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Staff Picks: Books

Lea Leads the Way

In this book, Lea Leads the Way, Lea is still in Brazil with her family. The plan for the next portion of the trip was for the whole family to visit the rainforest where Zac is living and going to school. However since her Dad’s hiking accident, he is unable to continue traveling. The family decides that Lea and Zac will continue on without Mom and Dad.

Lea is set for an animal adventure. She has never been to the rainforest before and she is excited to be traveling with Zac and visiting his host family who live in the middle of the rainforest. She loves taking photographs with the camera her Grandmother gave her. She is especially hopeful of capturing the wildlife in the rainforest in photos. While Lea is on her trip, she is writing a blog and posting pictures so that her classmates from school can follow her trip. During a hike with Zac, they discover a baby sloth that is badly injured. Lea decides to do all she can to help the little sloth survive. Zac knows about a wildlife sanctuary and they take the baby sloth there for care. As Lea learns more about the rainforest and what is happening to the area, including poaching of the wildlife, she wonders if she did the right thing.

This is another interesting American Girl series. Readers will enjoy the locale and facts about Brazil and the culture.

No baggage

Can you picture yourself hopping on a flight to another country for a 3 week trip with literally just the shirt on your back? In No baggage : a minimalist tale of love & wandering, poet Clara Bensen chronicles how she did just that…only a few months out of a 2 year anxiety/depression-ridden slump…with a guy she had met just a month before on the match site OKCupid. With no luggage (not even a backpack), the pair travels from Istanbul to London, through 8 countries. I am only about 100 pages in, but I can’t put this book down! Everything in this book is fascinating – the minimalism, the newness of their relationship which has only been defined so far as “travel partners,” and the poetic descriptions of the places they’ve been already, such as the “cobbled streets” of Istanbul “stitched together in spiderlike grids.” I love travelogues, but this is by far the most intriguing one I’ve read so far.

Obsessions Good and Bad

Kara Richardson Whitely’s memoir, titled Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro At 300 Pounds, is a brutally honest narrative of the author’s self-imposed ordeal to trek up the famous peak while weighing a hefty 300-plus pounds.

She had already reached the summit several years earlier to celebrate her 120 pound weight loss. This account is of her third attempt up the mountain, after failing to reach the summit a second time. Kara decides to undertake this challenge in order to recapture the positive feelings she had when her weight was under control.

She sets out on the climb in the company of four women friends. For added incentive they raise money for Global Alliance for Africa’s AIDS orphans programs. Kara and two of her friends make it to the summit. One has to turn back due to physical issues.

The author openly admits that she has always relied on food to get her through adversity. Hence, this Kilimanjaro obsession was the result of her being both “... a glutton plain and simple, as well as a glutton for punishment”.

During the trek, bad experiences from her past weigh heavily upon her soul, but she comes to the realization that she currently finds herself in a good place. With a devoted husband and a four year old daughter in her life, any future journeys that she might undertake will be easier without the emotional baggage she had previously carried. She is ready to face whatever comes next with joy and a sense of adventure.

I found this to be a good but not great read. The author’s fixation with descriptions of food and her overeating ultimately subtracted too much from my pleasure in reading this book.

November 12: We should be in Hong Kong

This 2014 book is subtitled 365 Things to Do and the Perfect Day to Do Them. From our friends at Lonely Planet comes this travel guide to some familiar but mostly unknown places. Beginning with January 1 and ending with December 31, there is an entry for the location to be visited and why it's a good day to be there. I checked my birthday, which was November 1, and found that it was a good day to visit Oaxaca, Mexico because of the Day of the Dead Festival. I didn't make it down there, but I had the opportunity to read about why I should have gone. Many of these attractions would be impractical for the average tourist to attend, but reading about rafting the Tara River in Montenegro on May 19, getting close to polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba on October 26, or joining the Turnip Festival at Lake Zurich in Switzerland on November 14 could be of interest to those who like to study exotic destinations.

Around the World in 50 Years

This 2015 book is subtitled My Adventure to Every Country on Earth. In it, author Arthur Podell describes his trip around the world and details occurrences both good and bad. We read about the foods he ate, his brushes with the law, how he survived civil wars, riots, unfriendly animals, and insects. Mr. Podell set a record not only for going to every country but also for taking the longest automobile trip. In view of the rough going during parts of the journey, I was amused by the dedication paragraph at the beginning of this book which says, "To my beloved mother and father, may they rest in peace, and may they forgive me for having assured them that this journey was 'nothing to worry about.'"

Remembering Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig has been one of my favorite writers since I first discovered his books 10-15 years ago. I was sad to read he passed away earlier this month.

Doig wrote primarily of the western landscape and people, usually with a Montana setting where he was born in 1939 and grew up, often accompanying his father on ranch jobs along the Rocky Mountain Front. His use of language, development of the characters, and description of the land stayed with me long after I’d finished each book.

He wrote both fiction and nonfiction; three Montana novels – English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride With Me Mariah Montana, form a trilogy covering the first century of Montana’s statehood from 1889 to 1989.

Tributes to him mention his final book to be published later this year: Last Bus to Wisdom. I’ll be watching our new books for it and in the meantime plan to reread some of my favorites.

Oddball Michigan

The subtitle of Oddball Michigan is A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. I take issue with the contention that the 450 attractions covered are 'really strange,' although I must say the Kalamazoo-area ones would probably qualify. I immediately turned to the local section and found the sites where Elvis was supposedly seen -- years after his death. The other Kalamazoo venue is the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, listed because it was on this facility's parking lot that comedian Tim Allen was arrested by the Michigan State Police for trying to sell 1.4 pounds of cocaine. Among the other West Michigan sites included are the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Bear Cave in Buchanan, and the WZZM-TV Weatherball in Grand Rapids. For locations that open and close, further information is given -- phone, hours, cost, website, and directions.


400 Extraordinary Places

This book was received in the library at the end of 2012, but for those who haven't seen it, it's worth the time. In one- and two-page summaries, '400 extraordinary places' are described. Being another fine publication from National Geographic, it's a given that the photographs are of high quality. Even if one doesn't intend to travel to any of these locations, the reader can learn about, and maybe encounter for the first time, exotic places such as Torres del Paine (Chile), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), islands in the Adriatic Sea (Croatia), Koh Lipe (Thailand), Petra (Jordan), and the Orkney Islands (Scotland), among many others. Closer to home, the book has a couple of pages on New York City and other U.S. destinations.



With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.

Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.

Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.

In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.

Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.

My husband and I  traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.

This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Life is a Wheel

“When you move forward, even slowly, things change; when you stand still, they don’t. This is the lesson that bicycling teaches me over and over again, one that is so sensible and obvious you’d think it would be easy to remember, especially when I’m not on a bicycle.”

This is one of many wisdoms expressed in Bruce Weber’s latest book, Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride across America. In 2011, journalist Bruce Weber embarked on his second cross-country (U.S.) bike trip. He blogged along the way, and many followed his accounts of the trip. In this book, Weber expands his story, drawing comparisons among his various bike trips and sharing life lessons learned in the meantime.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re reading a blog entry or something he’s written especially for the book, but it doesn’t really matter, because his writing engages readers and keeps us moving along with him. He’s a very colorful writer. I’d like to share a meal with him, or to have encountered him along the way, while he was cycling across country.

If you're a biker or other long-distance exerciser, someone who enjoys blogs, memoirs or loving life, read this! It's a fast-paced account of a slow journey, mile by mile.


Life is a Wheel