April 22, 2019

Book Review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

 Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

From the pre-prologue diary entry, the scene is set. You’re absolutely sure you know what is going to happen and what happened in the past. You’re pretty sure you know what the dark secret of one of the characters is.  What you won’t know is who is the victim and who the murderer. Chapters are divided from different points of view, so well into the novel, you will have several different theories as to who, what, and why. Is the handsome Mr. Fitzwilliam really as perfect as he seems?  What is he hiding?  Is Jenna’s mom going crazy or does she know something about what happened years ago? By novel’s end, the whole tragic story emerges.  There are some hints as the novel develops but I won’t lie – I was shocked and saddened by the denouement. 

April 16, 2019

Koh Phi Phi Day Trip

When I was planning my trip to Thailand, I didn’t want to stay at Ko Phi Phi because I wanted to seek out lesser known and quieter spots.  But once I saw this breathtaking, panoramic view, I kept open the possibility of a short visit to this infamous party island.  

I took a speedboat from Koh Lanta, booked the day before with Satun Pakbara.  It took about an hour and docked at busy Tonsai Bay.  As you exit the pier, you will enter Tonsai Village – full of shops, eateries, and hotels.  Go to your right and keep going until you see a sign for the viewpoint. Keep following the signs, which will twist and turn throughout the village and eventually take you to a flight of stairs.  

The climb up to the viewpoint will take about 15-20 minutes.  It can be exerting, even if you’re moderately fit.  The heat will make it even more challenging.  But believe me when I say that the view is completely worth it.  

At some point, you will have to pay a fee to keep going.  The viewpoint, it turns out, is on private land.  However, it is a small fee, about the equivalent of a little over one U.S. dollar.  The pay point is also where you can buy drinks and go to the restroom, for about 10 baht.  

Immediately after paying is where Viewpoint #1 is located.  Although it is quite a lovely overlook, do not stop here, keep going!  

After a more leisurely climb to the top, you will reach Viewpoint #3.  Do not ask me where Viewpoint #2 is because I don’t remember passing it.  

Viewpoint #3 is photo-ready, with a wooden platform and several large, flat rocks where you can pose and take pictures to your heart’s content.  

There is also a cafĂ©, should you want to linger and do more than catch your breath before heading back down.  

I suggest coming to the viewpoint as early as you can or as soon as you dock – The earlier in the day, the cooler and the less crowded.  Also, make sure to bring some water – you’re going to need it during and after that hot climb.  I saw some people bringing bags of food as well for a picturesque picnic at the top. 

After the viewpoint, I decided to find a nice beach and do nothing for the rest of my time at Ko Phi Phi. If you walk straight from Tonsai Bay to the other end of the island, you will come upon Loh Dalum Beach, which is much quieter and less crowded.  There are some longtail boats docked on either side but a huge swathe of the waters by the beach are cordoned off for swimmers.  I spent a happy couple of hours here just lying under the sun, swimming, and generally relaxing.

To go back to Koh Lanta, I pre-booked a ferry from Tigerline.  I went back to the pier at Tonsai Bay and checked in with personnel by a table near the boats and ferries.  I was given a sticker and then shown which boat to board.  A word about ferries – they usually leave later than the stated time. I ended up waiting almost an hour before it left.  I guess I was on “Thai time.”  

Although, I knew Koh Phi Phi had more beautiful spots to offer, but I loved spending the day here as a quick little getaway within a getaway.

April 15, 2019

Book Review: Sunburn by Laura Lippman

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?

Sunburn is a scorcher of a mystery with a very intriguing protagonist at its core.  

I’ll tell you this – you’re going to think you know what Polly is all about and what she wants. First you will think she’s a cold-hearted femme fatale who’s done the unthinkable.  But with every chapter, every revelation, Polly becomes someone else – a victim, a weakling, a terrible mother, a ruthless criminal, even a murderer? One thing is for sure – she has an end-game in mind and the reader is never completely sure what her driving force is until almost to the end.  

Sunburn is my first Laura Lippman novel and I am officially a fan.  Lippman is masterful at hooking the reader and keeping you invested and guessing.  But what she’s best at is describing characters and their inner lives to such eerie specificity - she truly knows the human psyche.