Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Oddly enough, Kitchen Confidential was not the first Bourdain I read, but the last, despite it being the entire reason that the world knows his name. I put it off, thinking that they way it was described was not in line with the Tony I had come to know and respect through his various television programs and world travels. But I was wrong. So wrong.

Synopsis

After twenty-five years of ‘sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine’, chef and novelist Anthony Bourdain decides to tell all. From his first oyster in the Gironde to his lowly position as a dishwasher in a honky-tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown, from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop the Rockefeller Center to drug dealers in East Village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable, as shocking as they are funny.

Review

By sheer happenstance, my husband and I spent June 8th on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Tony’s home of many years (when he wasn’t traveling, which was rare). We were going to a concert in Brooklyn that night and decided to go the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) for the day. As we were driving to our “local” train station in NJ in rush hour traffic from our home west of Philadelphia, we listened to NPR, as we always do. And around 8AM, as we sat in Trenton traffic, we turned the volume up because we couldn’t believe what we had heard. Tony died. By his own hand. To my husband and I, this was unthinkable. We’d been watching No Reservations since we’d started dating. Our relationship had two television constants, Top Gear and Tony.

As we made our way into the city on NJ Transit as we’ve done countless times before, I took my usual news junkie status to a new level. My hero, he was gone. Gone without explanation. The BBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, NPR, no one had anything else to report except that which we already knew. He was gone. I texted my boss at the bookstore straight away and begged him to put the books in stock out on display with the staff pick blurbs I’d written for them ages ago. Medium Raw, my favorite summer read, Appetites, the only cookbook I cook out of, and, though I hadn’t read it, obviously we needed to order in Kitchen Confidential ASAP. Then I started dreading the fact that I’d be meeting with our publisher rep at the start of the week, the rep who handled his imprint for Harper Collins. I couldn’t bring myself to think straight.

I looked up whether or not we could get a reservation for a mid-afternoon meal at Les Halles, only to discover it had closed. Only months ago, we could have gone and didn’t. I kicked myself for it. When we walked past it later in the day, I saw the remembrances people had left. It inspired my first post two days later, Dear Tony. I debated whether or not I could bring myself to watch Parts Unknown anymore and when it turned out to be too tear-inducing, I decided to read the one book of his I didn’t want to, Kitchen Confidential.

I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. I was afraid it would talk too much about drug use and that I didn’t really want to read about, I’ve dealt with it enough in my family. I was afraid that the Tony writing was different than the Tony we’d come to know and love. And then, I decided to be brave and listen to him read it. I was on my way to London to visit my sister when I finally gave in. I still didn’t even own a copy of it. But after only five minutes, I realized I had nothing to worry about – Tony was still Tony – already a master storyteller, already with three novels to his name, already well on his way to not becoming, but staying himself, and then revealing that self to the world. And when I found a special edition of the book with all his notes and handwritten margin doodles at a bookshop in London, well, I had to have it.

Kitchen Confidential is, for anyone who has gotten to know Anthony Bourdain through his various shows, thoroughly him. The story isn’t linear or chronological (his never are, even Parts Unknown), and he is very open and honest about his periods of dishonesty and chef-poaching, honest about his privileged upbringing and squandering it, honest about the world of the professional kitchen. Honest and candid about his life and how he got to where he is, and the result, for anyone who, like me, had watched for years and never read, is heartbreaking.

Because in reading now, for the first time, it is impossible to disassociate the book with the end. It is impossible to ignore the fact that we will never have another Bourdain masterpiece. Impossible to forget that he’s no longer here to tell us stories on Sunday night. Impossible to understand how things went this way. Because as much as I wish I had known him, I didn’t. I didn’t know, I don’t know, what led him to do what he did. But I can read his works, reread, rewatch, and hope, beyond hope, that he has changed the world for the better.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars (Medium Raw is still my favorite)

Edition: Paperback • £10.99/$16.99 • 9781408845042 (UK)/9780060899226 (US) • 352 pages • originally published May 2000 by Bloomsbury • average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 • read in July 2018

Kitchen Confidential on Goodreads

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Get the UK Edition of Kitchen Confidential (pictured below)

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Bookish Friday, Non-Fiction

Favorite Nonfiction

As I’m currently listening to Kitchen Confidential and crying randomly about how the world is worse off without Anthony Bourdain’s storytelling, I’ve been thinking more and more about the nonfiction that has touched my heart just as much as works of fiction.

1. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

My first Bourdain. Like your first cocktail or boyfriend or first trip abroad or first food that you really, truly loved, you never forget your first Bourdain.

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2. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Need some inspiration? Decided it’s time to make a change in your life? Pick #Girlboss, Sophia does not disappoint.

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3. The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

Thought you knew a lot about World War II? Think again. The stories these women share are absolutely incredible and many will shake you to the core.

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4. Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake was the book that first made me realize that I can read nonfiction and like it. He epitomizes the phrase “novelistic nonfiction.”

Dead Wake

5. Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One cannot call oneself a feminist without having read about the greatness that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Notorious RBG

Non-Fiction, Travel

Everyday Adventures by Lonely Planet

I love fun travel books, especially ones that are easy enough to explore or implement close to home. This one in particular caught my eye as I have a little elephant, Ellie, traveling companion who joins me on not only big overseas adventures, but also close to home adventures and I always need pictures for her Instagram account! (@adventuresofellietheelephant). *This book comes out this coming Tuesday, July 17th*

Synopsis

Weave a little wonder into daily life with these fun and challenging activities – and experience your local area in a whole new way. Invite friends on a social adventure, follow your senses to somewhere new and embark on a cultural odyssey. Lonely Planet shows you how to embrace the traveler spirit and discover a new side to where you live.

Review

If asked my hometown, I usually tell people it is Carlisle, PA. If asked where I grew up? Gettysburg. If asked where I went to college, Pittsburgh, where I live now, Phoenixville, all in Pennsylvania. So I generally consider my state to be my hometown to explore. I have great loyalty for my state, particularly the southeastern corner where I live now.

When we first moved to Gettysburg, a BIG tourist town (major battle of the Civil War, led to 1 million + tourists every summer), my mom used to make us play tourist on the weekends and we (my sister and I) hated it. If I had to go back to Gettysburg and do the suggestions in this book, I’d still hate it. So I took Ellie the Elephant off on an adventure around Phoenixville, our current home of the past 6 years.

Ellie and I did adventures #3 Fly By Night, #8 Memory Lane, #23 Plastic Challenge, #27 Counter Tourism, #32 Movie Magic, and #43 Alternating Travel. In addition to the challenges mentioned, we gave into the Stars Hollow-y nature of Phoenixville and attended the local festivals that we usually avoid like the plague. We learned a lot about the town, and I learned a lot about myself and how I experience different places.

All in all, it was an enjoyable, interactive adventure book, but there were definitely adventures that were not quite applicable towards small town life – the book skews pretty significantly urban.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.99 • 9781787013582 • 208 pages • published July 2018 by Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet’s Website

Everyday Adventures on Goodreads

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Everyday Adventures

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

For a month when I didn’t finish many books at all, this one was a much needed read. Despite having a wonderful trip to London, I feel like my life is in need of a shakeup and Mari’s book was the perfect read to complement this feeling.

Synopsis

In the journey toward adulthood, it is easy to find yourself treading the path of those who came before you; the path often appears straight and narrow, with a few bumps in the road and a little scenery to keep you inspired. But what if you don’t want to walk a worn path? What is you want to wander? What if there is no map to guide you through the detours life throws your way?

This guide to growing pains and growing up by the illustrator, writer, and Instagram sensation Mari Andrew brilliantly captures the heavy feelings and comical complexities gathered on the way to adulthood. From creating a new home in a new city to understanding the link between a good hair dryer and good self-esteem to dealing with the depths of heartache and loss, these tales of the twentysomething document a road less traveled- a road that sometimes is just the way you’re meant to go.

Review

My parents married before at 24 & 26, they not only had, but had built with their own hands, a house that was finished before my mom came home from the hospital with me at 28, have had the same occupations since they finished high school (Dad) and college (Mom), and were able to provide just about everything my sister and I desired our entire lives. There were rough patches of course, they’re no longer together, but their lives were shaped by a different time, a different era.

To compare my life to my grandmothers’ lives is even more starkly contrasted. As millennials, my sister and I are mostly self sufficient, but there are definitely times when we’ve had to delicately ask for help. Our lives have been shaped by a very different era, and will forever be marked by the Recession of ’08. We will spend most of our young adulthood renting, we will postpone having children, if we have them at all, and we may not have substantial savings accounts until we are well into our 40s.

But that’s the path our lives have taken. It’s completely different than our parents, even if we wanted to measure up against their life paths, we can’t. That world doesn’t exist anymore. And while this idea isn’t exactly what Am I There Yet? delves into, the theme is close – your life is your life and we all live our lives differently and have to follow our own paths in order to carve out some semblance of self identity. If you’re looking to find some inspiration to be yourself, and even more importantly, to know that you’re not alone in feeling like your life isn’t following the prescribed path society seems to prefer, take a look at Am I There Yet?

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $19.99 • 9781524761431 • 192 pages • published March 2018 by Clarkson Potter Publishers • average Goodreads rating 4.1 out of 5 • read in July 2018

Mari Andrew’s Website

Am I There Yet? on Goodreads

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Non-Fiction

Dear Tony

It’s been two and a half days since the world lost Anthony Bourdain and I still haven’t fully processed what this loss means not only to me (because that would be selfish), but to the world as a whole. I know it’s not my usual review for Sunday, but, well, it felt necessary for my grieving process.

Dear Tony,

It’s been 2 days since you ripped a hole in the world. Did you know how much you are loved? Did you know how much you were respected? Did you know just how big of an effect your passing would have on the entire world?

I don’t blame you. People do things for many reasons and often times they do things that they haven’t thought through. But your loss is one that will be felt worldwide, even by those who didn’t realize what an effect you had on them until the moment you were gone.

As a literary and cultural icon, and especially as a cultural ambassador for the US, we need you. We needed your voice to help everyone understand just how big the world really is, and yet similar we all are.

We miss you. We need you. We can’t contemplate a world without you and your unique voice offering a perspective that so many Americans need in their lives right now. I break out into tears every time they see your books sitting on my bookshelf, every time I walk past I think about your influence on the world and how we won’t have any new Anthony Bourdain books to look forward to. The literary world won’t be the same without your voice.

I didn’t know you, but I will miss you. I will miss you every time I try a new food, explore a new country, meet a new person. I will miss you. Those who loved you will certainly miss you. We will all miss you. And we can only hope that you have found some peace.

History, Non-Fiction

Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty

This book is about pirates. I have been fascinated by pirates for a very long time. In conclusion, pirates. Read it. Just kidding – full review below!

Synopsis

The passion and violence of the age of exploration and empire come to vivid life in this story of the legendary pirate who took on the greatest military power on earth with a ragtag bunch of renegades. Awash with bloody battles, political intrigues, natural disaster, and a cast of characters more compelling, bizarre, and memorable than any found in a Hollywood swashbuckler, Empire of Blue Water brilliantly re-creates the life and times of Henry Morgan and the real pirates of the Caribbean.

Review

Seriously, pirates. I don’t know when, where or how my love of them began, maybe all little kids are born with a fascination of the pirate’s life. From Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis Captain Hook to Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean to Alvilda, the protagonist of my current writing project who is based on the Viking pirate princess Alfhild, my love runs deep. When a coworker first told me about Cinnamon & Gunpowder, I jumped at the chance to read it for the sole reason that it featured a female pirate! Everywhere that I’ve traveled from the Outer Banks in North Carolina to Nassau in the Bahamas, I have visited each locale’s respective pirate attractions and museums.

In addition to pirates, I also love a good non-fiction book that can be affectionately referred to as “novelistic nonfiction” as exemplified by Erik Larson, among other authors. Talty’s prose also falls into the subgenre of nonfiction. I find that, as a bookseller, when I recommend nonfiction to primarily fiction readers, this trait is ideal. The pages turn quickly, the action moves at a good clip and the book holds the readers interest. Gone are the days of nonfiction being judged as dry and without character – half the time when reading I have to remind myself that the people in Empire of Blue Water are/were real people – not characters. Though when referencing Henry Morgan, the myths about him are hard to ignore.

Additionally, Empire of Blue Water is not just about Henry Morgan, but about a great many other pirates who lived and raided around the same time, as well as the political culture of the colonies in the Caribbean, South, Central & North America. It is a fascinating and compelling read, and, of course, PIRATES!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780307236616 • 332 pages • first published April 2007, this edition published April 2008 by Broadway Books • average Goodreads rating 3.86 out of 5 stars • read in June 2018

Staphan Talty’s Website

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Biography, History, Non-Fiction

I Know a Woman by Kate Hodges

I love anthologies with stories about fascinating women. I’ve reviewed many before, most of which can be found here. I Know a Woman is definitely worthy of inclusion into that great pantheon.

Synopsis

How much would Emmeline Pankhurst have achieved without her army of suffragettes? Would the name Audrey Hepburn mean anything without Colette’s discovery? What did it mean for Mae Jemison to see Nichelle Nichols take the skies?

I Know a Woman is a collection of 84 illustrated portraits that celebrate female collaboration. Whether that is encouraging a leader, a colleague or friend; inspiring another to follow in their footsteps, or perhaps fostering a friendship that spans decades and oceans.

In telling the stories of these women’s lives and achievements – whether it is in science or politics, arts or sports, fashion or aviation – Kate Hodges exposes the fascinating web of connections that have enabled each one to take a new step forward. Some names will be familiar, some might not, but all are equally important.

Review

I kind of hate when the back cover gives a review more than a synopsis. That is the biggest holdup I had in picking up and actually reading I Know a Woman when there are so many others. And when I say so many others, I’m not kidding. We made a whole section of them at the store. And I might scream at the next person who tells me that Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is something revolutionary. It started eons ago with Krull & Hewitt’s Lives of Extraordinary Women and so many others. So why am I reading more? Why am I continuing to read the same vignettes about the same women over and over?

Because they are still inspiring. And Hodges pulls them all together in ways that haven’t been before. Can you draw a map of influence from Ada Lovelace to Beyonce? Kate Hodges can. The unique structure of I Know a Woman focuses on the connections between these inspiration and how they influenced each other. No one lives in a vacuum, and strong women have to stand behind and next to each other. So therefore, read it, learn more about Gloria Steinem and Emma Watson’s friendship, Meryl Streep’s awesomeness and how Audrey Hepburn rebelled against her mother’s fascism.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.00 • 9781781317365 • 192 pages • published February 2018 by Aurum Press • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 stars • read in June 2018

Kate Hodges’ Website

I Know a Woman on Goodreads

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Biography, History, Non-Fiction

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

I’m not a big post-it note person when it comes to reading, but just in the introduction to this book, I put 6 notes. The content is so unbelievable, it just can’t be made up.

Synopsis

The Unwomanly Face of War is the long-awaited English translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s first book, a groundbreaking oral history of women in World War II across Europe and Russia. Alexievich chronicles the experiences of the Soviet women who fought on the front lines, on the home front, and in the occupied territories These women – more than a million in total – were nurses and doctors, pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, and snipers. They battled alongside men, and yet, after the victory, their sacrifices were forgotten. Alexievich traveled thousands of miles and visited more than a hundred towns to record these women’s stories. Together, this symphony of voices reveals a different aspect of the war – the everyday details of life in combat left out of the official histories.

Review

Recently I saw a question asked on a Goodreads forum about whether or not a book was “another Holocaust book.” The asked wanted to know because she was sick of reading that narrative. The population of the internet, being the internet, set about roasting her alive. How, they asked could she be so callus and cold? And no one was forcing her to read such books, etc, etc. She later clarified that she simply wanted a different perspective on the war, a different take, a different story. And to that, I could relate.

Given my present nonfiction binge, added to my fascination with the women’s role in WWII (also the topic of Laura’s masters thesis), I began reading both The Unwomanly Face of War and The Women Who Flew for Hitler. And I’ve now convinced Laura to read them, but that’s a bit besides the point. There are two predominant WWII narratives, the harrowing narrative of the Jews, such as the narrative of Anne Frank, and the narratives of the battles, such as Dunkirk, with some political intrigue thrown in (Churchill, Roosevelt, etc.). The narratives of individual servicemen and women are often overlooked in favor of the larger narrative. The narrative of war is collective, suffering individual.

Many of the women Alexievich interviewed were a bit shocked that she wanted to hear their stories and their husbands were incredibly shocked that their wives were sharing such stories. Because they are far from pretty. They are far from decent. Their descriptions of what life was like in the Soviet military are absolutely shocking. And most importantly, their narratives deserve to be heard. Take the time to read this atypical WWII narrative I you will not be disappointed, I promise.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $18.00 • 9780399588747 • 384 pages • originally published in English in July 2017, this edition published April 2018 by Random House Trade • original Russian publication 1985 • average Goodreads rating 4.52 out of 5 • read June 2018

Svetlana Alexievich’s Website

The Unwomanly Face of War on Goodreads

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Political Science

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Like my present obsession with the Royals (well, persistent obsession since I was 7 years old and Diana died), I’ve recently become entranced by the the American version, and no, I absolutely do not mean the Kardasians, but those who occupy the White House. Prior to the current occupants. Wow, there are a lot of stipulations on my interests… anyway, White House memoirs and bios are my jam lately apparently.

Synopsis

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion – meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm – there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms as the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a “White House official” is supposed to look like.

Review

I had a whole clever introduction figured out in my head earlier today, but, as is the case with my most brilliant phrases, they were lost to the sands of time because I didn’t write them down. That happens more often these days it seems. When I first picked up Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, I did so with the intention of giving it to my mother for her birthday. And then I really hoped she’d read it, and then I’d read it, and we could talk about it. I don’t think she’s read it yet though, so I’m going to share all of my thoughts with you lovely readers!

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly how to classify this book – part memoir, part job search assistant, part political insider knowledge, part humor, part everything, and I enjoyed each and every facet of it. Lately I’ve been trying to find the motivation to take the steps necessary to move back into the world of teaching and, once I realized that the intended release date was meant to coincide with graduations, the job advice part really made sense and stuck. It’s been quite helpful, and I’m glad I’ve finished it before high school graduation season here at the store so that I can recommend it to those looking for insightful and helpful presents.

The timeline of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is not chronological which, for a memoir, takes some getting used to (I would make memoir its primary genre, though I found it in domestic affairs at a B&N which I disagree with – we shelve it in biography). As with First Women, Mastromonaco tends to share things thematically, which I appreciated. There are some continuing threads, including stories of her cat and family (some of my personal favorites) and travel, mostly with Obama. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an enjoyable book about political life that really has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with growing up and figuring out who you are while you attempt to change the world and bring hope to America.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9781455588237 • 272 pages • originally published March 2017, this edition published March 2018 by Twelve • average Goodreads rating 3.89 out of 5 • read May 2018

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? on Goodreads

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Who Thought This Was a Good Idea

 

Non-Fiction, Travel

Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton

Fun and eccentric travel book with lots of random and unknown places in it? Can I have a copy now please? These may or may not have been my exact words to my boss when this book first showed up at the store. 

Synopsis

It’s time to get off the beaten path. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.

Talk about a bucket list: here are natural wonders–the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher-like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils literally vault over rows of squirming infants. Not to mention the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, Turkmenistan’s 40-year hole of fire called the Gates of Hell, a graveyard for decommissioned ships on the coast of Bangladesh, eccentric bone museums in Italy, or a weather-forecasting invention that was powered by leeches, still on display in Devon, England.

More cabinet of curiosities than traditional guidebook, Atlas Obscura revels in the unexpected, the overlooked, the bizarre, and the mysterious. Every page expands our sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, and maps for every region of the world. It is a book you can open anywhere. But with caution: It’s almost impossible not to turn to the next entry, and the next, and the next.

Review

Christmas shopping each year for my brother-in-law and his wife is next to impossible. As corporate lawyers in New York City (now in Miami), they want for just about nothing, so getting them a present that speaks to the interests and sensibilities is the only way to go. And it’s hard. Easier now than it was before they had children back in 2016 when this beauty arrived in the store and for once, in the 6 years I’d been buying them presents, I knew exactly what to get them. I made the book one of my staff picks for holiday gift giving and, as my boss gets each of the staff a book of their choice for Christmas each year, I asked for a copy of my own.

As regular world travels (I have great and excessive envy of their passports), my brother-in-law and his wife delighted in picking out the places they’d been and where they’d want to go. They spent hours on Christmas Day pouring over the pages and it was passed around the family for hours after that. When visiting them at their apartment, it was the only book they had out on the table, the edges now worn and clearly turned repeatedly with care.

Now, as I plan my trip to the UK to visit my sister in June, I’ve post-it noted the places I want to go, and also marked them on the Atlas Obscura website because the book is too precious (and heavy) to travel with. I’ve altered my travel plans with her to suit visiting some of the places included in this book (as well as Lonely Planet’s Global Coffee Tour) and in my researching and paging through, I was pleasantly surprised to find it included some places I had already traveled too!

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $35.00 • 9780761169086 • 480 pages • published September 2016 by Workman Publishing • average Goodreads rating 4.25 out of 5 • referenced repeatedly since December 2016

Atlas Obscura Website

Atlas Obscura on Goodreads

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Atlas Obscura