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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2014
As an avid reader of travel/adventure memoirs, I figured this one would be a lay-up on the basis of the glowing reviews. One-third in, I was perplexed given the poor writing and editing, and thus got on Amazon to check out all the positive feedback, discovering that nearly all the 4 and 5 star reviews are from Southern California people. Could they be friends or perhaps "clients" of the author"?

The tale is this: Sonia and Duke's oldest son, at 13, is sleeping around and generally having complete disregard for his parents. They long to escape the "materialism" of Orange County, so the parents fly to check out Belize, locate a hut, and make the move despite their three sons' vocal reservations. But life in paradise isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Sonia "missed world news and shows such as Survivor and American Idol". She's forced to drink Maxwell house as there is no Starbucks to be found. Their initial residence is bug infested and more rustic than they want. So they manage to get out of their lease and buy a townhome in a more resorty-area.

The kids are bratty, likely driven by the parenting styles of Sonia "I yearned to give my boys anything to see them smile again" and Duke's taciturn, conflict-avoiding nature. After a few months Duke is spending his days on the couch, re-reading Sci-Fi novels, and himself acting like a bratty Orange County Teenager. The couple never manage to actually achieve any of their work goals, with their only income being a few personal training sessions Sonia leads. Duke decides not to try his legal transcription business, and then the couple's attempt at property management becomes a disaster.

I plowed through it but found it an agonizing read, with every chapter rife with petty conflict. Visits by Sonia's father and Duke's mother and aunt are miserable experiences. Their oldest son does seem to find some personal growth throughout the experience. But the couple are back in Orange County a little over a year after arriving in Belize, pretty much being run out of town after offending numerous locals.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2013
As someone who has repeatedly stepped outside her own comfort zone, I was fascinated by Sonia Marsh's tale of her family's experiment with living in a third world country when their prosperous California life-style began to feel too materialistic. Their attempt to adapt to the unfamiliar environment of the tiny Caribbean nation of Belize offers a host of insights that are useful whether you're moving to another country or just to a different city in your own country.

Marsh writes, often humorously, about the way that cultural differences affect day-to-day life. Housing styles and standards. The education system. The food that is (or is not) available in the local market. The bugs. Trying to establish a bank account.

But what I found most compelling about Marsh's story was her description of their interactions with their neighbors in Belize, be they local, permanent ex-pats or transitional folks like themselves. What seemed, in the early days, to be an idyllic and supportive if somewhat chaotic community proved to be anything but idyllic. Once Sonia and her husband Duke tried to structure a life for themselves based on "the American paradigm," the community seemed to rise up in protest, occasionally in a way that was frightening.

It is to Marsh's credit that she looks back on this as a learning experience, one that caused her to recognize that there is no universal "right answer." In the final analysis, Marsh chose a life style that is more California than Belize -- but it is a life style that has benefited from incorporating the best of what she found in Belize.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Have you ever thought of picking up your family and just get out of your hectic, rat race life? But would you actually do it?

You hear about parents doing amazingly gutsy things to teach their privileged kids and to learn themselves about life outside their own manicured backyards. They'll huddle together on a boat for a year and sail the seas to faraway countries. They backpack across the world to see how others live. In Freeways to Flip-flops we read about Sonia Marsh and her husband who pack up their three sons and move from a prosperous, materialistic lifestyle in California to a back-to-basics lifestyle in tropical Belize, a poor country in Central America. They live without most of the comforts of home. No TV, no air-conditioning, no car, no expensive toys and entertainment and only limited food choices.

A make it or break it family experience.

Trying to escape the problems of the rat race, wanting to save a son going off the rails, they now face different issues living a simple life and going back to basics. Life in this tropical paradise is not as idyllic as the travel brochures depict.
They deal with tropical heat, nasty bugs, storms, and medical problems. The kids are not happy. Everybody has trouble adjusting. Their efforts at finding employment fall apart.

It seems a recipe for disaster, one that seems destined to tear the family apart even further.
But it does not. Through all this, the family learns to pull together, healing and strengthening their relationships and learning many valuable lessons about what is really important in life.

As a serial expat I have lived in a number of third-world countries and am familiar with what it means to live in the tropics, away from western comforts and foods, and the support of family and friends. What Sonia and her husband did was gutsy indeed.

This is, in the final analysis, an uplifting family story, and the background setting of expat life on the beautiful Belize island is an interesting story in itself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2012
In the epilogue, Sonia reflects, `Had it not been for a leaking toilet, we might never have healed our family.' Readers are offered an intimate glimpse into the mind and emotional state of a mother whose fears about the deteriorating state of her family become the courage that sets into motion an extraordinary journey.
Throughout my read of this captivating memoir, a question continued to sit with me. "How far off the ledge of conventional normalcy would I step in order to regain the integrity of my family?" Sonia Marsh and her husband, Duke, chose a very risky unconventional path in order to repair the rift that was beginning to shatter the stability of their family. Sonia and Duke did not do a trial run in Belize, a third-world country that is without most of the comforts of home. Their gutsy move involved the sale of house, car, furniture, appliances and most of the comforts that living in a more civilized country has to offer. For this family of 2 adults and 3 sons, everything had to fit in 10 suitcases. The snafus regarding airline accommodations for Cookie had me clenching my hands as Sonia jumped through tons of hoops in order to later get her dog on board and keep her safe.
By far, the gutsiest move to me was Sonia's willingness to openly write about the hardships and reactions during this physically and emotionally demanding journey. Duke and Sonia's three sons, Steve, Alec and Josh gave her permission to bare their most intimate human reactions and feelings. Imagine having so much less and renting a thatched `palapa' hut with gaps in the walls made of `skinny pimento tree trunks.' Though temporary, the family had to make do with `stinky water' and all manner of creepy crawling insects like `half-inch ants, huge roaches and scorpions.' Even after the family moved to a beachfront villa, the availability of potable water was usually an issue.
Stories of adventure are my favorites. FREEWAYS TO FLIP-FLOPS offered me many thrills relating to climate issues, physically demanding hardships and challenges involving cultural differences. More endearing to me, however, was Sonia's honest revelations of each family member's thoughts and emotions. She masterfully wove these together in a way that reveals to the reader the emergence of her family's renewed ability to cherish each other again. In the epilogue, we read, "All of us, my sons included, have learned to take risks in life, to embrace adventure and to accept different ways of thinking about life's challenges." How much was the Marsh's risk worth? From my point of view, it was priceless.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Sonia Marsh's memoir, Freeways to Flipflops, gripped my attention from the first sentence and held me spell-bound through the last word. Lots of people dream of escaping to live on a tropical island. Few actually do. Author Sonia Marsh and her family did just that for a variety of reasons. The adults were suffering career and California Lifestyle burnout. One of their sons was heading down a very bad path. In desperation, they heeded the call of Belize, selling everything and moving to an island along its coast.

The sailing was anything but smooth. Their first bug infested shack was a nightmare, but they managed to find a more satisfactory one to buy. Or so it seemed. Until they ran afoul of local culture and got snarled up in island politics. Over the course of the year, Marsh gradually unwound; then tension began building again. The subtitle of the book gives the ending away. They only lived in Belize for a year, but it was a transformative year, and the family who returned to the fringes of their high-rolling former neighborhood was not the family who had left it.

Marsh has done a superb job of crafting her story. While she writes of feeling mellow and discovering, for example, that she can, after all, meditate, she keeps the story pace moving so there is no chance readers will fall into a trance along with her. Her details are chosen with surgical precision, each serving a purpose, and her descriptions are often sublime. She doesn't pull any punches. If she was as outspoken about Belize's inbred politics and tourist-fleecing practices while there as she is in the book, it's no surprise the natives closed ranks. Neither does she spare her family. A visit from her husband's mother and aunt ... I wonder if Marsh is still welcome for Thanksgiving!

The magic in the book is the way she ties the tense moments together with off-beat humor. Who would expect to smile at a description of spreading gumbo-limbo bark gunk on a boy's back to cure a flaming case of poisonwood tree rash (worse than poison ivy)? Thanks to her deft description, I did just that, again and again.

This book has totally altered my outlook, at least my outlook on life in the tropics. From now on, every time I think about tropical islands, I'll think of Freeways to Flipflops and wonder how closely life there resembles life in Belize. It's that kind of book. It sticks with you.

This review was originally published at StoryCircleBookReviews
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2012
I loved this book; once I started reading I didn't want to stop! However with a busy family focussed schedule I didn't have time to read it all in one go, so short chapters made it easy for me to carry on reading in spare moments.
I spent a little time wondering what it was about this book that made it so compelling, and I came to the conclusion that it was because it was obviously about a real family making drastic lifestyle changes to develop and improve their relationships with each other. For me a key turning point in the book was the way the acquisition and subsequent fixing up of an old sailing boat for her eldest son demonstrated an improving father-son relationship and a developing closeness between her boys.
I really knew nothing about Belize before reading this book and Sonia Marsh gives a very personal account of the experience of living there with her family for a year.
For me anyway, this book did not leave me with any desire to pack up and move my family to Belize. However it did leave me wondering whether my family would benefit from an adventure outside our comfort zone, so Sonia's experience as a motivational speaker has obviously had a positive and powerful effect on her writing.
I eagerly await her next book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
I bought this book because I've been to Belize and enjoyed my honeymoon there. Even though my husband and I stayed in nicer places, the rest of the country is FAR from being a Third World one. The Marsh family should have taken a short trip to Guatamala for comparison.
Sonia Marsh claims that they left their comfortable home in Orange County to rough it in Belize. Within the ONE year of her family's stay, they were living in a home with a boat dock overlooking the Caribbean Sea. They had several boats, indoor plumbing, and plenty of food to eat. Two of her boys attended an internet school and the third was in a private school to which he was ferried back and forth daily. Her husband sat around the house reading all day or puttering around in his powerboat. Sonia can't disguise the disdain she feels for her husband and orders him around regularly.
Are you feeling sorry for them yet? Aren't you impressed by their "gutsy" lifestyle? The biggest problems they seemed to face were not having access to junk food and Starbucks. Their hardest hardships had to do with some large bugs in their first rental and mosquito bites.
When things go south for them after her husband writes an uncomplimentary review of some of the local businesses, they flee back to Orange County.
Based on the book's description, I was thinking Third World like India, serious hardships like sleeping under a bridge, poverty that would leave them hungry for a bite of bread--not just a cheaper brand of champagne. And Sonia Marsh had the gall to make fun of those rich people who lived like kings on the island. Really?
I'm just glad I got the book used. Save your money.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2012
I wish this book had been available when I was raising my own difficult son. Sonia Marsh's book, written from her heart, would have been my Bible/encyclopedia had it been available to me 20 years ago when our troubled teen's behavior devastated my family. While I wasn't gutsy enough to pack it in, pack it up, and relocate to a tropical island, this book would have guided me along our family's path.

Reading this book 20 years after-the-fact, and knowing that our boy is now an admirable man, with a remarkable family of his own, I am able to sit back and just enjoy this book while I appreciate Ms. Marsh's journey. I am filled with admiration for the steps she was willing to take to heal her family, and the spirit of adventure with which she accomplished her mission.

This was such an enjoyable read! I've shared it with my book club, as well as with anyone who asked about it, as I have carried it with me everywhere I went, determined to finish this compelling story ASAP in spite of being in Christmas countdown mode. Sonia Marsh brings the reader right into her heart as she shares the adventures, as well as the foibles, resulting from her decision to remove her family from a life of privilege, a sense of entitlement, and a need for material possessions in favor of truly getting to know one another.

I was conscious throughout the reading of this book of the writer's ability to paint an entire picture or capture a complete setting with a minimum use of words. I felt like I knew her hut as well as her heart, and I'm hoping that "From Freeways To Flip-flops" is just the first of many times that I will travel along with this gutsy woman.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2012
Having known Sonia Marsh, through her blog, I was aware of the essence of her memoir. It didn't prepare me for the compelling story she shares in this book. Gutsy Living is the name of her blog and you will discover in her book that she deserves that title.
Do you, like so many of us, occasionally dream of escaping to a tropical island to get away from it all? This is a gritty story of that reality which may or may not change your mind.
Sonia and her husband made the decision to move to Belize because they felt their three sons, particularly the oldest, could benefit from a major change of lifestyle. To say they all got more than they bargained for is an understatement.
The most telling line in the book, for me, was "...paradise is not a place but a state of being." Sometimes you have to be gutsy to find that out.
The only thing I found missing in the book was a map of Belize. That would have helped me a great deal. So if you're visual, like me, get a map of Belize and sit down for an amazing read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2014
Started well, with an escapist tale of leaving it all behind to rediscover oneself in a tropical paradise. However, as the story progressed (and the author's relationships with her new compatriots fell apart) I couldn't help feel that there was more to this story than portrayed in the book. The author seems to believe she is blameless, but reading between the lines her actions (and those of her husband) contributed a great deal to the end result. A little more honesty wouldn't have gone amiss, and would have left me with a more favourable impression of the author - all I ended up with was "entitled, self absorbed American tries to change foreign country, fails dismally, goes home early".
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