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 01, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz (2015)

I know I wasn't the only one that was disappointed that we were not going to see anymore Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist books, as author Stieg Larsson had died. So I was thrilled when another Swedish author had gotten the rights to continue their adventures in this book and that the new author is also a journalist, a crime reporter, so he could continue making the fictional journalist realistic. I rarely pick up a new book in hardcover, but I did this one, and read it in a weekend. The story is complex, with many characters and locations around the globe. I appreciated the author giving the main characters from the previous books, just as a reminder, as they play roles in this story or at least get mentioned.

Blomkvist's magazine Millenium is in danger, as I can imagine many a magazine is struggling in these days of everything being on the Web. So how does journalism keep surviving, who can pay investigative journalists? But that has little to do with this book, just came up as a question. Blomkvist is restless, some are calling him washed up. He gets a call from Frans Balder in the middle of the night, and goes to see what he wants, and from then it is non stop.

Frans Balder is a genius mathematician, with autistic son August, fading actress ex-wife Hanna, her no good current live-in Lasse Westman. He has done some amazing work with AI that others want. He has returned to Sweden to take his son under his own wing and realized the kid is also brilliant with numbers and can draw amazingly - a savant. The kid becomes a key figure in this thriller.

Lisbeth Salander is working on finding the remnants of her late father's band of evil-doers, which have been called Spiders. I liked the way the comic characters were brought into the story. Brilliant techies, but social misfits often turn to comic books (as in Big Bang Theory) - and understanding these was a clue to those thrying to figure things out. Salander does stir up a wasp's (not hornet's) nest in America, so we have a complex story that includes Swedish police, Swedish Security Police, American National Security Agency, an investigative magazine, bad guys, some with a bit of a conscience, and more.

And now I know there can be more Blomkvist Salander books. Yeah!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forgotten by David Baldacci (2012)

One more exciting, escapist Baldacci story, the second I've read with John Puller as the lead character. He goes down to Paradise, Florida, because his father received a cryptic note from his sister, Puller's aunt. Of course when he gets down there, she is dead, seemingly drowned in a shallow pool in her back yard. All of Paradise doesn't quite seem to live up to it's name, as he runs into the shadier side near the hotel he can afford. He keeps running into the local police, though hits it off with a competent police woman. At one point he asks his boss and friend, General Julie Carlson, to join him and back him up. She has a desk job and enjoys spending her vacation being shot at - in Puller's company. To each his own.

Then we have Mecho, who is even larger and more lethal than Puller with his own agenda. He gets taken by slave traders in Mexico, who use abandoned oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico as stations, but escapes them and also lands in Paradise, gets a job with a landscape company, and works on a rich guy's property that requires tending every day. Here he is approached by a gorgeous woman who has also been having sex with the rich guy.

Of course they all come together in a series of action packed adventures to stop the slave traders. It is scary to think that the slave trade is alive and well in the U.S. I am sure the novel reflected realities, like the different categories of slaves - sex slaves, mules, and basic laborers. There was also a category I hadn't thought of - children used to create "families", so the adults will not be scrutinized in airports and elsewhere. And they are all kept in place with the threat that their families will be killed if they don't comply. Horrible. I wish our governmental institutions would spend less energy harassing immigrants and on the war on drugs and concentrate on preventing the slave trade.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Villa by Nora Roberts (2001)

As a child I had a subscription to Reader's Digest condensed books and I read at least a couple from each edition, getting a nice eclectic reading background, including some things that I could refer to later in life, like The Scarlet Pimpernel. I usually don't like condensed books anymore, but for some authors, it doesn't matter. I felt like a quick read, and picked this up at a rummage sale. It felt like one of those I had read before, but it had to be before 2005, when I started recording what I read.

Villa is set in California wine country with a few connections to the vineyards in Italy. Two families have neighboring vineyards and the patriarch and matriarch of the two have lost their spouses, have married and are bringing the companies together into one. We actually get two romantic couples in this one - Sophia, the granddaughter of Giambelli's is the marketing specialist, Tyler MacMillan is the wine specialist - pruning vines, making the wine. They are forced to work together and learn each other's jobs - and of course they end up falling in love. Sophia's mom Pilar has not been lucky in love with meandering Tony, but she finds her match in David Cutter, who has been hired as chief operations officer. There are a few deaths, dramas, etc. - the usual excitement generated by Roberts. I like the details of wine making, and I have spent one February in my life pruning grape vines, so could appreciate that part.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015)

I picked this up on our popular reading shelf, but it moved too slowly, so I got it in audio, as it still seemed worth reading. This was a family story - four generations of Whitshanks - as the first couple arrives in Baltimore in the 1920's from a small town in the mountains. He starts a building business, builds his ideal home for a rich couple, and ends up buying it from them. They have a son Red, who inherits the business and home. Red and Abby raise four kids - each with his own travails, and then some of them have kids. We get most of the story from Red and Abby's family in the last few years with a few flashbacks here and there. Then towards the end of Abby's life, we finally get her story on how she fell in love with Red and a glimpse into grandma. Then it end's with grandpa's story - with an interesting male viewpoint - that he never was really interested in grandma (I don't have the book, read it a while ago and have already forgotten names), except originally for the obvious - and how wily she was to get him to marry her, though I am not sure they ever actually got married, just said they were. Makes me think that women over the ages must have done a lot of this to get those independent, gruff men to settle down. I know this is a very minor part of what was a well and kindly written book about a quirky, but average family. I haven't read anything by Tyler, at least not in the last 10 years, but I get a sense this is her style, and when I want something laid back, I may try something else by her.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2015)

Original in Swedish came out in 2012. A Man Called Ove was heartwarming - took a while to warm to the curmudgeon, but ended really caring for him, even if I wouldn't want to live on his street. Not quite as funny and great as the 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window, but some similar Scandinavian humor. 

Ove is a grumpy old man who lives by himself in a neighborhood that he patrols daily and expects things to be just so. Then a lively family moves in next door and starts by knocking over his mailbox. I won't say more - and let others have the book unfold as they read it. But it really made me think - when someone is grumpy and bitter, do I remember to ask why? There may well be a very good reason.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox (1985)

I remember Mem Fox being one of the authors we looked at in my children's lit class at KVCC many moons ago. Maybe even this one. I picked it up, because it caught my eye, as I was just looking for a kids book to balance my day.

Wilfrid is a kid that lives next door to an old folk's home and he spends time with these old folks and likes them. One of them is losing her memory, so he asks all the others what a memory is like. He gathers items based on what he is told, brings them to Miss Nancy and she remembers all sorts of things about her past. 

I loved the story, the illustrations, and on top of that, I had just finished Still Alice, which is about losing one's memory, so this just felt so apropos.

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell (2015)

An interesting book written by a history major, who took 10 years to write it. One of the first things I found fascinating was that this took place in the state of Vatican. Never thought about it as a country that needs workers to keep it running, and that there would be families living there, raising kids, that run around and explore these ancient buildings and sites. One of my favorite stories was that as teens they snuck into the papal garage and drove the Popemobile.

I never thought much about the schism between the Catholics and Orthodox. Still not quite sure how that came about, but then I found out that there is another sect - Eastern or Greek Catholics, that in many ways appear more like the Orthodox, but still follow the Pope. They are allowed to marry before they take their vows, so our main character Father Alex Andreou has a five-year-old son though his wife disappeared when Peter was very young. Father Alex is so human and wonderful around his son, that this alone makes the book compelling.

The curator of an exhibit on the Shroud of Turin is murdered right before the exhibit opens, and since Father Alex and his brother both helped the murdered man, he is drawn into the investigation, but becomes a target himself. Complex, full of history, well told story.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

Another amazing historical novel about World War II, from the viewpoint of a couple of fascinating young people, but touching on a few important aspects of how people were affected by the war. I have my parents' story, but here are the stories of some of the French and Germans.

Marie-Laure grows up in Paris, blind, but with a devoted father who works in the natural history museum, who teaches her the world through her fingers. He builds her an accurate model of their neighborhood, so she can get around on her own.When the war forces them to flee to Saint-Malo on the coast of France, in Brittany, he again builds her a model of that town. She is a curious and brave soul who manages quite well by using her other senses, so we get her story full of sounds and smells and tactile experiences.

Werner grows up in a German mining town, in an orphanage with his sister. As he scrounges around for food, he finds a broken radio, is fascinated by it, fixes it, and listens to broadcasts - including one from France that is about science for children. He knows French from the French born caretaker of the orphanage. His skills are noted and he is pulled out and trained in a special camp to be an exemplary soldier for the German army.

Don't have time to finish this review, but Marie-Laure and Werner show us the war from their point of view and meet at the end. We see the resistance regular people put up, and we see the difficult jobs the regular German soldiers had to do, the brainwashing they were subjected to.

No wonder this book got the Pulitzer Prize.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva (2010)

Another wonderful book by Silva with the great character Gabriel Allon, who is an Israeli spy and assassin, but also a highly skilled art restorer. We always get a piece of Jewish history and world politics in these books, and this time, the (fictious) Rembrandt portrait of his mistress takes us through the way the wealthy Jews were robbed of their belongings by Nazi Germany and of their fates through this well told story. We also get a glimpse into the economics of art sales and thieves.

Another art restorer is found dead and Gabriel is pulled out of a well earned retirement to look into this. Turns out the painting that was being restored was a lost Rembrandt, which was owned by a Jewish family before WWII. It was taken from the family, but the bill of sale was kept by a girl that survived the Holocaust. Allon follows leads around the world including South America, where the son of one of the Nazi officials contributes information.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Breaking Vegas by Ben Mezrich (2006)

I chose this book, since I had been to Vegas and was mildly intrigued by having MIT brains crack the system and win at Black Jack. I didn't mind seeing a group of students get the best of Vegas, a place with no attraction to me. But I could not understand the stupidity of betting outrageously high on just the sure hands, being so noticeable, so that they fairly quickly got blacklisted around the globe. Instead of using the technique subtly a bit at a time, which could provide a long term income, just going wild for a short time period didn't make sense.