Vacation Reads...Finally!

Now that I (think) I'm fully recovered from our cross-country adventure, I thought I best round up some reviews of what I read on the road, and what I read when I got home, so let's go! :-)

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford

I thought this was an especially appropriate read since Dad and I were going to be spending so much time in National Parks. Lankford served as a park ranger for a number of years, and details some of the people she worked with, and some of the impossible situations they deal with, in having millions of visitors come to their parks every year. She chronicles impossible mountain rescues, idiotic visitor behavior, some of the characters in the park system, and a particularly poignant story about an up-and-coming ranger who was unexpectedly killed in Alaska. This was a really absorbing, interesting read for me, and I wanted more, more from this slim volume. Recommended - particularly if you are a fan of the Anna Pigeon books by Nevada Barr (which, of course, I am)!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I wanted to re-read this, since the movie was coming out, as I remembered little from when I read it during college. Charlie is, well, a wallflower, shy and retiring, who tells his entire story in a letter written to a mystery reader. He chronicles his meeting of Patrick and Sam, the seniors who save him from loneliness, his family dynamics, first loves, last loves, and why he is the way he is. This is a great read for any young adult, though it's often on challenged lists for some language, sex, homosexuality and difficult family secrets. Recommended!

Lassoed by B.J. Daniels

Honestly, I don't even really remember this Harlequin Blaze romance, which, um, probably isn't a good sign. ;-) I know it involved cowboys, a ranch in Wyoming, a runaway bride and a new romance. I thought it was a fun diversion while driving across Kansas, but certainly not a very memorable one...

The Witness by Nora Roberts

I know a lot of people look down on Ms. Roberts for not being very "highbrow", but I think she crafts great story after great story, and this one was a standout! A young girl makes a series of stupid decisions one night in response to her mother's overbearing nature and finds herself on the run for the next twenty years. She finally settles down in a small town in the Ozarks, and immediately attracts the (unwanted) attention of everyone, including the hunky sheriff. Naturally, the sparks fly. ;-) Roberts always writes great characters, and this one definitely had a great vein of suspense running through it, as well as a lot of humor in the banter between characters, which I love and admire. A book I couldn't put down and that made me laugh out loud at times - highly recommended!

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Dad and I actually listened to this audiobook for the first half of our journey, and both agreed that it was an excellent novel! Meredith might not have spoken to her best friend Constance in several years, but when her world collapses with the arrest of her husband for the world's biggest Ponzi scheme, Connie is the one she calls. They take up residence on Nantucket while Meredith tries to figure out how her husband, and her marriage, went so wrong, while Connie struggles with getting past the death of her husband several years ago. This novel weaves and wends it's way through the summer in Nantucket, and Hilderbrand does an amazing job of evoking setting and emotion throughout. You sympathize for both characters, root for them, weep with them, and feel for them as they deal with things first singularly, then together as unit. Hilderbrand's prose is wonderful, her sense of place engaging, and her characters fully developed, and while flawed, are sympathetic. A great, great novel that both Dad and I enjoyed and recommend!

Matched by Ally Condie

I actually met Condie this summer at ALA, so I read my autographed copy on the trip (mm-hm....). This young adult novel is a great read-alike for the Hunger Games crowd...in a future dystopian world, Cassia's told by The Society what to read, watch, believe and do. When she goes to her Matching Ceremony to learn who her life partner will be, her best friend is on the screen...but at the last second, a flash of another face appears. The Society tells her it was a glitch, but was it? Should she match her best friend...or the mysterious boy who catches her attention? This is the first in a planned trilogy, and I thought it was a great "star crossed lovers" story mixed with rebellion and a dystopian setting. I already have Crossed (the second one) checked out!

And Able by Lucy Monroe

Apparently, this is the third in a trilogy, which I didn't know when I picked this up (which, let's be honest, was for the cute guy on the cover and the promise of smoldery romance). Still, I dove in and found it marginally satisfying, if a bit rushed and stripped down at times. An alpha male protector, a fesity protagonist, expected sex scenes and a happy ending - ya know, a typical erotica-light story. Eh. (The other two stories, by the way, are Ready and Willing).

The Independent Bride by Leigh Greenwood

I loved Greenwood's western romances when I was in high school, so I picked this one up from our booksale as more of a sentimental read. Taking place in Colorado Rockies in 1868, two sisters travel from St. Louis to take over the shop their father ran near Fort Lookout. Lurching from one disaster to the next, the sisters come to rely on the Colonel of the fort, and the elder develops feelings for him as well. This was an atmospheric book to read while traveling through Colorado, and had Greenwood's signature romance, setting and historical accuracy. Great for lovers of western romance!

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

This one kept me up laaaaate into the night in Yellowstone (reading by the glow of my lantern, of course) until I could find out the ending. In short, this book details a school takeover by an intruder, from the beginning of the day until the resolution. More interestingly, though, it's told from alternating points of view, which ratchets up the tension, suspense and sense of being in the crosshairs yourself as a reader. We have a teacher, a student, a female police officer, a grandfather, and a mother helping narrate the story, and all the lines weave together, leading the reader towards the (somewhat implausible, I'll admit) conclusion. This was impossible to put down - with a new chapter bringing a new voice, you couldn't stop, you had to know what was going to happen next. A great suspense novel - though some of the characters are a bit thin, the others more than make up for it. A great, great read!

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts

This was another audiobook that Dad and I listened to and both enjoyed. Lunacy, Alaska might not be much on the map, but it's full of characters and snow...and murder. A new police chief arrives just in time for winter and quickly falls for a bush pilot named Meg who likes her independence as much as her plane. When her father turns up dead, apparently a victim of suicide, things take a turn for the interesting. Roberts again laces her story with lots of humor, romance, and such an evocative setting. You could feel the cold, hear the wind, see the mountains - and I loved it! A satisfying story from start to finish!

You Take It From Here by Pamela Ribon

Ribon, commonly known online as Pamie, has written a couple of books I loved, and a couple that were eh. This one was eh. Smidge discovers that her cancer has returned and is terminal, so she orders her best friend to come from LA to their Louisiana town to take over her life for her - raise her daughter, marry her husband, and basically be Smidge. While I thought this was an interesting premise, there's just one problem - I couldn't freakin' STAND Smidge. I thought she was a bitch, a brat, a manipulator and a bully, and I couldn't imagine that anyone would be friends with her, much less marry her or do her bidding. Smidge sucked, and thus, so did this story. I still hate this character, and I read this book WEEKS ago. I guess if books are supposed to evoke emotion, this one did, but the wrong emotion, methinks!

Private Games by James Patterson

Dad and I listened to this audiobook, but it was definitely the low point of the three. Private, a security firm, has been employed to protect, like, everyone during the London Olympics, so when people start dying in spectacular fashion, it's a problem. A detective who's a cross between James Bond and Mary Poppins is on the case, but really, we just didn't care that much. Eh.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

This novel was one I had a hard time picking up and getting into, so it turned into a battle of wills...I WILL finish this novel! Kate inherits a trunk full of journals from her friend Elizabeth after Elizabeth dies in a tragic accident. As Kate and her family vacation on Great Rock Island, Kate becomes engrossed then semi-obsessed with reading them and learning about Elizabeth's past life, which wasn't what Kate knew or expected. I had high hopes for this novel, but it just fell sort of flat, and though I read it recently, I can't remember how it ended. That's generally not a good sign....

Delicious by Susan Mallery

I grabbed this audiobook to listen to leading up to the trip, and while it was a nice enough diversion, I didn't even care enough to finish it. Sigh.

The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson

Erickson has written a number of fiction and non fiction works about Marie Antoinette, the court of Henry VIII and other periods in British history. This time, though, she focuses on the fifth wife of Henry VIII - the young and naive Catherine Howard. Before you even start, you know her fate (as number five, she was beheaded...from the married-beheaded-died-married-beheaded-survived saying), and yet, you want to know how she went from a daughter of the powerful Howards to climbing the scaffold. Everyone knows that Henry VIII's reign is of particular fascination to me, but this novel just didn't grab me and hold on like others of the period have. I think Erickson had to compress such an amount of time, but more than that, she didn't ratchet up the romance factor between her and Culpepper (which sealed her fate), nor with Dereham (her previous suitor).  Indeed, she didn't really give the reader much insight into the court or the king himself. Good enough, but Philippa Gregory does it a lot better...

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This has been a major "buzz book" this summer, and I finally got my hands on it - and it delivered. This is a hard book to review without spoilers, but I'll try....a man comes home on his fifth anniversary to discover the door open, the furniture toppled and his wife...gone. The police get involved, and Nick goes from grieving husband to prime suspect...and the story explodes out of the gates from there. Throughout, you don't know if you've got a reliable narrator, you don't know what's the truth, you don't know where the story will end, and Flynn packs in several "You are KIDDING me!" moments that will turn the entire novel on its ear and make the reader start over, as it were. Clever, gripping, engaging, amazing, suspenseful, scary - this is a fantastic suspense read, whether you like suspense or not. WOW!

And that's it! What have you been reading lately?

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