This book really irritated me. I loved Mayes's previous books and was really looking forward to reading this one. The concept, a year of traveling to different locations, seemed like it would be really interesting combined with Mayes' fresh perspectives, enthusiasm for discovery, feisty opinions and poetic descriptions. But somehow it didn't work.
I get the sense that her heart wasn't really in this book. Maybe because the trips were taken over a span of five years, and cobbled together? Or because there's so much `padding' - endless quotes from her own or other people's writing. When she liked the place, her descriptions feel artificially enthusiastic, almost as if the book was paid for by the chamber of commerce. I got tired of reading that she could live there, or could imagine taking her grandson there, or wishes she was born there, or that it's SO much better than San Francisco. Where she doesn't live anymore, and hasn't for years. There are also too many stories about refreshing local characters who think Frances Mayes is the nicest, most tasteful, most interesting person they've ever met. Especially since these people tend to be waiters, cab drivers, rug salesmen or others whose business depends on charming the tourists.
Most of the book consists of sneering at her fellow Americans, or talking about people's personal appearance. This is boring and clichéd - and if you like that kind of thing, Bill Bryson does it better. There's also way too much name dropping (she's always mentioning "my friend so-and-so, the famous ____"). What happened to the ordinary, financially stretched, middle-aged college professor? She seems to be taking on the persona of a celebrity. She doesn't want to be crowded in with a group, doesn't want to associate with ordinary tourist types - now she deserves the VIP treatment. This is definitely a change from her previous books.
I think when it comes right down to it, there's too much Frances Mayes in this book. I thought I liked her, but what I really like is her writing style. It can still be magical - when she gets her ego out of the way. But when she puts herself front and center, she becomes more tedious and pretentious than interesting. Now I'm sorry I read this book, because I'm afraid it will spoil my enjoyment of the earlier ones.