Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

I listened to the audiobook of Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin on a long car trip. In the past, I have very much enjoyed Austin's inspirational romances, and this one, set in Eastern Kentucky and featuring the packhorse librarians of the WPA era, had great promise. However, I found that a few glaring flaws made the story less than enjoyable for me.

The story is told from the point of view of Allie, a sheltered young woman who lives with her parents in the suburbs of Chicago. She loves books, and her job at the public library is a perfect fit . . . until the library's budget is cut due to the Great Depression, and Allie finds herself at loose ends. Prior to losing her job, Allie had been collecting books and magazines for libraries in Appalachia. When Allie's aunt and uncle announce that they are heading in that direction for a vacation, Allie rides along, planning to deliver the books to the library in Acorn, Kentucky, and to stay for a week or two and help catalog the books. When she arrives in the tiny backwoods town, she is shocked to learn that the librarian she has been corresponding with is a man, there is nowhere in Acorn for her to stay but at the library (which also happens to be the male librarian's home), and that living conditions in the little town do not include such amenities as electricity or indoor plumbing. Worse, the day after her arrival, the town's librarian is shot, and Allie finds herself caught in the middle of a web of deceit and intrigue.

My main problem with this book is that I did not find any of the main characters sympathetic or likable. Allie spends most of the story being Too Stupid To Live, complaining about her situation, being afraid of things, and reading solely as an escape. She grows incrementally stronger over the course of the book, but it was not enough to redeem her in my eyes. I also had some big problems with the plot, and the way other characters trapped and manipulated Allie into staying in Acorn against her will. It made it hard for me to like those characters, or to root for the success of the book's romantic subplot. The dialogue felt stiff and contrived in spots, too. To top it off, the plot meandered along at a leisurely pace, leaving me plenty of time to stew over my dislike of the characters. (In all fairness, this might have been because I was listening, rather than reading -- that can distort my perception of a book's pacing.)

I wish I could recommend this book -- I thought the premise was fascinating, and I am usually a fan of this author. Maybe next time I read one of her books, it will be a more enjoyable experience all around.

(Reviewed from an electronic audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

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