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, March 29, 2018

Curse of the Blue Tatoo by L.A. Meyer (2004)

We return to the delightful adventures of Jacky Gaber, who has been set ashore in Boston by her shipmates once they discovered she is a girl, and deposited in the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, run by headmistress Pimm. Obviously she doesn't fit in and her only friend is Amy, though she gets along with the staff. Her nemesis is Clarissa, the daughter of a Virginia slave owner. Jacky is constantly trying to write letters to her true love Jamie and he to her, but they keep being intercepted. Jacky can't resist playing music and gets in plenty of trouble for it, though for a while she strikes up a partnership with a drunk, but good fiddle player Gully. She makes friends - and enemies - all over town, helping people out in her unusual way. she also picks up a whole new set of skills - horseback riding, cooking, cleaning, plus she learns french and more music at the school, so all in all, becoming more well rounded.

I found out these are classified young adult as well as historical fiction, but they are great on the detail. I got a real sense of early Boston, what a girls school was all about (including how the men who married these educated ladies thought about it and them), the class system, the gender system, bars, ports, legal systems in those day. Lots of colorful characters made this a delight once again.

First Family by David Baldacci (2009)

Seemed appropriate to read about the first family now that we are so focused on the current administration. 12 year old Willa gets kidnapped, her mother killed and the First Lady asks Sean King to investigate on his own, even though the FBI and other agencies are already involved. He and Michelle Maxwell floow various leads and end up in Alabama, where Sam Quarry has been brooding on the tragedies that have befallen his family. How are these connected? We really only find out in the end. Sam Quarry is an interesting "bad guy" with a lot of good traits. He supports and saves numerous people along the way - Fred - the Native American living on his land, Gabriel and his mom, whom he took in to his house. He even saves Willa in a way.

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett (2014)

One of the biggies I read this year and didn't have time to enter my reaction. I just found some vague notes I started so they will have to do. But I needed to check on the names before I could publish this.

This is the third of Follett's Century Trilogy, this time covering the Cold War, an era I lived through myself, but maybe did not always understand. I have always liked the fact that Follett set engaging characters in the U.S., Germany, England and Russia, giving us the different angles to the story, the world events.

In the U.S. we have George Jakes, a black lawyer that went to Harvard who ends up working for Bobby Kennedy. He like Verena, who also goes to Harvard and works for Martin Luther King. Hugo works for J Edgar Hoover. Larry back from the army and atrocities in Nam. Cameraon Dewar is conservative and works for Nixon, eventually becoming a CIA agent in Poland.

In Germany, Maud and her family end up in East Berlin. Rebecca, her granddaughter, marries Hans, who turns out to be Stasi. When she finds out, they divorce and she falls for Bernd, her boss in school. Walli, her brother, is a musician who escapes to West Germany, leaving Karolin, his love, behind. Lili is his sister, Carla & Werner are the parents.

In England we have Dave Williams, whose father is Lloyd Williams, MP and mother is Daisy Peshkov from the US. Dave who becomes a pop star with his cousin Walli. 

In Russia we have Dinka Dvorkin, who works for Khrushchev. His sister Tonya works for a newspaper and printed samizdat publications.

I vaguely remember Kennedy facing off with Khrushchev. The Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis is well depicted. I remember when we were taught to hide under our desks in class and had bomb drills in school. There was a tense moment when everyone was waiting whether the world (or at least major cities) would be blown up on both sides of the Atlantic. Thank goodness they did not.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz (2017)

I don't know why Lizabeth Salendar and Michael Blomquist are such appealing characters, but they are and though they too are fighting some incredible evil, it never gets as dark as in some of the other Scandinavian authored books. I thought Lagercrantz was only going to follow Steig Larrson's series for one more books, which is why I was happy to see this.

Salendar is in jail from the last adventure - not for long, but still. The resident bully can't quite figure her out, but does make life miserable for a young Muslim woman, who is in for killing her brother. Salander steps in and chaos ensues. 

Blomquist spends time researching Leo ??? per Salendar's request and finds the remnants of a scientific experiment on twins turned evil and some of those responsible for Lizabeth's life traumas. The author references the Minnesota twin studies just to give this a sense of possibility. Blomquist speaks with enough of the players from the experiment to start getting the picture and one of the players is bent on eliminating anyone who would shed light on the past.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2015)

Subtitle: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Parts of my house are very cluttered, and I hope to move to smaller quarters in a few years when I retire, so I need some help. This sounded interesting and though there are cultural differences between Japan and the U.S., there was a lot to learn from Marie Kondo. The main difference was the size of our houses, though the same principles apply. I did not hear her mention basements, garages and attics. We always collect memorabilia of our lives and there is something cool about finding grandma's wedding dress, etc.

Her system is simple in its basics - throw things out, then organize. She has a set order for doing this - clothing, books, papers, stuff (she had another name), and then memorabilia like photos. The throwing out part is pulling together everything of one type of thing, then handling each item and asking yourself it it gives you joy. I really think I could do this with my clothing. Then she has an interesting folding technique where most clothes are folded and stored upright in drawers. Handling you clothing and other things with care and appreciation makes them look better.

I do have an issue with her approach to books and papers. She did mention that there might be an exception for academics, but for most normal people, they should just keep a few books that give them information (like cookbooks) and joy. Her approach to papers was to throw them all out, except for a small folder of important warranties, etc.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (2004)

I must have ordered this audio book when I returned from Wyoming, as Johnson writes about the area where my cousin lives. The sheriff's town and county are fictional, but Sheridan, Cheyenne, the reservations, Lake Desmet, Powder River, Piney Creek and of course the Big Horns are all really there. I had to get used to the actor's voice, as I have heard him read other books and it took me a while to forget the voice and get into the character.

Walt Longmire has been the sheriff for 25 years. He's depressed since his wife died, lives in an unfinished house, has a great secretary Ruby, spunky deputy Victoria, who he hopes will take over after him, but she may choose to go back to big city detective work, a lousy deputy Turk, an old friend who may be a potential love interest, and a great best friend, Henry Standing Bear. 

The title comes from the expression "revenge is a dish best served cold." Walt doesn't believe it when someone calls in a dead body, but it is Cody Pritchard, one of the four boys that raped a young Native American girl with fetal alcohol syndrome, a case Walt can't get out of his head. So it may not be a hunting accident, but murder. As he goes about solving this murder, we meet even more entertaining characters and I have to say I like Johnson's writing style. I found myself liking a phrase or smiling at something the characters said or did more than usual. Like: "fuses that looked as if they hadn't been changed since Edison was a child." I also like his respect for Native American ways and beliefs. There is a point where even Walt needs help from the old spirits and gets it. I have to remember to read more of the Walt Longmire series when next I head out there, maybe even sooner.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Bloody Jack bu L.A. Meyer (2002)

Bloody Jack: Being An Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy is considered a historical novel. I originally thought it was young adult, but though in this book Jacky is a kid, my sense is she grows up throughout the series, and I plan to get through much of the series, though 12 is a lot.

Mary loses her parents to the plague, lives out on the streets for a while, and then puts on a dead boys clothes and gets taken on a ship as a ship's boy- Jack. Here she hangs out with the other ship boys, but likes Jaimy the best. When she starts showing womanly characteristics, she has to work to hide them. She gets her nickname because she is brave and ends up killing a couple of people during the course of this book. The character of Jacky is great, I love her spunk, her curiosity (she can read and reads whatever she can find), her conversations with God or fate.

As a historical novel of the 1790's, I enjoyed getting a better sense of what it was like on a big ship with hundreds of men - how they occupied themselves, the different roles on the ship, what happens when their ship is damaged. It is like a village in an of itself with various tradesmen. They spend a lot of time practicing war maneuvers, so when they actually have to face pirates, everyone knows their place. I did not realize that there would be a school on the ship for the midshipmen, where Jacky would help out, but that the teacher was also into experimentation - with a kite of some sort.

Looking forward to the next, though my audio store doesn't have it, so I ordered it in print.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema (1975)

A West Africa Tale retold by Verna Aardema, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon - Caldecott Medal winner.

One of those delightful... the mosquito annoys the iguana, the iguana ignores the python, who crawls into the rabbit hole and scares the rabbit, who runs off and startles the crow, who alarms the monkey, who kills an owlet. The lion king is called to determine who is to be punished, and then we go back up the line till we get to the mosquito with the guilty conscience who goes whining about it in people's ears.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)

This was on more than one recommended reading lists, including Bill Gates' summer reading. Very depressing. On one hand, this author did a great job of summarizing the world, but his predictions of the future made me glad that I am getting on in years and will not live to see most of this, or be getting old enough to not care.

Since I listened to this, I didn't have the physical book to go back through to point out the things that I especially liked. And now that I got my hands on the physical book, I don't have the time to do this book justice, so just a few points.

  • Harari starts out by pointing out that we have conquered the three major problems humanity faced over the centuries, millennia, in my mind portrayed by the three riders in Aleksandrs Grins' and probably many other books - famine, plague and war. Yes people are still starving, there are still epidemics, and we are still fighting each other, but at a much smaller scale, and we have solutions for most of these. The problem more often than not is political, human created, and it will not be solved by praying or sacrificing to any god.
  • There was a section that I thought nicely addressed why there should no longer be a need to pray to any form of god. He seemed to dismiss all religions, but never did address the need for something spiritual that most of us feel.
  • The scary part was that he sees the developments in science, especially biology and study of genes, leading to the development of super humans, eliminating genetic diseases, extending life. I am sorry, but I have never understood the search for the fountain of youth or living to be over 100. More power to those that do live long, but haven't you read Robert Heinlein? Why would you want to live that long?
  • He talks of human-animal relations, moving from hunting in the wild to domestication of animals - to the abuse, often, today. I think he spent a lot of time on this, but have already forgotten the details. I am definitely not one of those super-humans. 
  • "Sapiens rule the world because we alone can cooperate flexible in large numbers."
  • One of my favorite stories about the power of the written word was that when Jews were trying to flee France as the Nazis came in, a Portuguese consul kept issuing visas to Jews, though the government had forbidden it. He issued thousands of visas in a number of days, thus being responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual. Though he lost his job and the Portuguese were reluctant to admit these refugees, the power of the piece of paper was such that they were all accepted.
  • He explains how the Europeans divided up Africa, knowing very little about the continent and making some grave errors in the process that affects the continent to this day.
  • He had a strange take on humanism. I don't remember his whole argument, but I remember it feeling very negative. The book has photos explaining it in simple statements like:
    • The voter knows best. (politics)
    • The customer is always right. (economics)
    • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (questioning art)
    • If it feels good - do it! (ethics)
    • Think for yourself! (education)
  • There is a lot about technology and it felt like the worst SF movies depicting the robots taking over the world coming to fruition.
In looking over the actual book. I realize it probably deserves a rereading already, but I have other things that need my attention.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Man Who Fell From the Sky by Margaret Coel (2015)

One more of my out West books picked up a Wall Drug. Not bad, but seemed to take me forever to get through this. Margaret Coel is a historian who is considered an expert on Arapaho Indians of Colorado and Wyoming. Her mysteries feature Father John and Arapaho lawyer Vicky as mystery solvers. 

Robert Walking Bear's death in a lake may have been an accident, but since he was looking for Butch Cassidy's treasure, there are some doubts. This mystery is based on the true fact that Butch Cassidy did have friends in the area and that he did have a relationship with Mary Boyd, half white and half Indian, and that she did have a daughter. As far as Coel knows, no one ever did find Cassidy's treasure. I did appreciate a window into the current world of the Native Americans living in the state where my cousin resides.