Maira's Books

In January of 2005 I started this blog as a record of books I’ve read as I was afraid I would forget what I have read. I have often referred back to my own blog to remember a book's contents or see what I have read by an author. I have enjoyed passing my books on to friends or recommending books to read. I know I have missed recording some, but in general I try to keep up with what I have read or listened to.

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Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

A Rather Lovely Inheritance by C.A. Belmond (2007)

 A pleasant book about New Yorker Penny Nichols, a historical researcher (my kind of person) for movies finds out she has inherited something from her Aunt Penelope - an apartment in London and a garage with its contents next to a villa in southern France. But she has to do quite a bit of research to figure out what she really has inherited. She is helped along by cousin Jeremy, a lawyer, with whom she got along with quite well in a childhood summer holiday. Looks like they are still getting along... Of course they have the nasty ne'er do wells in the family who want to take away their inheritances, but it all works out in the end. Lovely romp through England, France and Italy.

Looks like there are more of these "Rather" books and it looks like they will continue with Penny and Jeremy, so I have another series to look forward to.

Friday, June 08, 2018

In the Belly of the Bloodhoutnd by L.A. Meyer (2006)

In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber

Jacky escapes from the Battle of Trafalgar, and as she is wanted by the British, she heads back to Boston to hide in the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls until things cool down. She finds that her friend Amy does not hate her, that Jaimy still loves her and all seems to settle down until the girls are taken on a school excursion to an island, but end up being kidnapped to be sold as slaves to African sheiks. I would say I learned less about history from this one, but it was a great psychological book on how this diverse group of girls that are used to having servants come together under Jacky's leadership to survive the voyage in the slave ship Bloodhound. They learn to work together and come up with some ingenious ways to keep their minds busy, spirits up, make their life on the ship tolerable, and even hatch escape plans. Many of them are made to reflect on what they think of slavery and the role of women in the early 19th century society. As Jacky thinks to herself at the end - those girls will go home much changed.

Four down, eight to go.

End Game by David Baldacci (2017)

These books keep me awake on the road and though the number of bodies at the end is horrendous, I still enjoy them. This time, Will Robie's and Jessica Reel's boss Blueman goes missing while on vacation in Colorado, so they go to investigate and find gun toting Coloradans with numerous cult like groups hiding away in the desolate plains of eastern Colorado.

As usual, we have an interesting cast of characters - Sheriff Malloy, who has come out from New York to be near her sister Holly who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Then there is deputy Bender, who's mother Clare used to go out with Blueman and now runs a legal medical marijuana business. His sister Patty is one of the gun toting ones. Then there are the various cults - the skinheads, run by a guy named Dolf, another group run by King, and some other group that we don't really see. We also have a rich guy Lambert, who has catered to the rich survivalists and built luxury doomsday apartments in a decommissioned missile silo. Robie and Reel come into this chaotic world and try to make sense of it, getting almost killed at least a dozen times, but leaving a lot of dead bodies in their wake. They also seemed to have a thing going between the at the end of the last book, but that seems to have fallen apart. They do seem made for each other.

A Day in the Life or Marlon Bando by (2018)

I don't think I have ever just bought a book for political reasons, but when I heard John Oliver advertise this, I just had to go and order it. Of course it was sold out, so it took a while to get it. Cute and funny, VP Mike Pence's bunny falls in love with another male bunny and goes hopping off together with him. Wonderful. There is even a Wikipedia article out there explaining that this is a parody of a book written by Pence's daughter and wife - A Day in the Life of  the Vice President.

Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer (2005)

Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber

I can't get enough of those books so wonderfully read by Katherine Kellgren. I just don't have time to describe them all.

From Amazon: "After leaving the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls in Boston—under dire circumstances, of course—Jacky Faber boards a whaling ship bound for London, where she hopes to find her beloved Jaimy. But things don’t go as planned, and soon Jacky is off on a wild misadventure at sea."

Jacky is again her spunky self and ends up running a ship or two - and gets promoted to lieutenant (pronounced "leftenant" in the book). I liked that she got back to London and reconnected with some of her old mates from the streets and puts her gains to good use by setting up an orphanage. I think that I learned more about the actual running of a ship from this one - especially how they were used in war, how they had do prepare the canons. We've all seen pictures or movies of smoking canons on ships, but it is a lot of hard coordinated work, and then the possibility of major destruction and sinking of another ship - or your own. At the end of the book Jacky ends up in the Battle of Trafalgar, a real naval battle between the British and a combination of French and Spanish on October 21, 1805. And though this young girl is courageous and strong and talented, all the destruction does affect her, and she does have nightmares throughout these books.

Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (2009)

There are certain series of books I never tire of or feel I need a rest from a character or story line. Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries in supposedly peaceful Three Pines is one of those that grabs my interest, but at the same time I just love hanging out with all the townsfolk and Gamache's team - well there is one I highly dislike, but I can put up with him.

We have another murder. For a quiet town, there sure are a lot of murders. This body lands on the floor of the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. We have a new couple that has moved into the cursed house on the hill with mother-in-law. We get a bit of a side story about them and the wife getting horses up there. We find that the murdered man was living in a cottage behind the cursed house deep in the woods. Turns out he was East European (I no longer have the book, so can't easily check back on the exact country) and that community is questioned. Olivier's past is covered. I always wondered how he could afford to offer such amazing food in a small town. Then there are all these clues around the name Charlotte. One leads Gamache to go visit a first nations village in Western Canada and follow the work of an artist that was influenced by the native art. And of course there is Ruth, the crude poet and her duck, Clara and Peter, as Peter starts envying the success of his wife - I liked how that one turned out. 

I agree with other comments on Amazon about this book, that it is darker than the others, but at the same time there is still a lot of kindness behind it. I keep running into that word - kindness. Something we need much more of in these times.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (2017)

Some Stories,

I like Tom Hanks and was delighted to find that he was reading his own book in the audio version. I took me a while, but I started realizing there was an old typewriter in many of the stories so I was assuming Hanks has a thing for old typewriters and then I looked at the title of the book - Uncommon Type - and said "Oh" to myself. I no longer have the book, so guessing at some of the typewriter mentions.

Three Exhausting Weeks - we get introduced to some characters that appear in a couple other stories. Two good friends since high school try dating each other. Not sure where the typewriter came in, maybe as this was sorta being typed up by the narrator.

Christmas Eve 1953 - touching story of a man coming home to his family for Christmas eve and getting an annual phone call from a war buddy.

A Junket in the City of Light - A young actor has a hectic press tour as he plays the love interest of a famous star. He'd get a typed (crazy) itinerary every day.

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset - An Elephant in the Pressroom - The elephant in the room is a huge bolted typewriter used by a classical reporter that even lifted up, so he could continue editing on the desk underneath.

Welcome to Mars - this was a disfunctional father - son story, where the son agrees to go surfing with his dad for his 19th birthday, but it all goes wrong. 

A Month on Greene Street - a single woman and her kids move to Greene Street. She is weary of the single male neighbor, who makes his own telescopes and show the neighborhood kids wonders in the sky. He also has things like old typewriters in his garage.

Alan Bean Plus Four - our original cast from the first story figure out a way to orbit the moon - each has his specialty.

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset - At Loose in the Big Apple

Who's Who?

A Special Weekend

These Are the Meditations of My Heart - this was the one story that was completely focused on an old typewriter. A woman buys an old typewriter for $5 but it needs some repair and finds a repair shop that really understands the beauty of manual typewriters, so that she can eventually start writing her "meditations of her heart."

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset - Back From Back in Time

The Past Is Important to Us

Go See Costas - an immigrant story where a Bulgarian gets a job on a ship to cross to America and how he starts making his way. In this story the wife of one of the people that helps our our immigrant is learning to type from a record, so that sound in the background adds an interesting texture to the story.

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset - Your Evangelista Esperanza - a woman sits in a cafe of today with a small portable manual typewriter and types things up for people when they want something that is one of a kind.

Steve Wong is Perfect - we return to the characters from the first story. The narrator, Anna, M-Dash and Steve Wong, who turns out to be a great bowler. I think the only typewriter appears when the narrator helps him find his special bowling ball behind an old typewriter in a closet.

Stay With Us - this is written like a movie script with fade ins and outs. FXR is a rich guy who wants to buy up and develop some forsaken part of the country. He is charmed by the old couple running the Olympia motel that asks us to "Stay with us." I think the only typing in this story is the clicking of the assistant's phone as she texts.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva (2011)

Silva manages to capture the issues of the times, so I had to figure out when he had written this, as the situation was a bit different than today, plus Gabriel Allon and Chiara don't not have the twins yet. This was published in 2011 and I am not sure how Obamaish the US president is supposed to be. It will be interesting to see what Silva does with the current political climate.

The global story in Portrait of a Spy - Islamic terrorism - where suicide bombers blow up people in large European cities. (Unfortunately there seems to be a wave of this again.) The spy agencies of England, US and Israel work together on this one to find a charismatic Islamic leader that was born in the U.S. and his network. Their plot is to convince a rich Saudi Arabian woman - Nadia - raised mostly in the West, who's father was killed for his terrorist activities, but who is trying to help Islamic women, to donate large sums, so the spies can follow the money and destroy the terrorist network.

The art - a Titian thought originally to be by the studio of another, that Allon restores and it is used to transfer an enormous sum. Plus Nadia and her father were art collectors, and the "portrait of a spy" plays a pivotal role at the very end of the book, helping Allon get back to life.

The setting - Cornwall (Gabriel & Chiara's retirement cottage on the sea), London (Gabriel tries to stop a bombing), to Paris, Washington, Spain, Switzerland and the Saudi dessert. From Silva's website: "this deeply entertaining story is also a breathtaking portrait of courage in the face of unspeakable evil." Agreed.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (2014)

I don't remember if I ever rated books on how much they made me cry, but that used to be a criteria for movies. This book made me cry more than once, so it got me to empathize. This book brings together something from Barkskins, a novel of the deforestation of America and the last book I listened to - Love and Other Consolation Prizes, about Seattle in the early 20th century.

The main character is Trevor, the bright 14 year old great, great grandson of Elija Riddell, a timber baron. Trevor and his father Jones return to the family home in North Estate outside Seattle, after Jones goes bankrupt and his wife, Trevors mom, goes to spend a summer with her parents in England.

The majestic wood house is haunted, full of tragic lives and secret rooms and stairways. Trevor gets attuned to the house quickly and it starts sharing its secrets with him as he starts piecing together the family history. Elijah is the timber baron who has a son Ben, who convinces Elijah that he has done a lot of harm to nature and people, so he protects the old great forest around the estate from at least the next generation. Ben dies young without heirs, but his brother Abraham comes to live there and squanders away most of the fortune. He has a son Sam, who continues to protect the forest, marries a dancer Isabelle, and has two children - Jones and Serena. Sam's life turns tragic when Isabelle dies when Serena is only 11 and Jones is 16. Sam sends Jones away and Serena is left taking care of her father.

So many years later Jones returns, Serena is still taking care of Sam, now demented, and she hopes that she and Jones can develop the land to get financially stable. But the spirits of the past turn to Trevor to save the forest and their legacy.

I really liked the Trevor character, his brilliance (I was pretty bright at his age too, wonder what happened), curious, brave, but understands his own lack of life experience. Do I believe in spirits? Sorta. I'd like to think that if I encountered powerful spirits like these, I would be open enough to hear them.

A bit of history, but more of a family connections and tragedies through generations. I liked the supposed phrase from Muir - "My peace I give unto you." A brief search did not turn it up, but at least I can go take a look at Muir's book The Mountains of California.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben (2017)

Subtitle: A Fable of Resistance.
First Trump era novel I have read and just loved that radio personality Vern Braclay decides to incite Vermonters to secede from the United States to keep things small, local, environmentally sound and not be overrun by huge corporations and many of the negative trends we see in the US today. As I have good friends living in Vermont and I try to visit them every so often, I totally get the sentiment. When checking lists on how states are doing, I am always proud of Vermonters being at the forefront of those issues that are important to me.

Since all the radio stations have been taken over by corporate interests, there are none that still speak to local news and needs, so Vern has set up Radio Free Vermont - "underground, underpowered and underfoot." He has found a way to broadcast with the help of computer wiz Perry and create disruptions here and there, like taking over a Starbucks sound system and remind people to visit locally owned coffee shops. Another stunt pulled off by Sylvia, they reroute a beer truck, pour out all the out of state beer and replace it with local beer. She  runs classes for those moving to Vermont on how to be a Vermonter. I loved the last class we see her run. She has them sit on uncomfortable folding chairs, as that is how town meetings are held every year the first Tuesday in March -where locals gather to discuss the needs and budgets and issues for their community for the upcoming year. She tells them to sit and be quiet in the first few, as they may learn to adapt to the Vermont way of thinking instead of them trying to change Vermonters. Later they are joined by Trance Harper, an Olympic gold medalist in the biathlon. Loved it.