Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.
A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well.
Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?
Why This Book:
After reading Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett, I knew I would be reading more of her books. All of her “Vintage National Parks Novels” are entirely stand-alone novels, but they are tied together by the fact that they are all set in national parks. Each features its own cast of characters, its own romance, and its own mystery.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Elsie closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in the steamy air, imagining she stood beside Grand Prismatic Spring instead of the massive laundry boiler in the back of the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge.
I hate to say it, but the beginning of this book did not grab me. In hindsight, I can see how it was setting the reader up for the rest of the novel, but it just didn’t snag my attention the way the author’s first two vintage novels did.
Elsie Brookes– A young woman haunted by a childhood tragedy struggles to forgive and open up to new relationships.
Nate Webber – A hard-working man of integrity whose efforts to do the right thing lands him in trouble through no fault of this own. The secret hinted at in the book’s description is also no fault of his own. He is a hero you can root for.
Ranger Vaughn – The newest ranger in the park who forms an immediate and intense emotional attachment to Elsie.
Mary – A friend of Elsie whose penchant for chasing boys stirs up more trouble than she bargains for.
Rose – A soft-hearted young woman, feeling lost after the loss of her long-time boyfriend.
Graham – The cousin Elsie would be happy never to see again.
Note about the characters: Don’t let my sparse descriptions fool you. These characters are written in a well-rounded manner, but who each of them truly is, deep inside, is revealed so subtly and gradually throughout the story that to write more about them here would spoil part of the enjoyment of the story.
Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:
This is not a forest-fire read. It is a slow and steady burn (pun fully intended). This is not a book to have you sitting on the edge of your seat (except toward the end). But that isn’t to say it’s boring. It’s just a different kind of read. It’s the kind of book you cuddle up with in a blanket next to a warm fire with a cup of cocoa and your fuzzy socks on. It’s the warm sun on your face as you lean out the car window and feel the wind rush by. Is there suspense? Yes. As with the first two novels, there is a definite element of suspense. But for most of the story, the suspense doesn’t feel like the focus in this novel as much as it did in the first two.
As for emotional engagement, it’s definitely there. The first kiss between Nate and Elsie had me grinning like a silly fool and wanting to hug Elsie the way I would any friend who’d found such joy. By the time we reached the climax I was whipping through pages eager to see how it all worked out. And let me tell you about the ending…
Elements I especially liked/disliked:
What I especially liked was the opportunity to learn new things about Yellowstone and visit vicariously through Barnett’s characters. I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was eleven and now I’m chomping at the bit to take my kids and experience more of our national treasure.
My absolute favorite part of the novel, though, was the incorporation of the California Conservation Corps. My first real job (not counting babysitting) was working for the Youth Conservation Corps at Joshua Tree National Park. It was an experience I’ll never forget and always be proud of. While mine was a vastly different situation than the original CCC members, I was blessed to have the opportunity to help improve one of our national treasures and it left me with a special fondness for the programs. Getting to read more about its history through the eyes of these fictional characters was a unique treat.
Forgiveness is not earned, it’s bestowed.
Oh! I wish I could tell you about it! I did NOT see it coming until almost the last second. I was SO sure I knew what was going to happen–that I had it all figured out–and then the author surprised me with a completely different reveal that made perfect sense. LOVE IT!!!
3.75 out of 5 stars
Have you read any of Karen’s Vintage National Parks novels? What are your thoughts on forgiveness?
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Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but was NOT required to write a positive review. You may read my full disclosure of materials HERE.