2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published this Year

2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published this Year


Maybe in Idaho March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but in Malaysia it is more like a steady fire-breathing dragon on both ends of calendar. It has been a scorcher here for the last few weeks, which really just gives me more of an excuse to hide inside with the air conditioning and my book. With that in mind, I should have gotten through more books than I did, but somehow my monthly count only comes to ten, which is the lowest for the year so far, but still not a shabby output. I strangely ended up on a WWII era reading kick, not by any intention, but rather because I was given two books to read that both fell into that time period and then my months-long hold on The Nightingale  finally came through- all in the same week! But, even with my WWII-streak, I’ve opted to go with “a book published this year” for this month’s reading challenge, which means none of these period-pieces, but rather a very recent publication: A Doubter’s Almanac  by Ethan Canin.

I was unsure of this book at first. I saw it pop up in several of the book publication sites I follow, as well as on the cover of BookPage, but wasn’t ready to commit to 588 pages dedicated to mathematics. (Never “math.” The protagonist, a genius in the field refused to give in to the modern, shortened nomenclature.)  Enough of my trusted recommendation sites went with it in February and when I found it was ready for immediate checkout at the library, I was sold.

Milo Andret, our brilliant mathematician, dedicates his life to solving the unsolvable. He works endless hours to keep ahead of his fellow academics who are live for the same mission. After solving a famous mathematical conundrum, he gains fame and is awarded top honors, and yet he struggles to move on from that one moment of glory. His personal life is a mess and his lack of self-censorship causes problems for him with his university. At one point he seems to be on the path to ultimate success, but he sabotages himself at each turn.

The one part of this book that I really struggled with (other than the technical math, but deep understanding of those concepts are not necessary to the narrative, although I am sure it would help!) is the stereotype of a disconnected mathematician that Canin writes Andret to be. Andret is a loner, deeply focused on his work, unable to connect beyond a physical level with women and shows little connection even to his own children. Not having run in the academic circles that Andret does, maybe this stereotype is based on a well-documented personality type in the field, but from the outside it seems a bit like a play on the Asperger- kid who is brilliant in a given area but lacks all social and emotional tools for survival.

Overall though, it was a fascinating read with some narrative/literary twists thrown in the keep readers on their toes. A month ago I would not have guessed a mathematical-based novel would be one of my top picks for the year so far, but it wheedled its way into one of those spots. A bit of a tome, it is a long read and not meant for lounging at the beach, but as winter wraps up for many of you, this might be the last great sit-by-the-fire-and-enjoy book until fall.

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

_____ A book published this year

_____A book you can finish in a day

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

_____ A book you should have read in school

_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, best friend, child or sibling

_____ A book published before you were born

_____ A book that was banned at some point

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

_____ A book you’ve read at least once



Strike Two

Road trip. The phrase conjures up mental pictures of driving long distances with the windows down, wind blowing through flowing blonde locks and a radio blaring the latest (although probably not greatest) pop music, headed off into the great unknown. Ross-family road trips were regular occurrences back in the States, but they usually had a decidedly more nerdy twist to them. Most of our road trips were in search of a new national park to visit and rather than singing along to whatever tunes the local radio station offered (not like we could agree on anything other than NPR anyway, and NPR doesn’t make for great karaoke), our trip was filled with the sounds of narration- me reading whatever book we’d chosen for that trip. Often, our book of choice ended up being one we’d pick up at the national park bookstore on our way out, stopping to get the coveted National Parks Passport stamp.

We’ve not had such great luck with road trips in Malaysia though. After two years in China, relying on cabs to get us around (or our scooters, but they had a fairly small travel radius), I was super excited to buy a car in Kuala Lumpur so that we would have freedom to get out of town on the weekends. (Said car is now for sale since we are leaving this summer…anyone interested?)  Not long after we settled into our new home and routines, we decided to take the right-hand drive X-Trail on a long weekend outing. We’ve been told Penang was wonderful, full of great food and awesome street art, plus Thad had a Kuna High classmate and his wife living/working up there, so north we headed. (How three Kuna High School graduates all ended up in Malaysia is beyond me…)

Penang should be a four hour trip. If you don’t go on a local holiday weekend.

Huge mistake.

Being new to the country, we didn’t realize that everyone clears out of the city for Hari Raya, headed home. Malaysia has a really well-developed freeway system, which I think would work well when it wasn’t carrying the entire country’s population. Between traffic jams and nightmare backups at the toll booths, what should have been a lovely four hour drive through the Malaysian countryside became an eight hour slog, listening to the one radio that would tune in, which ended up being a loop of ten pop songs over…and over…and over…

(I am leaving out the details of the huge rain storm that hit just before we crossed the bridge to Penang, flooding the low-lying roads in town and making passage in anything less than a 4WD impossible. Suffice it to say, we made it to our hotel well after midnight, hungry, tired and a bit cranky.)

Needless to say, after our less than stellar attempt at a Malaysian road trip, we were in no hurry to repeat the experience.

Fast forward eighteen months and the nightmares had finally ended. It was time to try it again.

This time, we were taking a shorter trip- just to Melaka, about two hours south of Kuala Lumpur. The plan was to just go for an overnight, so to leave Saturday morning and come home Sunday evening. That part of the plan worked, out, but not the driving part.

I really need to learn to look at a calendar around here! The weekend we decided to go turned out to be the first weekend of the local school’s holiday, so everyone with kids was headed out for the equivalent of spring break.  Once again, it was us and half the Malaysian population.

Our two hours trip south ended up taking closer to four hours. We arrived mid-afternoon, just as the current heatwave hit its high point for the day. (Over the last couple of weeks, Malaysia has been breaking high temperature records. That sun is blazing!) After finding our hotel and dropping off our overnight bags, we found chairs at a nearby café, had some great chicken satay and whiled away the afternoon people watching. It was too hot for movement beyond that!

With afternoon naps and massages covered, we once again ventured into the great outdoors, spending a crushing evening on Jonkers Street where anything and everything can be bought, if only you can wind your way through the crowd. The evening wrapped up with more roadside treats and drinks, enjoyed while watching masses of humanity go about their evening activities.

Between the scorching heat and the ridiculous traffic, once again our road trip became a bit more of an adventure than we had bargained for. We may have two strikes against us, but I’m not ready to sit on the bench quite yet.  With a little over four months left in our tour, I’d still like to spend a weekend in Ipoh, make the trip to Johor Bahru or even overnight in Port Dickson. The way I figure it, we’ve got one more strike or, better yet, we hit it out of the ballpark with the next attempt and erase those other ticks in the playbook.

Play ball!

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Guest Blog: In Pursuit of Pengins

This is the second guest entry by South American cruiser, Joyce McDaniel.


As we boarded the cruise ship bound for the tip of South America and Patagonia, I am sure I heard the chant of “penguins, penguins, penguins!” coming from the ship’s guests, mostly retired folks like me. For who does not envision visiting a giant colony of penguins as well as a variety of other wild life when thinking of a trip to Patagonia?

Globe Trekker and other travel shows on PBS had really pumped me up for the Patagonian experience and filled my head with visions of waddling, black and white tuxedoed penguins jabbering in Penguinese for as far as the eye can see.

Reading the excursion literature we discovered that there were 3 different kinds of penguins living in the Patagonian area: the Magellanic, Gentoo and King. I had plans to visit all 3 kinds so we signed up for 3 different excursions.

Disappointment upon disappointment filled me as first one excursion to see an island reserve of penguins was cancelled due to rough and unnavigable seas, and then a second excursion to Falkland Islands and a visit to King and Gentoo penguins rookeries was cancelled as the cruise ship was unable to park due to rough seas and high winds! Bummed was too weak of a word to describe my disappointment!

I had to settle for the too-cute and delightful towel animals that filled my stateroom. Our steward Jamie made one every day of the voyage; I really enjoyed these little animals, but they were not penguins!

I even bought 8 stuffed penguins (for the grandchildren of course!) at one stop, hoping that they would not be the only ones I saw.

On Day 8 of the cruise we were able to take a catamaran tour that visited some small rocky islands that were filled with blue-eyed cormorants -that were black and white and kind of looked like penguins   They were awesome, but not penguins. Some other small rocky outcrops were filled with lazy noisy sea lions, also pretty cool, but again, not penguins.

I wanted penguins and pouted mightily!

Finally on Day 12, we moored in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. The day dawned calm and sunny and we were headed to a Penguin Reserve two hours away. Trying not to get my hopes up too high, I boarded the bus to the Peninsula Valdes Wildlife Sanctuary with promises from our guide of not only penguins, but many many other wildlife endemic to the Patagonian region.

And I was not disappointed that day! We saw Lesser Reas, an emu like creature and it was never explained why they were “lesser” rather than “greater” as they were huge. Guanaco herds covered the dry sandy landscape blending into their surroundings. They are the wild cousins to our llamas. We saw this giant rodent called a Mara which looks rather like a cross between a rabbit and a dog. It is actually a Patagonian hare. We were able to walk to within a few hundred feet of a huge colony of sea lions, mostly black shiny pups and their moms, enjoying beach time.

But still no penguins! The guide said “don’t worry, you will have your fill of penguins; I promise!”

As we traveled to see the penguins, the guide related some history of the early explorers visiting this area and encountering penguins. She shared that the early explorers wanted all animals they discovered to be useful to humans and since penguins were not edible due to their oiliness nor were they useful for clothing making or any other purpose, early explorers decided to take a burning log and light them on fire. They found a use for them- as a torch! I was and still am horrified. Fortunately that practice did not catch on and the poor penguins are no longer used as a torch.

Our mini-bus then veered off the main dusty dirt road to a small rutted dusty dirt road heading to our final destination: The Peninsula Valdes Private Penguin Reserve. As we entered the Reserve, penguins sightings began to pop up and everyone began to shout out when they saw a penguin. As far as the eye could see, penguins dotted the shrubbery covered landscape. It was a penguin watchers paradise! We quickly hopped off the bus and began our walk around the Penguin rookery and down to the ocean. Here a penguin, there a penguin, everywhere a penguin! It was wonderful. Words cannot describe the sight that beheld my eyes so be sure to check out the pictures I posted as they will give you a small glimpse of the world of penguins we entered. There were thousands!  We were able to walk right up to many of these cute creatures and some walked right in front of us; for the most part they just ignored us but we delighted in them.   What a sight to behold- they were cooing and chirping and waddling and just being cute.

I found my penguins! And I was happy! And I have pictures to revisit that delightful experience. I could leave my cruise having pursued and found penguins.



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Guest Blog- 59⁰ S. Latitude or Bust!

This blog is written by Joyce M., retired elementary teacher/counselor, world traveler and most importantly, my fabulous mom!


If it isn’t on your bucket list, put it there! I just returned from a most unbelievable and awesome travel experience – cruising around Cape Horn! (59⁰ S. Latitude) You will remember from your geography class in high school, it is the tip of South America and the passageway around South America that we heard horror stories about during class!

I have a very vivid imagination and the idea of sailing around Cape Horn brought images of sailing vessels with lots of sails battling their way through wickedly huge waves and strong winds. Also pictures of ships being dashed to pieces on jagged rocks and sailors being swept overboard came to mind! It was (and still is) an extremely dangerous route, but it was the only way to get from the Pacific to the Atlantic in those early sailing days. Now ships can safely slip through the Panama Canal (another cool trip by the way!)

The idea of cruising around the tip of South America really sounded like a once in a life time experience and peaked my interest, but with my out of control imagination, I also felt some major trepidation about whether I would survive the experience!

The seas and winds have not changed since those early sailing ships made the voyage! In preparation of the actual “coning” of South America, we had the opportunity to watch a 40 minute documentary filmed back in 1929 by Irving Johnson, then a trainee on a sailing ship but he went on to captain his own ship! Johnson’s documentary so entranced the British historians, it was placed in the British Museum and in 1980 they had Capt. Johnson himself narrate what was happening in his film. The film was an actual freighter sailing ship with several masts and at least a zillion sails going around Cape Horn. Johnson filmed it over the course of the voyage which took about 3 months. For those of us who love history, seeing the real voyage was incredible. There were many scenes of waves washing completely over the deck and the ship rocking and rolling violently. Capt. Johnson mentioned briefly that 2 bunks became empty after one massive storm! The name of the documentary is “Around Cape Horn” and can be found by googling this title or Capt. Johnson! If you want to sail vicariously around Cape Horn in the 1929, watch this film!

After watching the documentary of the voyage filmed by Captain Johnson, my anxiety rose a great deal, and I expected the worse! I slept restlessly the night before we were to round the Horn!

Early on a Sunday morning in February, our giant cruise ship sailed around Cape Horn! From the comfort and relative safety of my stateroom balcony, bundled in 3 sweatshirts and armed with my camera, I coned South America! We pulled right up to Cape Horn, which by the way is an island, and went “full on” to Cape Horn! The winds gusted up to 130 knots (80 mph) and the waves were cresting at 17 feet. We stayed near the Cape for 15 minutes as the ship rocked and rolled! Then our ship’s captain said he had had enough battling the sea and we headed on around the continent! Safely. And I survived!

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of having accomplished an enormous challenge, especially as I reflected on the history of sailing in the area and the documentary that showed the reality of what the sailing ships experienced as they made the voyage.

Definitely a Bucket List item!


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