Vacation reading wrap-up (summer 2019)

I haven’t done a vacation wrap-up post in a while… mainly because I haven’t had a real vacation (i.e., travel plans not involving family health visits) in AGES! As vaactions go, this week’s was a mini — just four days, but hey: I found sunshine!

My husband and I drove down the California coast to San Luis Obispo county, where we spent a few days hanging out in beach towns, enjoying balmy weather, good food, and even venturing into ocean water that was just a shade warmer than ice. But seriously, it was a good time, even if a bit too short.

And now I’m back, waiting for my laundry to finish (yes, I lead an exciting life), so I thought I’d share a taste of the reading I did these past few days. Because hanging out in beach towns means lots of time basking in the sun on comfy chairs, beach mats, and towels — book in hand, sunglasses on face, not enough sunscreen on body. (Ouch).

Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read on vacation, with my take on the vacation-worthiness of each book. The number of little beach umbrellas reflects my own personal feelings about whether or not this is a good choice for tucking into your beach-tote!


Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev: A modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice (obviously), set in the Bay Area and featuring the unlikely pairing of world-class neurosurgeon Trisha Raje and up-and-coming master chef DJ Caine, whose initial meeting is fraught with haughtiness and false impressions. As it turns out, Trisha is the only doctor offering a cure for DJ’s beloved sister’s brain tumor, so despite their mutual dislike, the two are forced together again and again. I liked that the author didn’t follow the P&P plotline 100% — there are plenty of familiar beats, but the story here stands on its own and isn’t shoehorned into unnatural shapes just to make it fit the pattern. I also like that it’s Trisha who’s in the Darcy role here, hiding behind her snobbiness and self-image and repelling the very person she finally realizes she wants to attract. The story moves quickly, has some key emotional moments, LOTS of mouth-watering descriptions of DJ’s culinary creations, and definitely succeeds as a love story with plenty of modern twists. Quite fun — I’m hoping Sonali Dev writes more in this world!

A five-umbrella vacation read for sure! Between the romance and the food, what more could you want?

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella


We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. This book (and this author) have been recommended to me repeatedly — so I finally tossed it in my beach bag and gave it a go. What a weird but oddly compelling story! We Are All Completely Fine is about a group therapy session for people who’ve survived encounters with the supernatural, and have the scars to prove it. Each of the group members has their own horrifying story to tell, and all are joined together through their process of sharing and healing, ultimately banding together to fight off a big bad coming after one of their own. It’s a short read, easily digestible in one sitting. I really liked it, and now that I’ve dipped my toe into his work, I’ll definitely be reading more by Daryl Gregory!

Giving this one 4 beach umbrellas — easy to read on the beach, but the subject matter didn’t really meld well with the bright light of day.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella


I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin: I went at this story a little bit backwards — this is book #1 of 2, but I read #2 first (reviewed here). Oh well. It still works! In this first book, we meet Ava and Gen, two best friends embarking on their freshman year of college on opposites sides of the country. The story is told through their emails and texts, which really capture their personalities and their quirky friendship. It’s light and sunny, but also contains moments of self-discovery, pain, and challenge, as the two characters discover new aspects of themselves and question whether their friendship still works as they grow into their college selves.

Another 5-umbrella read — once you start, it’s impossible to stop!

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella



And that’s it! Not too shabby for a four-day vacation!

Now I need to go plan my next get-away… I’m not ready for a return to reality just yet.

Montana travel bliss

I’ve been back from my trip to Montana for a week now… and unfortunately, it already feels like a distant dream! Sadly, vacations come to an end, but at least we have our memories and photos to keep us warm.

Montana boots — the obligatory shoe picture.

Here are some selections from my recent adventures. As my husband continually pointed out, lots of lakes and mountains… and then more lakes and mountains… and even more — plus waterfalls whenever possible.

Not necessarily in chronological order:

Two outdoor scenes near Bozeman, Montana:

A gallery from Glacier National Park (click on any individual shot to view as slideshow):

And our day at Yellowstone:

In which we did way too much in one exhausting day… but came home very happy.

Would I go back? You betcha! Because there’s really nothing like getting away to a beautiful spot to help me appreciate just how glorious summer days can be.

The mountains are calling and I must go

Ha, look at me quoting John Muir.

So in case my absence has worried anyone, fear not! I’m away from home for 8 days, traveling around Montana and visiting Glacier National Park. Here’s a taste of where I was today:

The hubby and I did a couple of short-ish hikes, saw waterfalls, lakes, and mountains, and are now resting our weary feet… so we can go out and do it again tomorrow!

So… in terms of my blogging schedule — well, I have none. I’m not particularly planning to do much of anything while traveling. Heck, I don’t even have cell service where we are right now.

Thanks goodness for decent wifi though — thanks to which I was able to watch the Game of Thrones premiere last night. Wooooo.

Oh, and fun trail encounter: I’ve had this t-shirt for years:

Back home in San Francisco, I’ll occasionally get comments from fellow geeky Firefly fans. But today, two different people I ran into on the trail said they liked my shirt because of the Chinese lettering. I never knew what it said (or if, in fact, it meant anything at all), but now I know that it means “never give up” — which was pretty perfect considering how hard I was breathing on my way up that hill.

Besides the great outdoors, I’m enjoying my Kindle and have read two books so far. I’m sure I’ll post a wrap-up recap of my vacation reading when I get home.

Meanwhile, the mountains are calling me again, and I must go.

Ta-ta for now. See you next week!

A little break — see you next week!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies is taking a wee break this week as I head out of town for a combination of vacation time and family business.

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one this week, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf Control



Have a great week. See you soon!

A little taste of where I am right now…


Vacation reading wrap-up

I just spend a glorious 10 days on vacation! Glorious, because VACATION. Also glorious, because my husband and I traveled to two beautiful southern cities, Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, ending with a few days of utter relaxation at Hilton Head Island, doing not much more than sitting on beach chairs, wading in the ocean, and basking in the sun.

Oh, and did I mention reading? Because I did a little reading. Enough to cause darling hubby to shake his head at me a few times and lovingly call me ridiculous.

Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read on vacation, with my take on the vacation-worthiness of each book. The number of little beach umbrellas reflects my own personal feelings about whether or not this is a good choice for tucking into your beach-tote!


RainwaterRainwater by Sandra Brown: Set during the Depression in drought-stricken Texas, this is the story of a single mother who runs a boarding house while caring for her autistic son, and the stranger who comes to stay and ends up changing both of their lives. I’ll admit that I never would have picked this up if it weren’t my book group’s pick for July. It looks and feels like the kind of book you’d pick up in a supermarket check-out line. That said, I was surprisingly engrossed by the story. Rainwater‘s depiction of the historical setting was very interesting, and I learned a few things about the time period that were completely new to me. That may make the book sound stuffy, and it’s not. The love story is sweet and passionate and unexpected, includes some strong commentary on social justice issues, and has an ending at once tragic and uplifting. The writing isn’t exactly literary, but it’s a quick and compelling read.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella



Liam1Liam2Fire and Ice and So Sure of Death, books 1 & 2 in the Liam Campbell series by Dana Stabenow. Big surprise for anyone who reads my blog from time to time — I’m a huge fan of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series, and have gotten far enough into that series that I needed to detour into her related series about Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell. The Liam books did not let me down in the slightest, and are perfect vacation reads: Fast-paced, great characters, unusual settings, mysteries that kept me engaged, and personal relationships that are fresh, believable, and utterly engaging.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella


Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian: This is a heartbreaker of a story, a historical novel focusing on the Armenian genocide of 1915, as seen through the eyes of a young American woman who travels to Aleppo to offer aid and assistance to survivors. Elizabeth’s eyes are opened by the horrors she witnesses, while at the same time, she discovers love in a most unexpected place. The historical elements are framed by a modern-day woman’s exploration of her grandparents’ histories. The modern-day story felt more like a distraction to me, as what really gripped me was the story of Elizabeth, Armen, and the other supporting characters we meet in 1915. The Sandcastle Girls is powerful, beautiful, and devastating, and is a must-read — and yet, I don’t think I’d recommend it as a vacation read. It’s an amazing book, don’t get me wrong, and I think everyone should read it — but the seriousness of the subject matter and the unrelenting suffering portrayed here don’t jibe very well with beach umbrellas, flip-flops, and cold fruity cocktails. Read this book — but read it at home.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrella



Crooked HeartCrooked Heart by Lissa Evans tells the story of a young boy evacuated from London during WWII. Noel is an odd little duck, and when his eccentric godmother/guardian dies, he’s left without a soul to care for him. Vee is a con woman who schemes to earn a little cash because she really has no other way of supporting her deadbeat son and her doddering mother. Vee takes Noel in so that she can collect the fostering fee for housing evacuees, but the two soon find that his brains combined with her slippery ethics make for successful money-making. This is an unusual and offbeat story, with a lot of charm, plenty of humor, and lots of heart-tugging sentiment too. The historical setting is nicely conveyed, and the mood is sincere and sometimes sad, but never so heavy as to make reading it a drag. I definitely recommend the book, and I enjoyed it while swinging in a hammock.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella



Long Walk2The Long Walk by Stephen King: Ooooh. This is a good one. I’d never heard of this book, one of King’s earlier works (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym), until I saw Bonnie’s review on For the Love of Words (check it out here — great review!). In The Long Walk, 100 teen-aged boys participate in a walk that continues until only one is left standing… because all the others are dead. The boys start at the Maine/Canada border, and walk. That’s it. They walk — and walk, and walk, never falling below a 4-mile-per-hour pace, because if they do, that’s a warning. And after three warnings, the next infraction means you’re shot to death by the armed guards who travel alongside the walkers. The boys never stop, not to eat, sleep, or pee. If they fall or pass out or get a cramp, that could mean the end. Wow, is this a disturbing book, and yet it’s so, so good. Meanwhile, the boys who walk talk and reflect and learn the truth hidden inside the deepest, darkest corners of their hearts and minds. Why they walk is only explained at a surface level (there’s a Prize), but it’s clear without ever being explicitly shown that this is an alternate version of the United States in which watching a group of boys walk to death is high entertainment, and which is bleak enough that the 1 in 100 shot at the Prize is enough to get more or less sensible boys to bet their lives.

You might think that all this makes The Long Walk too dark for a vacation read… but no. Stephen King is pretty much always perfect for vacation. The fast-paced storytelling and immersive experience makes you happy to glance up and see the sun still shining. It’s horror, but (oh, this makes me sound like a bad person) totally fun horror.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella


sun-151763_1280Blue AsylumBlue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall: I loved this book! Set during the Civil War, this historical novel tells the story of Iris Dunleavy, a young woman who somewhat blindly enters into a marriage with a plantation owner, only to realize that his cruelty is more than she can bear. When she attempts to expose his crimes, he instead has her declared insane and sends her away to an island asylum to be “cured” of her irrational defiance and delusions. While there, Iris meets Ambrose, a Confederate soldier haunted by his wartime experience. Iris and Ambrose fall in love, but Iris’s determination to escape with her lover and start a new life is doomed from the start. It’s a haunting and tragic love story, beautifully written, with an unusual setting and a memorable and well-defined cast of supporting characters. I just adored this one. Sad? Yes. And still, I consider it a great vacation read. The asylum is set on Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida, and the descriptions of the beaches, sea, birds, and sky give Blue Asylum a feeling of sunshine and freshness, even when the plot makes me want to cry.

Vacation ratingumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrellaumbrella



And that’s my vacation reading wrap-up! As you can see, I read some amazing books — not all are books I’d describe as beach reads, but not a single dud among the bunch.

If I had to pick one to recommend the most, I’d say definitely check out Blue Asylum. For anyone who loves historical fiction, powerful love stories, and strong female lead characters, this is a can’t-miss book.

Hitting the road… See you next week!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies is taking a wee break for about 10 days as I head off on a much-needed vacation!

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one while I’m away, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf ControlShelf Control returns July 27th!


quotation-marks4Thursday Quotables returns July 28th!

Have a great couple of weeks. See you soon!

A little hint about where I'll be...

A little hint about where I’ll be…


Oh Canada!

Canada 284

I’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation in the Canadian Rockies… and let me just say, it was glorious!

When it comes to vacations, I’m more of a mountain/lake/trail kind of traveler than a city/shopping/museum person… and even though I swear that I’d love to just go sit on a tropical beach for a week, chances are that after one day, I’d be lacing up my hiking boots and looking for a bit more action.

(Don’t get me wrong. I walk on forest trails. I don’t use ropes, hang by my hands or toes, or do anything at all scary or adventurous. I just like the great outdoors, okay? Blame all those summers spent at camp as a child.)

So… Canada. I love my son, but he definitely has limits when it comes to hiking, sightseeing, and in general, the stuff that his parents seem to find fun. Darling boy is off at three weeks of summer camp at the moment (camp is in the blood, I guess), so my hubby and I took advantage of this brief child-free moment in time to do what we wanted to do. And I’ve been dreaming of a vacation in the Rockies for years now. With the help of some good guidebooks, a Canadian coworker who gives great advice, and lots of gorgeous Pinterest photos as inspiration, we were off!

I learned a few things in Canada too:

1) I’m delicious… to mosquitoes. Our punishment for taking the wrong turn on a trail was being attacked by ravenous, blood-thirsty mosquitoes who I SWEAR were on a mission specifically to eat us.

2) Credit cards are great for avoiding the dreaded tourist fumble… in which you stand around trying to pay for something but not knowing which coin is worth a dollar and which is only 25 cents.

3) Stupid American, comment #1: There’s such a thing as Canadian cuisine! Did you know that? I most assuredly did not. It seems to consist of lots of meat, especially elk, bison, and caribou. My carnivore husband was impressed. (Me, I stuck to salads.)

4) Stupid American, comment #2: There’s such a thing as Canadian football! I had no idea, but apparently it’s a big deal. No, I don’t mean soccer. Good old football, with helmets and all. We happened to be in a pub with Thursday Night Football blaring on the TV all through our dinner. Good times!

5) I discovered that driving a big Jeep makes me feel rugged and outdoorsy. Rawr! I rule the road.

Canada 100

6) Best, best, best thing in the world? This:

Canada 130

Berry cider. 7% alcohol. Sweet and delicious, goes down like fizzy Kool-Aid, and then it kicks you in the head. Mmmmm. And pretty too.

Okay, long story short, we had a great time. I won’t bore you with further narrative… but I do want to share some photo highlights of the simply gorgeous places we went! As my husband started chanting as of about the 3rd day of our trip: Lakes! Mountains! Lakes! Mountains! You get the idea.

To view slide-show fashion, click on any image. Enjoy!

Sigh. Photos alone can’t do justice to the absolute beauty of the Canadian Rockies. If you’re considering going, hit me up for some “best of” tips! And if you’ve already been, please tell me what/where you loved the most!

And now… off to dream of my next vacation, wherever that might be!

Heading north of the border

A quick note to say au revoir — for now!

I’m heading north to Canada! I’m about to leave on a 10-day road trip through Alberta, with stops in Jasper, Banff, and Calgary. Much as I love my bloggy friends, I’m looking forward to a little time offline.


Mountains, lakes, ice fields… bliss! Oh, and plenty of books…

So, a little programming note: While I’ll be mostly absent, please do come by for Thursday Quotables as usual! My Thursday posts are queued up and ready to go.

Wishing you all a wonderful middle of July! Let’s catch up when I get back, shall we?


99% of what I blog about is books… so consider this post a part of the minority 1%. 🙂

I just spent the most wonderful week traveling in Alaska with my beautiful, funny, lovely daughter. Mommy-daughter quality time! We happen to make great traveling partners, and it was all just so enjoyable and relaxing and fun.

We’ve been to Alaska before: She spent a year in Juneau with Americorps, and I’ve been on two short visits previously, once on a cruise and the second time a different road trip with my daughter.

Alaska 114This time around, we had a week to spend, and we determined to do a few things we’d missed on previous trips. We started in Anchorage, then headed about two hours north to the quirky and adorable town of Talkeetna, known as the possible inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure. Also know as the town with a cat for a mayor. (It’s true! Even Wikipedia says so.)

While in Talkeetna, we stayed in cozy, rustic lodge by the Susitna River, where we could see Mt. McKinley on a clear day.

Alaska 2015 137

On our second day there, we boarded a 10-seater plane for a 90-minute flight over Denali National Park — and we even landed on a glacier!

Alaska 2015 080

The peak on the right is Mt. McKinley!

Alaska 2015 090

And here I am, just chillin’ on Ruth Glacier.

Talkeetna itself is a super awesome town, where we ate world-class berry pancakes, over-indulged buying amazing locally made jewelry at a great gallery, and just wandered the streets for a while, admiring the random moose art:

That's my girl!

That’s my girl!

Next, we headed back south toward the Kenai Peninsula, enjoying the great drive along Turnagain Arm with a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we met these guys (from the other side of the fences, naturally):

Alaska 2015 195

This little guy! I can’t even.

Alaska 2015 240 Alaska 2015 224 Alaska 2015 222

We did some hiking along the way, heading off on a trail through the woods that included amazing views in all directions. Stuff like this, for example:


We wrapped things up with a few days in Homer, staying in a weird and wonderful round cabin on a bluff overlooking the water:

Alaska 2015 249

We ate, we shopped, we hiked, we sat and read (of course), and we took a water taxi…

Alaska 2015 045

… across Kachemak Bay to hike through the woods to see this:

Alaska 2015 051

Grewingk Glacier – gorgeous!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Alaska is beautiful, and there’s just so much to see! I can’t wait to go again!

A parting shot — taken at the Anchorage airport at 11:30 pm, saying good-bye to my daughter as we headed our separate ways for now. Yes, it’s 11:30 and the sun is just setting!

Alaska 2015 425

Good-bye, Alaska! I’ll miss you! Especially moments like this:

Alaska 2015 136

North to the Future! (Or, where I’ll be for the next week…)

You won’t be seeing much of me for the next week — and that’s a good thing!

I leave tomorrow on a one-week vacation with my daughter… and if I can just get through one last work day without any more crises falling on my head, I’ll be good to go!

Where am I going? Here’s a hint:

Alaska 105

Need another? How about…

Alaska 417

Or this one?

Alaska 391

Give up yet? Does this help?

alaska-stampYup, I’m heading north to beautiful Alaska! My daughter and I are meeting in Anchorage and then hitting the road! Which means this trip should be fabulous in two ways — a week with my awesome daughter and spending time in one of my very, very favorite places.

I haven’t packed yet. I know I need hiking boots, warm socks, lots of layers, and plenty of t-shirts. The pair of jeans I frantically ordered last week never arrived, and I think I need some travel-sized shampoo bottles, so I may need to make one final Target run on the way home today. Mustn’t forget my armloads of electronics — phone, Kindle, laptop, GPS — and all of their assorted chargers.

Most importantly, my reading material! Normally, when I go on trips, I love to throw a bunch of paperbacks into my suitcase — books that I’ve had for a while, books that I’ve been meaning to get to, books that are already a bit battered so it won’t matter if they get smooshed or damp or left behind for someone else once I’m done. Since this is just a one-week trip, so I don’t need to be overly ambitious with my reading plans, but so far I’m planning to finish the book I just started (which is SO GOOD so far!):

Dead Lands

And then, I can’t wait to read:

All I Love and Know

And if I still need more to read (there’s a lot of flying time involved… ), my next choices will probably be one of these:

Bear Fall of Marigolds invention of wings

In terms of blogging, I’ll be mostly offline — or at least, that’s what I’m thinking right now. I’ll be skipping most of my regular weekly posts, and any upcoming reviews will have to wait until I’m back.

Don’t worry, Thursday Quotables will happen as usual! I’ve already scheduled a Thursday Quotables post for next week, so come join in and link up!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a terrific week filled with good times and great reading. See you soon!

In the immortal words of the former governor of my great state…


PS – Pretty photos up top taken by moi on my last trip to Alaska in 2013!