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, February 08, 2016

Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans (2015)

I don't think I read any Christmas books this year, so this was a quick post-Christmas read. The author sounded vaguely familiar and turns out I had read his previous book Mistletoe Promise and had made a note to try some more. Well... partially it was disappointingly full of cliche's, but part of it again treated some difficult aspect of life engagingly. Kim had a couple of failed engagements and a disastrous marriage, but she still believes in love and wants to be a romance writer. She loves her dad who is ill with cancer and works in a car dealership in Denver. She hears of a romance writer's workshop in Vermont - at the Mistletoe Inn - but it is expensive so her dad gives it to her as a pre-Christmas gift. There she meets Zeke, and after the usual ups and downs, they live happily ever after.

My first complaint was about the workshop. I've never been to a writer's workshop, but this one sounded terrible. For that kind of money, there should have been something better. I've been to enough workshops to know how useful they can be and I was hoping to learn something about the writing process. Nope.

My other beef is the story-line. I knew the big surprise the moment Zeke first appeared in the book, or close to it. I also didn't get why Kim had just written one book and nothing else. She appeared to write in a journal, as there were all these "deep" quotes about life from her supposed journal, but we don't see her writing. When I heard the premise of her book, it sounded familiar, and sure enough it is the other book I've read by Evans. Strange that the other book came out first. I was also surprised at Kim's reaction to constructive criticism. Maybe there are writers who have a piece that they themselves think is perfect, and then ask it to be judged as is, but I somehow assumed that an unpublished writer, who has written her first novel, would jump at the opportunity to discuss her work with an editor to make it better, to make it publishable. And if you come to a writer's workshop, you plan on working on your writing. I guess Kim's reaction was important to the plot, but didn't make sense to me.

What I did like, was how Kim and Zeke help each other deal with the tragedies of their past lives that kept them from moving forward. I also enjoyed Kim's fellow workshop attendee and delightful side-kick Samantha from Montana. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

2015 in Review

Not an outstanding year of book reading, but not a bad one either. Historical fiction continues to give me some of the most satisfying reads - Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See gave me a new perspective on WWII - the French resistance, and the way German boys were trained and worked. McLain's Circling the Sun was a wonderful retelling of the story of Beryl Markham's life. Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel gave me insight into the Vatican. Diamant's The Boston Girl about early 20th century Boston.

I found a wonderful new 1920's mystery series by Australian Kerry Greenwood - with the bright, energetic, liberated woman Phryne Fisher as the resourceful investigator. Rarely do I go after a whole trilogy, or in this case a five book series, but I was thrilled with the science fiction young adult version of well known fairly tales in Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, Fairest and Winter by Marissa Meyer.

From my favorite authors, I read Isabella Allende's Maya's Notebook. A couple of books by Neil Gaiman were engaging - American Gods and Trigger Warning, the latter of short stories.

The Scandinavians continue to be a draw. Steig Larsson's story continued by Lagercrantz with The Girl in the Spider's Web. A strange, but eventually touching story was A Man Call Ove, and then I discovered Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen with a new flawed detective in The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Guilty pleasures continued with a few Nora Roberts and David Baldacci's books and a new flawed character Amos Decker in Memory Man. One more Daniel Silva book.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (2015)

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances.
Short stories by Neil Gaiman. Liked most of them, but short story books are the hardest to capture, especially if you don't write them up right away. Suffice it to say I read or rather listened to this book.

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (2015)

Wonderful story of  Scotland during World War II.  Madeline Hyde is dragged from Philadelphia in the middle of the war by her high society husband, who avoided the service, only to prove that his father really did see the Loch Ness Monster.  They land in a small Scottish village, and while her husband and his friend go off chasing the monster, Maddie opens her eyes to the horrors and strains of war around her, starts helping out, befriends some of the local villagers and awakens to her own strength and possibilities beyond what she has known. If the author Sara Gruen sounded familiar, I did read her best selling Water for Elephants.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (2014)

Read this much earlier this year and I even think I wrote it up, but a quick mention will have to do. This was an interesting look into young Jewish woman's life in Boston from 1915 to the 1930's - as she tells her story to her granddaughter. I've already forgotten much of the details. I do remember being fascinated by these girl's clubs that helped bright young women to see they could be more if they get an education. Sorry to cheat, but here's the description from Google Books:

"Addie Baum was a Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant Jewish parents who lived a very modest life. But Addie's intelligence and curiosity propelled her to a more modern path. Addie wanted to finish high school and to go to college. She wanted a career, to find true love. She wanted to escape the confines of her family. And she did.
Told against the backdrop of World War I, and written with the same immense emotional impact that has made Diamant's previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman's complicated life in the early 20th Century, and a window into the lives of all women seeking to understand the world around them."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Memory Man by David Baldacci (2015)

Looks like we have a new Baldacci character - Amos Decker. This is his back story. Amos was a football player that got one play in the pro's when he was hit so hard, he died twice on that field. When he woke up he was a savant and had acquired a perfect memory - remembering every detail of what he saw and experienced, plus seeing things and numbers in colors. He met his wife while he was recuperating, and she always kept him sane. But with his wife and daughter murdered, he can't keep it together and for a while becomes homeless. He is pulled back into detective work when someone confesses to the murders months later, but he then goes on to solve a complex school shooting.

Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell (2007)

I've liked some of Mankell's other work, so when I saw this in a street-side little library by a friend's house, I borrowed it. For some reason it took a long time to get through this one. This was a differently paced mystery, where Louise Cantor, an archaeologist digging in Greece returns home to Sweden for a conference and visits her son Henrik, only to find him dead. It is ruled a suicide, but she feels it was not and is determined to find out what happened to her son. She follows his footsteps, finding an apartment of his in Spain, briefly connecting with his father in Australia, following the path to Mozambique, where there is an AIDS facility that Henrik had visited. The reference to Kennedy's brain was very oblique - stories about the brain going missing had fascinated Henrik, representing high level secrets. I think my favorite part of the book was the look into life in Africa. I actually marked the passage: "She (Louise) was travelling to a continent that was for her as blank and unexplained as it had been for the Europeans who ventured there hundreds of years previously." I feel it is so with me too.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The True Message of Jesus bu A.B. Philips (2007)

 After conversations around the Christmas table about Jesus being in the Quran, this was offered as an explanation on how he is depicted in the Bible vs. the Quran, so today I read the book. First there was a description on how each of the holy books came about. The Bible having many authors over centuries, many unknown, certain texts having been chosen over others by church leaders, and having been rewritten and translated so many times, that scholars have been working for years trying to figure out what is and is not authentic in the Bible. The Quaran was written down during the life of the prophet Mohammad, and people have been memorizing the whole thing ever since, so if anything, I have to credit Muslims for being consistent. And yes, Jesus is mentioned as an important prophet who came before Mohammad. 

I have been meaning to reread the Gospels, mostly so I can again see the differences between them, and here many of the main points were compared. The book also looked at Jesus as a person, coming to a conclusion that Jesus was not divine, but a messenger of God, and this author thinks that Christians have misinterpreted what Jesus himself said. Another chapter talks of his message, mainly to follow the laws set down by Moses. There was an interesting section that explained various Muslim religious practices - circumcision, not eating pork or meat not drained of blood properly, alcohol, prayer, veiling women, greeting with "peace be upon you," fasting, no interest on loans, and polygamy (4 wives allowed, why does it only have to go in that direction, what if 4 husbands were allowed?) After a while the book got too detailed on parsing texts. I consider both books written down by humans divinely inspired with good guidelines on how to live ethically, but written during certain historical times and cultures, so I cannot take either literally. But I believe this took me a few steps closer to understanding Islam.

Just a minor point coming from an academic environment: I was surprised how many times standard encyclopedias and popular magazines were cited. Not that this was an academic work, just that I am used to seeing more scholarly sources cited.

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood (1990)

In Phryne Fisher's second adventure,where she has already established herself as a mystery solver in the high society of 20's Australia, she is asked to prevent a hot tempered son from killing his father. The father actually does get killed, and now she tries to prove the son was innocent. Meanwhile a young girl is kidnapped, so Phryne promises to help find the child and does so in the wildest way imaginable. While doing all this sleuthing and problem solving, she shows off her skills as a pilot and dare devil, gaining her new respect, though scaring her poor assistant Dot half to death. The planes end up playing a role in her solution. In the first book we learned how she came to Australia. In this one she buys a house and gets established with Dot and Mr. & Mrs. Butler - cook and maintainer of house and garden. Her one request is that her private life remain private, as she does enjoy her men. Just love her.

These are just scrumptious little books. I hope to get through a bunch of them. Only a few are available in audio, will have to check out the public library.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

This was a graphic novel one of our students was reading for a class. This was a pretty complex story written about middle schoolers working to put on a play. The main character is their set designer and she has a best friend, a crush on a boy, a set of twins she befriends, annoying little brother. Complexities and drama, as was often the case in school, but with some important issues raised. The whole school play setting was much more than I ever realized happened. What I have seen of middle school plays in our town is more teacher and parent work, but it was quite cool to have kids responsible for costumes, lighting, set design, etc.

I know graphic novels are important, and it was a quick and satisfying read, but all those illustrations! What a lot of work. Are our middle schoolers no longer reading real books?