Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Chunkster Challenge, Book 1:
Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Hardcover: 9780446198035 $26.99

(If you want to know what I mean by "Chunkster Challenge," refer to my blog post here.)

Naamah's Kiss is the first book in the third trilogy in the fantasy world created by Jacqueline Carey. The first trilogy followed the as yet unsurpassed story involving Phedre and Joscelin, Terre d'Ange, Kushiel's blessing/curse, and the fate of the world. The books in the first trilogy are Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and Kushiel's Avatar. The second trilogy followed Phedre and Joscelin as their lives intertwined with the fate of the nation and the fate of Imriel de la Courcel, son of D'Angeline royalty and the nation's most famous traitor. This series is comprised of Kushiel's Scion, Kushiel's Justice, and Kushiel's Mercy. Now, a third trilogy is going to hit shelves in June.

Naamah's Kiss is a softer read than the previous trilogies. I'm sorry, but nothing has come close to touching the political intrigue with fascinating historical and religious references and wrestlings combined with the compelling (and at times heartwrenching) love story. Not to mention, let's be honest, Jacqueline Carey knows how to write a smokin' sex scene. In Naamah's Kiss, we lose a lot of (my personal favorite) the interesting bits - the politics, the way Carey alludes to our own knowledge of world history and religions morphed into the world she has created, and the sacrifices made in the name of honor, duty, and most importantly, love. There is a certain passion missing in Naamah's Kiss, despite the very evident passionate love scenes. Or maybe it's not missing, entirely, maybe it's just quieter, and as I'm used to this bold, reckless style, it's hard to switch gears and properly appreciate the quiet dedication of a softer personality, a softer love.

Whatever the reason, I was a bit disappointed at what I saw as the lack of
additional interesting story elements to pad out a so-so twisting plot. The part of the book that held my attention the most was actually the beginning, when we learn of Moirin - the main character - and her childhood spent with her mother, living in a cave, learning the wild ways of the Maghuin Dhonn, the oldest tribe in Alba. Descended of Alban/D'Angeline royalty, half Maghuin Dhonn, half D'Angeline by birth, Moirin's secluded upbringing has allowed her to grow independent, wise, free-thinking, yet naive in the ways of the rest of the world. This naivete, while originally charming, quickly irritated me when she failed to have a backbone at certain points in the story. I'm sure it's not often that a reader asks for more plot complications, but there were a few elements in the story that seemed far too pat for me to believe; knowing Carey's writing as I do, she is capable of more.

The second half of the novel, when Moirin (who left Alba for Terre d'Ange, at which point the plot and her personality had the consistency of a wet blanket) leaves Terre d'Ange for Ch'in, is where I was expecting to find that fascinating filler of information on this new culture, but was left a little disappointed. The high point of the second half of the novel was not actually the love story between Moirin and Bao - which, btw, I called the moment his character was introduced, and I'm not saying that in a complimentary way - but instead was the 3-way relationship between the Princess, the dragon imprisoned within her, and Moirin - the only person to whom the dragon would listen. Carey does write a good adventure story from this point on, but the tentative, lukewarm, barely blossoming feelings between Moirin and Bao paled in comparison to the begrudging respect, agonizing courtship, and eventual passionate love between Phedre and Joscelin (who you can't help but compare them to).

This book did end well, and I look forward to reading more about Moirin's trek into the land of the Tartars, following the other half of her heart and soul. Perhaps she'll find a little more plot, my favorite - cultural, religious, and historical elements, and some backbone there.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Should Not Be Allowed to Shelve Books Anymore

One of my favorite parts of working in a bookstore is, of course, seeing all the wonderful new books coming in. For the most part, I work at the store's lower-level register (in addition to my office duties) , where all of our fiction, poetry and children's titles are shelved. It's safe to say that nearly every day, I shelve at least a handful of books.

Unfortunately, for my bank account, my husband, and my overloaded bookshelves, many of these books-to-be-shelved end up in my books-to-buy pile and never officially make it into stock.

In fact, I'm banned from the fiction section during inventory because the task would never be completed. I'd sit there separating the books into neat piles of "inventory" and "my inventory." I am forced to count pens and to make sure there are no gardening titles missing. They know if they give me any section I'm interested in, inventory will be askew as I'll have hoarded half the titles in my office.

Today is a beautiful day in western Massachusetts and the only thing that could keep me from not throwing a fit about wanting to be outside is looking at all the pretty books.

Number One in today's pile of "Books to Be Bought," is All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen. Terrific title, gorgeous new paperback cover. I remember seeing this at McNally-Jackson in Soho (NYC) and my husband forcing me out the door without letting me buy it. Haha, dear husband, foiled again! You can't watch me 24/7.

Number Two in today's pile: Don't Cry: Stories by Mary Gaitskill. I'm currently reading Lauren Groff's new short story collection, Delicate, Edible Birds, which I think is fantastic, and feel a short-story "kick" coming on this weekend. All short stories - all the time. I still need to finish Nikolai Gogol's Collected Stories, too.

And, finally, Number Three: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. Okay, technically, I didn't shelve this book today, but it's been on display right across from the main register for about a week, taunting me. "Read me, read me," it calls. If there is one thing I'm not able to resist, it's a book crying out to be read. Okay, there are two things I can't resist. The other one is a cookie.

Emily Russo Murtagh

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beach Reads

Last weekend was my long awaited getaway to the sunny land of Florida. Living in New England, I always try to save up for at least a few days in the sun during the winter months. While I looked forward to hours baking in the sun, I also eagerly awaited the chance to read all day long. With much deliberation, poking through the piles of books I have waiting to be read, I selected four.

und by Hilary Jordan. This book was selected for our First Edition Club in hardcover and just recently came out in paperback. We are having Jordan back to the store in April for a reading and to celebrate the paperback release. My coworkers kept raving about it, so I picked up our last first edition copy and started reading on my plane ride down. The book takes place on a rural farm in 1940s Mississippi. Various members of two families, one white, one black narrate the story of their struggle to deal with life after WWII and the tenuous race relations of the south.

Bee by Chris Cleave. There was a lot of buzz about this book before it came out and it has been on the indie bestseller list since it's release in February. This was another novel that I simply could not put down. The two main characters are Little Bee, a sixteen-year-old illegal refugee from Nigeria, and Sarah a successful magazine editor living with her husband and young son in the suburbs of London. When the book begins, the two characters are reunited in London years after a scarring encounter on a Nigerian beach. However, the reader is not entirely sure what occurred. Their friendship quickly becomes a crucial element in deciding their future.

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Wizenberg writes the food blog Orangette, which I had not heard of until her book, but A Homemade Life is a really wonderful read, filled with recipes and tales of her life, family, and food. Understated and charming, this was the perfect read for a relaxing afternoon. It was just released in hardcover and is a great memoir and cookbook all in one.

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. My mother recommended this book to me after reading it for her book group. I started reading it while waiting in the airport for my flight home. It was a good thing I had a lot of time on my hands because this is a book you want to take your time with. It starts out on a farm in Northern California, where two young girls live with their father and their farm hand Coop. Ondaatje then weaves in and out of their lives as they grow into adults and move from place to place. It is a beautiful book, no wonder it is a best-seller.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What I'm Going to Read on My Summer Vacation

Already halfway through March (hooray!), I've started dreaming of warmer days to come, driving with my window down, and of course, my upcoming summer vacation in July. Being one of the members of the Odyssey's First Edition Club committee and starting our new Breakout Fiction program, I don't always get the chance to read everything I want to, and since many, many a book need to be read FOR work (even though I love the process), I often feel guilty taking a break to read solely for myself. My colleague and friend, Emily Crowe, aptly refers to this as "bookseller guilt."

There must be at least 50 books in my immediate "to-be-read pile" which I've had to be put aside because I'm constantly reading for our First Edition Club and Breakout Fiction Program. The books in this pile are either: non-fiction and therefore ineligible, published 6 years ago, or were written by authors we were unable to schedule for an appearance.

However, I have promised myself that during the 10 days I am in Maine this July, I will read SOLELY for myself and therefore the First Edition Club/Breakout Fiction Program will just have to take a backseat! Below is a tentative list of some real goodies I've missed.

1) Jhumpa Lahiri's UNACCUSTOMED EARTH. This latest collection of stories from Lahiri has been on my bookshelf taunting me since last April. We tried everything to get her to come to the Odyssey, but as you can imagine, she's in high demand.

2) Junot Diaz's THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. When I started at the Odyssey about a year and a half ago, the store had just picked this as their September First Edition Club selection. Alas, I had to start reading for the November/December selections and never had the chance to pick this one up. I get mocked by fellow booksellers almost daily.

3) Marilynne Robinson, HOME. Marilynne rarely travels to do events, so this one was put on the back-burner for a little while.

4) Roberto Bolano, 2666. This one's a monster in size, and who knows if I'll be able to get to it, PLUS everything else I want to get through, but hey, I'll try.

5) Ethan Canin, AMERICA, AMERICA. Met this author at the 2008 Winter Institute. He's a sweetheart. I really want to read his book, as his writing has been compared to the great Richard Russo.

6) Richard Price's LUSH LIFE. Having lived in New York City for five years and hearing stories of the Lower East Side/East Village in the 1980s, I'm extremely curious about this one.

7) Brock Clarke, AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND. My dad is a writer, we live in New England. Enough said.

And finally, just to torture myself, I received a copy of Thomas Pynchon's AGAINST THE DAY for Christmas about three years and I WILL read it. As if Bolano's 2666 isn't enough, I know.

What scares (and thrills) me, however, is that I've heard word that this fall is one of the best literary line-ups in recent years. I know that come May, when I return from Book Expo America in New York, I'm going to be coming home with fifty new galleys, all clamoring for my attention and the above plans will be shot to heck. I'm tempted to set rules for myself and vow not to read anything published before April 2008, but I have a feeling those rules will be broken as soon as I start packing my suitcase for Maine.

Oh well, a bookseller can dream, can't she?

Emily Russo Murtagh

Mandel's debut novel, which is intense and subtle in equal measure, has left me completely dazzled.  Lilia, abducted by her father at the age of seven, grows up to be a wanderer, utterly incapable of forming lasting attachments or understanding the concept of home.  When she quietly leaves Eli behind, he traces her to Montreal, where Lilia's past and present collide in one mysterious young woman whose training as a tightrope walker stands in sharp counterpoint to her unbalanced mental state.  Ultimately this is a novel about urgency and restraint and about both the tragedies and rewards that we reap when we try to push beyond the limits of meaning and understanding.  Mandel resists the temptation to tie all three storylines up too neatly, leaving a couple of them to unravel as they may, and I think we can expect great things from this author in the future. 

It's from a small publisher, Unbridled Books, which has been quietly making good books for the discerning reader for I don't know how long, but which came to my attention a little over a year ago when they published Margaret Cezair-Thompson's The Pirate's Daughter.  We picked that book for our First Editions Club in December 2007 and now I really hope to pick Last Night in Montreal for either our June 2009 selection or for our BreakOut Fiction selection.  Ms. Mandel is incredibly young--she looks like she would be carded non-stop for a night out on the town--for having turned out such a fine, sensitive first novel.  It's not just the careful details she crafts for each character, it's also what she chooses to leave in shadow, crediting the reader's own imagination, that sets this book apart.  I can't wait for the book to be published so that I can put it in the hands of as many readers as possible.  

In other book news, I wonder if anybody else has paired up Cormac McCarthy with the tv show Northern Exposure to write a book review.  If not, then you heard it here first, y'all.  Jim Lynch's forthcoming book from Knopf, Border Songs, is the most bizarre love child of Cormac McCarthy's westerns and the quirky characters from Northern Exposure.  Honestly, I can think of no higher praise!  There's a hint of menace lying under the surface of nearly every page but that menace is perfectly counterbalanced by one Brandon Vanderkool, a behemoth of a man who has recently joined the Border Patrol but who would much rather stay at home with his dairy cows and make shadow sculptures of birds.  His bumbling, awkward ways, which once made him the object of local ridicule, have freakishly come together to make him the best damn BP man on duty.  Brandon is infinitely endearing in his happenstances, whether he's making a bust on a would-be terrorist or discovering a hidden tunnel used for transporting drugs across the border from Canada to the US.  Mr. Lynch has delivered a book that is both warm & wary.  His sense of the ridiculous is tempered by the generosity he shows his characters, and I look forward to reading more from him.  We readers on the FEC committee liked the book so much that we've picked it for our July FEC selection and I'm looking forward to welcoming the Jim to our store. 

~Emily Crowe

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Odyssey Kids Events


Mo Willems
Saturday, March 28th, 11 AM

Newest Book:
Watch Me Throw the Ball!
(A New Elephant & Piggie Book)

Check out these author's blogs for photos and stories from our
Heart Author's Day

Jeannine Atkins

Crissa Jean Chappell

D. Dina Friedman