Tag Archives: Bali

Best Summer Reads/Beach Reads

Are you ready to shop for some good summer reads?

Summer Reading

What is a “summer read” or a “beach read,” anyhow? For travelers who read, it probably involves

  • Visiting some far off place. Preferably the place that you will be traveling to for your summer break.
  • Books that can keep your mind off the physics of holding a jet plane in the air while you’re flying on an airplane.
  • Books that are gripping enough that you can get lost in them, but don’t take enormous amounts of brain power.
  • Books that can be left behind at the B & B or the beach house for the next reader.

Here are some that I’ve read that I think meet the criteria, starting with two romance adventures by British writer Lucy Clarke and then a new book in the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

A Q & A with the author in the back of the book A Single Breath, show why Lucy Clarke writes good books for travel-reading.

Q According to your author bio, you and your husband spend your winters traveling.  How does travel inform and inspire your writing?

A:  There is something about slinging a few belongings into a bag and heading off on a plane, train, or ferry that gives me the most incredible sense of freedom.  The break from routine, the stepping out of one’s ordinary world and into another, is surely good for the sould…I’m intrigued to see how characters behave outside the usual parameters of their daily lives.  Routine can be limiting, so I like to explore what happens when a character is taken out of their comfort zone and dislocated from their family and friends.


Swimming at Night, by Lucy Clarke (2013 in U.S.  Released in G.B. as The Sea Sisters.) [Destinations: Australia and Bali]

Both these books, romance-adventures, start with a death of someone close to the main character–in this case a sister dies in far-off Bali.  Coming to grips with the death of her sister Mia, Kate, the “sensible” sister, finds it hard to accept the conclusion that it was a suicide. Mia was the wild, sea-loving sister who found London stifling. Uncharacteristically, Kate, who thrives on routine in her London office job, grabs her sisters travel journal and her worn backpack and sets out to trace Mia’s steps from England to California, Australia and Bali.

Using the journal as a guide to the journey as well as a guide to understanding the complex relationship between her and her sister, Kate discovers things about herself as well as about Mia. Three men provide the romantic partnerships–one for Mia, one for Kate and one for both of them.

Clarke, who travels with her husband, a professional wind surfer, excels at description of the sea and the seaside. The pace is swift, the characters endearingly complex, and despite the fact that I am not a big fan of romances–this one had enough adventure and suspense that it kept me turning the pages.


A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke (NEW April 2014) [Destination: Tasmania]

In A Single Breath, the death is of the protagonist’s husband, and while the relationship may not resonate with everyone as strongly as that of the loss of a sister, it contains the same ingredients of romance and family secrets revealed in an exotic locale as does Swiming at Night.

A Single Breath is set in Tasmania.  Now there’s a place that you don’t often get to visit in a novel! Eva and Jackson live in London until he suddenly disappears.  Wanting to know more, she flies to Australia with a very good friend and takes the ferry to a small island off Tasmania where Jackson grew up.

There she meets his father and his brother and learns things about her husband that catch her (and the reader) by surprise. Reminders of her romantic days with Jackson are not enough to spice up the book, so we have the added frisson of an attraction to Jackson’s brother.


Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr (2014) Review of unabridged audio book from Macmillan Audio, Read by Barbara Rosenblat. [Destination: Northern Minnesota.]

Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series follows the adventures of a middle-aged woman park ranger through many of the National Parks in the United States.  Destroyer Angel, however, takes place on Forest Service land in the deep woods of northern Minnesota because Anna is on vacation. Some vacation it turns out to be!

Barr excels in putting the reader into the location and in creating memorable characters.  Besides the intrepid Anna Pigeon, the cast of characters here includes Leah,  a woman who seems to be close to an Asperger’s Syndrome personality. She designs camping equipment for the handicapped and is really only happy when tinkering and considering engineering problems.  Then there is the paraplegic Heath who is testing new equipment, Heath’s daughter, a capable fifteen-year-old, and Leah’s babyish thirteen-year-old Katie, who Leah has trouble relating to.

Those friends of Anna are an interesting lot, but they don’t hold a candle to the fascinating personalities of the thugs who invade the camp with kidnap on their minds.  Anna is out in her canoe when the thugs appear, so she spends the rest of the novel skulking through the woods in their pursuit as her friends suffer increasingly difficult situations.  The threats to the characters mount in breathtakingly scary incidents piled on hardships inflicted by a cooly evil boss and his henchmen who are varying degrees of stupid and mean.

If you get the book, be warned that it may take you a while to get into it.  All those fascinating characters take some time to get used to, but once the introductory chapters are past, the action never stops.  On the audio book, the reader, Barbara Rosenblat, does a wonderful job of differentiating characters and keeping up with the pace of the book.


You might want to check some of my past recommendations for Beach Reading here and here. And perhaps another summer read here and some tips here.

OR–If you want to read about the specific place where you’re going to travel (and it is not Tasmania, Bali or Minnesota!), check  out the “Where Do You Want to Go?” box in the sidebar on the right (or at the bottom of the page if you’re reading on a mobile device). The drop down list will show you all the places that have been covered at A Traveler’s Library.

Notes: The publisher provided me with a hardback copy of Swimming at Night and a paperback copy of A Single Breath.  Macmillan provided the audio copy of Destroyer Angel. The copies were provided for review with no requirements that the reviews be positive.

Links to Amazon are here for your convenience, but A Traveler’s Library also earns a couple of cents when you order through those links. (Even though it costs you no more.) Thank you so much for your support.

A Deathly Tour

Destination: Bali, Philippines, Sicily, Dorset in England, Ghana and other assorted locales.

Book Cover
Book: Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre–How We Dignify the Dead (NEW December 2012) by Sarah Murray

Sarah Murray has chosen an intriguing subject for Making an Exithow we deal with death. And she has a winning style of writing.  I loved the concept–travel around the world to check on their customs and practices and decide how she herself would like to “Exit”. A travelogue of death rites.

She says that death is scary stuff…

But we humans are practical beings. When we need shelter, we build a house.  When we’re hungry, we hunt, farm, and cook.  So when confronted with the terrifying vision of our impending mortality, we get really creative.  After all, there’s perhaps no human condition to which more attention has been devoted than death.” Continue reading A Deathly Tour

Book Reviewer Alan Cheuse Writes New Book


A Trance After Breakfast by Alan Cheuse

Destination: Tijuana, Bali, Indonesia and other

Book: A Trance After Breakfast by Alan Cheuse

(Note:  I read an uncorrected review copy, supplied by a publicist.)

I always enjoy the book reviews by Alan Cheuse on public radio, so when I was offered a review copy of his new book about travel, A Trance After Breakfast , I jumped at the opportunity. Publishers borrowed the name of the book from a short travelogue piece he wrote about a religious experience in Bali.

The book offers a jumble of published articles, essays, short travel pieces and long thought pieces. The style differs from piece to piece because Gourmet does not demand the same style as Antioch Review, for example. Although the introduction claims it is a travel book, it is more than that, and certainly a large hunk does not meet your usual expectations of essays on travel.

Although the book begins with a theme of water (in his boyhood home of Perth Amboy,  New Jersey) and flows through the final group of pieces (memoirs of travel on or near water), that theme disappears in the articles about Tijuana in the center of the book. Long thoughtful pieces on life in Tijuana seem to have dropped in from some other manuscript.

It was the Tijuana border pieces that stuck with me in the months since I first read the book.  It seems a shame, in this time of focus on the problems of the American/Mexican border, that his three pieces on Tijuana could not have been expanded into a book of their own, instead of buried inside the water-themed short travel pieces here.

In Tijuana, philosopher Cheuse fades into the background, upstaged  by reporter Cheuse. He observes a border crossing during a night’s activities, compares the schooling of poor and wealthy Tijuana families, and explores the unlikely small community of Jews in the border city. I became totally hypnotized by the tedious jobs of the border officers and saw the border in a new way after reading this.

A piece called “Reading the Archipelago” toward the end of the book puts Cheuse back in the role I am most familiar with–book reviewer.  I enjoyed his musings on literature tied to Indonesia, and am inspired to follow up on his recommendation of Somerset Maugham’s Far Eastern Tales. But most of the authors in his reading list, he realizes, are outsiders writing of an “exotic” culture. To get an insiders view, he turns to some Indonesian writers, particularly Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Perhaps the best part of the book, for travelers, comes right at the beginning. In introducing the book, Alan Cheuse writes a graceful, personal, moving description of why we travel. Here’s a bit of it:

“…the best travel writing carries us along on a soul-journey, the sort of trip that may or may not tell you about the best hotels and the good places to eat but certainly, if it lives up to this standard, dramatizes how the heart learns about itself in relation to the world, making the foreign familiar and the familiar slightly foreign…” “…this definition embraces just about any serious variety of narrative, personal history, social history, character study or study of the land and landscape.” He gives some examples and says, “All of these are varieties of narrative you might not think of at first as travel writing.”

I liked this introduction, not just because I agree with it, but because Cheuse’s own personality and style come through. Despite this attempt to explain the mix of stuff in this book, I came away with the feeling that there were pieces of two different books cobbled together here. Cheuse is a good observer and thorough researcher.