Monday, July 25, 2011

Books I Read While On Vacation

One of the best parts about going on a vacation is reading.  Whether that be a magazine on the airplane or a murder mystery read on the beach.  Each year I am lucky to spend time on Hebgen Lake in Montana. It is my time to view the spectacular scenery, go on hikes, see the wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park, and to read a few good books that I don't have time to read throughout the rest of the year.

I had two favorites this year.  The first, Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler, was a charming young adult novel that not only addressed a teenage girl's relationship with her father, but also touches on the Yellowstone wolf controversy and a teenager's first love. 

KJ Carlson is our heroine who begins to write a column on the wolves for the school newspaper.  The new boy in town, Virgil, is the son of a biologist who is in West End for the year studying the wolves in the park.  Much controversy ensues over the wolves, and Virgil tries to come up with a unique solution to the problem of wolves killing ranchers' livestock.  I especially enjoyed the fact that there were no vampires and werewolves in this story although Virgil does take off his shirt a few times.  Having been a tourist in West Yellowstone most of my life, I enjoyed the fact that the book took place there even though the author calls the town West End.  While in West Yellowstone this summer, I asked the boy behind the soda counter in Eagle's Store if the author's facts were accurate about the school (yes, school singular) in West Yellowstone, and he said they were pretty spot on.

Loved the book. Slightly slow in places but overall a good read.  4 out of 5 stars.

I also loved Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter.  Yes, this is the same as the musician Josh Ritter.  Talented guy.

Bright's Passage is a well written, lyrical story about a World War I veteran who has an angel that has, for lack of a better word, attached himself to Bright.  Constantly throughout the story, one wonders if the angel is real or symptom of PTSD, which was common among WWI vets.  While the reader never really knows for sure, in the end, Bright takes a stand for himself and his newborn son.  For the squeamish reader there is combat violence and language.  I give this book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

I also enjoyed reading Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran by Kenneth Thomasma.

Although this story was published in the early 80's I have never read it. It is the story about the friend of Sacajawea.  The two girls were kidnapped together by an enemy tribe and forced into slavery. Naya Nuki bravely escapes making the journey all alone across North Dakota and Montana.  It is written for children about age 9 through 12.  This would make and enjoyable story to read with your child. 4 out of 5 stars.

Now here comes the "not-super-original-but-makes-for-a-quick-beach-read" selections. Several years ago while vacationing in Montana, I found a Mary Higgins Clark novel in the attic.  I read it and enjoy it and ever since it has been my tradition to go to the second hand book store, pick up a Mary Higgins Clark and read it on the beach at Hebgen Lake.  This year I read Daddy's Little Girl.

Not my favorite.  There weren't any twists or me second guessing myself on the ending.  After all, isn't that what makes a murder mystery fun? However, the story was entertaining enough to keep reading until the end.  3 out of 5 stars.

When I go to the used book store, I like to pick up an author I've never heard of before.  This time I picked up M. C. Beaton's  Death of a Cad.

Apparently, this is one of several in a series about local Scotland bobby, Hamish MacBeth. It is your typical murder in the castle of a wealthy land owner story. But it was charming, funny, and one couldn't help but like understated Hamish MacBeth.  I may have started a new M. C. Beaton summer tradition! 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

And the worst of my summer reading, drum roll please, was And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips.

I am not a writer.  Helen Philips is.  She is the recipient of several prestigious writing awards.  She graduated from Yale and Brooklyn College.  She teaches writing at Brooklyn College. She has fantastic reviews on this book from everyone who is anyone in literature.  And yet I felt like I was reading something that was trying to hard.  It was like a modern artist reaching for the latest way to produce art but falling short of the art itself.

Taken directly from her website

and yet they were happy

The surreal fables of And Yet They Were Happy chronicle the adventures large and small of a young couple setting out to build a life in an unstable world. It’s a world haunted by monsters, a world plagued by natural disasters, a world on the verge of collapse–but also a place of transformation, wonder, and delight, peopled by the likes of Noah, Eve, Bob Dylan, the Virgin Mary, Jack Kerouac, Anne Frank, and a cast of fairytale creatures. Hovering between reality and fantasy, autobiography and mythology, whimsy and darkness, And Yet They Were Happy is a journey through a universe at once peculiar and familiar.

The book is organized into short, two-page fables.  I enjoyed some of the fables and was able to link them to my own life, but many I had to work at to understand the point.  Perhaps that was the point.  I quit reading when a fable unexpectedly slammed me with the "f" word.  Yes, I am a priss. I tried to give the book a good shot, but that was the last straw.  So the book wasn't written for me, the wife/mother/public school teacher/read for escape kind of reader.  Helen Phillips is a great writer, there is no question, and she has achieved many accolades, but her style just isn't for me.  2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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