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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Mating Season by P.D. Wodehouse (1949)

I chose this because it was described as a Jeeves novel, and I never did understand where the Ask Jeeves of early internet days came from. The reading of the book was very rapid and it took me a while to get into the style and language and it was difficult to keep track of all the characters in the beginning. Looks like this book is one of many Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves stories. Bertie narrates this story of mistaken identities and star-crossed lovers, a theme much used in literature, and at time reminding me of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Esmund loves actress Corky, but pretends to like Gertrude, while it seems Corky is falling for Gussie. Gussie loves Madeline but sends Bertie to replace him at a visit to a country home. Catsmeat who actually loves Gertrude comes as Bertie's supposed assistant. And Constable Cobbs loves the butler's daughter Queenie, who for a while seems to be engaged to Catsmeat.

Though Jeeves is asked to solve many a trivial problem, and his richness of knowledge seems to be more at a gossip level, I assume that over all the books he has shown the intelligence that led to attach his name to the Ask Jeeves website.

Though I can't say I am fond of this upper-class life-style, I did find the language of Wodehouse fascinating. Since I listened to the book, I didn't get a chance to jot anything down and we don't own this particular book in our library, but I remember getting a kick out of all the words Wodehouse transformed into verbs, e.g. "center aisleing" was his way of saying "getting married."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Old Age: A Beginner's Guide by Michael Kinsley (2016)

This small book grabbed my eye in our Popular Reading section and since I have been feeling old recently, thought it help, and it did. Kinsley is a columnist and editor in publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Economist and founded Slate and has been dealing with Parkinson's disease for 20 years, though he is only a bit older than me. He addresses us baby boomers as we are all aging. He has a lot of valuable observations, especially having lived with with some aging characteristics decades before the rest of us have to face them. "We are born thinking that we'll live forever. Then death becomes an intermittent reality, as grandparents and parents die, and tragedy of some kind removes one or two from our own age cohort. And then, at some point, death becomes a normal part of life - a faint dirge in the background that gradually gets louder." The main thought I came away with was that it is not that we want to live as long as possible, but to live as long as possible with all of our marbles. 

In his last chapter he looks at us baby boomers and compares us to the Greatest Generation. He refutes some of the common assumptions about both. I realize that my generation has done a lot of good, but has negative sides, like sowing mistrust of authority and government, often rightfully so, but it has gotten extreme on both sides of the political fence. Kinsley suggests that my generation leave some sort of positive legacy, large gesture, like helping America get out of debt, possibly by reinstating estate taxes. 

The whole book reads easily and actually had me laughing at times - a good approach to aging. All in all, might we worth buying this book to have on hand.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Hard Day's Knight by Katie MacCallister (2004)

It was fun to spend some time in the world of a Renaissance Fair and jousters in particular. I did learn something about the sport of jousting and their competitions. I think it is very brave of anyone to get up on a horse knowing that you will most likely get thrown off and in the beginning knowing positively that you would get thrown off. I hurt just thinking about it. I remember the jousts at our local Ren Fairs. There was a lot of fanfare around them, whipping up the audience, and these were just for show, though one year there was a higher caliber of jousters. Will have to see if I can find a Ren Fair nearby to see another joust again.

I have some colleagues and a friend that have devoted time to this, but I have never had the time to get involved in the Society of Creative Anachronism or similar medieval alternate worlds, but always enjoyed everybody getting dressed up, playing roles and speaking old English. I did buy a couple of simple clothing pieces once as Ren Fair garb. I would love to spend a week in this atmosphere, but don't think it is happening in this lifetime - or maybe when I retire, but is that too late? Well, at least I got to live in this world for a while through author MacAlister.

Now to the story. Pepper Marsh comes to not just a Ren Fair, but a world jousting championship in Canada with her cousin CJ, who is in love with a jouster from England. Pepper has never been to a Ren Fair plus she has an obnoxious cat Moth (short for Behemoth) who keeps getting her into trouble - but then again, it seems to be a great judge of character. Within minutes of being on her own, she almost gets killed by a galloping horse and gets saved by a knight in shining armor - Walker. He has a velvety low voice, when he is not yelling, and bright silver eyes, but why is he no longer jousting? And what is with Pepper herself? She started out in vet school, but gave up and is now an unemployed computer geek and seems to get annoyed by animals. Well, of course they get together, she learns to joust during the fair, lots of stuff happens including someone sabotaging Walker's team, another knight vying for Pepper's attentions, and there is some nice hot intimacy. I do have to say Pepper's inner and sometimes outer monologue grated on my nerves at times, but I realize that with all that I enjoyed this humorous book and may try some others by MacCallister.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Last Honest Woman by Nora Roberts (1988)

This is the first of the O'Hurley series, as it starts with the birth of the triplets - Abby, Maddy and Chantel, and the last two are still single. This is Abby's story, who is a young widow of a race car driver who has left her with a couple of small boys to raise on her own. She has decided to finally authorize a biography of her dead husband and hard core journalist Dylan Crosby comes to live with her family for a few weeks to interview her. (Do journalists really do that?) He has a lot of misconceptions about her, she has a lot of mistrust of him and does not plan to share the more unpleasant parts of her past with her husband. Of course in the time together he falls for her and her rambunctious and sweet boys, and she grows to trust him. She raises horses and cleans houses to make ends meet. He ends up helping with the horses, which remind him of his childhood. The whole O'Hurley family shows up for a visit - the famous sisters and performing parents. I liked the sensitivity with the older boy, who was most affected by his not too present father. Not quite sure about the title, but otherwise vintage Nora Roberts, and I haven't indulged recently.

The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood (1992)

These Phryne Fisher mysteries continue to delight me and I always learn something new about the 1920's and Australia. In this book I learned about Australian Alps (had to look them up on a map - really the most substantial mountains on the continent just east of Melbourne), something about jazz history, marathon dances, gays in Australia in the 1920's, wombats, WWI horrors at Gallipoli (rang a bell with a book on Churchill I read), and more.

This murder happens in the first sentence of the book - a marathon dancer falls at Phryne Fisher's feet. Phyrne's dance partner Charles seems to get ill, but then disappears. So as usual, there are a bunch of intertwined stories besides the murder. Charles' mother asks Phryne to find Charles, and if possible, also her son Victor, who came back from the war shell shocked and moved away to the mountains, but hasn't been heard from in years. The winning couple of the dance marathon wants to win the car to fulfill their own drams and Phryne helps them achieve those. The jazz band is comprised of interesting characters and one, of course, catches Phryne's eye. There are various gay couples keeping under the radar, and then Phryne's interesting flight out into the bush and the mountains. I like that she is real enough to be able to fit in with all classes, find respect even among bush folks and can seduce a hermit.

When books are written as a series, I often like to space out reading them, but these I want to keep reading quickly, so I don't forget the various characters, as the books subtly build on each other. I can't say that all the previous books are referred to here, but she gets letters from two or three former lovers, the girls she has adopted and who are away at boarding school are mentioned, she gets to fly her plane that she learned to do in another book, and her maid/assistant Dot is progressing in her romance with policeman Hugh.

Lots packed into a fairly short book. I like the writing - interesting metaphors and phrases I keep meaning to write down, but don't with the audio format. This audio book also had a short interview about the real historic and geographic aspects reflected in the book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar (2016)

Unnecessary subtitle: and Some Other Things I Haven't Told You.

I think this would be a great book to have people at the university read to help understand international students. Or at least a chapter or two. Yes it is the real story of an Indian student, but I think many aspects apply to most international students. Plus I think there would be a great appeal that this is told by Raj from the Big Bang Theory.

I am a fan of Big Bang Theory, and though I do not keep up with the recent season, I have watched many episodes. I like the whole ensemble and Raj is an important part of it. I am glad to hear that Kunal was able to bring his heritage into the TV show, as they had originally created the character without a specific ethnicity.

This book is a series of short essays, mostly about the author's life, but interspersed with mini-chapters on Indian holidays. He never had any ambitions to be an actor, but auditioned for a play his freshman year, just to be around some pretty girls. He started as a business major, and though he finished that degree too, he also took theatre classes and went on to get a masters in theatre. He is a comedian, so his life stories from badminton championships through relationships with roommates and women to finding love and getting married are humorously told. But he has insight too, and shares wisdom with the humor. I was deeply touched when he read from Gibran's The Prophet - "On Children." I read this years ago, and maybe it influenced how I raised my son. I will have to send it to him. Kunal's father gives him the book as he boards the plane to leave for America, and has him read this poem.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (2016)

Another excellent book by Chevalier. Obviously she has moved away from her art history novels, and I was just recently reminded of her Lady and the Unicorn about tapestry making. I was recently at the Getty, where they had a special Louis XIV exhibit of tapestries where I watched some videos on how tapestries are made. All I learned from Chevalier was now supplemented by new and visual information.

Back to At the Edge of the Orchard. This is American history from pioneer days in Ohio - the Goodenough family landed in some swampy land east of Cleveland from what I could tell. Land could be claimed if one got 50 fruit trees growing and bearing fruit. The father James loved his apple trees almost over all else. His wife Sadie could not stand this life and drank heavily. John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed is part of the story, bringing the Goodenoughs apple seedlings and saplings. Though Sadie bore 10 children, at the start of the story only five have survived, Robert being the youngest, who learns to care for the trees from his father.

We later see Robert making his way across the country, participating in the gold rush fever, but then finding a man collecting seeds and saplings in California for the rich in England. This ties in with a couple of other books I have read - Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, where a son of a garner in England is sent all around the world to gather specimens for English gardens. Gregory's Earthly Joys, which was about one of these English gardens.

Robert was an interesting character and I am glad energetic Molly comes into his life at the end. I still have a hard time visualizing the beginnings of San Francisco, but this gave me more colorful threads to fill in my tapestry of understanding about the westward bound history of the U.S. in the mid 19th century.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Target by David Baldacci (2014)

Another Will Robie and Jessica Reel thriller. This one has quite a few story lines going. We have an imprisoned evil murderer plotting one last revenge on his deathbed. There are still negative repercussions from the last adventure, where Reel ended up killing some traitorous agents, and though she and Robie got medals, they aren't trusted by all, and are sent for "evaluation" at a strenuous training facility. Reel is forced to face her past and ends up in the hands of Neo-Nazis. In between these stories we get an uncomfortable glimpse into the concentration camps run by North Koreans and an amazing assassin on their side that ends up targeting - someone. Plus there is the evolving friendship between Robie and Reel - will it be more? And their growing relationship with 15 year old Julie, that was rescued on a previous mission and lives with a guardian. So no lack of hair raising adventures, or in my case, keeping me awake on a long night drive.

I do like that we get some background on why Reel is the way she is, and the whole story line in North Korea was fascinating. We don't have meany deadly enemies right now, but the North Koreans are up there, so they provided one set of villains for the story. I liked the fact that Yi played and incredible chess game - thinking many steps ahead - and was able to accomplish something quite amazing with young Min.

It is unfortunate that we still have Neo-Nazi's around and since I am also staring to listen to Ken Follet's Winter of the World - about WWII and Hitler's rise to power (scary when I start seeing parallels to our politics today), these books complement each other.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (2013)

I like Sophie Kinsella's sense of humor, though I usually have a hard time in the beginning, as the inner conversation by the women drives me crazy, though I know it is the way many of us think, but this was often too much overthinking and misunderstanding.

Lottie is convinced her boyfriend Richard is going to propose to her when he hints at having a big question to ask her at a fancy restaurant. When he doesn't, she goes into a tailspin, and when Ben, a boyfriend from her youth shows up, they decide to get married. Lottie's sister Fliss feels this will be a big mistake and tries to stop the wedding, but they get married at the courthouse and take off for Greece, to go back to a place they spent a wonderful summer together. Fliss then tries her best to prevent them from consummating the marriage by connections with the hotel manager (she runs a magazine that reviews hotels) and other antics, so the marriage could be annuled. Fliss is also dealing with a divorce from her husband, and tries to coordinate her efforts with Ben's manager, who needs Ben to focus on the business.

One pearl of wisdom I got out of this, when the old resort owner laments about people coming back to a place where they had a good time as youth. He thinks people should not go back, leave it as a wonderful memory, as it is bound to disappoint. I think he is right in many instances, though I go back to favorite place and make new memories.

(I think I have this written up somewhere right after I read it, so I will leave it short.)

Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart Book by Lisa Rogak (2014)

As a big fan of Jon Stewart, I thought I'd read a bit about him. We do have the New Jersey background in common. It was interesting to see what made him who he was. He was very athletic, but short, so keeping people laughing was a survival skill. I also learned a bit about how much work went into the production of one of those half hour shows I enjoyed so much. No wonder he stepped back from it. I actually didn't finish the book, as it started to get into the negative characteristics of Stewart, and though I am sure they are there, I do not care to learn about them.