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.

My Photo
Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Light of Parins by Eleanor Brown (2016)

I am still enjoying books about Paris. This is the story of two women. The first is Margie or Margaret in 1924, who goes to Europe to accompany a younger cousin, but who is left alone in Paris, decides to stay against her parents wishes, and finds she loves it. She gets a job at the America Library. I sent a friend there to do research while he was living in Paris for a few months, as it had books that he needed - in English. I now found out how it was started - from books sent over to France during WWI for American soldiers. Margaret meets a French painter Sebastian, but even at the beginning of the book we know she somehow is forced to come home and live out the life her parents had planned for her in high society. We learn of her through her diaries that are discovered by her granddaughter.

Margie's granddaughter is Madeline, who has a loveless marriage in Chicago in 1999. She comes to spend some time with her mother in Magnolia, Georgia and finds her grandmother's diaries. She finds so many similarities. Both of them are not typical beauties and lack the delicateness and grace of others in their society. They feel they have to marry the men chosen form them by their parents. (I never understood how Madeline still felt that way in 1999.) Madeline wanted to be an artist and spent her high school and college years painting, but when she married, her husband wanted everything neat and she gave it up. But in Magnolia she find new and old friends who make her more comfortable than she has felt in years. While reading her grandmother's diaries, she has to make decisions about her own life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Handle a Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy (2014)

Picked this up in Wall Drug, South Dakota on the way home from Wyoming. Was just looking for some light reading with a Wyoming/Western theme and this fit the bill with hunk on the cover. Yes it was a typical romance, but I did like Sierra Dunn and her devotion to the boys in the group home she was setting up in a small town in Wyoming. Another lost friend, Riley, lands on her doorstep. Ridge is a rodeo cowboy, whose career is over due to a major injury. He is looking for ways to fill the rest of his life. Training horses is one part of it, but he wants to do more and offers to volunteer working with the group home boys, to pay back a bit of what was given to him. Here he meets Sierra and we have the attraction, but reasons on both sides not to engage. I did like the small town Wyoming details, the way they watch out for each other, the things that are important to them in this wide open country. I also liked the fact that the two main characters weren't isolated, but part of a past with connections to other people; Ridge has his brothers and the townspeople.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley (2016)

I hadn't listened to a Flavia de Luce novel for a while, so I thought I would try one again. She does grate on my nerves, but is one spunky and brilliant twelve year old. I have skipped a few of the books in the series and a part of me wants to go back and see why she was sent to Canada and how she fared there, and I'd like to see how she continues growing up, so maybe I will go for some more. Maybe it is the voice of the reader, though it is perfect for Miss know-it-all Flavia, that makes it even more annoying.

For half this book, Flavia is gallivanting about on her bike Gladys - in the winter, often not sufficiently dressed, or taking trains into London. She is asked to deliver a message to Roger Sambridge, a carver, but she find him hanging dead from the back of his bedroom door. She records the details of the scene before she reports it and then goes about following up on all those that may be connected in some way. She finds first editions of Oliver Inchbald's famous children's books, and one inscribed to a girl Flavia knows named Carla - who has a terrible singing voice, but mentions an adventurous deceased aunt Louise Congreve. Of course she figures it all out and passes her deductions to Inspector Hewitt. I never was sure how much he had figured out himself.

In her personal life, Flavia has just returned from Canada, but doesn't like her sisters, so she avoids them. Her father is ill in the hospital with pneumonia, which concerns her greatly, but she somehow never gets around to visiting him over the course of the book. I understand being so concerned that you want to avoid an unpleasant situation, but to be told he shouldn't have visitors would have never stopped anyone like Flavia. Her best friend seems to be the butler Dogger. With her mother gone, at least there is Mrs. M. looking out for her - to the extent she allows herself to be looked after.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Unquiet Dead (2015) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Suggested by my audio book store owner, this was a combination mystery and historical novel, a bit like Daniel Silva does with Israeli history. I was not prepared for the intensity of it, and it was about a part of the world - Europe even, where I was unaware of another atrocity, though I lived through it. This time it was about the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia in the early 1990's.

The story is in current day Toronto - for a while it sounded like the places in Canada were further north, but then I realized that Etobicoke and Scarborough were just suburbs of TO - I have friends living in both. What I did not know was that there are bluffs along Lake Ontario. In my youth I walked along Scarborough beaches, but never came across the bluffs. Will have to remember to check them out when I next visit TO.

Back to the story - Christopher Drayton fell off the bluffs and it appears that this was just an accident, so police are not investigating. But Esa Khattak is asked to look into it, as he works with cases involving ethnic minorities, and he asks Rachel Getty to help him. There is an interesting dynamic between the two of them, and she seems like a few other women investigators I have read about, who have an unhappy family life, not much of a social life, so work becomes very important to them. She has a brother that left home seven years ago that she has been trying to locate. Rachel is definitely my favorite character in the book.

There are quite a few colorful characters in this story - Nate, an old friend of Esa's who lives in Drayton's neighborhood, but something seems to be off between Nate and Esa. Then there is Drayton's fiance Mel - a big bosomed money grubber, who doesn't much care for her two girls, except when their loving dad wants to spend time with them. There is a museum opening in the neighborhood commemorating Andalusia, a hisotrically rich part of southern Spain, which is being developed by a librarian named Mink. The girls like to help out there, and Drayton and other neighbors have been interested in supporting the museum with donations. A couple of gardeners keep the gardens blooming. There is some question about Drayton's identity and pulls us into flashback of the horrors of the literal slaughter of the Muslims by Serbs in Srebrenica and other Bosnian towns.

I have to say I was intrigued by the author's first name Ausma. I was wondering if she was a Latvian who married a Muslim. Most biographies of her were very brief, but then in an interview I realized that she definitely did not have a Latvian background. Just a coincidence with names. I will have to check out her other books.

Monday, August 28, 2017

House of Spies by Daniel Silva (2017)

I know, I just finished another of his books, but I had a long trip to cover, and Silva and his character Gabriel Allon always hold my interest. This is the latest and right on target with today's events. 

I was wondering how Allon, who is now the head of the Israeli intelligence, is going to provide me with an action packed tale while sitting behind a desk. Spoiler alert - he does not just sit behind a desk. He wants to get Saladin - who has been masterminding a lot of the ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe. There seems to be a connection with Jean-Luc Martel, a successful French businessman and his beautiful art gallery owning companion Olivia Watson. (Got to get that art in there.) So Allon brings back the female spy from the Black Widow and friend to pose as a wealthy couple to get close to Martel; and Christopher Keller is back from the English Spy. Even though he is from England, looks like there will always be connections between the Israeli and British intelligence. We again find ourselves traveling around the continent between Israel (just as a home base for Allon), London, Saint-Tropez in the south of France, Casablanca and other parts of Morocco. We have another set of bad guys in Morocco dealing with hashish that is sent in to Europe through Libya and provides funds to ISIS. 

Allon is fascinating to me, as he kills a bad guy and then jumps into a waiting car, and hugs his wonderful wife Kiara. He regrets not seeing his recently born twins awake, as he is always out saving the world. It will be interesting to see if he can find the balance between work and fatherhood. (I just read Silva's biography and he too has twins.)

In the author's notes Silva explains that he finished the book on March 17 of this year - depicting two terrorist actions in London, and on March 22, a terrorist actually did run people over near Westminster Bridge. All the activities in Morocco involving hashish distribution in Europe is also based on fact.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Not as Crazy as I Seem by George Harrar (2003)

Just thought I would pick up a random young adult book. This was the story of Devon, who has OCD. We get the story from his viewpoint - relations in school, at home, with the therapist. In his amusing narrative we see how differently the world can be perceived.

Dark Matter By Blake Crouch (2016)

An interesting premise. At every decision point in our lives we split off into parallel universes, to that there are hundreds, even thousands of universes with us in them living out our lives differently. Do I believe in parallel universes? Not really, though I understand that there are some physics principles and astronomical phenomena that claim this is possible and plenty of science fiction stories play off on this.

We have Jason Dessen, a brilliant quantum physicist, who got married to Daniella, an artist, had a son Charley, and now teaches physics at a Chicago college. He gets kidnapped one night and wakes up in a lab where everyone is thrilled to see him, but he doesn't recognize anyone. He escapes, goes to his house, but it is completely different and then finds that he is not married to Daniella, who lives elsewhere as a successful artist. If he is a bright physicist, I'm not sure why it takes him so long to figure out he is in a parallel universe, but...

With the help of a technician at the lab, Jason goes hopping through universes - some incredible horrible, to find HIS Daniella and Charley.

I do like the idea that our lives are made up of thousands of decesions - some small, but some making a huge impact on our lives. What if I had chosen to go to a different university, or not walked into Stache & Little Brothers where I met Bobby that started my Logan, OH phase of life. Or lost my nerve and not gone to visit Paul, who opened the world of TORI to me. Or not see that article in Laiks that had me calling Valdis and led to moving to Kalamazoo, becoming a librarian and so much more. So yes, I could have led a lot of different lives.

But when we get lots of Jasons appearing in the same world, it just got very weird. Kept wondering if we are following the "real" Jason, but it all worked out - sorta. They did leave quite a mess for someone to sort out.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs (2008)

I was looking for a "comfort food" type book to balance the thrillers and heavy historical novels I have been reading. This was OK.

Gus Simpson has a show Cooking with Gusto on a New York food network. She lives in Rye and tapes her shows in her own kitchen. She has two grown daughters that she hovers over too much. She lost her husband when the girls were little and has worked hard. Ratings have been slipping, so the network owner insists she do a live show with a young Spanish cook - Carmen Vega. They do not get along, but the tension between them makes for a good show.

There is a cast of characters that I actually did like. Hannah the recluse neighbor that comes over every morning to be fed and befriended by Gus. Troy, the man who has started a company to put fresh fruit vending machines in schools, airports and elsewhere, who still pines for one of Gus' daughters. Oliver, a former successful investment banker, who gave it up to cook and has been assigned to Gus' team. Or Pryia, a fan of Gus' show, who gets to meet her. I enjoyed the retreat they were all forced to attend for team building. I guess I found plenty to like. Not great, but OK.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (2017)

Kostova is one of the authors I always pick up when I see a new book and she didn't disappoint. I do have to say there was a bit of a pall over my lovely weekend up north, as I kept listening to this once again heavy story. You would think I am done with World War II and the Soviet aftermath, but now I got a new perspective - from Bulgaria.

Turns out Kostova herself went to Bulgaria and fell in love, so she has always wanted to write a book wholly located in the country. I would like to think that given a map of Europe with country outlines, I could identify Bulgaria, but without country lines - nope - until now. Between Greece and Romania with a coastline along the Black Sea.

Alexandra Boyd has done nothing special after graduating from college, so after a few years of shelving books in a library (couldn't she move up to more interesting jobs in the library?) she decides to spend a year teaching English in Bulgaria and arrives a bit early to explore the country before she starts working. The taxi from the airport leaves her off at a hotel instead of her hostel. She helps an older couple and a younger man get all their things into a taxi, but then realizes that one of their bags has stayed with her. She spends the rest of the book returning the bag that contains a box of ashes of Stoyan Lazarov.

The taxi driver Bobby (Asparuh) helps her out, brings her to the police as she requests, then follows clues criss-crossing Bulgaria to find the family of Stoyan Lazarov. The adventure takes her to Velin  Monastery(couldn't find it, maybe meant to be Rila), Bovech (maybe be Lovech), major city Plovdiv, Gorno in the mountains, Burgas on the sea.  She meets Bobby's aunt Pavlina, Lazarov's wife's sister Irina, Lazarov's wife Vera, their son Nevan, friend Milen Radev, his daughter and various other characters. 

As we meet these people, slowly the story of Stoyan Lazarov is revealed - a brilliant violinist, who studied in Vienna, but came back as the war was starting, met Vera, courted her, married her, but was taken away to a labor camp. These are the stories I have heard before, but this one just wrenches the heart even more than usual. How does one stay sane to endure the incredible hardships? Lazarov had his music and stayed sane by playing through all the pieces he knew. I have thought about how well I could endure something like this - I think I would lose it. What would I think about? Books? I've forgotten more than I remember. Songs? I've stopped singing them.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)

Subtitle: Stories From a South African Childhood.

I like Trevor Noah. Though he is not Jon Stewart, he has held his own on The Daily Show and his outsider's perspective on our politics feels fresh. So it was with pleasure that I listened to Noah read his autobiographical book. His childhood growing up in Soweto was hard. The fact that he had a white father made his birth a crime, and though he did meet with occasionally with his father, he wasn't around. Later his mother married Abel, who was abusive. We get to see a post apartheid world, where things are not easy. I somehow had missed that there are so many languages spoken in South Africa, that it becomes another barrier. Poverty, racism, classism, the various neighborhoods. I did not know South Africans were given real names and then European names. Trevor uses mostly the European names, and it does not look like he had a South African name himself. One of the strangest stories he told was about a great street dancer named Hitler, which did not go over very well in a Jewish school. It was interesting to see from their perspective, that Hitler was just a name, with no inferences. Trevor was lucky his mother provided him with books and good schooling to get him out of the poverty cycle, though he spent some time after high school dealing in pilfered music. His mother was very religious and trusted God and Jesus. There is a story of a miracle at the end of the book that I like to think was the result of her strong belief. We know it all ends well and though he mentions his career as a comedian, he doesn't tell us how he got there. I am sure that will be material for another book. His sense of humor got me through the hard parts of his book.