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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (2016)

It seems that Marissa Meyer had left too many quetsions unanswered, so here we have six stories from the Lunar Chronicles about the origins of the main characters and the happily ever after ending. How did Scarlett come to live with her grandmother and how did grandma Michele get involved in taking care of Cinder while she grew up in a suspension module? We see Cinder's fate before she moved to New Beijing, how Iko came to be Cinder's good friend, the scene at the market where Prince Kai brings his android to be fixed by Lynn Cinder - but this time from his point of view. I don't know how much it would make sense for someone who hasn't read the other full novels. For instance, you know that Cinder is standing on one foot the whole time, as she is talking to the prince. He notices something, but doesn't realize what. Then there is the story of how Wolf was transformed into the part wolf being. And how Winter and Jason go back to early childhood, as their fathers were guards together, and Jason always protected Winter. What a rogue young Thorne was, and how Cress got commandeered to spy on Earth from space. Of course, the lovely ending with them all gathering for Scarlett and Wolf's wedding, but we get to hear how they have all fared in the couple of years since the end of the last book. Enjoyed it.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)

Translated from French by Barbara Bray (1985)
Read this as it was one of the books on a list recommended by Roxanne Gay - a keynote speaker at a library conference in Baltimore this spring.

It's been a long time since I've read something like this. I would call it stream of consciousness. Why do I have a need for chapters, places where I can draw my breath? This whole book consisted of  vignette's (not the right word), usually a paragraph, no more than a page and a half in length in a small format book. The girl is 15 and a half, lives in Saigon with her mother and brother in a boarding school, goes to a French high school, dreams of being a writer. On the ferry she meets a Chinese man in a big black limousine. They become lovers, but his family would not hear of him marrying her. She eventually moves to Paris and has a life. With plenty of jumps into the past and future. Turns out this is autobiographical.

I don't regret reading it, but can't say I got a lot out of it. Maybe I am just too used to the typical plot driven book, though this too had a story too, and beautiful writing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Island of Glass by Nora Roberts (2016)

Had to finish the last of the Guardians Trilogy. Though this series seems to find more of a balance between the six characters - they do function and evolve as a team, but then each book is focused on one of the couples. This time it was Doyle and Riley's turn. He is the immortal, who has suffered for centuries, as those he loves or becomes close to, die; and she is the archaeologist, scholar, adventuress, who also happens to turn into a wolf three nights a month. Of course they are suited for each other, it just took a bit longer for them to discover this than their companions Bran & Sasha and Anika & Sawyer.

They have returned to Bran's home in Ireland to try to figure out where to look for the third star - the Ice Star. Turns out he has built his home on the ruins of where Doyle's family home once stood. Once they find the star, they have to find the Island of Glass and return all three starts to the goddesses.The magic is a bit hokey, the fight scenes not too engaging, and I figured out what Doyle and Anika would get as rewards from the goddesses, but it was a fun story anyway. I like the daily interactions better than the main events, and the subplot of the three guys getting their ladies rings. I have wondered what has happened to the old gods of yore, as has Neil Gaimon in some of his books, so there is a satisfaction to hear a fairy tale of devotion to a quest with superheroes of sorts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)

Ruta Sepetys is a Lithuanian-American who is writing novels about our Baltic history. This is very like our own Ruta U.'s Dear God, I Wanted to Live. The story is very similar, how a family that has committed no crimes is dragged out of their house in the middle of the night - men separated out and sent to prison camps, women and children put into cattle cars and then sent off to Siberia. The Latvian version by Ruta U. is actually written by someone who experienced it herself, being deported at age 14. In this story the girl Lina is 15 and written by someone who has researched these deportations. Lina travels with her mother and younger brother. They spend a month and a half in the cattle car getting to their first labor camp, where they live in a hut with a Russian woman while they work, but then they are taken to another place north of the Arctic Circle, where they are expected to build their own shelter - a yurt, and of course many do not survive the winter. Stalin is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20 million people. This is less known than Hitler's atrocities, so these kinds of books are important. It looks like this has been made into a film, but I can't find any references to it being out yet. I believe it is called Ashes in the Snow. With all the other shades of gray books and movies out there, the original title might not work. 

A minor detail is the maps in front of the book. I always like books with maps that show me where the action is taking place. This map is very familiar to me, as have taught excerpts from Dear God, I Wanted to Live at the Latvian school for years, and one of our activities is to follow their trip on a map of the Soviet Union, so the path of these deportees was very similar. I find it interesting, that at the end of Between Shades of Gray, when Lina has spent two of her twelve years of imprisonment, her thoughts are focused on survival, on wanting to live, as in the title of our Latvian book.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

This book was suggested by a friend years ago, and I finally got around to reading/listening to it. The book is interesting on various planes - and I understand the attraction for her to all the medical descriptions, as my friend is a vet.

I understand Verghese is an Ethiopian-born medical doctor, so much of the story takes place in Ethiopia, a place that holds interest for me, as I work with a journal and conference on African development that focuses a lot on Ethiopia. It helped me visualize Addis Ababa and understand the various political upheavals the country has endured.

Actually, few of the characters were Ethiopians. Stone of the title is a British surgeon from India. Sister Mary, Hema, and Gosh are Indian expat doctors and nurses. Even of the "locals" some are Eritreans - and I had to look up the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, finding out that Eritrea broke off in 1993. Ethiopia itself has an interesting and unenviable history. It was interesting to hear about medical education in India and Ethiopia and then how those that land in the U.S. have difficulty getting into the major hospitals, but work in those treating the poor populations of Americans. All of these doctors in the story were highly dedicated to their work, their patients, and some even managed to come up with medical breakthroughs.

All of this interesting information was couched in an engrossing story of a set of twin brothers born in an Addis Ababa hospital. Unfortunately their mother does not survive and father disappears, so they are brought up by Hema and Ghosh, two other doctors at the hospital. The story is told by Marion, one of the twins - as he reconstructs his birth parents story, remembers his own childhood and puberty (very touching), how he started helping Ghosh at the hospital and realized he too wanted to be a doctor. His twin Shiva was brilliant, but not one to follow narrow guidelines, so he ends up helping Hema in her work with obstetrics without going to med school. The brothers are incredibly close, but different and life does separate them. 

This was a beautiful story of human compassion and endurance, of family ties, even if not by blood, and opened my heart and eyes to one more part of the world.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

My Not so Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (2017)


I do like these Sophie Kinsella books. Katie is a young woman from Somerset,the countryside in England, but wants to have a career in branding, a form of marketing, and live in London. She gets a job in a company as a junior researcher. Her boss is the brilliant, but scatterbrained Demeter. Katie is given a boring job and she tries to figure out office politics. She lives in a tiny apartment with two others, has a long commute, but keeps posting lovely photos of London an supposedly her perfect life in London. Then she meets Alex at work and has fun with him trying out various toys from China and hanging out a bit, but because of some errors, the company isn't doing well and she gets laid off.

Back in Somerset her father and stepmother want to start a glamping business on their farm, and Katie ends up helping them. (I had heard of glamping, but this gave me more of an insight.) Of course Katie is great at marketing and the business takes off, but then Demeter shows up.

Anyway, good story of  young girl finding herself with the internal dialog Kinsella is so good at. Katie starts out thinking others have these perfect lives and in the end realizes that everyone has bright and shiny spots in their lives and crap reality too.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb (2016)

There is no way I will keep up with all of Nora Roberts' books as JD Robb or otherwise, but every once in a while I want to dip in to see how Eve Dallas, Lt. of the NYPD and her rich tech savvy husband Roarke are doing. This was a gripping one as people were being picked off by a skilled long range sniper. = Roarke was able to quickly develop a program to pick certain buildings that could fit the criteria for being the nests, or places from which the sniper shot and thus ID the killer. But killer wasn't alone - it was a young apprentice, being guided by a damaged, but skillful mentor.

I guess the theme is nature or nurture. Was this young person born with something innately off, that they could kill for sport, for revenge against the world? Could the mentor have guided the child in a different direction? I like that Eve's work world is always interspersed with some personal, real life events. She is dreading going to her best friend Mavis' daughter's first birthday. But in the end she has bagged the killers and reluctantly attends this party with all those little crawlers she does not understand. But Eve starts watching them and realizing they are fascinating too, that a lot is going on in those little heads. I wonder if this is a step toward her having one of her own.

The story is typical Eve Dallas story, with great police work, lots of teamwork, crafty interviewing, tech solutions, exhaustion, scrapes and bruises on Eve, support from Roarke (keep wondering when he runs all his businesses, but he is superman). I really like that Eve is no nonsense and when Roarke wants to give her a new command central office in their home, he has to give her an extreme girly version that he knows she will hate, before giving her more mellow options from which she can really choose something. I observe that Nora Roberts gets off on describing clothing - crazy clothing from the future (this book is set in 2061). Eve dresses very simply, but you see her reacting against Peabody's colorful coats and clothes and ragging on others too. I guess it also lightens the mood between murders and the heaviness of murder investigations. I also saw a bit of a potential school shooting theme.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2015)

Translation from German 2016. I had heard of this book and it was on our popular reading shelf. The whole concept was interesting, but not interesting enough to finish the whole book, though I skimmed the rest of the chapters.

I really did not know that trees can communicate with each other, warn each other about predators, help each other by providing nutrients to the weak, and that the massive root structures are responsible for a lot of this. I know I have heard of huge fungi growing underground, and the fungi have an important role in forests, but the roots! I just feel I am constantly fighting with the roots of the many trees on my property, when I try to work on a flower bed - often a solid mass of roots. One of the biggest questions I had while reading this was - how in the world did they measure all this and get the data, as trees function much more slowly than we do - and more slowly than the Ents in Lord of the Rings. Another question I had, and which might have been answered in one of the chapters I did not read - What happens to the roots and fungi when a forest is cleared? Do they just rot away? I assume for a while they provide fertile soil for crops, but then with erosion and decay, it probably is much less so.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (2013)

Bought this on the suggestion of a friend for "light" reading as we hung out together in a bookstore. What a roller coaster ride of a thriller! Started it in print, misplaced it, listened to it, and the end couldn't wait, so finished it in print.

While I was reading this, I kept thinking that most of us have a life full of adventures and major life events, but they are not usually told all at once unless one is writing a biography, but it seems that we hear the life story of Scott Murdoch in this one book. Of course his life story is exponentially more exciting than ours. When I was done with the book, I realized the author had threaded every past experience from Scott into the solution or resolution of this story. There seemed to be no loose threads at the end. I liked that the story of how he had learned to sail from his father comes into play at the end. Maybe the art collection could have been played out more, but it did have a resolution of sorts.

The narrator is Scott or Pilgrim or one of many names he used over the years as a special secret agent of the U.S. We meet him at a crime scene in New York, where he has been asked to consult by the NYPD's Ben Bradley. This seemingly unconnected perfect crime, based on a book about crime investigation written by Scott under the name of Jude Garrett, does connect with future events. Here are some of the stories we get:

  • Perfect murder in NYC post 911
  • Scott's childhood Harvard education and recruitment, early career
  • A mole in Moscow
  • Greek drug dealing family acting as money men for Moscow
  • Child visiting an almost forgotten Nazi concentration camp and an image of a woman and her children walking to their death leaves a never to be forgotten impression
  • Words of wisdom from a monk in Thailand
  • Retiring and living in Paris to write book
  • Ben Bradley in 911
  • Ben Bradley discovering Jude Garrett's identity
  • Crazy operation in Bodrum Turkey years ago
  • Wild parties in the ruins of a city partially underwater
  • Investigating the death of a rich American in Bodrum
  • Cumali, the female cop in Bodrum and her cute son
And those are just some of the stories from our hero's life. We get as many from the "bad guy", Zakaria al-Nassouri, but called Saracen throughout the book, a name that means "Arab" and in an older form "nomad." So of course our story is about the great hatred that some Arabs have towards the West, especially the United States. The Saracen's fate is sealed by the beheading of his father in Saudi Arabia. He turns to a very conservative mosque, goes to fight in Afghanistan, changes identities and becomes a doctor and hatches a most awful weapon to destroy America. He is as intuitive and intelligent as Scott and it is fascinating to see his evolution, the factors that contribute to his hatred, the chaos of the Middle East where he can lose himself, the brilliance of his plans. I did like the fact that this book took us to many countries around the globe.

It is strange, maybe even inappropriate, to be reading this book about Middle Eastern terrorist enemies in a time when we are trying to keep calm after our administration spews such inappropriate things against immigrants and non-Americans. I know that most Muslims and Arabs just want peace in the world. But with the lack of respect shown by our leadership, I am afraid that more will become fearful and that fear can turn to hate. I do not know how to combat those groups that teach hatred towards others, other than to stand up for the rights of our immigrants (as were my parents), international students, refugees and welcome them, as they have all helped make our country a better place.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Evening Class by Maeve Binchy (1998)

I seem to like Maeve Binchy's colorful tapestries of humanity. She finds a way to bring together a group of disparate people, each dealing with their own issues, and somehow they help each other heal and live fuller lives. This one started a bit slow with Aidan Dunne, a Latin teacher, expecting to become the headmaster, but Tony O'Brien gets the job instead. Aidan just could not understand how this good looking, but not very involved teacher, should get it. Aidan wants to teach a class in Italian to the community, but that only becomes a reality when Signora shows up with her passion for Italy that she can share with others, but she has a mysterious past. The class fills up with bank clerk Bill, his fiancee Lizzie, rich woman Connie, sulky Lou, young and a bit slow Kathy. Each chapter is from the point of view of one of the characters - Aidan, Signora, Bill, Kathy, Lou, Connie, Laddy, Fiona, Viaggio. I read this months ago, so the details have been forgotten already, but I enjoy being in Binchy's Irish world.