In March 1987, my friend Debbie and I spent a few days--not long enough--on an unspoiled Thai island, Koh Samet. The visit was arranged by Debbie's friend, Noi, who worked for Finn Air and whose Bangkok family was very protective of us. Even though Debbie and I were intrepid travelers by this point, they didn't want us traveling on our own...so our time on this island was wonderful because we were on our own, and it was absolutely gorgeous...one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It was so relaxing--all we did all day was laze around reading, writing, swimming, and taking walks. And eating amazing seafood.The owners didn't seem to speak much English, and we had to let them know when we wanted to eat by using sign language.
The memory of our time on that pristine island, where we had a bungalow on the beach and ate our meals in front of the ocean, was ever present as I read this book, set on another unspoilt Thai island, Ko Phi Phi. It's the story of an American, Patch, who is working for Lek and Sarai, owners of a very small resort (which sounds similar to the one where we stayed).
Patch develops a strong friendship with Lek and Sarai's children and becomes part of their family. But Patch's stay continues longer than any other American...and they realize that he is on the run from the law. Soon Patch's brother Ryan and his girlfriend Brooke arrive to help him, but there's trouble in paradise. Brooke and Ryan's relationship is in trouble, and she realizes she is attracted to Patch.
The climax of the story is the December 2004 tsunami, which sweeps everyone into crisis. It's the second book I've read in the past year about the tsunami; the other one was the heart-breaking memoir Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala.
It's a terribly bittersweet novel, and it moved me at the end. I don't think it's Shors' strongest novel--my two favorites were his first ones, Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside a Burning Sea. At times I tired of the descriptions about everyone's clothing and a bit too much "telling" rather than "showing." At other times the story dragged on, with slow plot development. On the other hand, I liked the way he described the lives of the Thais who lived on the island, the rich family life of Lek and Sarai, the tenuous relationship between the foreigners and the Thais, and the relationship between the brothers--strained but loving.
And most of all, I enjoyed this book because it made me think of that lovely Thai beach...and saddened me to think of what happened to all those people who lost their lives or loved ones in the great wave.(less)
If you like David Sedaris, you might like this. It was not a travelogue. It was more of a story--attempting to be funny--about how the author drunk an...moreIf you like David Sedaris, you might like this. It was not a travelogue. It was more of a story--attempting to be funny--about how the author drunk and slept her way through three European cities. Read my review here:
I'm a huge John Shors fan, having now read four out of the five novels he's published. I feel an affinity for Shors, since he got engaged to his wife while they were teaching in Japan (similar to my situation with Mike). I especially loved Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside a Burning Sea, and I've recommended those books to (and purchased them for) many friends.
When I began this book, I felt emotionally affected and a bit drained by it. Ian is an Australian businessman living in New York, and he has recently lost his beloved wife Kate to cancer. Like the author and like me, Kate and Ian met while teaching in Japan and traveled throughout Asia. Several months after Kate's death, Ian reads a letter Kate had written for his birthday, in which she urges him to take their 10-year-old daughter Mattie on a journey back to the countries where they had traveled together. It made me think about my own life and how blessed I am to have an intact, healthy family. Mike and I have always talked about returning to Japan and other Asian countries someday and hope to show our children some of our old haunts, so it felt more than a little bit eerie to read about someone who had died and never got to make the return trip with her child.
Ian and Mattie travel to Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Egypt, and open messages from Kate along the way. They meet local people, helping some along the way (such as a Thai sex worker and an Indian orphan in Varanasi). I enjoyed the descriptions of Japan, India, Hong Kong, and Thailand the most, as those were the countries we also visited. I remember visiting the picturesque, nearly abandoned island of Koh Samet and spending a few luxurious, idyllic days on a beach. (I'm sure it's changed dramatically since 1987!)
In a nutshell, here are my criticisms of the book: Ian and Mattie (and in fact, Kate) are far too perfect. They didn't seem like realistic people to me. They are absolutely soaked in grief, which I know is very real when you have lost a loved one...but at times it got excessive. Ian is furious at Kate for asking him to return to the places they'd traveled with Mattie, and he goes on and on about that. I would think he would want to honor his beloved wife's last dying wish. Also, Ian's Australian lingo was over the top. I am married to a Brit and I know a lot of Australians (including my sister-in-law), and they don't talk like this, saying "good onya," "bloody," "fancy," "ankle biter," and "walkabout" constantly. Ian's expressions got bloody annoying after awhile.
Shors is an excellent descriptive writer, and he evokes the senses as he describes each of these different countries. He also writes sensitively about profound grief, especially from a man's perspective (feeling like he took his wife for granted and spent too much time at the office). I enjoyed reading about the interactions Ian and Mattie have with the locals, such as a Japanese teacher and Peace Corps workers in Nepal. The story of Rupee (the Indian orphan) seemed a bit unresolved--why was the orphanage director not responding to Ian's e-mails? The ending was patently predictable, so don't read this book if you like to be surprised at the end.
In conclusion, The Wishing Trees was not the best of Shors' books, but I'm glad I read it. It brought back wonderful memories of my own travel and it gave me a renewed appreciation for my own loved ones.(less)
After hearing Chelsea Cain speak at a writers' conference banquet this summer and reading the first two of her thriller novels, I decided to go back t...moreAfter hearing Chelsea Cain speak at a writers' conference banquet this summer and reading the first two of her thriller novels, I decided to go back to her very first book, which she published at the tender age of 23.
When I was a young girl, I always felt that I'd been born in the wrong era and was fascinated with "hippie" culture. Not so much the drugs, rock and roll, and sex, but more the living on a farm, growing vegetables, commune type of experience. In reality, I probably would have hated the communal living.
When Cain's mother is diagnosed with melanoma, she decides she'd like to move back to Iowa, where she was born and raised on a commune farm. She and her mother drive from Portland to Iowa City, where she sets up camp for awhile. The book chronicles their road trip and their early days in Iowa. It turned out to be a quick read, and I enjoyed the stories about the early days of "Snowbird" and how she remembers her childhood.(less)
Shors has written about India (Beneath a Marble Sky), World War II and the Japanese (Beneath a Burning Sea), and now about street children in Vietnam....moreShors has written about India (Beneath a Marble Sky), World War II and the Japanese (Beneath a Burning Sea), and now about street children in Vietnam. I very much enjoyed this book, although I think I enjoyed the first two books of his I read better. They were both more ambitious and sweeping.
Shors brought Vietnam, one of the few Asian countries I haven't visited, to life for me. He paints a compassionate picture of the neglected children on the street and two broken Americans who arrive in Vietnam to open a center for street children.
My one regret about this book was that it starts out with Iris, but as the plot changes we get to know the least about Iris out of all of the central characters in the book. I would have liked to know more about her, what made her tick, and what shaped her into the woman she is today.
This book's plot and style were less complex than Schors' first two, and the writing style was much simpler. At times, some of the authors' emphasis on things (such as mentioning Noah's prosthesis constantly) got tiresome...much like I got annoyed with JK Rowling when she referred to Voldemort's voice as "high and cold" every time Voldemort appeared.
The book prompted me to search Google Images for photos of Vietnam--Ho Chi Minh City and Halong Bay in particular. Schors illustrates how family and love stretch broader than our blood relatives--across generations and across cultural and language divides. I found the story to be heartwarming. If you are interested in southeast Asia, you would enjoy this book. I'm looking forward to Schors' next book. (less)
Phoebe lives most of her life reeling from the grief of having lost her father and then her older sister, Faith, before she reached her adolescence.
He...morePhoebe lives most of her life reeling from the grief of having lost her father and then her older sister, Faith, before she reached her adolescence.
Her sister was a flower child and fell to her death from a cliff in an Italian seaside town. At the age of 18, Phoebe decides to pursue her sister's ghost through Europe to see if she can decipher what really happened to her.
She explores the shadows of the 60s and the flower children and skirts the memories of her childhood. This book is an excellent exploration of the pathways of grief, and the emptiness experienced by a child who clearly understood that she was never her parent's "favorite." (less)
This is only the second Bill Bryon book I've read, the first being A Walk in the Woods, which I read three years ago. Bill Bryson lived in England for 20 years after marrying a British woman, and before moving to the United States, he took a 6-week trip traveling around Britain and chronicling his trip. I read this for my book group, and we had a great evening discussing the book, especially as we have a British woman in our book group. It's a love story to Britain--even though it was published in the mid-1990s, so much still applies. Here are some memorable thoughts from the book:
--The charming way the British react to tea and a plate of biscuits: "ooh lovely!"
--Bryson writes about how unfortunate it is that communism was left to the Russians instead of the British, who "clearly would have managed it so much better." He talks about their ability to go without, how they are great at pulling together in the face of adversity for a perceived common good...how they "queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets, and sudden inconvenient shortages." He goes on about how they are "comfortable with faceless bureaucracies, tolerant of dictatorships (as Margaret Thatcher proved), will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or delivery of a household appliance." They have a "natural gift for making excellent, muttered jokes about authority without ever actually challenging it...they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful brought low...most of those above the age of 28 already dress like East Germans. Britain would have done it properly, taken it in stride, with good heart, and without excessive cheating."
--He says that the British are easy to please: "They have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their own happiness. Easy to please...like their pleasures small...so many of their treats are cautiously flavorful...they are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake...offer them something genuinely tempting (a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates), and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest throshold is vaguely unseemly. 'Oh, I shouldn't really...'"
--In the late 1980s the European Union issued a directive about standards of ocean-borne sewage on beaches, and nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near the minimum compliance levels. So instead of cleaning them up, the Thatcher government decided that Britain would not have any "beaches." Nowadays, they are labeled beaches, but they still have a serious sewage problem. I'll remember this next time we go to a British seaside!
--One of my favorite anecdotes was when he visited a pub in Glasgow and couldn't understand a thing the bartender was saying...such as "D'ye hae a hoo and a poo?" "D'ye nae hae in May? If ye dinna dock ma donny." "Doon in Troon they croon in June, wi' a spoon."
I actually enjoyed the anecdotes and thoughts about Britain and the British more than the traveling bits. Bryson gets a bit grumpy at times, but it's clear that he really loves Great Britain. He ends the book with this:
“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but,' people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.
What a wondrous place this was - crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ('Please Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.') What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardners' Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.
How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state - in short, did nearly everything right - and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things - to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.
All of this came to me in the space of a lingering moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you.” (less)
My friend Shelia urged me to read Bill Bryson, and he's an author I'd always intended to read but had not gotten around to yet. She recommended that I...moreMy friend Shelia urged me to read Bill Bryson, and he's an author I'd always intended to read but had not gotten around to yet. She recommended that I start with "A Walk in the Woods," and it was a great recommendation.
It's not a book I would normally be drawn to...I'm not a hard core hiker, I've never been to the Appalachian Trail, and the plot just didn't appeal to me more than other books.
But the sign of a great writer is his or her ability to make nonfiction interesting and entertaining, even when the topic is not of particular interest.
I enjoyed Bryson's tale of his "walk in the woods" with his friend Katz. Interspersed with information about the environment, mining, species of plants and animals, and the trail itself, he tells of their grueling walk through the wilderness. (less)
I really, really wanted to like this book. It had a great plot and premise. Annie Freeman dies of cancer, and before she dies she arranges a "travelin...moreI really, really wanted to like this book. It had a great plot and premise. Annie Freeman dies of cancer, and before she dies she arranges a "traveling funeral" for her closest friends. She sends them airline tickets, rental car vouchers, and credit cards to take a journey around the country to places that gave her life meaning. In theory, it was a wonderful setting for a meaningful story about women's friendships and the journey of grief and life. I would give the idea three or four stars.
But the writing was exhausting to read. One reviewer said that it was "overwrought," and it was also overwritten. Long, runon, and flowery sentences and paragraphs, and way too much telling and not enough showing. The funeral doesn't even start until 100 pages into the book! The characters were too perfect and there was very little conflict or suspense.
I enjoyed some parts of the book--for example, the stories about their friend Annie that they uncovered along the way--but I found myself scanning great chunks of the book and anxious to reach the end so I could read a better book. Never a good sign. (less)
I loved this collection of essays written by women who travel with their children. Most of the women traveled adventurously and extensively prechildre...moreI loved this collection of essays written by women who travel with their children. Most of the women traveled adventurously and extensively prechildren and had many preconceived (and misinformed) notions of what it would be like to travel with children. Many of their thoughts revolved around the fantasy of having perfectly behaved and predictable children. Ha!
My adventures traveling with children pale in comparison to these stories. But I also do not take many of the extreme risks some of these authors did (for example, traveling down a raging river by canoe with an infant in a booster seat, or taking a 3-month-old along for a 1-hour trip in a two-seater plane [when the mom is the pilot]).
The two most memorable stories for me were (1) flying first class with an infant on British Air (made me laugh out loud, which is a rare feat!), and (2) taking a safari adventure ride at an amusement park in South Korea.