Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Odyssey on the Air: Books, Books, Books on

We love NPR, and we particularly love WAMC, the Albany, NY, NPR affiliate because they love indie booksellers.  Every week they invite independent booksellers to join them on the air during the morning Roundtable show, and this week it was our turn.

Emily represented the Odyssey this Tuesday to talk about her favorite fiction books:

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Move over, Cormac McCarthy—there’s a new post-apocalyptic gig in town!  In this rugged country,  the few surviving people untouched by the deadly virus must make test the limits of their humanity in order to stay alive. Hig relies on his dog Jasper, his old Cessna, and an uneasy alliance with a former special-ops guy named Bangley to make his way in this brave, new world.  The language in this novel is riveting, and the innovative style of the first person narration is carried off amazingly well.  This book packs both a literary and an emotional wallop—I swear that I laughed, was moved to tears, and had an adrenaline rush, all on a regular basis.  Dark, poetic, and deeply beautiful. I can’t recommend this one enough. 
(click here to read Emily's complete review) Peter Heller will be at the Odyssey on September 28 for a reading, so please give us a call or email us to let us know whether to expect you!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  Believe me, this book will absolutely sneak up on you unawares! What starts off as a sweet story, peopled with quirky characters, quickly turns into a poignant study of human nature, where the peculiarity is matched only by its whimsy. Dotted with charming British humor and sparkling with spontaneity this is a book you will mull over long after closing its pages.  I recommend to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted novel, but especially for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, or The Tower, the Zoo, or the Tortoise. 
(click here to read Emily's full review) 

Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman -- This is a great read from a renowned Mexican poet and playwright featuring an autistic savant immersed in the world of fish.  Reminiscent of both Temple Grandin and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night
(click here to read Emily's full review)

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman.  Stolen baby or adopted child?  So much depends on perspective in this fine debut novel of love, loss, selfishness, and sacrifice. When Janus Island  lighthouse keepers Tom and Isabel decide to care for a shipwrecked infant as if she were their own without reporting their find, life is idyllic for this family of three...until they discover that baby Lucy’s mother is still alive on the mainland.  The adults in this no-win scenario put their own moral justifications for their actions above Lucy’s best interest, but the problem here is that any compass of moral relativism lacks one True North.  Even (or, perhaps, especially) non-parents like me will understand the choices the adults made in this riptide of a novel that sweeps characters and readers alike into cross-currents of sympathy and sorrow. Stedman is a fine stylist and an outrageously good story teller. 
(click here to read Emily's full review)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope, born in England but raised in America, returns to her homeland to settle the estate of a grandmother she doesn't remember, where she must oversee the sale of her grandmother's house in order to fulfill the terms of the will. In the meantime, things are heating up all over Europe,  Hitler is cutting a wide and lethal swathe across the continent, and not enough folks are raising their voice in protest.

Determined to stay on in London, despite having to give up her PhD program in MIT's mathematics department, Maggie makes friends and takes in roommates to cover her cost of living while looking for work.  She reluctantly takes a position as a secretary at Number 10 Downing Street, knowing that her intellect could be better used as a codebreaker in the War Department rather than typing up the prime minister's memos.

There are two important people in Maggie's life who are not what they seem, and in a race against time, she must crack a German code hidden in plain sight and uncover their true selves before one of them is killed and the other one puts the entire city of London in peril.

I tremendously enjoyed this paperback original, which is the start of a new mystery series.  This book is fun and frothy, offering a little bit of everything: an evocative wartime setting, secret identities, gender politics, light romance, lots of gin drinking, a narrowly-avoided assassination, and a brilliant and saucy heroine.  Don't pick this one up if you're looking for something substantial, but if you like historical fiction or if you prefer you mysteries to be decidedly soft-boiled, give this book a spin.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: The Dogs Stars by Peter Heller

I'm about six weeks removed from my reading of this book, and already it is as a distant memory for me, but I couldn't let the pub date come and go without saying something about Peter Heller's The Dog Stars.

This is the best book of the 20 or so that I read on vacation this year.  What's more, it may be the best book I've read this year.  What's even more, it just may be the best book I'll read in any year.

If you're reading this blog, you've probably already heard something about this book already--either because you're a customer and you've already heard me raving about it, or because you're a book person and you've heard the buzz surrounding this novel.  Which means what you probably know is that it's another post-apocalyptic vision of the world.  What you probably don't know is that it is also a beautiful one.

This may be a debut novel, but Peter Heller is no stranger when it comes to writing prose.  I don't think it's possible to produce a book like this one first time out of the gate.  His background in travel and adventure writing becomes clear once you settle into Dog Stars, but it's the prose itself that sets this book apart: strong, experimental, truncated, but with a stream-of-consciousness aspect to it.

This is the story of Hig, a one percenter.  Except in this case, he's one percent of the surviving population after a terrible flu has wiped out most of the population, and a mysterious blood disease has wiped out most of the flu survivors. He lives in a state of uneasy alliance with military-hardened Bangley, a "Survivor with a capital S," at a small, abandoned municipal airport.  With Hig's Cessna and a dog named Jasper, they create a perimeter than can be defended and protected against the marauding, near-feral almost-humans who occasionally cross their paths.

It's an uneasy alliance, but a successful one, until one day Hig hears another voice on the Cessna's radio, broadcasting from a place well beyond his gas tank's point of no return, and it's that voice that starts to haunt Hig's waking and dreaming moments: are there other pockets of other people out there like him, people who have maintained their humanity, but more importantly, their hope?

I won't say more than that, other than the rest of the book is dedicated to that search, but also to the preservation of that hope. Reading this book is a singularly satisfying experience, and one that drew me in deeply and was slow to let me go.  I laughed and I cried, and my pulse was pounding, often within the same chapter, and my husband tells me that all it took was watching me read the book to make him want to, too: he could hear my sniffles and my laughs, he observed all of my white-knuckled moments, my dog-eared pages, my deep sighs, and my blank looks when I stared, unseeing, out at the point where the ocean meets the horizon when the book became too much to take in.

Believe me when I say this book is a helluva read.

I'll conclude with a few excerpted passages and then the book trailer (sorry for the poor formatting--I don't know how to make it smaller).  I read this book in ARC form, but it was published this week by Knopf. Seriously, will you please just read this?

"Bangley never drank because it was part of his Code. I'm not sure if he thought of himself as a soldier or even a warrior, but he was a Survivor with a capital S. All the other, what he had been in the rigors of his youth, I think he thought of as training for something more elemental and more pure. He had been waiting for the End all his life. If he drank before he didn't drink now he didn't do anything that wasn't aimed at surviving. I think if he somehow died of something that he didn't deem a legitimate Natural Cause, and if he had a moment of reflection before the dark, he would be less disappointed with his life being over than with losing the game. With not taking care of the details. With being outsmarted by death, or worse, some other holocaust hardened mendicant (70)."

"I could almost imagine that it was before, that Jasper and I were off somewhere on an extended sojourn and would come back one day soon, that all would come back to me, that we were not living in the wake of disaster. Had not lost everything but our lives....It caught me sometimes: that this was okay. Just this. That simple beauty was still bearable barely, and that if I lived moment to moment, garden to stove to the simple act of flying, I could have peace (67)."

"Jasper used to be able to jump up into the cockpit now he can't. In the fourth year we had an argument. i took out the front passenger seat for weight and cargo and put down a flannel sleeping bag with a pattern of a man shooting a pheasant over and over, his dog on three legs, pointing out in front...I carried him. Lay him on the pattern of the man and the dog.

You and me in another life I tell him....

He's getting old. I don't count the years. I don't multiply by seven.

They breed dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn't they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man (23, 24, 25)."

Peter Heller's The Dog Stars is a selection for the Odyssey Bookshop's signed First Editions Club.  He'll be reading at our store on Friday, September 28, and we couldn't be more excited!