Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Think Make Great Beach Reads
(Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)
I suppose it is that time of year when one starts to think about fun, easy reads for the beach or other travels. It is hard for me to remember the change of seasons, as living in Malaysia means one long summer that will last two years. It is amazing how much a lack of seasonal change impacts my mental calendar. Often, I really don’t have any idea what month it is. October felt the same as February which feels the same as May. I know I am traveling to the States in July, which is less than six weeks away, but July feels like September which feels like January. It is all same-same.
But, since summer is rapidly approaching (It’s unofficially here, right? Memorial Day was yesterday, meaning it’s time to fire up the BBQs, break out the kayaks and pull out the fixings for s’mores.), which means it’s time think about great summer reads. In reality, my summer reading list will be dominated by school books, but I’ve got some great reads for those of you without homework.
(Presented in alphabetical order. Because of time restrictions, I pulled each summary directly off of GoodReads this week. Hopefully next week will be more original!)
Big Little Lies by Lorraine Moriarty- “Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her.?) Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all. Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.”
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan- “When American-born Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to provide a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace. Two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars. Three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.”
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – “For over a decade, Jenna Metcalf obsesses on her vanished mom Alice. Jenna searches online, rereads journals of the scientist who studied grief among elephants. Two unlikely allies are Serenity Jones, psychic for missing people who doubts her gift, and Virgil Stanhope, jaded PI who originally investigated cases of Alice and her colleague. Hard questions and answers.”
Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost- “At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost–who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs–decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.”
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins- “Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.” And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”
The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank- “Best friends since the first day of classes at The College of Charleston, Ashley Anne Waters and Mary Beth Smythe, now 23 years old, live in Ashley’s parents’ beach house rent-free. Ashley is a gallery assistant who aspires to become an artist. Mary Beth, a gifted cook from Tennessee, works for a caterer while searching for a good teaching job. Though they both know what they want out of life, their parents barely support their dreams and worry for their precarious finances. While they don’t make much money, the girls do have a million-dollar view that comes with living in that fabulous house on Sullivans Island. Sipping wine on the porch and watching a blood-red sunset, Ashley and Mary Beth hit on a brilliant and lucrative idea. With a new coat of paint, the first floor would be a perfect place for soirees for paying guests. Knowing her parents would be horrified at the idea of common strangers trampling through their home, Ashley won’t tell them. Besides, Clayton and Liz Waters have enough problems of their own. A successful investment banker, Clayton is too often found in his pied-a-terre in Manhattan–which Liz is sure he uses to have an affair. And when will Ashley and her brother, Ivy, a gay man with a very wealthy and very Asian life partner–ever grow up? Then there is Maisie, Liz’s mother, the family matriarch who has just turned eighty, who never lets Liz forget that she’s not her perfect dead sister, Juliet. For these Lowcountry women, an emotional hurricane is about to blow through their lives, wreaking havoc that will test them in unexpected ways, ultimately transforming the bonds they share.”
The Husband’s Secret by Lorraine Moriarty- “Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.”
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- “Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper. The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.”
Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner- “The lives of four very different women intertwine in unexpected ways in this new novel by bestselling author Jennifer Weiner (In Her Shoes; Best Friends Forever). Each woman has a problem: Princeton senior Jules Wildgren needs money to help her dad cure his addiction; Pennsylvania housewife Annie Barrow is gasping to stay financially afloat; India Bishop yearns to have a child, an urge that her stepdaughter Bettina can only regard with deeply skepticism until she finds herself in a most unexpected situation.”
Us by David Nicholls – “’I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’ ‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’ Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together. So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again. The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed. What could possibly go wrong?”
Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favorite Poems
This week, the gals over at The Broke and the Bookish have left the Top Ten Tuesday prompt wide open. So good…and so bad! While it will be awesome to hop around the blogs and see what others came up with (many which I will lament not having thought of myself) it did mean that I had to sort through a million possibilities in my own head before even beginning this week’s list. Instead of sticking with a typical list of books this week, I’m going to veer off into a different literary genre for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: poems! I, by no means, consider myself well-read when it comes to poetry, but I do have a core collection of favorites, which are the basis for this week’s entry. (Presented in alphabetic order, just to save me the stress of figuring out which is my all-time favorite, as that distinction is always in flux.)
“A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes– It might not be long, but it packs a punch in its few lines. Our dreams are what make us who we are; dreams are what push us to get out of bed each day and become better. But, if those dreams are stymied over and over, whether by an individual or a government, the power of them is going to have to be released (unleashed?) somehow. What will that explosion look like?
“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe- This one easily made my top ten and always will. I love the pull between the fairy tale setting by the sea and the macabre final stanza. A love existed that was so precious and pure that heavenly angels crushed it in jealously. That’s some pretty great Gothic imagery.
“I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes- Somewhere along the lines in school I had to memorize this one for an English class and it has been stuck in my brain ever since. I love the strength and conviction in it.
“If” by Rudyard Kipling- Choices and attitude are the underlying themes of this poem, both of which I believe we must actively own. By setting up the dichotomies throughout, Kipling reminds us that we ultimately have control over our actions/reactions. I can choose my behavior and attitude towards a situation, even when I can’t control the details of the event. Not a bad life lesson…
“Oh Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman- This is one of those poems that I can’t read without a swelling of patriotism/pride in my heart. What a beautiful tribute to a rising nation and a fallen leader.
“Oranges” by Gary Soto- I love Gary Soto’s poems and they were always a favorite to teach to middle school students. This one is such a perfect glimpse into early love, the stress of impressing a young girl with just the few coins in a boy’s pocket. It is tender and sweet, but doesn’t discount the nerves as a boy makes his first moves into the world of dating.
“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou- There is little that needs to be said about this immense poem of strength and resilience. In a world where women (and men) are judged constantly on superficial traits, Angelou reminds us all that we are so much more than that. She reminds us that our power comes from within and that we should not let negativity get us down. Push to be better; push to be phenomenal.
“Warning” by Jenny Joseph- Love this poem! Again, it was a favorite to teach with my middle school students, because after we read it, I would assign everyone to rewrite it in their own style, “warning” us of something we need to know about their future. It was awesome watching kids write poems warning us about when they were famous baseball players, when they were the school principal or when they finally received their driver’s license. The creativity that this poem sparked in my students always made me smile!.
“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks- Lacking the pretentiousness often associated with poetry, this short work just puts a teenager frame of mind into a new genre, succinctly displaying both the bravado and audacity of teens as they face the world.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein- Of course, a poetry list on this blog would not be complete without an eponymous entry! And, I love that by putting the list in alphabetical order, this fell at the end, as a great wrap-up to the poetry week. Living abroad, moving every few years and traveling as much as possible, I am always in search of the end of the sidewalk, not because I want the journey to end, but because I want to see what is there and then I want to see what is on the other side of “the end.” New people, new places, new ideas. You never know where the sidewalk will lead or what you will find, but it is always worth having a look!
When in pursuit of sidewalk endings, adventures are bound to pop up along the way. Most of the time, the escapades that seem the craziest at the time, once survived, end up being the best stories and they are the reason we sling on our backpacks as much as possible and go-go-go. But, not all adventures take us down a road we want to travel, and that, my friends, is how I almost became Thad’s personal ACS case last week. (ACS= American Citizen Services.)
It all started on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, three weeks ago. I had just driven back to the embassy from a going away lunch at a local polo club (great Indian food!) and was settling in at my computer for an afternoon of sorting and scanning diplomatic notes. Strangely, my left eye was super blurry, but I blamed it on the raging sunshine outside and figured it would quickly adjust to the florescent lights of the office.
By Sunday night, I was doing the worst thing anyone with any kind of ailment can do: I Googled it. Suddenly, WebMD had me convinced I had rare eyeball cancer and was going to die before morning. Thank you, internets. The upside to my internet searching was that it made me realize maybe my blurry vision was a bigger deal that I was giving it credit for and maybe, just maybe, I should pop in to our embassy medical unit to have them take a quick glance on Monday morning.
Which I did. After finishing the visa intake for the morning. (I was really not too panicked about this whole thing yet. I’d get to MED when I go there…) Going in, I told the medical officer that I had only half-vision in my left eye. I would have slated it nearly a horizontal line across my eye, with vision on the bottom. Without much hesitation, I was shuttled off to an ophthalmologist here in Kuala Lumpur for a series of tests, but I still wasn’t feeling super worried about the situation.
That sense of calm would not last much longer.
After a succession of eye tests at the hospital here, the ophthalmologist sat me down and without much ado announced that he was diagnosing me with optical neuritis and that I must be admitted to the hospital immediately for an MRI, as the condition is a precursor to multiple sclerosis. Suddenly, I went from having what I thought was a bit of blurry vision to the possibility of a life-long, potentially debilitating disease. How did that just happen? Not really sure what to think or do in the moment, I told him I needed to check in with the embassy before making any further plans. I was in shock and couldn’t really process what was happening. Had my life just changed in the course of two minutes? I quickly got ahold of the medical unit, who decided if that is the route we were going to take, we were going to take it in Singapore.
Back to the embassy I shuttled to throw together the makings of an emergency medical evacuation. By this time it was Monday evening and I was scheduled on an early Tuesday morning Air Asia flight, with specialist appointments booked for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. (All of these bookings happened in the course of about an hour. When MED moves, they move!) Before leaving post, I had to get a few things in order at my desk, I had to top off my cell phone minutes, I had to pack a bag for a week and load up as much school work as I could fit to take along. Things were a blur, and not just because my left eye had quit working!
It was all happening quickly.
Which is how my crazy medical condition also nearly made me become Thad’s personal ACS case! In the midst of the chaos of prepping and packing to go, as I moved all of my money and cards to the purse I was taking to Singapore, my credit card got left sitting on the dining room table. On Tuesday, I caught the quick one-hour flight to Singapore and headed to the 4 Seasons hotel where I would be lodging for the duration of my stay. The great medical section team in Singapore had the room pre-booked, so when I arrived, I just rolled on up to the counter, ready to sign in. I passed my credit card over and scanned the fancy lobby as I waited for the desk clerk to run it. Soon, he had a worried look on his face. He swiped the card again, but I could tell something was wrong.
Oh no! He didn’t need to say a word. I might be partially blind, but the lightbulb went off.
A few weeks ago, we had some weird taxidermy charges on our credit card out of Texas. (You know how I like to keep stuffed dead things lying around my house!) The credit card company shut off those cards and sent us new ones. Well, the card in the hand of the desk clerk was the old card and the new shiny one was sitting at home, in Kuala Lumpur. Not good.
So, there I was, in a foreign country, half-blind and with only the cash in my purse: about $200USD total, trying to pay for a hotel that ran $300 a night. Uhhh…Thad to the rescue! I quickly called him and had him give his card number to the hotel so I could check in. He then had to sign an avadavat saying he would cover my costs for the entire stay (room service, anyone?!), but he quickly sorted it from his end so I was able to drop off my bags before heading to the first appointment.(It is almost as if sorting out unprepared Americans is his job or something!) But, the lack of functioning card did make me basically destitute in what is definitely not one of the cheaper cities on the globe. I spent the next four days, until he was able to join me in Singapore, convincing doctors and hospitals to take my card by just the number, without physically having it in-hand. (Scary how well this actually worked! I was able to put thousands of dollars of medical bills on a card I did not actually carry.)
I felt like such a dunce! Maybe the eye-sight really was a bigger brain issue.
Over the next three days, I had eye tests where I realized that no, I did not have 50% vision in my left eye, but closer to 5% and that I was basically color-blind as well. I had an MRI, which at the cost of that thing, I’m not sure why they can’t add a muffler to the machine. And I was admitted to the hospital for three days of IV steroids to reduce the swelling on my optical nerve. (My nurse friends will attest, I have what must be close to the world’s worst veins, so this was a rather unpleasant period for me. I’m such a terrible blood donator that Red Cross usually sends me away, not able to get enough blood to bother with. The doctors at the hospital in Singapore had to call in the head phlebotomist, who was still not able to get three full vials of blood and then had to poke and prod to find a place to insert the IV. No fun for anyone! Three weeks later, my right hand still has two rather good sized bruises on it from the poking and prodding procedures.)
To make a long story short, the answer to the big question is “we don’t know.” Thankfully, the MRI scans came back clean, no lesions, so for now, no MS. (This is something that will have to be monitored long-term with follow-up MRIs in the future, but clean and clear for now.) The IV steroids and subsequent oral steroids (don’t mess with my right now, man!) have brought my vision back to probably 90% and its improving each day. With nothing to go on, the doctors are leaving the diagnosis as “optical neuritis” and will just monitor. I’m headed back to Singapore in a month for follow-up exams (you can bet I’ll have my credit card next time!) and then it will just be a wait and see (literally!)situation.
Adventures, for the most part are fun, but sometimes the sidewalk gets a little blurry, which gets a bit scary. Over the last three weeks, my sidewalk nearly disappeared but is slowly coming back into focus and is a good reminder to keep searching and enjoying the journey. (It’s also a good reminder to always carry a valid credit card!)
Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I REALLY Want to Meet
(Capitalization as provided by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish, as I definitely don’t feel that strongly about it!)
I almost skipped writing this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but then realized if I didn’t sit down to work on this blog entry, I’d have to sit down and write a paper about ethics and travel writing that I just haven’t quite sorted out in my brain yet. (You know when you have an idea of what you want to say, floating around in your head, but none of it is coming together into any sensible order? That is where I am at. So, rather than sit down and focus on creating an outline there, I’ll procrastinate with a Top Ten Tuesday list!) The reason this list almost went undone is because I have just never been super drawn to the idea of meeting celebrities. (Okay, I met Michelle Obama last year and that was about the best thing ever, but still…) I don’t really get starry-eyed over the rich and famous, but the more I thought about this topic of authors I’d like to meet, I realized it would be fun to put together a list of ten authors I would like to invite to the same dinner party and then just sit back and watch what happens! As you read, imagine them all together for an evening, the conversation taking itself where it would…With this group of characters, the possibilities are endless!
Beverly Cleary- Ramona! How do you not invite the creator of Ramona to a dinner party? These books were the first “chapter books” I read on my own (although we didn’t call them that back then) and I couldn’t get enough of my box set of paperback. Beverly Cleary has opened up reading to generations of young kids and I would love to hear her take not only on current children’s literature, but see her chat the classics with Poe and Hemingway.
Edgar Allan Poe- Of course. No one who has spent any time on this blog would not expect to see him on the list. I’d love to see his reaction to his current fame, considering he died destitute in a gutter.
Erik Larson- I credit Larson with turning me on to narrative non-fiction writing. Before reading Devil in the White City, I would only pick up non-fiction when it was required for a class, but after being drawn in to his style of weaving various stories into a single true tale, I’ve become quite the follower of new books in this genre.
Ernest Hemingway-I think he would probably be a pompous ass. But, just entertaining enough to put up with for an evening. Besides, we’ve got to have some Idaho representation at the party !
Haruki Murakami- This is an outlier, but I’m strangely drawn in my Murakami’s writing. When I am actually reading it, I don’t always understand what I am reading or where the story is going. I don’t even necessarily like the writing while I am in the midst of it, but somehow, each time I finish one of his novels, I walk away with a sense that I really loved what I just read, even if I barely scratched the surface of understanding.
Maya Angelou- She’s amazing and inspirational and I can’t imagine a literary gathering without her.
Orson Scott Card- Again, an author chosen for having opened the door to a new genre for me. I’m wouldn’t call myself a big science fiction fan, but before reading Ender’s Game when I was in high school, I would not have even given the genre a chance. Ender’s Game caught my attention in a way that surprised me and I quickly read through his entire library at the time. I honestly haven’t stayed as current with his writing as I probably should have, but as the doorway to a new genre, he deserves a place at my table.
Roald Dahl- I had a love hate relationship with this man as a child. I loved The BFG but was terrified by James and the Giant Peach, and yet, I couldn’t not pick up those books filled with just enough irreverence to make me think I was getting away with something. (So much fart talk!)
Stephen King- Possibly a surprise member of my dinner party, since his novel It made it onto my recent Top Ten Books I’ll Never Read list. But, while I can’t go in for the horror he creates, I do think he is an amazing writer and has some important idea on the teaching of writing. I really respect him academically and think that these dual qualities would add to the conversation on many levels.
William Least Heat-Moon- I just finished Blue Highways by Heat-Moon and really liked the smoothness of his writing style. There is a comfort and ease to his writing; although I am sure the writing itself was neither comfortable nor easy. Blue Highways was published in 1983 and I’d love to catchup with the last three decades of his ideas.
In hindsight, getting these ten authors together on a single night might be utter chaos. The whole thing could quickly dissolve into egos and power plays, and yet, I do think the sidebar conversations would be worth the efforts. With a mixture of classic and contemporary authors, fiction and non-fiction writers, the literary world would be their oyster!