Tag Archives: vacation

Fantastic Voyages

My family didn’t really take vacations when I was growing up. We’d go on day trips instead, packing the car with a picnic lunch and some beach supplies, then tooling around northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania looking for adventures. Most of the time we’d end up at either Pymatuning State Park or Conneaut Lake Park. Both are magical, fun places, and I highly recommend that you visit them. However, now that I’ve just returned from my first real vacation (complete with oceans, tasty food, and intense scrutiny from airport security), I’m completely hooked on the experience, and am planning/saving for the next one.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Taking a cue from Melissa, I brought along some beach reads, leaping at the chance to spend some quality time with the kind of books I like best: fantasy and speculative fiction. If you like that sort of thing, or are open to trying it, these fun, fantastic reading picks will keep you entertained as you lounge on the beach, by the pool, or under a palm tree, sipping your tropical beverage of choice.

awareThe Aware, Glenda Larke. Book one of the Isles of Glory trilogy introduces us to Blaze Halfbreed and her piratical lifestyle, forced upon her by the constraints of island society. Thanks to her mixed parentage, she’s denied citizenship in the Isles, and must work as an adventurer-for-hire to earn her keep. Luckily, her ability to sense magic makes her valuable to the various political factions who rule the islands. One faction, the Keepers, has recently hired her to find a runaway princess, fleeing from an unwanted marriage. As the plot thickens, however, Blaze learns that there are some things she just can’t do, even for a chance at full citizenship. Filled with swordplay and nautical shenanigans, this adventure yarn will appeal to readers who like salty language, strong female characters, sexy situations, and, perhaps, Suzy’s recent pirate post.

Chicks Kick Butt, Rachel Caine, ed. Curious about urban fantasy, but not ready to commit to a whole novel? Try this short story buttsampler on for size. Caine–an accomplished fantasy writer with several successful series to her credit–has assembled stories from various writers in the genre that showcase its greatest strength: the tendency to feature heroines who kick butt rather than kiss it. My favorite piece was Karen Chance‘s “In Vino Veritas,” which features a high-stakes paranormal drinking contest (trust me, it’s hilarious), but the whole volume is solid, and will open up a whole pack of new authors for you to try, if this is your first stab at urban fantasy.

magePaper Mage, Leah R. Cutter. Historical fiction fans will want to try this tale on for size. Our heroine, Xiao Yen, is on a quest to fulfill a promise she made to her aunt: win glory, and bring home an immortal peach. Because she’s a highly trained paper mage, Xiao Yen can make beautiful origami creations that come alive, which is useful when you need, say, a tiger to protect your campsite after dark. On her current assignment, bodyguard to a delegation of foreigners, Xiao Yen accidentally offends a goddess in disguise, and amends for her error by taking up the immortal lady’s quest as well as her own. The pace is slow and stately, showcasing the manners and customs of ancient China while exploring a very different sort of magic. Lovely, sad, and haunting.

zombieMy Life as a White Trash Zombie, Diana Rowland. Closer to home, on the Louisiana bayou, Angel Crawford wakes up in the hospital with no clue as to how she got there. When she checks out, she receives a brown paper bag with a change of clothes, several jars of what looks like iced coffee, and instructions to report to the morgue on Monday to start her new job. What the heck? Angel soon learns that her accident was a lot worse than she thought, and that what’s in those jars? Isn’t iced coffee (though it is delicious). As Angel adjusts to being one of the undead, she finds–much to her surprise–that her afterlife has the potential to be a whole lot better than her human life…unless, of course, whoever is killing all the local zombies catches up with her. If you’re willing to suspend your belief a teensy bit and have a good time, Angel will take you for a great ride. It’s an outrageous premise, but it’s got lots of heart, and I’ll definitely be looking up the sequels.

What can I say? There’s nothing I find more relaxing than a book about girls saving the world, especially if there are magical/paranormal elements involved. What do you like to read on vacation? Are super-powered super-heroines up your alley? Or is there some other genre that spells “beach read” for you?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Lakeside and  Coolio

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What I Did (Read) on My Winter Vacation

I just emerged from two weeks of hibernation to rejoin productive society. In other words, I’ve been on vacation. I participated in the usual family holiday festivities, sure, albeit fewer than most others did due to the small size of my clan. To be honest, I was actively trying to keep this vacation relaxed and low-key. I felt I needed it and deserved it. My promise to myself was to spend as much time reading as I possibly could. And read I did. I may not have made as huge a dent in my To-Read pile as I might have hoped, but over the course of 15 days, I read 6 books. Considering that I currently average about 1½ books per month, I was pretty thrilled with those results. I was also thrilled that I read books from several genres. Reading outside my usual categories was one of my goals for 2012, one that I will continue to explore in 2013.

So here’s a run-down of what I read on my winter holiday break (in the order read):

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier — The second book in a trilogy about a time-traveling teen who is now a reluctant member of a secret society that goes back generations in her family. I read the first book (Ruby Red) earlier this year and couldn’t wait for this one to come out in October. There’s mystery, a sinister villain from the past, fencing and a convoluted romance (of course). The only problem is now I’m stuck waiting for the last volume to come out in fall of 2013. Sigh. This series was originally published in Germany and has been since translated into several languages.

Lou! #1- Secret Diary by Julien Neel — This graphic novel tells the story of a tween and her single mom. You get to follow along as they survive adopting a stray cat, a visit from Memaw, video game addiction, love and each other! The self-deprecating humor and colorful panels make the story a stand-out. I can’t wait to see about getting my hands on numbers 2-4. (Update: I read volumes 2 & 3 last night and they were just as funny and cute as the first one!)

Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses (Plus Their Servants, Nannies, and One Royal Hairdresser) by Jayne Amelia Larson — If you’ve read the subtitle, you’ve pretty much read this book. You’re going to get exactly what you expect, stories about the uber-rich spending like there’s no tomorrow. Only, there is a tomorrow and they spend just as much money that day too. What is also included, that you may not expect, is the opportunity to get to know the people who take care of these wealthy Saudis. Their servants and caretakers are real people, with real feelings, and hopes and dreams that they, all too realistically, know won’t come true. To sum up: the princesses are spoiled (not necessarily their fault) and the author, as well as the rest of their domestic help, was overworked.

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters — This more recent, and possibly last, of the Amelia Peabody mystery series finds her archeological family in the Holy Land instead of their beloved Egypt. Amelia’s son, nicknamed Ramses, and his brother from another mother, David, are kidnapped (as usual). Amelia uses her wits to deduce what’s happened to them and her pointy parasol to prod the story along. Her dashing and boisterous husband, Emerson, uses his massive countenance and forceful personality to orchestrate the rescue of Ramses and David.

White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story by Jenna Weber — Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another cooking-blog-turned-book, here it is! Jenna always wanted to be a writer and the idea of combining her love of cooking and writing into a career led her to culinary school. Her journey, from making the decision to attend school, through graduation and entrance into the world of work, is interesting. You come to understand that the culinary arts are not as simple as they may appear and no one’s career path is smooth and straight. We all have bumps and roadblocks to make life interesting, and hopefully worthwhile.

Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl — I’ll admit it. I’m kind of fascinated by the television shows about hoarding. Well actually, more than kind of. It’s like the proverbial train wreck that you can’t look away from. I am always shocked by the living conditions of these people, some more than others, and I am always rooting for them to get it together so they can pitch the stuff, mental as well as physical, that’s keeping them a prisoner in their own home. This book approaches hoarding from a slightly different point of view. You get to see how this mental illness specifically affects the child of the afflicted. Jessie finally comes to the realization that she has to “divorce” herself from her mother’s house. Accepting that she cannot change her mother, however, doesn’t mean Jessie loves her any less.

“What’s Melissa going to read next?” you may ask. The answer is I’m reading the book for the Mystery Book Group which is meeting on Friday, January 18th at 1pm in the Teen Meeting Space on the First Floor. Our current theme is Middle East Mysteries and the book for January is Belshazzar’s Daughter by Barbara Nadel. All are welcome!

Happy Snuggly Winter Reading!
-Melissa M.

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Birthday Week Staycation

Every year I always take an entire week off for my birthday. I’m one of those people who love birthdays and a week’s vacation is the perfect way to celebrate. It helps that my birthday falls in May, a very nice time of year weather-wise! I am also a big fan of staycations, partly because of the expense of traveling (I’m very frugal) and because I have an elderly cat that I don’t like to leave alone for long. And, since I’m also a newcomer to Pittsburgh (and I live in the city), I spent the week doing a variety of fun touristy things:

Morning from Mount Washington (author’s photo)

  • Scoped out the May Market
  • Spent a few nights in a rustic state park cabin on the river hiking and relaxing

Clarion River (author’s photo)

The Duchess approaches (author’s photo)

As you can see, I didn’t have to leave the state (or spend a lot of money) to have a nice vacation. How about you? Have you ever taken a staycation? Try it sometime and be a tourist in your hometown.

~Maria, who is extremely well-rested

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You Are Here. (But I’m Not!)

Western United States Landscape

I hope to see sights like this one!

By the time you read this, I won’t be here. No, I haven’t quit or been fired, at least as far as I know. I will be on vacation. And being a conscientious employee, as all our library staff members are, I prepared this blog post before I left.

Currently, I’m somewhere in the mountainous western states. Beginning in Salt Lake City, Utah, we plan to drive in a big, somewhat lopsided circle through the states of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and back to Utah again. Along the way we will stop to visit as many National Parks and Monuments as we can fit in, including Arches National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Jewel Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Craters of the Moon, Little Bighorn Battlefield, Golden Spike, Grand Teton, and, of course, the ultimate National Park – Yellowstone.

When preparing for this trip, I did what any good librarian or library user would do, I consulted the library’s travel section. Here are some of the guides I found to be most helpful for planning this trip:

Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West – I probably could have used the book  that also covers the area a little south and east of this one, but this had everything I needed for Yellowstone. I had already made a list of must-see places in Yellowstone from miscellaneous state-specific travel books. In its Yellowstone chapter, this book includes a small call-out box of “Things Not to Be Missed.” I was delighted that everything on my list was also on their list. Even better, they mapped out a two day itinerary that includes all of the hot spots, how to get to them, in what order to see them, where to park, and how long to plan for hiking. By a happy coincidence, two days was exactly how long we were planning to spend in Yellowstone. I am assured that we will have enough time to see what we want to see.

Off the Beaten Path Idaho & Montana & the Dakotas – This series helped ensure that we were not only seeing what is most popular, but what we should see. Included in these books are lots of nifty little places that not everyone knows about. I would liked to have looked at the books about Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, but they were checked out. If I had started my search sooner, I could have put a hold on them. I plan, but that does not mean I plan far enough ahead.

Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More by Jane and Michael Stern – I don’t know about you, but when I travel I like to try local food, and avoid national chains. I prefer to dine where the locals do, eat what they like to eat, and generally learn as much as I can about a place through its food. This book reminded me very much of the show on the Food Network, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. (P.S. I also checked out this web site for local restaurant ideas.) I have a feeling that more than a few good meals in interesting locales are in my future!

I also looked through Moon Handbooks, Fodor’s and Frommer’s travel guides for the states we planned to visit. These series are always a good source for consistently reliable information.

So I hope you got to go someplace good this summer, even if it was your own front porch. Remember, the library always has materials for planning your next getaway, even if you just need a good read for the trip to the sunny spot in your backyard.

-Melissa M.

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Island Dreaming

Looking for a great vacation location? I lived on the beautiful island of St. Croix, and highly recommend the the U.S. Virgin Islands. No passport is needed since it is a U.S. territory. I’ve identified some library materials to get you in the mood for a trip, or just to immerse yourself in island dreaming.

Travel guidebooks include Frommer’s Virgin Islands, Fodor’s the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Moon Handbooks’ Virgin Islands. While these are great resources to start your research, the best way to learn about the islands and get the inside scoop is to hear from people who live there or have visited there, which you can do before or during your trip.

In the fiction book Don’t Stop the Carnival, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk draws on his own experience managing a hotel on an island near St. Thomas in the 1960s. The comedy about living out your fantasies on an exotic Caribbean island gives a pretty realistic account of the ups and downs of island life.

Wouk’s novel was turned into a short-lived musical by Jimmy Buffet in 1997 and an interactive multimedia CD, Don’t Stop the Carnival, words and music by Jimmy Buffett, can be found at the Library.

Other music and film recordings offer a glimpse of island life:

Zoop Zoop Zoop: Traditional Music and Folklore of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John features folk music field recordings from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Various artists perform the pieces, including “Sly mongoose,” “Me mother had tell me,” and “Cigar win the race.”

Caribbean Dreaming: U.S. Virgin Islands. This DVD brings the island atmosphere to life, with sumptuous visual images and music. From sunrise to sunset, go “behind the scenes” of the islands, visiting the most serene beaches, and observe breathtaking landscapes and ocean views.

Hollywood has shot several films in the USVI. The final scene in The Shawshank Redemption was filmed at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire Caribbean and is only open to the public seasonally during specific times in order to protect sea turtle nests and hatchlings.

Movies with scenes shot on St. Thomas include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Weekend at Bernie’s II, and Trading Places.

-Apryl

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Go away!

Summer is on its way, and for lots of folks, that means it’s time for vacation preparation. Part of the fun of getaways is planning, from deciding where to go to exploring the destination’s restaurants, attractions and culture. When I take a trip, I do most of my research online and through travel guides.  

Travel guides are a great place to start for general information. Unfortunately, they can be a little tricky to find in the catalog. Try this trick: using a keyword search, type in the name of your destination, the word “and,” and the word “guidebooks.” (For example, use “Pittsburgh and guidebooks.”)  This search should retrieve all of the materials listed with the Library of Congress subject heading that includes that location’s travel guides. Another subject heading the LOC commonly designates is “Description and Travel.

McCall Homemaking Cover photo by Nickolas Muray from George Eastman House Collection

"McCall Homemaking Cover" photo by Nickolas Muray from George Eastman House Collection

 Travel guide publishers like Lonely PlanetMoon, Fodor’s, and Frommer’s are also good sites to look for itineraries, lodging, eating, commuting, and activity information. Some even feature interactive message boards where fellow travelers offer personal advice and anecdotes. 

For domestic travel, the US Department of State’s Travel, Transportation, and Recreation page offers a wealth of information on national destinations and links to official state and locality pages.

For international excursions, visit Travel.State.Gov for travel advice and the CIA’s The World Factbook for background information about the country. The CLP website lists more excellent links for country information.

Newspapers frequently include travel sections, like The New York Times’ 36 Hours column, in which reporters travel to various US cities, have as much fun as possible in one weekend, and report back to the rest of us who aren’t lucky enough to vacation for a living.  

If your flavor is more under-the-radar, and you’re visiting a larger city, check the Association of Alternative Weeklies’ directory to find a local rag akin to Seattle’s The Stranger or New York City’s Village Voice that’s loaded with entertainment listings and reviews. 

Of course, one of my favorite travel advisors is the ever-reliable CLP Tools & Research page, in the section dedicated entirely to Travel.  These pages do everything from help you pack to explain how to phone home.  They even offer advice to the armchair traveler.  

We’re happy to help, even if only because we secretly hope you’ll bring us back a souvenir.

–Renée

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