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.

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.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker (2016)

This is the first book I've read through Amazon Prime. I don't have a Kindle and have not gotten into reading online. I remember when Stephen King (not an author I would choose to read) came out with the first online only book that he was distributing chapter by chapter. I started reading that just to see what it was like, but I must have lost interest, as I only read 3 or 4 chapters. This was before Kindle and no one could decide on a platform to use. Anyway, this was just simple reading on my laptop. OK, but not great.

The story started out similar to P.S. I Love You, where a person gets letters from their loved one after they have died. At first it seemed like it was just going to help Luke get through those difficult first months, first year, raising three kids on his own. Natalie's letters kept appearing on his doorstep. He was encouraged to accept help from his neighbor, then a young girl was suggested as a babysitter, but this was a much more complex story with secrets being revealed over time. I guess it turned out to be a pretty good story in the end.

I always take a look at what other people have said about a book on Amazon or GoodReads - more down to earth than official reviews. One comment struck me that this book made her think about writing down things about her own life for her kids and grandkids - answers to questions they may not think to ask until it is too late. Good idea.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Forced Underground: Homosexuals in Soviet Latvia by Rita Raduša (2014)

I was looking to see if there is anything written about LGBT in Latvia and found this - suggested by a friend. Originally published in Latvian as Pagrīdes citādība, I was able to find the translated version through interlibrary loan. It is a series of 12 stories based on interviews by the author about the life of gays, lesbians and one transgender person in Soviet Latvia. Most of the stories had to be anonymized, and one asked that her story not be told, as there were still too many details that could identify her.

If life for LGBT folks was/is hard in the States, it was harder still in Soviet times, where there was no acknowledgement of sex, never mind homosexual sex. Most of the people in these stories grew up not being able to define how they were feeling. Many came across Jānis Zālītis' In the Name of Love, one of the few texts on sexuality, where homosexuality was at least acknowledged, but recommended curing it. And then trying to find others like you.

I will have to find a way to purchase a copy from Latvia. It would be interesting to compile a bibliography of LGBTQ writings from Latvia or about Latvians. There are only 6 institutions in the US with this book, and the copy that I got through interlibrary loan was gifted to the library by an alum from Latvia.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (2017)

Currently one of my favorite authors. He just seems to get people, especially those for whom life isn't easy. The main character in this book is Beartown - the whole town with it's love of hockey, it's hopes for a winning team, it's frustrations with loss of jobs, struggling families - even those that are well off are struggling with something. I have to admit that for a while things looked bleak, the need to win became so great, that people forgot the difference between right and wrong, but I knew Backman wouldn't leave it like that. He showed us such a wide range of characters, each with its own struggles, but in the end good won (mostly) over evil. (This right/wrong vs good/evil is Backman's concept, not mine, but I really liked it.)

When a book that begins with: "Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger." you start imagining a myriad of ills, slights, offenses that teens might encounter. Throughout the book I kept trying to figure out who was going to shoot whom.

I knew he was a Scandinavian author, just didn't realize he was Swedish until I just looked it up. His story is so universal, that it could be in the U.S. One family moved to Canada for a while, but that could have been from the U.S. There was just one mention of Swedish nationals, and the a few mentions of krona. I had to look up how much 5,000 kr. was worth ($600) to figure out the extent of that one gift/bribe. Since I listened to the book and didn't see the names in print, my ears made them sound like familiar one. Only by looking at the text I realized they were mostly unfamiliar.

-Maya lives with her parents Peter Anderson, the general manager of Beartown Ice Hockey, and Kira, a lawyer and Leo, her little brother. 
-Ana is Maya's best friend and seems to sleep at Maya's way too much.
-Amat lives with his mom Fatima, who cleans at the rink. (I like the words she wrote down for her son, a variataion from Mother Theresa: "If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway. All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway. What you create, others can destroy, Create anyway. Because in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and anyone else anyway." And he had written: "They say Im to little to play. Become good player any way!" And he practices every morning before school to become one.
-Zach is Amat's best friend
-Kevin's parent built him a rink in the back yard when they couldn't find him one winter when he was little - because he was out on the lake practicing shots. His parents are well off but too busy to watch him play, though he is the star of the junior team.
-Benji is Kevin's best friend with some older sisters, one works as a bartender. 
-Bobo is a huge player on the junior team, who helps his father in the auto shop and his mom work in the hospital.
-Sune is the long time coach of the A-Team, though board members want him out.
-David is the coach of the junior team about to play the game of the decade and expecting to take Sune's place.
-Jeanette is a teacher having to deal with the energetic hockey players in her class.
-Ramona runs the local bar and is the town's psychologist. She hasn't stepped more than a few feet outside her bar since her husband died.

Anyway, you get the point. A town, even a small town, is made up of a lot of people, each with a role, job, relationships, problems, and when a whole town's future is threatened, it is interesting who comes through and does the right thing. Just realized this book fits into the recent #MeToo conversation.

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.