Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Hoosh

Author: Jason Anthony

Title: Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine
Description: Anthony, a seasoned Antarctic traveler himself, has written an extensive survey of food in Antarctica. Starting with the earliest explorers, he goes into extreme, sometimes disgusting, always interesting detail about what was eaten, how it was prepared, and how it was transported to the Antarctic.  
Source: One of seven books nominated for Foreword’s award in the travel category (I’m a judge this year). I chose this book as the best of the seven.
Writing style: Meticulously researched, yet always interesting and sometimes funny. It is a lot of writing on one subject, and would probably be tough to read straight through in a couple of sittings, but read a bit at a time, it’s fascinating.
Audience: People who are interested in travel, history, exploration, and extreme endurance.
Major ideas: Well, none of us will probably need to use the practical knowledge in this book (how to make pemmican, prevent scurvy, or boil water under polar conditions), but it’s certainly an example of how deep research and an engaging style can produce a good book out of nearly any subject matter.

Wrap-up: I chose this book for first place because Anthony took a topic that one might think had almost no information available, and managed to write a well-researched, informative, and most of all, interesting book, entirely on Antarctic cuisine. Anthony uses both historical accounts and personal experience in his roughly chronological approach. One might think that after permanent bases were established in Antarctica that eating would be less of a challenge, but he proves that it is still fascinating. 4/5*

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Svaha

Title: Svaha

Description: In a post-apocalyptic world, the native Americans have retreated to havens called “enclaves,” while the other remnants of society, mostly dominated by super-corporations and Japanese mobsters, fight it out in an urban wasteland. When a crucial bit of enclave technology goes missing, all of these powers—plus some powerless pawns who get caught up in the drama—go after it.  
Plot: I think I’ve summarized it quite nicely for you, above. It took me many, many pages into the book to figure all this out. In other words, it was confusing, to say the least. Too many point-of-view changes and disparate characters and not enough early backstory.
Characters: Unlike some of his later work, Svaha doesn’t showcase de Lint’s mastery of character. This one is more plot-driven.
Writing style: de Lint has a trademark style of urban fantasy: heavily infused with folklore (Native American, Celt, whatever), set in a Canadian city that borders on all manner of other-worldly spaces, and with a recurring set of characters. This book has very little of those elements (which I’m very fond of), and leans more toward heavy science fiction than his more familiar fantasy.
Audience: Science fiction fans. (I gave this one to Steve when I was done with it). Fans of de Lint from his other books: be prepared for something really different.

Wrap-up: I liked it by the end, but most of it was a grind to get through. 3/5*

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Safari Jema

Author: Teresa O’Kane
Title: Safari Jema

Description: O’Kane and her husband take several months to make an overland tour of Africa, starting in the north and ending up in South Africa. This is the story of their journey.  
Source: One of seven books nominated for Foreword’s award in the travel category (I’m a judge this year).
Writing style: O’Kane is funny and self-deprecating. The incidents she chooses to relate are usually quite interesting, but the book overall comes across as a little too loosely connected & episodic.
Audience: People who enjoy reading accounts of travel and different cultures.
Major ideas: It’s possible to travel if traveling is really your dream. If you are prepared for a little discomfort and open to others, you can have some wild adventures.

Wrap-up: This book ended up in second place in my list of honorees. I enjoyed it because of O’Kane’s attitude of wonder, curiosity, and acceptance, and because of her knack for knowing what would be interesting to a reader and what might come across as merely boring. I don’t know if I could endure parasites in my feet, though—I’d prefer to just read the book! 4/5*

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Education Without Compromise

Author: William Schaefer

Title: Education Without Compromise:  From Chaos to Coherence in Higher Education
Description: This book is a collection of loosely connected essays about higher education as it was in 1990.  
Writing style: Schaefer comes across as very conservative; his main message seems to be a yearning for the good old days when an education was an education (i.e. constructed the liberal arts humanist). It’s a readable book, though.
Audience: I chose this book because I’ve been reading about disciplines and their role in contemporary (and historical) higher education. I don’t know that there is an audience for this book today because it seemed quite dated to me.
Major ideas: Higher education in 1990 is too concerned with vocation and preparing students for a career. It should be the goal of universities to dump professional preparation and restore the “liberal arts education.”

Wrap-up: I think this is an idea that was pretty reactionary in 1990, and certainly now. There is no longer an elite class of nobility that has the luxury of lifelong education for the sake of learning (and if there were, I don’t think that would be their main interest). The purpose of education has always been to prepare the student for the life he or she will live; there’s no point in preparing for a life they can’t dream of living. 3/5*

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Rally 'Round Green

Author: Judy Christie
Title: Rally Round Green

Description: This is the fourth book in this series that I’ve read and reviewed.  In this installment, there is a threat to the Green school district, where Lois’ husband Chris is a coach and teacher. Of course, the paper must lead the effort of the citizens to “rally round Green.”
Review source: I got the first four books from the author at ALA.
Plot: I thought the plot in this one was one of the better plots. Although not as initially destructive as the tornado in an earlier book, the closure of a local school is something many small towns have had to face, and Christie does a good job of exploring the impact such an event would have on the town as a whole.
Characters: The supporting characters are all there—Lois and Chris are struggling with renovating their old house. The newspaper employees and Lois’ friends all have stuff going on, and there are a couple of interesting new villains.
Writing style: Homey and folksy as with the previous books.
Audience: I’d call it Christian women’s fiction.

Wrap-up: This series did grow on me, as I felt that Christie improved with each title in the series. It’s not enough of “my kind of reading” for me to make an effort to seek out book five, though. 3.5/5*

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: The Unsinkable Mr. Brown

Author: Brian David Bruns
Title: The Unsinkable Mr. Brown

Description:  Bruns (his name means “Brown” in Romanian, thus the title) arrives in Romania to visit a girl he barely knows, Bianca. The first part of the book describes their time together in Romania; when they fall in love, Bruns decides to join her in her occupation—crewing on a cruise ship. He starts as a waiter, a job which is almost never held by an American, and moves up to working the art auctions.
Source: One of seven books nominated for Foreword’s award in the travel category (I’m a judge this year).
Writing style: Humorous and a bit disjointed.
Audience: Would probably appeal more to humor readers than travel readers, though Bruns has gained somewhat of a following among cruisers for his other books about life as a Carnival employee.
Major ideas: Working on a cruise ship isn’t as glamorous as you might think.

Wrap-up: I enjoyed this book, but I did find it somewhat scattered. I wasn’t convinced by the love story either; Bianca comes across as capricious and self-centered. 3/5*

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Among the Islands

Author: Tim Flannery
Title: Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific

Description:  I’m reading lots of travel  books for the contest, but this was one I just happened to pick up from the library at the same time. Flannery, a mammal specialist from Australia, made several journeys to remote islands in the South Pacific doing animal surveys. He explains the theories of mammal migration—how mammals made it to these very remote islands. Unfortunately, small islands only support small mammals, so most of the book is about rare bats and rats. Flannery is enthusiastic enough about them to make a fairly interesting read.
Writing style: The book reads like a travelogue; Flannery knows enough to write about the islanders and his coworkers as well as the small mammals he encounters and has a good ear for interesting scenes.
Audience: The book will appeal most to those who enjoy accounts of travel and to those who are interested in natural history.
Major ideas: There are still undiscovered species, and there is a chance to save endangered species, but as habitat is destroyed by human settlement and logging, the chance is rapidly diminishing.
Wrap-up: I didn’t regret reading it, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. 3/5*

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: The Master & Margarita

Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Title: The Master & Margarita

Description: I’ll give it a shot. There are some odd folks in Russia who seem to have the ability to predict the future. Some poets die, or go insane. There are flashbacks to the trial of Jesus by Pilate. Demons are involved, as is Satan himself. Confusion ensues. There is a woman named Margarita who loves a writer named The Master. She gets involved with the bad guys, but all seems to turn out in the end.
Plot: As you may perceive, I didn’t really get the plot.
Characters: I didn’t get the characters either.
Writing style: The book was originally written in Russian. I read the Ginsburg translation which is supposed to be the best; I can’t imagine how incomprehensible the other translations must be. It’s also supposed to be satirical. I guess I don’t know enough about communism in Stalinist Russia to get the satire.
Audience: Very smart people. Smarter than me.
Wrap-up: Absolutely hated it. Could be the worst book I ever actually finished. Since I don’t give zero stars, I guess it gets 1/5*

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Dark Waters

Author: Jason Lewis

Title: Dark Waters (The Expedition Trilogy, Book 1): True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth
Description: Lewis and his partner attempt a circumnavigation under only their own power. This book is first in a planned trilogy, and covers the building of their pedal boat, the Moksha, their bicycle ride across Europe, their Atlantic crossing, and their crossing of the U.S., Stuart by bicycle, and Jason by roller blade.
Source: One of seven books nominated for Foreword’s award in the travel category (I’m a judge this year).
Writing style: Lewis is funny and pretty self-aware. He admits his shortcomings when he sees them. Lewis moves fluently between life-threatening danger—rogue waves, pirates, lack of food—daily drudgery, and his efforts to discover the meaning of life.
Audience: those who enjoy high adventure.
Major ideas: Writing about the meaning of life (or trying to) is a dangerous temptation. All too often, someone will spend hours in meditation and contemplation and come up with profound revelation, only to fail hopelessly to put it into words that rise above the trite. Of course, I’m tempted to go into long digressions here about the nature of language and its relation to reality, but I’ll resist.  I’ll also refrain from telling you the meaning of life—it’ll be much more exciting when it’s revealed to you in the book.
Wrap-up: Definitely worth a read. 4/5*

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Kilimanjaro

Author: MG Edwards
Title: Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill

Description: Edwards decides to tackle Kilimanjaro as a sort of midlife challenge to himself as he debates the path his life will take in the future. With three like-minded friends, he plans an attempt on Kilimanjaro. He takes us with him through the process from planning to aftermath.   
Source: One of seven books nominated for Foreword’s award in the travel category (I’m a judge this year).
Writing style: Edwards’ writing style grew on me. He gives some personal detail without giving too much information, and the same can be said of the climbing detail. The result is a saga of the trip that doesn’t get bogged down or go too fast. He does seem to relate his own climb to Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro story a little much—the book would stand on its own without this conceit.
Audience: Those who enjoy first-person travel narratives or stories of people tackling bucket-list type quests.
Major ideas: Edwards knows that the climb will be the most physical challenge he has ever tackled. He’s having difficulties in his career, and figures if he can master Kilimanjaro, he can face the challenge of changing his life’s path in other ways.
Wrap-up: I enjoyed this book. It’s an independent publication, so the quality (i.e. small black and white pictures) could have been better, but overall, I would recommend. 4/5*

Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: American Ghost

Author: Janis Owens
Title: American Ghost

Description: Sam Lense is in the backwoods of the Florida Panhandle researching descendants of Indian tribes, but he has a personal motive for being there as well. Once he meets Jolee Hoyt, though, he’s mostly just falling in love. An ill-fated trip to the Hoyts’ fishing camp leaves Sam fighting for his life back in Miami and Jolee feeling bewildered and betrayed. They both put the time behind them until the past insists on resurfacing yet again.  
Plot: Some places just don’t want outsiders and don’t want their secrets disturbed.
Characters: Jolee is Owens’ masterpiece; she’s a smart, independent heroine born into a family that sees women as servants in a town that no one ever escapes from. Sam can appreciate this kind of woman, but he has to fight years of tradition.
Writing style: If it’s nothing else, this is a Florida book, full of atmosphere, Cracker secrets, and the ghosts of the past. In other words, it’s neither plot-driven nor character-driven, but place-driven, which, if done well, can be the best of all.
Audience: This is literary fiction, but it’s not a difficult read. It especially appealed to me as someone with an interest in Florida literature, but I’d recommend for anyone.
Wrap-up: I haven’t read Swamplandia yet, but this is my favorite Florida novel since Paradise Dogs. 4/5