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.

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.

Book Review | Wrong about Japan : a father’s journey with his son by Peter Carey

wrong about japan peter carey.jpgCarey and his son travel to Japan and meet with various anime and manga experts, artists/writers and publishers. This delightful little book is a quick read, which highlights the essences of Carey’s “interviews” and thoughts. From meeting Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Tomino, men behind some of Japan’s most popular anime, to a traditional sword maker and a teenage Mr. Donut, Carey has created a book of interest to pop culture fans and the general Japanophile.

I picked up this book to get in the groove for an upcoming trip to Japan. I laughed aloud as I read about dining experiences and appreciated cultural references that may be helpful during my travel. Having seen most of the referenced animes certainly provided me with a background for better understanding and relating to the text, but one does not have to be an anime nerd to get something from this book. This nonfiction is fun and easy to digest. Check it out from a library near you!

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Wrong About Japan, you may be interested in The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life by Andy Raskin (2009)

Book Review | Wolf Haven by Brenda Peterson & Annie Marie Musselman

wolf haven cover.jpegPartially funded by a Getty Images grant, Wolf Haven : Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America‘s collaboration between photographer Annie Marie Musselman and writer Brenda Peterson yields an informative and striking book about the history and ongoing battle of North America’s endangered wolves and offers readers a comprehensive introduction to Washington’s Wolf Haven sanctuary. In addition to being a lovely coffee table photo book, scientific and political backstory are woven in to help readers understand the hot topics of the wolves endangerment and conservation efforts. Individual wolves from the sanctuary are also introduced, some with more troubled pasts than others.

Overall, this book is very well done and would be palatable to a wide range of audience. The writing is clear and easy to follow without being overly scientific or poetic. This said, a few sentences are slightly embellished and a tad flowery. Most of the photos are truly gorgeous and appropriately captioned with only a few exceptions. Wolf Haven would serve as a great introduction to anyone looking to find out more regarding the story of endangered wolves in North America. Photography fans will also not be disappointed with this gem. Check it out from a library near you.

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the authors/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 | 100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario by Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read

img_0335For those interested in exploring nature, be it conservation areas for flora and fauna, hiking, camping, biking, canoeing or cross county skiing, this book offers a wealth of information about places worth visiting in Ontario. Divided into geographical sections, Earley and Read give a brief history of the hot spots and their highlights. Photographs from each place are included along with general spot information about dates open and applicable activities. As the book says, it will appeal to “birders, botanists, wildlife lovers, rock hounds and naturalists”.

100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario serves as a great introduction for parties interested in visiting wild Ontario. From seeing the Northern Lights to exploring caves or finding rare species, the authors spell out where to go and when. It would work well as a starting point for trip planning purposes or for Ontarians interested in better exploring their own province. The included photographs are very helpful to get an idea of what one might see in the named hot spot, but in some places photo quality is a bit lacking on enlargements. The book offers a wealth of information, and would be best digested in small chunks or as reference material, though it is very clearly written for all audiences. Helpful area maps are included, but the whole of Ontario with all hot spots is not. Check it out from a library near youI 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 | 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.