WIDE-OPEN WORLD: HOW VOLUNTEERING AROUND THE GLOBE CHANGED ONE FAMILY’S LIVES FOREVER

By John Marshall

Ballantine Books, 2015

352 pages, $26

If anyone is planning an overseas trip it would be wise to heed pundit Clifton Fadiman’s advice: “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” And Maine writer John Marshall and his family learned that Fadiman was right.

“Wide-Open World” is Marshall’s first book, a nonfiction memoir of the Marshall family’s six-month journey of “voluntourism,” traveling around the world volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries, organic farms, schools and orphanages. Marshall lives in Gorham, and has spent more than 20 years working for various Maine television stations.

Marshall, his wife and their two children (17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter) decided in 2009 to drop out of their routine and take on the challenge of combining travel with volunteering, laden with American expectations, and later surprised at what they learned about themselves and other cultures and peoples.

Marshall clearly and strongly points out that voluntourism is not a typical family vacaction.There are no frills, many surprises, a few disappointments and it isn’t free. The personal rewards, however, are priceless.

They volunteered to work in Costa Rica, New Zealand, Thailand and India, often in places with no hot water, infrequent electricity, poor roads (if they were lucky), introduced to close-quarters communal living with hard-workers and pot-head slackers, exotic foods and mysterious customs — all while discovering the hazards and letdown of believing the Internet hype of many volunteer organization websites.

In Costa Rica they learned that monkeys really do bite, that snakes are deadly, but scorpions are not, and what a “monkey-free zone” is. Best and most inspiring are their experiences teaching English at a rural school in Thailand, and working at a Christian orphanage in India.

Voluntourism sounds exciting and fun, but read Marshall’s book before signing up.

ONCE BURNED

Gerry Boyle

Islandport Press, 2015

424 pages, $24.95

Gerry Boyle is one of Maine’s most popular mystery writers, but his signature character, newspaper reporter Jack McMorrow, hasn’t been seen since “Damaged Goods” in 2010.

Five years is a long time, but McMorrow fans will forgive the wait when they read Boyle’s latest McMorrow mystery, “Once Burned.” This is the 10th book in Boyle’s McMorrow mystery series. More good news: Islandport Press will be republishing all of the McMorrow mysteries starting this year with Boyle’s first novel, “Deadline” (1993).

Best of all, Boyle clearly has not lost his touch. “Once Burned” may well be the best McMorrow mystery yet — an intricate and clever plot, sharply defined characters, authentic Maine setting, snappy dialogue and white-knuckle suspense.

Jack is a crime reporter, a stringer for the New York Times, but he lives in Maine with his wife and young daughter. And Jack is as nosy and persistent as ever. When somebody starts setting arson fires in the nearby town of Sanctuary (a place of refuge it is not), Jack smells smoke and a good story, but his initial inquiries are met with anger, derision, lies and outright hostility. Jack, however, is very good at asking questions and the town’s stonewalling just makes him more suspicious and determined.

Arson soon turns to murder, and threats, accusations and fear lead to more violence. Even Jack needs a handy tire iron to repel three assailants, and a well-armed Marine neighbor to protect his family. A magazine article about Sanctuary may have sparked the fires, but Jack cannot figure out if they are random or are planned with a specific purpose. Several cryptic clues begin to reveal the mystery to Jack, but he’s got to live long enough to finish the story.

This is classic McMorrow — a terrific mystery tale.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.