Posts Tagged ‘Travel Narrative’

Best New Books of 2014: Janet L’s Picks

December 8, 2014

Winter is coming, with its cold days and long nights.  In other words, perfect reading weather.  It’s also the traditional time to look back and choose favorite reads of the past year.  If you are a fan of humor, mystery, travel, or food (not to mention good writing) I can highly recommend the following five books:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Neighborhood curmudgeon Ove is not amused when a lively young family moves in next door.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Ove’s, when instead of the expected disaster, something wonderful results.  Fredrik Backman’s debut is an amazing mixture of comedy, pathos and social commentary.  Will appeal to almost everyone, especially fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Life would be much easier for Mike Bowditch if he could just keep his mouth shut, but then reading about him wouldn’t be so much fun.  No longer a game warden for the state of Maine, Mike finds himself drawn into a case when good friend and former mentor, Kathy Frost, is gunned down and critically injured.  One of my favorite mystery series; if you haven’t had the pleasure, begin with The Poacher’s Son.  Especially recommended for readers of the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton, the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder and the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, is a Los Angeles mortician.  She wrote this book to give people a behind the scenes look at funeral home. Death is a somber and scary subject, but Doughty handles it with humor and compassion. If she hoped this book would demystify death and make it more comfortable to contemplate, she succeeded with this reader.  Recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell.

The Age of LicenseThe Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Graphic artist Knisley shares the ups and downs of her book tour to Europe and Scandinavia.   Honest, charming, yet serious, this graphic novel will appeal to fans of travelogues and mouthwatering descriptions of food—and isn’t that almost everyone?

The Black HourThe Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet has made violence the focus of her academic research.  When a student she has never seen before appears outside her office and shoots her, theory becomes all too horribly real.  Back on campus, Amelia attempts to resume her life.  Relying on painkillers, a cane, and her sardonic sense of humor, Amelia struggles to find the answer to the questions that haunts her:  Why?

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 20, 2013

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Ask me for a suggestion and I most likely have read something that would appeal to you. But I still enjoy wandering the library stacks. Stumbling across a fabulous book is like finding a gem in a pile of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is fun and fleeting, but some books are treasures that become friends for life. These are some of the new friends I made this year. Some have been out there a long time, others are more recent arrivals, but they are all worth checking out and passing along for more to enjoy!

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home by Erma Bombeck
I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson. One day while lamenting I had read and reread all his books the title of this book caught my eye. Intrigued, I picked it up. I am so glad I did! I laughed so hard I was sore the next day. I found out Erma Bombeck had a syndicated newspaper column and was a well known humorist. Somehow she had flown under my radar. But no more! In this collection of humorous writings she describes her travels around the world with her family.  And a word of warning: I had this on audio book and had to pull over because the tears of laughter were blinding me.

Variant by Robison Wells
If you thought surviving high school was hard, then this book takes it to a whole new level. Benson Fisher thought he was escaping an intolerable foster care system when he made it into the elite Maxfield Academy. He arrives excited for his new future, but something just seems not quite right. And then students start to disappear.  At this boarding school breaking the rules can literally kill you and escape is impossible.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
When I think of dragons I imagine powerful creatures to be admired or possibly feared. This is the first of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, and these dragons are pathetic and sickly. They cannot survive without their human keepers and as sentiment grows against them they are driven out on a perilous journey. But will they reach safety? Or will the enemies surrounding them doom the dragons forever?

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron
Since I was heading into the mountains for a vacation, I thought what better book to take along then one set in the North Carolina Mountains. And I fell in love with Judge Deborah Knott. Not just because the books are well written, or because the setting was so perfectly described I felt I was there, but because she is so ordinary and believable I felt I was her as I was reading. Judge Knott escapes the pressures of a recent engagement by subbing for a fellow judge in Cedar Gap. There she stumbles into a murder mystery and danger, and what about that handsome DA Lucius Burke! This book is the perfect mix of action, mystery, humor, and romance.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you thought writing restaurant reviews was easy, just wait until you read this biography!  Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic for most of the 1990’s. With humor and wisdom she draws you not only into the restaurant world, but into her world as well. This book is so well written you will feel you can close your eyes and be sitting in a top steakhouse, or a tiny Chinatown sushi bar, eating along with her.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

July 19, 2013

bookcover.phpMy own real-life experience backpacking on the Appalachian Trail is limited to one very cold overnight trip during my college spring break. The night we spent in the trail shelter was rather unpleasant, owing to a troupe of resident skunks that refused to be evicted, but the next morning was glorious. We hiked along a ridgeline on the NC-Tennessee border, overlooking frost-covered trees on the west side of the ridge and basking in sunshine on the east side. Nothing but trees and mountains stretched away from us, as far as we could see.

Having had this one small experience, I could really appreciate this book. Bryson starts his adventure at the camping store, piling up overpriced gear of dubious necessity. He carries it all home, sets up his new tent in the basement, and sits up late reading books about bear attacks. He enlists his overweight, beer-guzzling friend Stephen Katz to accompany him on the trail (what better way to get in shape than lugging a 40-pound pack 8 hours a day over rugged terrain?). They start out cheerfully in Georgia in early March, intending to hike all the way to Maine by summer’s end. Things don’t quite work out as planned, however.

The Appalachian Trail, which runs for at least 2,100 miles along the eastern seaboard, is the oldest and until recently the longest continuous trail in the country. Bryson tells us quite a lot about its history and ecology, as well as how beautiful, rugged and yet fragile it is. Mostly, though, we get to experience the day-to-day mishaps of these two greenhorns on the trail. They meet all sorts of people, some annoyingly loquacious, some annoyingly fit, and some truly kind strangers who ease their hardships and practically save their lives. Their adventures off the trail are just as funny, as they occasionally hitchhike into a tiny mountain town to refuel, refurbish, and do their laundry. In one small town laundromat, Katz gallantly helps a woman disentangle her lingerie from the washing machine agitator (she wasn’t wearing it at the time, thank goodness). Unfortunately, this chivalrous deed arouses the anger of her rifle-toting husband, and Katz and Bryson are lucky to get out of town alive.

No matter how badly my day was going, a few minutes spent checking in on Bryson and Katz got me chuckling. However, this book also has plenty of the “wow” factor. Even though they never saw a bear or stepped over a rattlesnake, there is plenty of real danger narrowly averted and loads of breathtaking views aptly described. They might not have hiked the whole trail or stared death in the face, but as Bryson says, “I gained a profound respect for wildness and nature and . . . understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Best New Books of 2012: Janet L.’s Picks

December 10, 2012

What do a clerk in a 24-hour bookstore, a snake-handling faith healer, a man walking 500 miles to visit a sick friend, a hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail and Richard Burton have in common? (And it doesn’t involve marrying Elizabeth Taylor.) Rather, they all figure somehow in my five favorite books of 2012. My reading tastes are eclectic, but I read more literary fiction and mysteries than anything else. Language, atmosphere, setting, and believable characters are all important to me.  — Janet L.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Marshall, North Carolina, has a new church, the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. It’s led by a charismatic preacher, Carson Chambliss, a man with a talent for snake handling. Stump Hall, a young autistic boy, witnesses something at the church that leads to tragedy. Sheriff Clem Barefield is determined to find out what happened, no matter what the consequences. This is Cash’s debut novel and it’s a beauty; gorgeous writing, believable characters and gothic overtones. Recommended for readers of Ron Rash, John Hart and Tom Franklin.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry is surprised to receive a letter from Queenie Hennessey, who is seriously ill and has written to say goodbye. They were friends once, but parted in strained circumstances. Mild mannered Harold is so shocked by this news he behaves spontaneously and begins a 500 mile journey by foot to say goodbye to Queenie, convinced she will not die as long as he is walking. Recommended for readers of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg and Anna Quindlen.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I adored this book. It has a likeable narrator, Clay Jannon, who clerks in a mysterious bookshop run by the fascinating Mr. Penumbra. The theme of Old Knowledge (books) vs. Internet knowledge allows the author to slip in scenes at Google, a museum dedicated to knitting overrun by children, arcane information about fonts, and a computer whiz who made a fortune creating realistic 3-D versions of breasts. This book is fun. It’s the kind of book that made a reader of me, the kind of book that keeps me reading, the kind of book I can’t wait to tell people about. Recommended for readers of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Hunched under a too heavy backpack quickly nicknamed Monster, Cheryl Strayed begins a real life journey along the Pacific Crest Trail that is spiritual as well as physical. Her plans for her hike are soon revealed as inadequate (who knew water weighed so much?) and she must improvise as she goes along—much as we all have to adjust in life when our best laid plans go awry. I found Strayed’s account of her hike riveting, profound, hilarious and suspenseful. Recommended for readers of Jeannette Walls, Jon Krakauer and Dave Eggers.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
It’s 1962 and Pasquale Tursi, owner of the Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna, Italy, is immediately smitten by Dee Moray, an American starlet who arrives at his hotel fresh from the set of the movie Cleopatra. Their story (with a supporting appearance from Richard Burton) connects to present day Hollywood and the career of Claire, assistant to legendary producer Michael Deane. Walter creates a truly romantic story that underscores his theme of how life and art intersect.

Paris in Love by Eloisa James

September 26, 2012

After surviving a bout with breast cancer in 2009, romance author (and Shakespeare professor) Eloisa James took a sabbatical and moved to Paris with her family. During their year-long stay, James chronicled their lives on her Facebook page and through Twitter. For Paris in Love she arranged these posts chronologically and divided them into chapters with an introductory essay for each chapter. Here’s a sample post from the Winter chapter:

“The streets are suddenly filled with men selling chestnuts, roasted over oil barrels. Alessandro and I bought some, wrapped in twists of newspaper. They split open from the heat, showing sweet yellow insides. We walked along slowly, nursing the warm packages in our hands, eating smoky, slightly charred nuts.”

Along with descriptions of Paris weather, restaurants, shopping and culture, James tells us about her family and their adventures. We learn about her teenage son who struggles to succeed in his new school. We also get to know her 11-year-old daughter, who is a real free spirit/troublemaker (depending on your point of view). And we are along for the ups and downs of James’ relationship with her Italian husband Alessandro.

Some readers may not enjoy the disjointedness of these short entries, preferring a more narrative style. But I saw this arrangement as a good thing. It made the book so quick and easy to read. I could experience the flavor and poetry of living in Paris, without spending hours a day making my way through the book. It’s a real boon for the armchair traveler who has limited time to read.

For more information about the book, visit its web site Paris in Love . Here you will find book excerpts and photographs as well as biographies of the family members.

 Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

I’m Off Then: My Journey Along the Camino de Santiago By Hape Kerkeling

June 12, 2012

Hape Kerkeling is a German Comedian who suddenly decided he’d like to walk the El Camino de Santiago, an over 800 mile pilgrimage that crosses the northern part of Spain. He is not athletic, or particularly religious, but is a Catholic and was curious about what effect such a journey might have on him physically and spiritually. Although the decision was made almost on a whim, the final results were profound and far reaching for him.

Kerkeling doesn’t take himself too seriously and laughs at how unprepared he really was for such a huge endeavor. He doesn’t end up walking the entire way, as some do. Several times he hopped on a train or bus if he felt he needed a break from walking. He also stayed in hotels whenever he could as he felt the hostels were too crowded for him to get any real rest. I thought Kerkeling was very open to new experiences as he traveled, though. He tried new foods and walked with others as their paths cross, although sometimes he chose to have a day of solitude. While walking, he kept a journal of the people he met and the places he stopped. He ended up traveling the final segments with two ladies who become lifelong friends of his. In his journal, he reflects daily on his experience, writing down what he feels was the lesson for the day. At the end, he decides the pilgrimage was worth every minute, even the bad ones.

Note: If you would like to see some of the scenery of the El Camino, the recent movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen tells the story of someone else making the same pilgrimage. This book is also sure to appeal to fans of Bill Bryson’s hilarious travel memoir A Walk in the Woods.

Editor’s note: we forgot to mention that this book was translated from German by Shelley Frisch.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

June 5, 2012

This week we’re featuring some of our favorite Audio Books, just in time for planning your summer road trips. You can also click the Audio tag at the bottom of this post or at the top of the tag cloud on the right hand side of our blog’s home page for more great audio book suggestions!

Eat your way across France and then write about it? That’s right. Peter Mayle took the challenge and ran with it, and the result is a literary delight that will leave you laughing at the wonder (and at times horror) of the French culinary world. From frog leg festivals to the blessing of the sublime truffle, Mayle’s
year-long journey will captivate you.

This book is especially engaging as an audio edition — narrated by Simon Jones — as you can truly appreciate the French pronunciation of their foodstuffs (something they take very seriously as evidenced by the amount of time and money the French are willing to spend in pursuit of gastronomic enjoyment). In addition, narrator Simon Jones’ droll humor truly brings to life Mayle’s descriptions of life in France.

And never fear, Mayle does not simply drag you along from food item to food item. There are also delightful forays into kitchens, restaurants, and local festivals all interspersed with informative, and yet often hilarious, historical background on the subject.

For anyone who has yet to give nonfiction a try, this is your book. Put it in your car, listen as you clean or organize your closets, or just get inspired to try some of those French recipes you have gathering dust in the corner of your kitchen. You’ll feel as if you have spent a year in France!

If you enjoy this audio book, try Mayle’s first book A Year In Provence on audio, or try any of his wonderful nonfiction writings (my personal favorites) or his novels.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Travels with Charley; in Search of America by John Steinbeck

June 4, 2012

This week we’re featuring some of our favorite Audio Books, just in time for planning your summer road trips. You can also click the Audio Books tag at the bottom of this post or at the top of the tag cloud on the right hand side of our blog’s home page for more great audio book suggestions!

What better book to consider taking on a road trip than this one? (Okay, besides  Kerouac’s On the Road.) I’ve enjoyed Steinbeck’s writing ever since I read Of Mice and Men back in High School. Last year, the classics book club that I was in read what many consider to be his greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath. A nonfiction book club at another library had read Travels with Charley and almost everyone — including two friends — loved it, so I knew I’d have to read it. Not long ago I was able to listen to Ron McLarty’s wonderful narration of Steinbeck’s journey. I hadn’t heard McLarty before, but to me, his voice seemed to truly capture John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck and his French poodle, Charley, pack up a camper on the back of a truck and leave Steinbeck’s New York home just after Labor Day to head out to re-discover our country. His goals are to travel incognito, to only use his first name whenever possible, and to stick to the smaller roads and avoid the major highways as much as possible. He starts out heading East through New England and up into Maine before heading West across the Northern part of the country. He eventually makes a loop around the country, including the West coast and the deep South before venturing back up to his home in New York several months later. The National Steinbeck Center in his hometown of Salinas, California has a large map of his travels on display.

There has been a bit of controversy in recent years since people have discovered that Steinbeck did not write a completely accurate diary of his travels. He fudged the timeline about when he was in each location and how long  the various parts of the trip took. He mentions his wife meeting him in a hotel at a couple points along the journey, when she was with him much more of the trip than he indicated. Some of the people he meets (waitresses, policemen, mechanics) are composites of people he met and his own imagination.  But, in recent years we have also heard of many other somewhat fictionalized memoirs, see: James Frey, Augusten Burroughs, and  David Sedaris.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me that a great American novelist like John Steinbeck probably fictionalized large parts of his travel memoir about America. He’s a story teller, and he’s telling us a fantastic story of a man and his dog meeting the everyday people throughout our country at a time in our history which is both nostalgic and embarrassing to look back upon.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the author laments the disappearance of the city or town in favor of sprawl, as well as the homogenization of the country. Imagine how much more sprawl has occurred and how much more homogenous America is now, fifty years later.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara

January 13, 2012

A few years after his first South American tour, the would-be Argentine revolutionary once again traveled through the continent and farther north. He experienced how the U.S. helped overthrow the democratically elected government in Guatemala, and he gave up on his dream of improving the world as an individual, he abandoned the “isolated action of a person alone in a social environment.” Others had done this before him, throughout human history. In the New Testament’s Acts 2:44-45, it says about the followers of Jesus, “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (KJV)

As he wanted to be part of a collective effort, he joined the Cubans who fought to end the violent oppression of the Batista dictatorship. “The revolution,” he said, “is not, as some claim, a standardizer of the collective will, of collective initiative. To the contrary, it is the liberator of human beings’ individual capacity.”

In Cuba, he became known to the world as Che Guevara, but before the revolution, his friends had known him as Ernesto Guevara – a dedicated and compassionate young medical student, who traveled in Latin America with his friend Alberto Granado. The book Guevara wrote about their travels was published as Notas de Viaje, (Travel Notes) which in a way is a better title than the catchier title,  The Motorcycle Diaries, for the motorcycle breaks down fairly early. So, the two have to find other means of transportation. They walk, they ride trucks, they travel by ship, boat, canoe, and raft. They are at times completely broke, they experience terribly cold nights and hunger, and are by no means tourists. They are explorers, learning about the world as they encounter it. They are young scientists, trying to improve the collaboration between scientists in different parts of this vast expanse of the world. They are social observers with keen minds, connecting the past with the present and envisioning a possible future for Latin America. And they are two young rascals, doing whatever they have to do to feed themselves and find transportation.

Guevara is a strong storyteller. He is candid, exposes his own shortcomings, and never even suggests that he is some kind of hero. His writing is fresh, humorous, and vital, and his sudden shifts of perspective make the tale vivid from start to finish, and in the last chapter his writing is on fire.

Leo Tolstoy once argued – in the context of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia – that great events possess a momentum of their own, independent of the will of individuals. This could help explain how a young, ambitious doctor from Argentina was transformed into a man who described himself as a “small soldier of the 20th century.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

October 28, 2011

My Travel Book Club read and discussed this book a few years ago and it was one of our most enjoyable discussions. The title is a little off-putting, but after reading a few chapters, it becomes apparent that it’s just Troost’s wickedly wry sense of humor.

After finishing grad school, Troost found himself unemployed with little in prospects. Fortunately his girlfriend, Sylvia, landed a job on the island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati. Troost tagged along with plans to write a novel. Once in Tarawa, Maarten spends most of his days as a glorified beach bum – bodysurfing, reading, and kibitzing with locals.

The couple dealt with severe culture shock. Maarten and Sylvia often had no power, water, or even food. Dogs constantly threatened them and the lack of sanitation was shocking. There are dozens of great anecdotes from their experiences. For instance:

– Maarten found that he could not drive on payday because so many people were lying down on the road – passed out drunk.

– When Maarten asked the Minister of Health why cigarettes were so cheap. The Minister replied “otherwise, people couldn’t afford them.”

– Maarten learned more than he wanted to know about the beautiful ocean when he discovered how people dealt with the lack of indoor plumbing.

The story of life on Tarawa would be good enough to make a great book regardless of the author. But Troost’s wit makes the book a great read. Many of the subjects that he discusses seem mundane but Troost makes them interesting and engaging for the reader. Make sure to check out Troost’s other catchy titles Getting Stoned with Savages and Lost on Planet China.

Find and request this title in our catalog.


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