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, October 25, 2016

Chasing Sunsets by Karen Kingsbury (2015)

Sighhh. I cannot wrap my mind around this world view, and I know it is the world view of many of my fellow countrymen. I can more easily accept some strange world with different parameters created by a science fiction or fantasy writer, than one where everything is controlled by a specific flavor of god and angels with a mission. I should write down my own beliefs at some point, as there is a sense of a higher power, a connectedness, fate to some extent, and even guardian angels, but very different from the ones portrayed here.

I realized I had to give this book up after one CD. There is a baseball star Marcus, who is supposed to father an important future messenger, but only if Mary Catherine stays well enough (she has a genetic medical condition) to bear the child. Then there are gang members who are supposed to kill Marcus, the baseball coach and his family, and a youth center, that seemed to be created with a lot of good intentions, though the conversations at the opening did not convince me they had thought it all through. Though the story may be good, it is not for me.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Stars of Fortune by Nora Roberts (2015)

Been a while since I've read a Nora Roberts book (I have to be reading at least one a month to catch up will all she's written, but then I don't need to read them all - not something to aspire to on this author.) This is the first of the Guardians Trilogy and is high on the magic scale - magic again being the central focus that brings the three couples together. Three moon goddesses created three stars of fire, ice and water for a new queen. The evil goddess cast a spell on the stars so that they fell at some point, though well hidden. These six seekers - each most likely from a family of seekers - are to find them and restore them to the Glass Island, whatever that might be, and somehow have to stand up to the evil one. It is just the excuse to bring these six strangers together in beautiful settings doing interesting things.

Sasha starts off the story by dreaming of the other five and drawing from her dreams. She is an artist from NC and the seer that will guide them on their quest and that brings them together in Corfu, an island off Greece, for the first adventure. The rest know they are seeking the stars from family lore, but seeing themselves in Sasha's drawings convinces them all quickly that they belong to this team. Bran is a magician from Ireland and her love interest, her protector. Riley is an archaeologist who is world savvy and gets them the great villa to stay in through connections. I liked that they had to take time out of their adventures to take care of the place and figure out who cooks, who cleans, etc. Sawyer they pick up hitchhiking. He is handy with his hands and a drifter. Annika just appears on the beach one night and is not of this world, very innocent. I guessed who she was within minutes of meeting her. Doyle is another Irishman, the last to join the group and still mostly a mystery at the end of the story, but there are two more books to go. Heavy magic not my favorite in Roberts' books, but I do like this grouping of people, so want to read the rest of the trilogy sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (2016)

And we continue the WWII theme of the year. I read two of the first Masie Dobbs books and I promised myself to pick up some more, as I liked her. This is many years later, she has lived through a lot, luckily enough of her back story is told throughout the book.

It is 1938. Maisie has returned to London after helping wounded soldiers in Spain. She is staying with a long time friend, looking for a place of her own as a widow. Her old friends at secret service contact her and ask her to bring an important British businessman out of Munich, out of Dachau prison. She is to pretend she is the man's daughter. Masie reluctantly takes on the task and, of course, things don't go as planned. The Germans toy with her, asking her to return to Nazi headquarters numerous times. Then the person they bring out of Dachau is not the right one. Plus she has been given another task by a rich Englishman to bring his daughter back home. The plot is complex with Germans, Brits, Canadians and an American. All set in pre-war Germany. During the story Germany annexes Austria and Maisie keeps feeling that something is very wrong in Munich though it is in beautiful Bavaria - e.g. she sees two little girls playing in a deserted alley, so their families would not see them. They are not allowed to play together, as one of them is Jewish. This unease is well justified as we know the future events. She does face real danger, but in her usual composed way, deals with it.

I really should read some of the other Maisie Dobbs books. It was seven years ago that I read the first two -

Monday, September 19, 2016

Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

Another amazing book by Geraldine Brooks. This time she takes the old testament story of David, you know the one who killed  Goliath? and turns it into a rich book about Jewish history and those times. I don't think I ever got very far with reading the Old Testament, but I did read the Latvian translations of Stefan Andres' Bībeles stāsts (Story of the Bible, not sure of the original language.) I read it as a child, but I got through all the main stories of the Bible and I remember thinking there was an inordinate amount of bloodshed. I needed to know the stories that are so much a part of our culture, but I am sure it also turned me off to the Bible's interpretation of God and his judgements.

Anyway, this story is told by Nathan, the seer and adviser to David who is one of the few people David trusts throughout his life. Nathan is a shepherd, when David and his exiled troops come upon him. David's troops kill Nathan's father for not providing them with supplies, and Nathan goes into a trance and proclaims that David will be king and starts traveling with them - learning to fight but eventually also learning to read and write and thus becoming a wise man. I knew that King David was a major figure in the Bible, but here Geraldine Brooks created a whole novel around what may have been - all the family intrigues, all the wives, the fighting and bloodshed, betrayals, God's (always referred to as the Name in the book). From what I gather in the Wikipedia, she has taken all the people in the story from the Bible and just extrapolated. Some have suggested that David's relationship with Jonathan was more than platonic love, so Brooks makes it an intense physical attraction. All the wives are in the book, but of course the one that I knew about was Bathsheba, though I did not remember that wise Soloman was her son. So David sleeps with her and then has her husband killed, so she doesn't have to be stoned for adultery. Here Nathan prophesies, that David will have to pay fourfold for this sin - he loses the first son with Bathsheba, his daughter Tamar is raped by her half brother and his two oldest sons are eventually killed. David has indulged his older sons, but Soloman is taken under the wing of Nathan who teaches him wisely. At one point David is looking for a new place to be the center of his kingdom, and finds a well defendable town that becomes Jerusalem. Besides being a great warrior, strategist and fair king, he is also a great musician and composes many songs in his life. Yes, songs of David ring a bell - aha - many of the psalms. So this is just the story one can already find in the Bible (though historians are doubting the validity of the whole story) and Brooks makes us feel the times with a rich description of the climate, sounds, sights and smells, as well as an insight into many of the characters. Just wow!

I like Geraldine Brooks enough that I actually bought the book, but never seemed to pick it up to read, so I actually listened to it in audio. She chose different spellings and pronunciations of the names, but since I have misplaced the book, I used the common names and spellings. If I find my print copy, I will edit this.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It Was a Dark and Silly Night... (2003)

Comics by Lemony Snicket, William Joyce, Neil Gaiman, and more! Ed. by Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly.

We were looking at comics and graphic novels for a display at the library and I picked this up randomly. What a delight! 14 authors/illustrators were asked to create something on the topic "It was a dark and silly night..." and the results were entertaining. The authors I was familiar with seemed familiar in their approach, e.g. Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman. Some told a story, some made a game out of it - order the panels in the right order, find the differences, fill in the story with your own random nouns, verbs, etc. or even finding items by Where's Waldo author.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy (2014)

I hope I find where I started to review this feel good book about various people that live on Chestnut Street. But since I haven't so far, I will just say that Maeve Binchy just makes me feel good. She looks at young and old, people with secrets, problems, and just normal folks and intertwines them in a wonderful way. The one that I remember even months later was a taxi driver. He picks up a happy couple one night, but then some time later takes the guy to meet another woman and sees the first woman become lonely and sad over time. No one really paid attention to him as the driver, but he sees other people's lives, as his routes go through this neighborhood quite often.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah (2014)

I should have stopped when I realized this book was compared to Gone Girl, which I stopped reading, and The Girl on the Train, which I finished, but felt very disconcerted being in this woman's mind. Once again, I did not want to be in Nicki Clements' mind, who had a hard childhood and became a constant liar. She gets pulled in as a suspect the murder of vicious columnist Damon Blundy because she avoids the road check by his house after the murder, though she has never met the man. She has her secrets - online affairs and more - but loves her family - husband and two kids. Very disconcerting to be in her mind. But much of the book is about the other characters surrounding the Blundy murder, so I did want to find out who finally killed him in that bizarre manner. I found myself agreeing with one colorful character's eccentric explanation of relationships. I liked the Detective Simon Waterhouse and his wife Officer Charlie Zeiler, so I may try something else in their series, but not for a while. 

In the olden days - 15-20 years ago or so - communication between people would have been depicted with letters and phone calls. In today's world, it is emails and Twitter comments. What didn't work in the audio book was hearing all the headers to these. If I was reading, I would jump over those, maybe note the date and time, and get to the message. In audio, they read it all and it was hard to focus on the conversation.

(The US version of this book came out in 2015). 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood (1994)

No. 6 in the delightful Phryne Fisher series. It starts with the murder of a circus performer - a hermaphrodite Mr. Christopher - Chris/Cross or Christine. (Christine Christopher? Really?). Phryne gets involved as her half gypsy friend Alan Ray and his carny friends come to her to figure out why Farrell's Circus is having a long spate of bad luck. To figure this out, she has to become part of the circus. Phryne challenges her self (as does the author of her character we find out in the post-book interview) to do without her elegant surroundings, servants, money and status. She is bored, so enjoys the excitement of learning a new skill - standing up on a moving horse, being kept up by the centrifugal force at a certain speed around the circus ring. Greenwood herself has learned this skill and used it deftly in her narrative.

It was fun learning about the circus - the hierarchies, the friendships, how this motley crew manage to live together for extended periods of time. A reminder that dwarfs and other "freaks" had few career alternatives. This book seemed relevant in the current transgender conversation. One of the policemen keeps saying that is was good that "it" was killed, and his boss keeps correcting him.

The plot is complex as usual, but brings together all the disparate pieces in the end. There are a couple of gangs in Melbourne, that the police hope won't get as bad as in Chicago. (Sometimes when I finish listening to a book and don't feel like going on to another immediately, I will start re-listening to the book from the beginning, picking up on clues that were there. On the second listen I realized the gang piece was much more important to the plot than I originally realized.) There's Lizard Elsie who curses up a storm, but takes care of constable Tommy Harris. Harris is fairly new to the fore, his boss is a good cop, but a bit rough around the edges, Jack Robinson continues to be an excellent detective inspector, not jumping to conclusions and accepting Phryne's help.

The circus has it's problems. Half of it as been bought out by this nasty guy Jones and it is struggling for survival. The clowns are a sad pair of brothers, one with a serious depression problem. Molly the horse trainer is in despair at the loss of her love - Mr. Christopher, the carnies or carnival folks have their own issues. They are considered below the circus folks and set up their own camp, but they need each other. The carnival provides entertainment for the circus audience after the main show, and the circus provides the audience for the carnival.

Phryne has to act submissive and even tolerate the groping of Mr. Jones, though she does manage to "accidentally" kick him in the shins. She strains her fit body to learn these new tricks on the back of a horse, wears garish second hand clothes, but finds herself lonely and missing the status and recognition she usually gets. She can't go to her carny friend Alan. The only ones friendly to her are Dulcie, a juggler and Bruno the bear. One of the clowns seems interested and she finds her way to him. In the end she solves the mystery, but lands in the hands of Jones, where things get very dicey, but of course her friends in the police and carnival come to her rescue.

(Longer review that this book would warrant, but I was on vacation and had time to jot things down. No guarantees on spellings of character names, but don't have time to hunt down a physical copy of the book. Just saw this on Facebook's Best Book Quotes: "Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading." I'm the opposite in this case, don't know how it is spelled, just writing what I heard.)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)

I was not really ready to read another World War II book so soon after Follett's Winter of the World, but that is what came to me from Iskape Audio Books, so I went with it and was glad, as it just filled in more of my understanding of the war, this time set in France, which Follett did not touch.

I never thought about the fact that France was invaded by Germany at the very beginning, so when things get bad for the French people, I kept thinking - Oh no, there are years to go in this war, it will only get worse. I do not understand the mentality of invaders, especially in what I would call the modern age. How can you take food and supplies from the locals to the point of starving them - who supposedly will be your subjects eventually - don't you want them to be productive citizens of your empire? And the killing and imprisoning - beyond my comprehension.

The story focuses on two sisters - Isabelle and Vianne. Their father returns from WWI very changed, and when their mother dies, he sends them off to live with strangers. Vianne falls in love, marries Antoine, and lives in the family home out in the countryside. Isabelle is rebellious and ends up thrown out of various boarding schools. She is in Paris with her father when the Germans invade in 1940, but he sends her to stay with Vianne. She can't abide doing nothing, especially when a German officer moves in with them, so she starts working with the resistance and ends up helping British and American pilots to escape France over the Pyrenees into Spain. Follett mentions this too, one of his main characters gets saved this way. Thus Isabelle is known as the Nightingale.

We see a lot of characters around each of the women and how each of them copes with the war, including the concept that not all the Germans were all bad. Some did try to help the locals. Another term - French resistance - became clearer, and I can put it together with the resistance I read about in All the Light We Cannot See. It was a lot of people doing little things to resist the Germans. I am glad of this affirmation of spirit.

Hannah does not pull her punches in her books about the realities of war and other difficult situations. She really shows the deprivations felt by the French, the food rationing, the arrests, the demonization of Jews and their destruction. The scenes at the concentration camp were the hardest to get through, but I know that is the way things were. We just have to remember that the Russians were just as bad, both killing millions, and destroying the health and lives of many, many more. 

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2006)

The second in the Three Pines mysteries with Inspector Armand Gamache was as good as the first. I love this small town with caring, loving people, but they each have their secrets too. This time it is CC de Poitiers who dies, electrocuted at the  town curling match on the lake. She had recently purchased the Hadley place, full of negative energy from the first mystery solved by Gamache. She is the author of a mixed spirituality book, appears well off, has a colorless husband Richard and an overweight daughter. We meet many of the people from the first book - Clara and Peter, a couple of artists, the gay couple that owns the bistro and rooming house, three elderly women who are good friends, and Ruth, the grumpy old lady, who writes amazing poetry about life and death. Plus there is the death of a seemingly unconnected homeless woman in Montreal.

Gamache is a caring inspector with an understanding of people, that helps him solve cases. His side-kick is less understanding, but is learning. There is a local detective that seems to be doing a good job, but the unsympathetic detective Nicole from the last book reappears, assigned by Gamache's superiors. She claims to have changed, but is somehow connected with the Arno case, for which some would like to see Gamache pay. We get a bit more insight into her life, but this storyline is to be continued.

Another interesting factor in this book is the deep winter cold and snow in this small Canadian town, someplace south of Montreal. I was trying to remember the coldest I have been - the cross-country ski/meditation retreat in Vermont one winter, where it got to be -20, and one winter down in Logan, Ohio, where I was out cutting down my Christmas tree in way below 0 temperatures. These people seemed well prepared for the deep winter.