I recently went on a short trip and with my trusty iPad in tow, I had a decision to make about what to read while on vacation.  I started off reading a book that I’m doing for a book discussion…a literary, dense book that I soon realized would not fly for vacation reading.  Even if vacation is not taken on or at the beach, “beach read” type books are always a must for my travels.  To clarify, a “beach read” is a not a book set AT the beach…but rather a FUN book…a guilty pleasure…a book you would not like to be caught reading by scholarly family or friends.

Some people read romances as their “beach reads,” but I often read “chick lit” on vacation and in that genre, Madeleine Wickham always satisfies.  Her books are not completely mindless (like some chick lit) and she writes strong female characters with enough problems so the reading is fast, but not too many problems to bog down the story.  LIGHT is the key in a beach read and The Wedding Girl did not disappoint.  The characters were superficial (in a good way) and the story was breezy.  Wickham (who also writes under the pen name Sophie Kinsella) is one of my favorite vacation writers.

But, this time, I also read a thriller.  I’ve read Joy Fielding in the past and liked her…but The Wild Zone was completely different from her other books.  It is less thriller and more character study.  Not that this was too heavy for vacation…it was just unexpected.  I don’t expect all thrillers to get into the psychological aspects of their characters… especially with authors not known for those deeper character developments.  When I read the other Fielding books (Missing Pieces and Charley’s Web) they were solid thrillers, but not anything too intense or emotional.  The Wild Zone caught me off-guard with its slow-paced storyline, not to mention its surprise twist ending.  For Fielding die-hards, be prepared for an unusual novel.  For those unfamiliar with this author and with thrillers in general, this might be a good book to try and get your toes wet with another genre.

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A moving drama about a tutor and her student who survive a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only to wash up on a deserted island.  TJ missed a year of school while he was battling cancer.  Now that he’s in remission, his folks enlisted teacher Anna to tutor him while the family vacations in the Maldives.  All of that, of course, goes very wrong when their pilot has a heart attack en route to meet up with TJ’s parents already in the Maldives. 
At first, I found the story pretty Cast Away-esque.  Starting the first fire, cracking coconuts and catching fish for the first time were all VERY akin to the 2000 Tom Hanks movie, where Hanks’ character is stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere after a plane crash.  Sound familiar?  But, where this tale deviates is the growing, evolving, changing relationship between Anna and TJ.  Right after the crash occurs, they are very much teacher and student.  But, they soon learn to become partners in their desperate attempt to survive.  They care for each other.  They worry about each other.  And most of all, they learn to help each other survive under the direst of circumstances.  Yes, there are fights and frustrations.  But, for the most part, their mutual survival is aided by their strong and constant rapport.  Both characters grow quite a bit as people, both emotionally as well as physically.  One would think the TJ would do most of the growing here, since he is only 16 when they get stranded, but Anna starts off this story uncertain of her future and her life; she basically is not that grounded of a person.  They both are forced to toughen themselves up in all ways and to grow up fast.   There is no learning curve on the island — TJ doesn’t have high school and college to prepare him for “the real world” and Anna no longer can blame everything on the bad relationship she was in. 
And the relationship between the two of them is the best part of this novel.  I’m not talking about the romance.  I’m talking about the companionship and the friendship and support these two have together.  Each needs the other one to survive and when one’s survival is in jeopardy, the other is not sure they will be able to go on without the other.  And all of this is conveyed with sincerity and honesty in the book.  Garvis-Graves is an author to watch. 
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In a previous post, I spoke of all of the books I read on my iPad while on vacation. Here short reviews of the titles that I read:

Brett, Simon — The Body on the Beach – The first of Brett’s Fethering mysteries, this is a fun cozy mystery set in a smallish coastal town in the South of England. The two main characters become amateur sleuths as they investigate a body that one of them found on the beach.

Crombie, Deborah — Where Memories Lie – An intense mystery featuring Crombie’s English police team of Kincaid and James. This one involves a diamond brooch that was stolen by the Nazis and belongs to a woman who needs to get to the bottom of why people associated with the brooch are turning up dead.

Fielding, Joy — Missing Pieces – A page-turning thriller that also has its fair share of family drama. Married with teen kids, Kate is a therapist whose former flame has just reentered her life and sister is in love with a serial killer. As Kate’s home life continues to unravel, her sister makes some decisions that jeopardize all of their lives.

Keyes, Marian — Sushi for Beginners – Lisa finally gets the promotion she’s been waiting for…but it’s Dublin, Ireland…not NYC, where all the movers and shakers are. On the other hand, Ashling LOVES Dublin and her new job working for Lisa. As always with chick lit, there are several different men who add complication to the plot. LOTS of fun…as usual from Keyes.

Rendell, Ruth — Murder Being Once Done – Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford is at it once again…this time in London, where he’s recuperating after a heart attack. But Wexford doesn’t know the meaning of the word REST, especially when he stumbles into a case of multiple murders.

Wickham, Madeleine — The Gatecrasher – Wickham (who also writes under her pen name Sophie Kinsella) once again scores with a weightier, meatier tale than she writes as Kinsella. This time, she features a main character who crashes funerals, hoping the new widower will be wealthy. Vivid characters outshine Wickham’s plot…but still lots of fun!

Winspear, Jacqueline — A Lesson in Secrets – Winspear’s 8th outing with her continuing sleuth Maisie Dobbs, who’s a spunky young PI in England between WWI and WWII. This time, Maisie is undercover in a college when the principal is murdered. Dobbs then reveals her true identity as a detective and begins to solve the crime.

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The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle is a fun, light wine mystery set mostly in the South of France that will get your taste buds all set for a good bottle of vino! Not really a true “mystery” (there is a caper element towards the end of the book) but rather more of a breezy whodunit where the end result is no where near as much fun as the finding-out-who part. Mayle (of A Year in Provence fame) knows how to write great characters with wonderful inter-play and chemistry…making this almost as much fun as an episode of Moonlighting (the TV show from the 1980s). And the setting of Marseilles, rural Provence, Paris, and even Los Angeles make for a perfect backdrop to this entertaining romp about stolen wine.

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One of the more delightful surprises in fiction in recent years, this Keyes book was a beach read that turned out to be a little more than that. I’ve read quite a few of Keyes books before but this one is probably my favorite of hers…it’s fresh and engaging and simply delightful. Told from the POV of three London ladies: 1. Gemma, who has a neurotic mother and is still mourning the loss of her stolen-out-from-under-her-by-her-best-friend boyfriend…2. Lily, who is the best friend who stole Gemma’s boyfriend…and 3. Jojo, a literary agent who ends up representing both Gemma and Lily. I loved the way Keyes weaved all three stories together…yet giving each of the 3 enough space for us to get to know them all. Even though each change of character is marked with the ladies’ name before the chapter, towards the end, we knew each of the three enough to know whose part we were reading. A great way to tell a fun, entertaining story!

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