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. 

April 9, 2019

Koh Lipe

As much fun as I was having exploring Bangkok, after a few days, I was longing to go south and see Thailand’s famous islands.  My first island stop was Koh Lipe and I immediately fell in love.  It was and still remains vividly as the quintessential island of my Thailand fantasies – white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, and a slow, unhurried, and uncrowded vibe.  

I started my adventure by flying from Bangkok to Hat Yai airport on Thai Smile.  The flight cost the equivalent of $47 US dollars and took a little over an hour. Flying is the only way you can reach Koh Lipe in the same day.  But even with a plane flight, my whole journey took the better part of the day. If flying, it is advised that your flight lands by 10 a.m.  You still need to drive to the Pakbara Pier, which is about 2 hours from the airport.  

From Pakbara, you need to take either a speedboat or ferry to Koh Lipe, which takes at least 1 ½ hours.  I had arranged in advance with Satun Pakbara for the ride to the pier, as well as the speedboat to Koh Lipe.  After using other companies for other trips, I found Satun Pakbara to be the most organized and so I highly recommend them. 

If you didn’t make advance arrangements, you can buy a ride plus boat trip combo ticket at the airport.  There are kiosks by the airport exit.  Or you can get a taxi and then take your chances once you get to the pier. I strongly urge you to make advance arrangements.  There are only so many ferry crossings per day.  My speedboat to Koh Lipe was full.  Also Satun Pakbara will arrange your transportation from the Koh Lipe dock to your hotel.  They made the entire journey super easy.  

Once at Pakbara Pier, you might have to wait until your speedboat is ready.  There are plenty of places to grab lunch outside of the waiting area.  Within the waiting area, there is a snack shop, plenty of seats and restrooms as well.

Once your speedboat is ready for boarding, the boat personnel will first load the front with your luggage.  After all the luggage, then passengers can start boarding.  There are readily accessible lifejackets over the seats. 

The ride itself was very smooth but my favorite part was a surprise stopover at Koh Kai for 15 minutes.  Koh Kai is a very small, but charming island that I wish I could have spent more time exploring.  As it was, I got a quick, delightful taste of what was to come.  

Koh Lipe does not have a dock, per say.  One of two things will happen upon arriving or departing the island. The way I arrived was to transfer from the speedboat to a longtail boat for a 5-minute ride to the beach.  The luggage arrives soon after from another longtail boat.  Passengers were able to disembark from longtail boat onto a blue pier boardwalk. However, upon departing Koh Lipe, with a different company, passengers had to board the longtail boats from the beach, carrying their luggage and getting into the water.  It was a more physically exerting and wet experience.  

Koh Lipe is extremely walkable.  You can walk from end to end in 15 minutes.  The only times I used tuktuks were with my luggage.  

There are three beaches in Koh Lipe.  Pattaya Beach, where you arrive and depart, is very busy and noisy, with boats.  Sunrise Beach, as the name implies, is the best place to catch the sun rise, and in my opinion, is the best beach of the three.  Sunset Beach is, of course, where to watch the sunset.  

One night, I decided to check out Sunset Beach, which is a 15-minute walk from Sunrise Beach.  I found the experience to be … just okay.  The beach was littered with trash, unfortunately, and I just didn’t get the same magical experience as with Sunrise Beach.  

Actually, sunrises and sunsets are pretty spectacular from Sunrise Beach.  Let you in on a little secret – you can get the beach almost to yourself during sunrise because although everyone can catch the sun set, not everyone wants to get up before dawn.  

But if you decide to catch the sun set at Sunset Beach, there are restaurants lining the road leading up to the beach if you want to stay for dinner.

Every island has a street called walking street and is typically where you will find the highest concentration of stores, restaurants and bars. This is where you go to eat, drink, shop and … to walk, especially at nighttime.  

One thing I noticed was that everything was more expensive at Koh Lipe than Bangkok or neighboring islands.  Hotel rooms, food, drinks, everything just simply cost more. That doesn’t mean however, that there aren’t bargains to be had.  You can still eat and drink within your budget.  Just make sure to shop around before buying or consuming anything.

As I stated earlier, leaving Koh Lipe was a different process and experience than when I arrived.  I think it had to do with the fact that I used a different company.  This time, I used Tigerline, which apparently doesn’t have use of the blue boardwalks onto the beach.  Passengers had to drag or carry their luggage on the beach, then carry onto the waiting longtail boats.  If anything can convince you to pack light, this will.  

One tip I almost forgot is to be at the beach 30 minutes before departure and check in.  The staff will confirm where you are going and your hotel at your destination.  This is for arrangements once you arrive.  My next destination was Koh Lanta and upon arrival there, I had someone waiting to take me to my hotel.  This is included in your ticket.  

Once you board the longtail boat with your luggage, it will take you to a giant floating platform where you will disembark with your luggage. And then board again the speedboat or ferry to your next destination.  

April 8, 2019

Book Review: The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . . 

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples. And then one of them breaks the rules.
The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

My main delight regarding The Marriage Pact has nothing to do with the writing or the plot – but simply with the setting of the San Francisco Bay Area. I could tell Michelle Richmond actually knew what she was talking because she wove local, nontouristy details that were like little Easter eggs – oh, I know that! I would exclaim as I came upon them. It’s heartwarming to see a place you know well and love represented authentically in fiction.  

But aside from the setting, what about the writing and the plot, you ask?  In one word, superb.  At first I was skeptical – how intelligent could Alice and Jake be if they allowed themselves to be sucked into this Pact and couldn’t they just drop out anytime they wanted? But the seduction of the couple is very convincing. Everything seems reasonable and common sensical – at first, and then things start getting intense, too intense.  It doesn’t take long before the demands of the Pact become overbearing, then downright scary.  

Plots like these work only when the protagonists act like you would act.  If they do everything you can think of the escape their predicament but are thwarted at every turn by seemingly omnipotent and omniscient forces.  I felt dread turning into panic for Alice and Jake as things go from worse to I think they're trapped for good.  Could their marriage, or they themselves, possibly survive The Pact?