Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two new books to consider!

Hi, folks--I've been a little quiet lately on the blog as I've been busy behind the scenes preparing for and then executing our yearly inventory. But now I'm back to share two short book reviews with you. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did!

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK IN THE WORLD by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a new paperback original from Europa Editions, the good folks who brought us The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I don't read very much short fiction, as I prefer to really sink my teeth into a book and get absorbed by its world. However, if all short stories were as good as this collection, I would have to change my reading habits. These stories are exquisite, elegant, and enchanting--perfect little gems of literature that explore the nature of happiness across age, gender, and class boundaries. Each story left me with a sigh of satisfaction and contenment.

Click here to order.

LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard. Imagine, if you will, the loneliness and alienation of an unconventional and withdrawn single mother, and then picture her 13 year-old son who will try anything to make her smile. Over the course of a holiday weekend their lives change irrevocably when they meet an injured man who turns out to be an escaped convict. Part coming-of-age, part love story, this moving tale is about learning how to trust yourself and others and about the devastating consequences even the most seemingly harmless actions can have. This title was selected as the top August publication by independent bookstores across America and featured in the most recent IndieNext List.

Click here to order.

~Emily Crowe

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods... grandmother's house I went last weekend. All the way to Syracuse, NY where raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry picking abound; the land of home-cooked meals and baked-from-scratch pies; a place filled with familial gossip, expectations, and unconditional acceptance. I don't get there nearly often enough, and it was such a treat! I returned an expanded version of myself - waistline from good cookin', heart from good lovin', and mind from lots and lots of good readin'.

As you can probably tell from my coworkers' posts, at the Odyssey, we're the type of folks who carry 10 books with us for a three-day vacay. Luckily, my grandmother is supportive and sympathetic, and barely let me lift a finger. Instead, she ordered me outside to the swing with a pillow, blanket, gin & tonic, and stack of books. While the gentle breeze cooled the 75 degree sunshine, baby deer nibbled tender shoots in my uncle's arboretum, "Blackie" the black woodchuck scampered from hole to hole, and squirrels frolicked about me, I rocked and voraciously read to my heart's content.

"Impossible," you're thinking, "preposterous! No vacation could really be that good, the animals that friendly, the family so understand, the weather so divine." It's true, my friends, that idyllic picture I've painted for you does and did indeed exist, and I am the lucky being who was humbly allowed to partake of it. "Well, fine," grumble grumble, "what's the point, just to make us all wildly jealous?" No, my dear reader, that's just an evil side benny - the real point is to impart the new books and some old favorites I had the pleasure to experience last weekend. Buck up, read on, come visit, buy the book.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (a Teen read)
Hardcover, 9780316042673, $17.99 - Published January 2010, pre-order from the Odyssey today!
Lena Duchannes is forever the new girl in town, jumping from place to place to conceal her power and the curse on her family. Ethan Wate is forever a townie, determined to leave yet fated to always be a part of Gatlin, South Carolina. Lena longs for normalcy, friends, a chance to go to the prom, and an answer as to how to control her powers. Ethan longs for something different than the bleached, tanned, vapid cheerleaders and dead-end feeling he has for this town. Seeing each other in dreams weeks before actually meeting, when they finally are face to face, it's the showdown of the century as history repeats itself, where once again a Wate and a Duchannes fall in love and are determined to beat the odds keeping them apart.
Lots of supernatural stuff meets high school stuff in this book - stuff being the catch-all term for magic, witches, telepathy, vampires, dogs who see all, secret libraries, full-moon ceremonies, voodoo, cheerleaders with attitude, nosy neighbors, best friends with crappy cars, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Pretty funny, witty internal monologues and external dialogues keep this chunky book from getting too long, and the tension built up during the countdown to Lena's birthday is sure to keep you reading to the exciting conclusion on the final page.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger
Paperback, 9780316056632, $7.99 - Published October 2009, pre-order from the Odyssey today!
The subtitle says it all, really: A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Parasols. I thought, No, not really, this can't possibly be as witty and engaging as I want it to be. But then I began reading, and to my great surprise and eternal delight, it was!
Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster and a lady, drinking tea and chaperoning balls in London during the time of Queen Victoria's reign. She also happens to be a preternatural, or soulless being, one of the very few lucky individuals who can take away the power of a supernatural being (such as a vampire or werewolf) simply by her touch. When she accidentally kills a vampire (well, he was trying to drink her blood at the time), she is forced to contend with Lord Maccon, the werewolf leader of both the local pack and the local national office of supernatural investigations. Alexia and Lord Maccon find each other argumentative, frustrating, irritating, and secretly appealing as they are forced to work together to uncover who has been making rove werewolves and vampires disappear. Fans of Jane Austen-ish writing and fantasy forces will love this wicked, and wickedly funny, romp through London, supernatural-style.

In Death series by J.D. Robb
Last but not least, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time rereadering the "In Death" series by J.D. Robb (a pen name for Nora Roberts). This is a fantastic murder mystery series I can't seem to get enough of. I want to be Eve Dallas, and/or her husband Roarke, or both, or be married to either one of them, I'm not choosy, or just maybe read them obsessively, that's a little sadder but may have to do.
Eve is a kick-ass homicide detective around the year 2050 in New York City. She stands for the dead and does what she has to do - bribe, steal, or kick some ass - to get the answers to put the murderers away. This series never disappoints, with each murder bringing a new twist, a deeper understanding of Eve's psyche, and a satisfying conclusion as well as some good hand-to-hand combat and heart-pumping sex.
I'm sending my own versions of the series (which has 30+ titles, I'm probably up to about #15) to my sister shortly, which is why I'm rereading them, but my goodness, they're a delicious treat to curl up with on one of our frequently stormy nights. I highly recommend you do the same.

"Wait," you might be saying, "that's not 10 books, that's maybe 4 or 5 depending on how many J.D. Robb you read on vacation. And aren't you going a little heavy on the supernatural/murder mysteries this time around?" This is true, you've caught me out, but a) I've tried to be kind and only post about those that I've finished, and b) I do read a lot of non-fantasy, non-murder books too. I'm currently in the middle of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (a collection of letters between an author and a bookshop, which I'm LOVING and can't wait to tell you all about), and Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle (a book of short stories that is a possible First Edition Club selection), and still reading my Nick Hornby essays, etc. etc. etc. So stay tuned for more updates soon! - Rebecca

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Because I couldn't have said it any better myself!

Herewith is a very well thought-out blogpost from Katherine, a bookseller at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, MA.


Emily Russo Murtagh

Actually, I’d say it costs more

Every so often there’s something we hear at the bookstore. Someone asks whether we have a book, we track it down, they obviously want the book. Then there’s a whispered comment from a friend, “That book costs less at (you fill in the blank with another retailer)”. The book is put back on the shelf. I’ve heard it a couple times the past few weeks, so I’d just like to give my reasons why I disagree with that statement.

There are a lot of reasons to shop local instead of going to a chain store, a big box store or ordering online. The first, and most important, reason is very basic. You are in my bookstore for a reason. We provide a service… whether it’s advice, book recommendations, help searching, the ability to touch and flip through the book before making your choice, the atmosphere, the events, a place to take the kids on a rainy day, or just that we act as the town watercooler. Is that service worth the extra few bucks? Think of it like the tip at a restaurant. Sure, it’d be cheaper to go to a take-out place, or even cheaper yet to cook yourself, but you make the choice that the convenience, the atmosphere and the expertise are worth it.

Second… follow the money. Of every $100 you spend here, $68 stays in your community. For a big box store, $43 stays in the community, shopping online changes that to a big fat zero. (There’s lots of great info on shopping local at

What exactly does that mean? Because you’re shopping at my store, I get a paycheck. What do I do with that paycheck? This week, I ate at the Art Cliff, I shopped at the Down Island Farmer’s Market, I bought toothpaste at Leslie’s and bought a present at LeRoux. And hopefully, the waitress I tipped, the farmer I bought chicken eggs from, the people working at Leslie’s and LeRoux will then use some of that money to buy a book at my store. The same goes for every one of our employees, as well as our owner.

We pay taxes in your town… our building and our business and our owner. More money that stays in the community, through schools, public works, etc. The sales tax you pay through us goes to your state.

Our business, our owner and our employees contribute to your local charities. Every year, the Red Stocking fund, the schools, Habitat for Humanity, Island Affordable Housing, the list is long. Some of the national chains do contribute to charities, but they are not local ones, some do not contribute to charities at all.

I know that a lot of people here have the impression that we make a whole lot of money at the BoG, but the fact is bookselling is a rough business. The luckiest of us only make about a 2% prophet. We would love to promise that we will be here on Main St forever, but in order to do that, we need people to continue to support us in the amazing way they always have.

That’s the obvious stuff; now here’s a couple things you may not have considered:

Discount stores and big box stores may be changing the future of the book. This is a really interesting article on the ways that big box stores lower the price of merchandise so drastically that they sell it at a loss in order to drive competition out of business. Once the competition is gone, they then shrink their commitment to that inventory to make way for higher margin goods. What it comes down to: The future of the book depends on their bottom line, whereas our bottom line depends on the future of the book.

And speaking of the future of the book… we all know that e-books are here and not going away. I think that devices like the Kindle are amazing. If I were still commuting on the subway every day or traveling lots for my job, I’d want one tomorrow. But there are a few disturbing things on the horizon… turns out, when you buy a book on the Kindle, you don’t really own it, you’re leasing it, as they proved this week. And if you didn’t hear, Amazon has applied for a patent that allows them to put advertisements in ebooks and print on demand titles.

Which leads me to another thing… Amazon has made it pretty clear that in their perfect world they would get rid of the middlemen completely… go all print-on-demand… why have publishers and booksellers when technology means you don’t need them? You know why? Because, yes, there are many talented authors out there, but their editors make their books better; the book designers make them more attractive, easier to read, you name it; there are people who spend countless hours choosing fonts, illustrators, paper weight, editing, proofreading… and all those things MAKE BOOKS BETTER. If we remove them, what will we have lost? If we remove the marketing department, the sales reps, the booksellers, how will you get the right book in your hands? Sure, this industry could stand a lot of trimming in certain places, and it needs to change the way it does business, but in the end, this is one industry where the middle men are good things.

And now let’s consider the environment:

No we don’t produce our books here on island, so there are transportation costs, but it is much more efficient. And I will add that in the publishing industry, stores are allowed to return unsold merchandise… and so it is shipped a second time, then possibly destroyed. The return rate at the big box stores is a whopping 40%, whereas independent bookstores average about 10% returns.

Times are tough. I get it. And to be honest, I’d rather a book were sold somewhere else than not at all if the price really does make the difference between a book being sold or not. But please, next time you set down a book, you should say, “it’s CHEAPER somewhere else”. Because I would argue that, in the end, it actually COSTS more.

Movies Based on Books

There are many great books that have been turned into not so great movies.....yet I still get excited when a book I really like is transformed onto the screen.

I am particularly excited for the forth coming movie Julie&Julia because it is based on not one, but two of my favorite books from about two years ago.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell is a food memoir about the experience of one Julie Powell and her year long mission to cook every recipe in Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell is not a trained chef or cook, and her attempts and frequent failures are hilariously funny to read.

The other book that lent itself to the movie is Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. Written along with her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, Julia Child chronicles her time living in France, developing her interest in food, attending the now famous Le Cordon Bleu, and eventually writing the now infamous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is a truly wonderful read for anyone who owns this cookbook, likes to cook, likes to travel, and/or likes France.

The movie comes out on August 7th and I for one will be seeing it opening night. I am trying not to get my hopes up too much. However, since Meryl Streep is playing Julia Child I feel it holds sincere promise. Click here to watch the preview and see for yourselves:

~ Vanessa

Friday, July 17, 2009

As seen on the Today Show...

These are a few of our favorite things...

On the Today show with Hoda Kotb and Kathy Lee Gifford they shared some of their favorite products. And the first item on Hoda's list are the amazing SMENCILS!

The amazing smell-o-licious writing utencils in both pencil and color pencil form!

We're way ahead of you Hoda. The Odyssey has been carrying Smencils for a
while now! Just one of our fun and delicious side lines.

They retail for $1.25 a piece to $14.79 for a 10 pack.

Truly a treat for the nose! Buy your smencils at the Odyssey today to put that pep in back to school supply-dom!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I'm Reading on My Summer Vacation -- redux

Hi, readers,

In 72 hours, my week of BLOB (Books, "Lost", Oysters and Beer -- preferably on the deck of the Waterfront Restaurant overlooking Camden Harbor) begins.

For months, I've been looking at my bookshelves wondering what titles I should bring with me. Do I bring only backlist titles (those published more than a year ago) with me, or can I bring books yet to be published? How many books can I conceivably read in 10 days while visiting my very talkative family? Additionally, Michele Filgate got me hooked on the television show "Lost" and I still have four seasons to get through.

My colleague, Emily Crowe, reads the first few chapters of each book in contention for the coveted "vacation prize" to determine whether it's finalist. I, however, can't do that. If I start something and I like it, I wouldn't be able to put it down.

When I first started thinking about my vacation six months ago (yes, I plan that far ahead), I swore I was only going to bring books published before April 2008. Well, as the saying goes, best laid plans...

That was before I saw the Fall 2009 list (see earlier post). It's incredible. By far the best Fall list I've seen. I simply cannot exclude some of these books. They're calling out to me: "Please include me, pretty please.? I love you." How can I say no to that?

In all likely-hood, I won't be able to finish the 8 finalists, but I'm going to try. So, without further delay, here they are:

1) Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
2) The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
3) A Monster's Notes by Laurie Sheck
4) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
5) The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
6) The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
7) The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway
8) America, America by Ethan Canin

I'm finishing up Dave Egger's new book, Zeitoun, about an Arab-American family's experience during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It's absolutely riveting. More on that later this week!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Escapism or The Great Staycation!

Greetings Readers!

In the summer time I can't help but want to escape to an exotic, foreign, or alien locale. Lucky for those of us who cannot jet off to some tiny tropical island, or road trip across route 66, that we can afford the ultimate escape. That's right people I am talking books. Ahhh books the original staycation.
Remember what it was like the first time you were so immersed in a page turning mystery, so engrossed with a far off fantasy world or so thoroughly engaged with a story that when you finally looked up from it's pages and saw the room around you, you could not help but wonder where it all had gone to?

Well here is my list of some budget friendly staycations that unlike a far away island, you can revisit again and again.

The Odyssey has just received a new batch of some whopping good remainders... just take a look...

For the Literary Beach Reader...

TheHighest Tide, the debut novel of Jim Lynch (who will be visiting the Odyssey on July 13 for the release of his latest novel Border Songs) is the coming of age story of one boy who finds both beauty and mystery in the sea. Prompting his community to question his ability to see things that no one else observed before him. Originally 23.95, Remaindered now at 5.99 (quantities limited).

Working hard for your money....

Like me, the main character of this novel is spending his summer working, albeit he might be considered luckier that I, in that he has a whole warehouse of books to contend with. Songs for the Butcher's Daughter takes place in Western Massachusetts and tells the story of a young man who begins working with a 90-something Russian immigrant, who considers himself to be the "last Yiddish Poet." Originally 25.00, Remaindered now at 5.99 (quantities limited).

There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away

Part of my staycation plans are visiting local spots of interest, and the only thing I love better than a museum about historical people are graveyards where they are buried. If you would rather bring someone famous back to life, perhaps this book (a fictional story about one woman's tentative friendship with poet Emily Dickinson) is more your speed.
Originally 24.99, Remaindered now at 6.99 (quantities limited).

Nothing like a good misadventure...

If you want to visit the Dickinson Homstead, but are a bit accident prone like the hero of our next featured book, perhaps you will refrain after reading his great misfortune. Brock Clarke writes a hilarious story about one man mistakenly accused of burning down one author's home. I hope this book inspires you to visit local famous homesteads! Originally 23.95, Remaindered now at 4.99 (quantities limited).

Mo' Dickinson & Mo' Scandal

If reading Non-fiction is more your speed, but you still love scandal as well as local history then Polly Longsworth's Austin and Mabel is just the ticket. I love nothing better than a victorian scandal, and Longworth uses massive amounts of research to examine the forbidden relationship between Austin Dickinson (older brother to Emily) and the wife of an Amherst College professor Mabel Loomis Todd. Originally 22.95, Remaindered now at 4.99 (quantities limited).

Reguarly Priced Summer Adventures... err books.

Summer Required Reading...

I bought three of this book, which is saying something. It is the prefect book for escaping not only into another world but into someone else's mind altogether. Reif Larson’s Selected Works of T.S. Spivet has got to be my favorite book this year. T.S. (short for Tecumsah Sparrow) is not your typical 12-year-old Montana rancher’s son. He has a knack for cartography and writes articles published by the Smithsonian and other scientific texts. Not knowing that T.S. is merely a pre-teen protégé the Smithsonian offers him an award for his work in cartography. The catch T.S.’s parents know nothing about his work and he has to travel from Montana to Washington D.C. to receive it.As T.S. travels across the country via sneaking aboard a train he maps out his journey and the world around him as he understands it. It is a beautiful story about family, loss and finding one’s place in an inconstant world. You will not be disappointed with Spivet or
the journey Larson takes you on. The Odyssey has signed first editions avaliable at the regular price of the book, $27.95 (quantities limited), well worth the price as this is a story you will be revisiting long after summer has come and gone.

More Required reading!

Like Reif Larsen, the Odyssey is pleased to have Katherine Howe visit us (July 29 at 7pm) for her debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. The story is about a Harvard graduate student (and Mount Holyoke Alum!) who inherits her grandmother's old cottage just outside of Salem, MA. The house as well as some of it's contents have been in the family since the first pilgrims came to America. When Connie Goodwin begins to clean out the abandoned estate of her grandmother she uncovers secrets that deal with her family's and Salem's dark history, as well as abilities she never even knew she had. Signed first editions avaliable after July 29 at the regular book price of 25.99.

That about does it for now dear readers! Have a great escape!


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Markets and Gardens

The South Hadley Farmers' Market opened today on the Town Green. Despite the rainy, thunderous, and down right icky weather we've been having, we managed to have an clear afternoon for the market! South Hadley residents turned out for the occasion in wonderful show of support for local food.

If you are interested in reading more about local food and gardening there are some great books for adults and children alike.

One of my favorite new children's books is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.
The book is about "greening" a city by planting gardens in unexpected places. A group of New Yorkers put this idea to work in real life and opened up a garden along an old railroad track in Manhattan. You can visit their website at

For those who enjoyed Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan is coming out with a young readers edition of the book. The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, will be out this coming fall.

~ Vanessa