Shelf Life: Rachael Mason
Recently, I read two books that included the partial texts of other books within their pages. In one case, the book-within-a-book technique really worked for me. In the other, it wasn't so successful.
I really liked "The Men's Guide to the Women's Bathroom" by Jo Barrett (Avon, $13.95). The story focused on Claire, a recently divorced woman who moves from New York City back to her home in Austin, Texas.
Claire is an aspiring author who decides to write a book that describes the ladies' room to men. Excerpts from her guide are included throughout the novel. I didn't find Claire's "book" that enlightening, but it was entertaining and occasionally funny - and she makes some really good points about restrooms.
The character's writing was nicely balanced with the actual story of "The Men's Guide to the Women's Bathroom." It's not a terribly realistic tale, but it was fun to read.
The book's Austin setting made the novel even more appealing. I've wanted to visit this quirky Texas town for years, but now I want to go even more. I hope at least some of the Mexican restaurants Barrett mentions in the story are real, because I'd really like to check them out.
In "The Hopeless Romantic Handbook" by Gemma Townley (Ballantine, $12.95), a British girl named Kate still believes in fairytale love. When she sees a vintage romantic advice book in an online auction, she decides to buy it. The handbook comes with a guarantee of finding true love. Soon after she receives the book in the mail, Kate meets a cute American actor.
Many of the chapters in this novel include long passages from the guide for hopeless romantics that Kate buys. I read them carefully at first, but as the story continued, I ended up skimming them, then just skipping them altogether. Written in a 1950s style, the book excerpts included lots of outdated advice and made for tedious reading.
A few boring passages weren't enough to stop me from reading the novel, though I think "The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook" would be greatly improved if most of the guidebook parts were cut out of it.
Oddly enough, in this novel, Kate's job was more interesting than her love life. She works as an interior decorator on a low-budget reality makeover show. I wouldn't have minded if the book had focused entirely on the show, instead of on Kate's search for love.
As it was, I didn't hate the novel. I'm just not planning to pass it along to anyone - not even the most hopeless romantics that I know.
If there's a book you think I really ought to read, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.