I bought this book last week to see how it was. I chose to get just the book since I can easily ask my husband to read Latvian texts to me and help me with pronunciation. The audio cds, according to the book, enable you to read the dialogues along with native speakers, as well as giving some conversational listen-and-repeat help. This isn't really helpful for me, but I can see how it would be very helpful for those folks who don't have easy access to a native speaker.
If you're studying Latvian on your own, this is the book to get. It 's excellent. It is, in fact, the book I wish I could write. It doesn't make any promises about your proficiency upon finishing that I know of yet, so I'm interested to see how well I can understand Latvian by the end of the book. I'll update this post when I get that far.
Overall, the book is well written and includes interesting little snippets about Latvia's places, people and history. The grammatical points are explained clearly and call attention to how it's done in English so you'll learn more about English grammar too. The author appears to be a native Latvian who lives in the UK and tutors students, which shows in her descriptions and explanations.
The first chapters are very basic, so you'll find those easy if you've been studying using other materials for any length of time. As usual, they focus on the alphabet and pronunciation first.
However, despite the basics in the Introduction and Chapter 1, the book picks up quite quickly. By the middle of the book, the readings and grammar topics are more complicated.
There are only fourteen chapters but each chapter covers multiple points and provides several dialogues to translate. Vocabulary is comprehensive and provided as an appendix, with new words appearing nicely annotated after the dialogues.
Coverage of the topics is somewhat random and no charts of the various declensions and conjugations are provided. You definitely want to have a book like Tabulas un Shēmas for reference. You can also use my chart for nouns and verbs.
The biggest fault of this book is that the exercises are not as extensive as they could be. I would have liked to have seen a lot more exercises or, ideally, a companion workbook. I was happy to see that complete answers are provided in the back of the book so you can check your work easily. If you work on translating all of the dialogues (translations are provided at the end of each chapter), you will get plenty of practice. Adding some basic children's books would nicely round this out.
One of the best things about this book is its price. It's less than $20 without CDs and only $25 with them, which makes it eligible for free shipping from Amazon. It's definitely worthwhile.
I'm really quite happy I picked this up. I'm working on it in conjunction with a Latvian textbook for foreign (i.e., Russian) students and it seems to be helping already.
This is definitely a recommended book for the beginning Latvian student.
Update March 9, 2011: There is another fault to this book. No index. It drives me nuts! Finding a particular grammatical point means flipping through the book until I chance upon it or hit the page I remember. The table of contents is basically useless for finding them as well. However, I still think it's a great book.