardian Silas (not alive but not dead), in the Old Town graveyard. Bod grows up, having all sorts of wonderful and peculiar adventures, mostly in his graveyard: like visiting the Indigo Man - the oldest being buried in the graveyard; learning about ghouls, ghoul-gates, and night-gaunts, first-hand; making friends with witches; and being taught various lessons by long-dead ghosts and a werewolf. On the few occasions he ventures outside of the graveyard - to run away, to go to school, to find out more about his family's murder - the world is not a safe place for him and he ends up getting into tricky situations.

Even in these various scrapes, Bod keeps his cool, and uses his wits to outsmart everyone from the ghouls to the Jacks. An interesting plot thread, to me, was Bod's complete willingness and interest in ridding the world of the threat of the man who had killed his parents. Even before the climactic confrontation scene, you get the sense that this doesn't necessarily mean Bod is looking forward to killing Jack, or engaging him in any sort of fight, really, yet he is determined to get rid of him. The ingenious way Bod accomplishes this is a masterful stroke of tying in plot points and making use of Bod's unique character.

The end of the book itself is filled with hope. This may sound odd for a book which takes place primarily among the dead, but it seems that having grown up with the dead gives Bod a special appreciation for actually living life to its fullest. Have to admit, I'm kind of hoping for a sequel - Bod in the world. Somehow, though I've closed last page, I haven't quite closed my thoughts on Bod's adventures.


To read an interview with Neil Gaiman, check out this post on my own blog here.
To find out more about this book, check out Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book website here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Indie Book Stores Matter

This article was in today's Shelf Awareness. We couldn't have put it better ourselves:

Writer Bill Schubart spoke about "the place of bookstores in our communities" in his Vermont Public Radio commentary on Monday. Schubart lives in Hinesburg, Vt., where Natacha Liuzzi recently opened Brown Dog Books & Gifts. "Small businesses like bookstores define and enrich a healthy community," he said. "I know because my town of Hinesburg just got one and it's changing my book-buying habits."

"The buying of a book is a rich allegory about community," Schubart continued. "Your local bookstore carries what it believes will be of interest to the community it serves. It hires local people and pays local rent and taxes. The staff reads and can talk about the books they sell. They host community events and book clubs and spend time with children learning to read. They will special order books to meet the diverse interests of their patrons. They may charge more for the books they stock but they make up for it with service.

"Reading, like the preparing and serving of fresh local food, enjoying artful conversation over a glass of wine, or just strolling in a vibrant downtown should be savored slowly. I'm willing to pay a small premium to sustain my community. When I want a new book, I'll buy the fifteen dollar copy at our local bookseller who hosts local authors and poets instead of ordering it online for twelve. I also want a hardware story, a grocery store, a restaurant and a café and I'm willing to pay a little extra for them."

In these hard times I know it's awfully tempting to save money wherever we can. But choosing *where* we spend our dollars is just as important as how many dollars we spend or save. And I, for one, want to make sure that all of my favorite local restaurants and shops will be able to stick around until times get better.

Emily Crowe

Book Review: The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith

It may be a little late for New Year's Resolutions, but in 2009, I firmly resolve to blog more about all the wonderful books I'm reading. This may be easier said than done, and here's why:

When asked the other day by a friend, "How many books do you have going at one time?" I came back with, "Do you mean for work, for school, or for myself?" When it was all said and done, I, at any given time, will have at least 2 books going for work (at least one kids title, usually more, and one adult), at least 2 books a week (often more like 5) going for school (I'm in semester 2 of my 2 year MFA program in Writing Children's Lit at Simmons College), and also at least 2 (usually more because I love short stories but never read those books all the way through) going for personal reading. So, when I say I'm going to blog about all the amazing books I'm reading, well, it would probably take me about as long to blog about them all as it does to read them all!

That being said, still, I HAVE to share books with you all because, frankly, one of the things I love to do most is talk about books, so if I'm talking about them, and then you're reading them, and then we're talking about them together (I'm here at the Odyssey every day but Sunday and Monday - hint hint, drop on by), then my life will be just about complete.

So - - - here's a new book for you all:

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith
Paperback: 9780380790883 $13.95

This is one of those "New to Me" books that other people may have already checked out - considering it was published 10 years ago - but it is so fantastic that everyone who has read it should definitely read it again. Especially considering that the latest book (in what I believe is a 3-book series at the moment) came out in April of 2008. Perfect timing for some new paperback fiction!

When I call this book a "thriller," I don't mean it in the Steven King, make you pee your pants with fright in the middle of the night, sort of way. It's more of an adventure thriller - it's like a symphony where you have this beautiful melody and harmony and you're floating along on trills of music until all of a sudden it crescendos and the cymbals crash and the drums boom and you've got yourself a little rock 'n roll thrown in there. Amazing.

Aud Torvigen is hot, sexy, and in control. A 6-foot, ice blonde Norwegian-American, Aud grew up in Norway, and now makes her home in Atlanta, GA. After leaving the elite "Red Dogs" special police force at the age of 29, Aud now works for herself, taking on jobs that pique her interest, since she no longer needs them to pay the bills.

After running, literally, into a strange woman on a dark road in the middle of the night, only to have a house blow up a block away a few minutes after that, Aud gets tangled in a mess of a private investigation involving a highly-placed politican, international money laundering, art forgeries, and one Julia Lyons-Bennet, who is at once more than and also exactly what she seems. When the investigation turns deadly, Aud and Julia escape to Norway where an unexpected betrayal will bring their trip to an abrupt end. Though Aud solves the investigation, Julia has helped her learn it's no longer about that thrill you only get when you're in the Blue Place. Though heart-wrenching, the end will not disappoint, and will make you glad there are 2 other books out there about Aud for you to read.

Called a "new wave crime-writer" and an author of "literary noir," Nicola Griffith's writing is a sensory delight. Like Aud herself, Griffith's words are precise, exacting, and yet slow and senuous enough to have all of your senses enjoying the experience. You can feel the moist humidity of Atlanta and the icy breath of Norwegian fjords, the bump of rock 'n roll and the glide of skin against skin. Her writing has won her the Tiptree Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and six Lambda Literary Awards. It is easy to understand why. Pick up The Blue Place - for an excerpt, click here. You won't be able to put Nicola Griffith or Aud Torvigen down.

When you look for more Aud reading, check out Stay (excerpt) (
9781400032303, $12.95) and Always (excerpt) (9781594482946, $15). When you look for more Nicola Griffith, check out her website and/or her blog.

Happy Reading!


Monday, February 2, 2009

Been a Long Time Gone...

I just got back from Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, a long weekend of educational programs for independent booksellers, sponsored by publishers and our national trade organization. In between educational sessions we schmooze and circulate and reconnect with old bookselling friends. Oh, yes, and GET FREE BOOKS! This year I wised up and actually brought an empty suitcase with me to take home all of the goodies to share with the rest of the staff. If anything was made clear this year at Wi4, it was the importance of blogging. (Well, actually, that's not quite so. Lots of things were made clear, but this was the one thing that I could actually implement as soon as I got home, while waiting for the jet lag to clear up. If you can have jet lag for only a two hour time difference, that is. This time last night I was just getting in from a publisher dinner. In fact, it was the least pretentious publisher dinner in history, but more about that in tomorrow's post.)

So in the four days that I was away, I read five books. I usually average about 2.5 books per week, but when one is stuck on an Airbus 319 in Detroit for a few hours, apparently one can get a lot more reading accomplished!

Triangular Road by Paule Marshall. I got to meet this amazing woman at Wi4. I'd read an earlier book, Praisesong for the Widow, the first time I traveled to Grenada a few years ago. This book is a memoir based on a series of lectures given at Harvard. It's a series of snapshots of pivotal moments in her life, including large moments like her state-sponsored European travels with Langston Hughes, or smaller moments like her travels to the tiny Caribbean island of Carriacou where she finally banishes a severe case of writer's block. Though this memoir wasn't as pleasing to me as her novel, I can't understand why Marshall isn't more widely read--she's a real treasure.

Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
by Margot Berwin. My Random House sales rep Ann Kingman pressed this book into my hand last week when visiting the store, so I took it along to read on the plane. I gobbled it up so fast that I actually had to buy another book at the airport bookstore to read on my second flight! A woman recovering from a divorce unwillingly gets involved in the search for nine plants with a collective mythical power in the Yucatan. A delightfully distracting read, the author takes us for a romp that is equal parts romance, adventure, magical realism, and self-discovery. It's a colorful, frothy, well-paced novel perfect for escapist reading.

Valeria's Last Stand by Mark Fitten. He was at the author reception at Wi4 and just as charming as can be. It didn't hurt that one of the grande dames of bookselling mentioned how much she loved his book during the opening remarks the first day. Anyway, this quiet first novel is a modern day fable set in a small Hungarian village. Regime changes may come and go, but a fool is a fool is a fool and petty corruption is just as immune to communism as it is to capitalism. This book really is about hidden longings and shows that at the intersections of romance & practicality and power & ambition, peculiar and wonderful things can happen.

girls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Alas, she was not at Wi4, but her galleys were. I'd not read her before but she's a favorite with Rebecca Fabian, our children's buyer at the Odyssey Bookshop, as well as our teen readership. It astonishes me how brilliant Anderson is at getting into the mind and under the skin of her characters. Not just another troubled teen story, Wintergirls explores the scary and inexorable downward spiral Lia's psyche takes after her former best friend is found dead, alone, in a seedy motel room. Anderson's language of anorexia is as haunting as Lia's mental anguish and she keeps the reader guessing until the end whether Lia will be able to keep herself from vanishing altogether.

A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini. This is the book that I picked up in Detroit--it killed me to have to buy a book from a chain bookstore. I also may have his name spelled incorrectly, so my apologies! Hosseini spins a tragic tale of two women whose lives are full of unimaginable horrors, set against the backdrop of various Afghan regimes. What endures is their new found loyalty to each other as well as as the intense yearning for home that the displaced feel. I'm the one bookseller in the US who didn't read The Kite Runner, so I have nothing to say in terms of comparisons, but I had been wanting to pick up this book ever since watching Hosseini engage in bantering on stage with Stephen Colbert (not for the faint hearted!) a couple of years ago at BEA.

I'm also totally excited about tomorrow's book release for Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, which was probably the best book I read in 2008. (What year should it count in? The year that I read it or the year it is available to the general public?) It's an epic story, full of grace, sharp observations, hard truths and redemption. It's about family, fatherland, betrayal and self-discovery. It's one man's story set against the backdrop of Ethiopia, India, and the US. It's full of heart. Beautifully written. Brilliant insight. I could go on and on, but by all means, just go out and read it! We're going to have signed copies 'round here next week, so if you're interested in a signed copy give us a call or shoot us an email. May I confess something? I'm a little giddy at the thought of meeting him next week. I just hope I don't go all fangirl on him and say something to embarrass myself!

~Emily C.

Two upcoming events at the Odyssey Bookshop

Hi, everyone,

Textbook rush is in full-swing, but I wanted to take a couple of moments to let you know about two upcoming events here at the Odyssey Bookshop in the next couple of weeks.

The first event will take place next Tuesday, February 10th at 7 p.m. when novelist and short-story writer Lewis Robinson will read from his new novel, Water Dogs, which we've chosen as the store's "Breakout Fiction" selection for the month of February. We'll be having a wine and cheese reception for Mr. Robinson after the reading.

Having grown up in Maine, this novel appealed to me immediately, and Robinson's portrayals of the dreary winter landscape and the lives of full-year coastal residents (once the summer folk go home) are spot on.

The novel takes place during mud-season (the horrible month of March in New England when temperatures can range from 0-50 degrees in the course of an afternoon) during a particularly bad snow storm. It follows two brothers, Bennie and Littlefield, who join their best friend in a paintball match against a rival team of "sea urchiners." When the field closes, the match is tied, and the two teams decide to sneak back to the field to finish the game - despite the weather forecast. Unfortunately, a member of the rival party disappears in the snow and Littlefield is suspected of foul play.

Alongside Robinson's terrific descriptions of Maine life, the underlying narrative tension, or the who-dun-it?, keeps you flipping pages until the very end. If you're interested in the New York Times book review, click here.

The next event I'd like to mention will take place on February 18th, also at 7 p.m. with Jayne Anne Phillips. Her latest novel, Lark and Termite, was just released this January and received a glowing from the Times a couple of weeks ago. The Odyssey has selected it as it's Signed First Edition Club pick for the month of February. It's been almost 9 years since her last novel, Motherkind was published and fans have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on this latest book. In my opinion, they won't be disappointed.

Told in alternating points of view, the novel follows the lives of four individuals: first, a solider fighting in the Korean War in the 1950s, caught in a deadly cross-fire and comtemplating the birth of his first child; second, two children, Lark (a teenage girl on the verge of adulthood) and Termite (Lark's younger brother, who is unable to walk to speak), and finally, the children's Aunt Nonnie, forced to raise Lark and Termite after their mother disappears. As the story propels forward, we see how each of these is interlinked with the other, and the answers are easy for anyone involved.

Phillips is extraordinary at getting inside the heads of each of these characters and making them come to life, but also, the style with which she writes changes with each characters point of view (the solider's thoughts, due to the stress he's under, come to us more as stream-of-consciousness while Lark's point of view is more straight-forward). However, the novel never loses it's natural flow, and I think that's a particularly rare gift for a writer to have.

I hope that one or both of these books has peaked your interest and that we'll see you in-store for the events in the up-coming weeks.

Emily R.M.