Book Review | Songs of the Baka and other discoveries : travels after age sixty-five by Dennis James

songs of the bakaIgnore the subtitle: though the protagonists are over 65, it has little to no bearing on the content of this book, which would appeal to readers of all ages. In Songs of the Baka, James provides instantly immersive tales from his travels (with his photographer wife Barbara Grossman) to diverse, off the beaten path destinations world-wide. James conveys their travel experiences in ten countries*, sharing insightful observations on various topics from transportation to indigenous cultural practices, architecture, art, politics, and beyond.

This is a great book. It is clear and concise, proceeds at a moderate pace and includes captivating color photographs. Chapters are of appropriate lengths with frequent breaks, making this book a quick read. Songs of the Baka would appeal to aspiring travelers, the well-traveled, people with anthropological or cultural interests, and possibly Fulbright applicants. I’ve recommended my local library purchase this title. Check it out from a library near you!

*Countries visited and included in this text: Papua New Guinea, Algeria, Nepal, Cameroon, Cuba, Mali, Iran, Venezuela, Palestine and Ethiopia. 

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

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Book Review | So much I want to tell you : letters to my little sister by Anna Akana

so much i want to tell you anna.jpgAnna Akana is a film producer and YouTuber living in LA. Growing up with a military Dad meant her family moved often and she experienced life in many places. When Anna was a teenager, her younger sister committed suicide. The event had a strong impact on her and is said to be the preface for this book. Though subtitled “letters to my little sister”, there actually are no traditional letters, with the book having more of an essay type approach. Think of the book as advice from life-learned lessons, as relayed by a millennial on the following topics: creativity, identity, relationships, money, works and career.

As a YouTuber, Akana has a lot of experience distilling broad topics into short, digestible chunks. This book read similarly to video script ideas. Though I found much of the advice valid, it all seemed pretty straight-forward, without offering any groundbreaking news. The helpful anecdotes contained within would be much more beneficial to a younger reader (high school / college age), or someone with less life experience. The book is a quick read with short sections, making it easy to pause often. Check it out from a library near youI received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Best & Worst of the 23 books I read during 2016

My reading selection for 2016 contained 11 novels, three memoirs, four other various non-fiction works, three picture books, a novella and a play. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2016 were released in 2016. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

Native Fashion Now* – Accompanies the art exhibition Native Fashion Now and honors contemporary Native American fashion throughout the past sixty-five years.

Paradime* – Doppelgänger story about two men trading lives.

Stepmother– A down-to-earth memoir describing the ups and downs of stepmothering.

The Hating Game* – A romantic comedy about two coworkers who make games of mentally torturing each other before entering a relationship.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Imagine Me Gone* – Uses multiple narrators to trace the story of a family of five dealing with depression in its members.

The Mountains of Parnassus* – A philosophical dystopian novel about a future society without traditional government or religion by a Nobel Prize winner. To be published 2017.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – A psychological thriller following a schizophrenic who suffers a breakdown.

The Best Possible Answer* – A YA novel about a high schooler dealing with family issues, first love and panic attacks while trying to prepare for college.

The Journey* – An illustrated book for children dealing with the adult theme of emigration caused by war.

Four books that should have been better:

Ajax Penumbra 1969 – The prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, this short book details the search for an ancient lost text.

How to Ruin Everything – A collection of essays by rapper and poet Watsky about various life experiences.

Tram 83 – Deals with two very different men trying to make it in a country resembling the DR Congo.

Sunless – A novel showing a family’s decline as they deal with a large prescription drug company.

Four books that I wouldn’t recommend to an enemy:

Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – A picture book with poor grammar about a bunny meeting a giant.

The Mermaid Girl* – A lady who used to be a mermaid in a tank at the circus leaves her transient life to pursue a family of her own.

Only in Naples* – A memoir by a rich girl about her time spent in Italy for an internship.

The Devil’s Dancer* – A play about the production of a play which mocks everything from pop culture to capitalism.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Sloan is the only author I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

The Story of a Brief Marriage* – Anuk Arudpragasm
A Cure for Suicide – Jesse Ball
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook – Mary Bergin
The Devil’s Dancer* – Victor Bertocchi
Sunless – Gerard Donovan
100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario* – Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read
Paradime* – Alan Glynn
Imagine Me Gone* – Adam Haslett
Happy Hooker – Xaviera Hollander
The Best Possible Answer* – E. Katherine Kottaras

Native Fashion Now* – Karen Kramer
Stepmother* – Marianne Lile
The Mountains of Parnassus* – Czeslaw Milosz
The Storm* – Akiko Miyakoshi
Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – Alisha Ricks
The Journey* – Francesca Sanna
Ajax Penumbra 1969 – Robin Sloan
The Mermaid Girl* – Erika Swyler
The Hating Game* – Sally Thorne
How to Ruin Everything – George Watsky
Only in Naples* – Katherine Wilson

*These titles were given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | Stepmother : a memoir by Marianne Lile

image1As the title suggests, Stepmother is a memoir about Marianne Lile’s experience marrying an older man with two children from a previous marriage and raising their family together. The book takes place mostly during the early 1990’s in Washington state and focuses mainly on Lile’s first few years as a stepparent – trials, tribulations and anecdotes.

As other reviewers have noted, stepparents or live-in partners will easily relate to Lile’s account. This book is recommended to partners who are considering taking on the role of a stepparent. It does a thorough job of examining many of the daily challenges involved in being a part of a blended family. The first half of the book reads as a very entertaining, chronological piece. After that, there is a slight organizational breakdown. Lile tries to address certain themes with the remaining chapters, and succeeds, but in a disjointed and sometimes slightly repetitive fashion. Overall, the book is a good read with valuable insights. It was published in September, so may not be at your library yet, but you can check current national holdings here.

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | October : a novel by Zoë Wicomb

october book coverTaking place in South Africa and Scotland, October shares pieces of two women’s lives. Protagonist Mercia grew up fairly well off as the daughter of a teacher in the town of Kliprand with her brother Jake. Wishing to leave racial tensions and other family and village business behind, she left for university and eventually became a respected professor in Glasgow. Though successful in her work, her personal life takes a major hit when her domestic partner abruptly leaves her for another woman. Soon after, a mysteriously terse postcard arrives in the mail from Jake demanding she return home. Mercia obliges and upon returning reaquaints herself with the village ways and Jake’s wife Sylvie and son Nicky. Mercia and Sylvie seem unable to understand each other, but as pieces of the past and present come together, a deeper connection is revealed.

I read Zoë Wicomb’s book You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town and enjoyed it, which influenced my choice of this title. Appropriately, I started it in October but found myself unable to finish it for nearly two months. The characters were imaginable, but unlikeable. The descriptions were precise and allowed the reader to envision scenes clearly, however, it was sometimes hard to ascertain the actual chronological order of events. Within a chapter Wicomb could jump a timespan of over 40 years with only minimal contextual clues. Slices of life were clearly presented, but in a way that made them hard to relate to. While reading I found myself disinterested in what would ultimately happen to each of the characters. This book may resonate better with recently separated women over 50 or those who have struggled with leaving behind their homeland. Check your local library for a copy of October.

Book Review | Fairyland : a memoir of my father by Alysia Abbott

book cover Fairyland : a memoir of my father by Alysia AbbottWhile scouring the library for new treasures I found this gem: Fairyland : a memoir of my father. Having previously resided in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, my partner took an immediate interest in the novel and finished it in less than 36 hours. He claimed he was “unable to put it down” to which I can attest as he read between Superbowl plays.

Abbott’s memoir describes from her point of view the life of her father – a bisexual Bohemian writer – as she grew up with him in 70’s and 80’s San Francisco. It provides a refreshing view of how a single father (after the mother’s death) and his daughter were able to get by with little money and enjoy each other’s company. Parenting issues are touched on and the reader may question what happened to simple times when raising a child did not revolve around piano lessons, soccer practice and endless taxying to play-dates. As the book’s blurb mentions, AIDS does make an appearance and truly impacts the community.

The book was linear and easy to follow with no major stylistic issues. It is recommended for those interested in the Bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, residents of the Haight, and those wanting to read about a single gay parent during that time period. Various references are made to San Francisco landmarks, cafes and restaurants, streets and public transit (MUNI). Published in summer of 2013, Fairyland should be available at a library near you.

Book Review | Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

book cover Mortality by Christopher HitchensMortality is sure to make you laugh and may make you cry. After being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Hitchens begins to keep notes and write about his experiences. Not written for any particular audience, this non-fiction book touches on religion, aspects of being an author, and living with and treating cancer. Fans will appreciate this straightforward discussion of issues involved when facing the end of life. Those who haven’t before read Hitchens’s writing may see why he’s amassed such a great following. At just over 100 pages, this is a very quick and thought provoking read.