Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Book Lust to Go" by Nancy Pearl

Adventure is just a book away as America's favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl, returns with recommended reading for more than 120 destinations around the world. [This book] connects the best fiction and nonfiction to particular destinations - whether your bags are packed or your armchair is calling. With stops from Texas to Timbuktu, this informed literary globetrotting guide points readers to the literature of place of destinations near and far. Whatever your port of call, Nancy Pearl's reading recommendations will send you on your way.

The subtitle for this book is "recommended reading for travelers, vagabonds, and dreamers" - and much as I admire the author, I think this book misses the mark a bit.

Don't get me wrong; there are tons of recommendations in here for just about every place on the planet. Pearl obviously did her homework finding works that work for this book. She has recommendations for countries I've never even heard of. But the style of this book didn't make me long to visit any of those places, let alone pick up any of the books listed here to "explore" these places. In that sense, the book doesn't succeed in its mission.

I started reading this just like every other book, word for word, straight through. I quickly got bored and started skimming, so that should tell you something. I read more about what she said about each country/place than I read about the recommendations.

And there were, in my humble opinion, some glaring omissions. In her chapter "Hiking the (Fill in the Blank) Trail", there's no mention of Bill Bryson's hilarious "A Walk in the Woods", which really did have me considering if I could hike the Appalachian Trail (I'm about 99% certain that I could not). And I was disappointed not to see "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes in the chapter "So We/I Bought (or Built) a House in..." I so wanted to move to Italy after reading Mayes' book, and I laughed right along with her as she not only re-built the house, but also the olive groves and the grounds. Granted, this is Pearl's book and not mine, but these two books just beg to be included.

Before it sounds as if I've lost all faith in the nation's most famous (or infamous) librarian, I will say that she gives a major shout-out to one of my favorite authors, Ian Rankin. In the chapter "Scotland: More than Haggis, Kilts, and Ian Rankin", she shows much love to Rankin, author of the John Rebus series. Everything I think I know about Edinburgh, I learned from Rankin's books. Pearl highly recommends the series, and thankfully recommends that readers start at the very beginning, reading them in order. I very much agree; the mysteries themselves could probably stand on their own, but so much happens in Rebus' life that it's best to read them chronologically.

I haven't given up entirely on Pearl, as I just picked up "More Book Lust" as the library the other day. But this book didn't make me want to pack my bags.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sunrise on Cedar Key by Terri Dulong

For the second time in ten years, Grace Stone is starting over on Cedar Key. Grace first moved to the serene island to escape a disastrous relationship. Now a visit with her Aunt Maude is interrupted by unwelcome news: Grace's apartment and coffee shop have been destroyed by fire. Grace is devastated, yet ever-practical Maude has a plan. While she helps Grace resettle, Maude even has a business venture in mind - weekend knitting retreats where women can craft, chat, and support one another. But other surprises await, including the return of Grace's estranged sister, and a tentative romance with the local bookstore owner. Knitting together her past and future will mean untangling the painful threads Grace left behind. But the result could be a vibrant new life - and the courage to live it fully...

This is the first book I've read by Terri Dulong, and probably the last. The story overall isn't bad. But this book wasn't a page-turner for me. I read it because I saw it listed somewhere (probably one of our professional book review magazines for the library) and the description sounded like it might be something we would want for our library system. However, having read it, I know I wouldn't list it as one of my go-to books when making recommendations to patrons. And with an extremely limited materials budget this year, I know I'm not going to recommend we purchase it for our collection.

So what's wrong with it? Well, nothing...nothing that I can put my finger on, that is. The characters aren't cliche, but they're also not as well-rounded as I would prefer them to be. There's some tension between characters, but again, not nearly as much as I had anticipated, especially where Grace and her sister Chloe are concerned. Most of the conflict arises in the last quarter of the book, and that's pretty late in the game as far as I'm concerned. Characters are introduced, and while not forgotten, aren't really there either. Sigh. It's so hard to explain this well!

I suppose what I can say is this: I finished almost half of this book yesterday while I was home sick from work. It didn't take a lot of thought, or energy, to read it. I guess you could say it's like the yarn they describe at the knitting retreats - soft, or fluffy, or pastel. There's no "oomph" to this novel. Not even the romance lured me in, and he was French! And before anyone comes down on me for dissing the romance, no, I am not complaining that there aren't really any sex scenes here. What I am saying is that there is no heat to the romance, and you can write good love scenes without using sex. What it lacks is the sexual tension, the whole "will they or won't they" feeling. I'm fine with having that tension for almost the entire book, if it's written well and has me turning pages, hoping for the next kiss, the next caress.

Finally, I was really bowled over by how much people seem to love Cedar Key. It would appear that every person who sets foot on the island wants to relocate, which seems nice at first, but then it had a creepy, almost Stepford-like feel to it. And all these extremely successful business people! Granted, I don't read to be reminded of what's going on in the real world, but it would seem that everyone who opens up a shop on Cedar Key does just a bang-up job of it! That felt off to me, as well as how little it seemed to take to get said businesses open. That and the fact that other people fill in as needed when someone has an emergency, even if that person doesn't actually work at that shop. How does that work as far as taxes and such go? Is everyone an independent contractor? It just wasn't realistic, in my humble opinion. Surely someone has visited Cedar Key and thought it was too small for their liking, that with a town of only 900 or so, everyone would know your business. And with such a small community, again, how can all these businesses thrive as they do?

If you want a light read, something where nothing bad really happens, then this will be the book for you. But if you'd like a dash of reality with your fiction, I would look elsewhere. Cedar Key isn't for you, my friend. And it's not for me, either.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Professor Gargoyle: Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, book 1" by Charles Gilman

Cute book! Had an ARC in the staff lounge at our Main branch, and as I had to work there today and had forgotten to bring any of the FOUR books I had started at home, I picked this up.

Robert Arthur is a victim of redistricting; all his friends will go to Franklin Middle School on the north side of town. Robert must attend Lovecraft Middle School on the south side of town. He knows no one there, no one at all - except Glenn Torkells, the bully who has tormented him since he started his academic career.

Robert quickly learns that something is not right with his new school. After all, there are rats in the lockers - and it's a brand new building! There are some very strange teachers. Then there's the day some tentacles come oozing out of his locker, grabbing his sworn enemy.

As I said, nice twist on a scary story for kids. As an adult, I know enough of the Lovecraft lore to appreciate where the author is going with this. Who knows? Maybe some of today's kids will discover the Master...of Horror. My only disappointment was that as an ARC, my copy was a paperback and lacked the "terrifying lenticular cover portrait", the one that morphs from normal looking teacher to creepy evil thing from beyond. Can't wait to see the hardback version!

"Read This Next: 500 of the best book you'll ever read" by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

Ever been betrayed by a pretty cover and a pair of alluring blurbs? Read assured: [this book] will never hurt you. The 500 book recommendations contained within these pages have all been carefully vetted and approved by two literary professionals with discerning taste and witty wit. Arranged into delightful thematic lists, these suggestions cover the best of literature high and low, from page-turning classics to mind-expanding fluff; from murder mysteries and post-apocalyptic visions to historical fiction and bathroom books. Each book is paired with deeply insightful, deeply hilarious discussion questions, perfect for book groups or for readers who just enjoy talking to themselves.

In a world where so many books disappoint - robbing you of your time and money, promising more than they can deliver - [this book] is the wickedly smart, faithful, and attractive partner you've always dreamed would bring you true and lasting reading happiness.

This was just a fabulous book! If you've ever wondered where you should start your literary adventures (say, for example, if you haven't read in quite a while, or you're wanting to take yourself in a new direction), I would highly recommend this. The authors have done a great job making this simple to use, as well as incredibly entertaining to read. I mean, honestly, when you find yourself not only reading the titles and book descriptions but also the book group questions and any other little tidbits they give you. And this isn't a short book - it's just a bit over 400 pages, and the copy I checked out from my library is also a bit on the heavy side. So they packed a lot of info in that 400+ pages!

I won't say I totally agree with every selection that the authors pick here. But there are so many to choose from that if something isn't striking your fancy, move on to another title. Life is too short to slog through a book you're not enjoying!

Definitely worth picking up. In fact, I've been wavering on getting my own personal copy, and that's really saying something, as I rarely buy books anymore. But I keep thinking how nice it would be to have this as a reference to consult when I'm in one of those moods. You know, the one where you're just not sure what you want to read? In fact, I think I've pretty much decided yes, I will get my own copy of this book. That's how much I enjoyed it, and yes, you will too!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The Girl's Guide to Homelessness" by Brianna Karp

"If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't assume I live in a parking lot. I am just like you, except without the convenience of a permanent address." Brianna Karp entered the workforce at age ten, supporting her mother and sister throughout her teen years in Southern California. Although her young life was scarred by violence and abuse, Karp stayed focused on her dream of a steady job and a home of her own. By age twenty-two her dream became reality. Karp loved her job as an executive assistant and signed the lease on a tiny cottage near the beach.

And then the Great Recession hit. Karp, like millions of others, lost her job. In the six months between the day she was laid off and the day she was forced out onto the street, Karp scrambled for temp work and filed hundreds of job applications, only to find all doors closed. When she inherited a thirty-foot travel trailer after her father's suicide, Karp parked it in a Walmart parking lot and began to blog about her search for work and a way back.

Karp began her journey as a homeless person terrified and ashamed. Fear turned to awe as she connected with other homeless people whose remarkable stories inspired her to become an activist for the homeless community.

Deeply compassionate and darkly funny, this unforgettable memoir celebrates the courage and creativity of lives society would otherwise stigmatize.

OK, full disclosure first. The version I was trying to read was an Advanced Uncorrected Proof. So perhaps some of the problems I had with this were fixed before the final, official version. But I sort of doubt it. And yes, if you read all that carefully enough, you'll know the second thing I'm going to say...

I couldn't finish this.

This is upsetting to me on several levels, the main one being that while helping choose selections for my library system, I saw the professional reviews on this title and said we had to get it. Even got a copy for my little branch as well. Now I wonder if it was the best way to spend some of our very limited materials budget. The reviews were very positive, the blurb sounded extremely interesting, and the subject matter couldn't have been more timely.

So what's the problem? I wish I knew. I made it to the fourth chapter and just couldn't get any further. It took me a good month or more to read even that much, and that should really tell you all you need to know right there, shouldn't it? That fourth chapter opens with her talking about losing her job, figuring out how much she would be getting from unemployment, and trying to reconcile how she was going to pay her rent ($1500/month), feed herself, her hungry dog (a Neapolitan Mastiff), and - wait for it! - her horse. Yep, a horse. That was the moment I realized I just didn't care about this girl, not the way I should have. It's one thing if you're struggling to make ends meet and you lose your job and everything falls to sh*t almost immediately because you have no savings to speak of. It's entirely different when you're that young (23), you've come from a hard-scrabble life (don't forget, she's been working since age 10), you've suffered physical and mental abuse (so you know you should have an emergency plan, right?) and you go out and start spending money on beach apartments, very large dogs, and something that often should just remain a young girl's dream.

The pages before the final straw weren't much better. The narrative was all over the map, which didn't help. The author would start to tell something about her life, jump back to her childhood, go back to the present, go to a different part of her childhood, etc. Very disjointed, often with no clear sign that we were about to time-travel. The abuse is horrible, but she sounds very nonchalant about it, which really, really bothered me. If my mother had treated me the way her mother did, I don't think I could remain detached while I described it. We won't even talk about her father. Maybe that's what therapy does, but it just didn't work for me as a reader.

And I had a hard time believing that much of what she said happened to her in those first 23 years happened the way she said it did. Now, before anyone decides to blast me and say I'm being one of those awful reviewers that's slamming the author, let me clarify: I am not saying this author lied - not about anything. What I am saying is that the way it comes across on the written page, it sounds embellished. That's just my personal opinion, and it's a big part of why I couldn't finish this book. I kept finding myself reading something and saying "Really? REALLY? No one noticed this 12-yr-old driving herself to work? No one on the freeway noticed her mother bashing her face into the steering wheel when she almost side-swiped another car?" I mean, this is a young girl, and these are recent events, so I just hard a very difficult time believing that no one would pick up a cell phone and report anything like this. People seem eager to rat out others behaving badly, especially where children are involved, or so it seems.

Maybe someday down the road I'll pick up the version that was published, the version that sits in my very own library branch. Perhaps some of the issues I had with this work will have been addressed between the AUP and that version. If anyone out there has read the "official" version, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought. I really would like to know if this is just me reacting to this AUP.