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.

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. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

This is a psychological murder mystery suggested by someone for me. I am not sure why this type of book doesn't appeal to me as much as it could. I almost stopped reading it, as it made me so uncomfortable, but I am glad I made it to the end, as it really was well put together.

Rachel takes the train into London every day, though she has been fired from her job for being drunk and insulting and doesn't want to tell her roommate. She looks out the window and pays special attention to her old house, where her ex-husband lives with Anna and their daughter Evie. A few doors down she see what she thinks of as the perfect couple - she gives them names, but we later find out they are Megan and Scott. We hear the story through the voices of the three women - day by day. Mostly chronological, but hear the past of one, when we need to. Megan disappears and Rachel thinks she saw something that could be useful. She keeps bothering her ex-husband Tom and his wife Anna.

I did not like being in the mind of alcoholic Rachel, especially in the beginning. I drank a lot in my youth, but it was always for fun, with people, never to get away from myself or my problems. Well, maybe we did drown our sorrows once in a while, but it didn't feel like this. So I am not sure what makes it so disconcerting. Watching a Harvard professor lose her memory in Still Alice was difficult, but did not make me feel this uncomfortable. Megan was also struggling with various mental issues, and she too made me uncomfortable, though as an undergraduate psych major I used to be interested in what made people tick. I wrote the above paragraph while I was in the beginning of the book. We do get an explanation and that circumstances and life had made Rachel and Megan that way, which somehow mitigated my discomfort by the end of the book. 

Midway I looked up The Girl on the Train online - I tend to go with Amazon for its official and unofficial reviews. When they compared it with Gone Girl, my discomfort made sense. Gone Girl is one of the few audio books I never finished, because I did not like that feeling of not knowing what is true, I never grew to care for any of the characters. But since I ran out of books to listen to, I did finish The Girl on the Train  and was glad I did. The book is well structured. I went back to the beginning and it was not that I didn't know what was true, but I did not have the complete story. Like an impressionist painting, it gives a dab of info here and there and only in the end we see the whole picture.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts (2013)

Roberts takes us back to Ireland, the one foreign country she has ties to, and gets back to full force magic. I usually like a touch of magic; not so much this intense fight against evil that was set in motion centuries ago. But after being "good" and reading some historical novels or ones that teach me something, I was ready for a ride with Roberts' formulaic improbable three couple romance with strong women. Since I was listening to this, I was distracted by the overly dramatic reading, especially in the beginning, but got used to it.

Iona gives up everything she has in America and moves to Ireland, as suggested by her grandmother. Actually, other than her grandmother, there is not much keeping her in the U.S. as she never felt she fit in. Her only real love was horses; she was good with them and successful in competitions. Luckily there are horses in Ireland.

She spends her first week in a hotel in an old castle, but then moves in with her cousins Branna and Conner O'Dweyer. Turns out the three of them are witches descending from a strong witch from the past, who divided her power among three children instead of surrendering it to the evil guy. Looks like it is time to battle again, the three descendants reunited, but Iona doesn't really know how to control of work with her poser, so Branna and Conner teach her.

I liked Iona's relationship with horses. She gets a job in the local stable where she meets Boyle - and their connection is intense - you know the routine. Finn, the owner of the stables (an a man with power in his own right) brings in a new horse - Alistair, who ends up being Iona's familiar spirit and partner in magic.

To fill out the trilogy couples, looks like Finn is connected to Branna, but they have some old wounds to heal, and Conner probably will be connecting with Maura, an amazon horsewoman. The closed world Roberts creates around this six-some seems limiting and the magic too spectacular. I think there really is something other than what we see, but it is much more subtle, as is evil. But the book was still decent entertainment for a long drive.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat (2014)

This Caldecott Medal winner has a subtitle of "The Unimaginary Friend." It is cute, colorful and full of imagination and reality. Beekle lives on an island with other imaginary creatures, waiting for a child to choose him. When no one does, he goes looking for his friend and finds a lonely little girl.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory (2013)

It has been a while since I have read one of Philippa Gregory's intricate historical novels, so I tried this. I had to pull out my most trusted reference on Britain's kings and queens - meant for children, but gives me the grounding on where this fits in their long history and gives me the simple, at times funny explanation of these royal machinations, which can get lost in the details of the story. I am just glad we live in a time with term limits and that the outgoing ruler does not need to be killed or imprisoned to change governments. I also realized that Queen Elizabeth II has been ruling (well, presiding) my whole life - and I am no spring chicken.

The main character is Anne, the kingmaker's daughter. Her father raised the royal York boys Edward, George and Richard, and when he didn't like the way Henry (the sleeping king, as Anne calls him) ruled, he placed Edward on the throne, imprisoning Henry. When he didn't like the fact that Edward's wife and her family had too much influence on him, he tried to put the second son George in his place, but lost that bid. 

Anne's sister is married to George, at 15 Anne gets married off to old King Henry's son, her father thinking he can get one of his daughters on the throne and be grandfather to a king. Then Anne's young husband and her father get killed in battle. She ends up marrying Richard, the third York son. Her nemesis - real or imagined is King Edward;s wife Elizabeth Woodville, who is not only beautiful and fertile with 10 children, but skillful in getting her family into positions of power.

Oh, the constant machinations and bids for power, trying to disprove the rights of one or the other to be king or queen, calling marriages illegal, children bastards, praying for a male child, trying to rule through children, accusing people of bewitching them. And this struggle for power, at least through Anne's eyes, doesn't mention how one or the other could be a better ruler for the country, but who can hold the most elaborate Christmas feast or wear the most elegant dresses with silks, gold, and furs.

At times this all sounded so petty, but then we have our own ways of being petty, and I don't even want to start with the power plays in American politics. Even today we follow the lives British royalty - Princess Charlotte was just born to Prince William and Kate. I'm not clear who will be king after Queen Elizabeth, I've read that she will pass the throne on to Price William or maybe her son Prince Charles this year.

I think I have had enough of a dose of British royalty for a while, but it is an interesting read, especially the details of daily life.

Monday, May 11, 2015

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

A wonderful book. I liked Gaiman's premise, that all the different immigrants to the U.S. brought their own gods to the country, but that if they are not remembered or believed in, they start losing power. Shadow is released from prison early, because his wife has died. On the way home he meets Wednesday, who convinces him to work for him, and with nothing waiting at home, he goes on this strange adventure across the country.Wednesday is actually the old god Odin and is gathering the gods for a huge fight against the new gods of the Internet and technology. The old gods live among normal folks and affect those around them - I recognized some of them, but many I had never read about. I should have written this up right after I read it, as I had numerous insights, as Gaiman has things to say about various important issues, but...

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Heartwishes by Jude Deveraux (2011)

I really like books set in an academic world, which is why the description intrigued me, but I forgot that Deveraux is basically a romance writer, and the academic part was just the setting. My favorite parts of the book were the beginning and end. We meet Gemma Ranford, a PhD student in history, who gets the amazing opportunity to go through untouched family papers going back to the 16th century, and as the owner says, she almost had an orgasm when she saw the extent of the papers. Gemma moves into the guest house on the Frazier estate in Virginia and starts work. I was a bit skeptical on how quickly she got through the first sort, and that the first piece of paper she picks up is a fragment of a letter that speaks to a family mystery, but hey, this is fiction. Her love interest is Colin Frazier, the eldest son in the family who is asked to watch over her by his mother. His dream was to become the sheriff of their small town of Edilene, which he has accomplished, but now he also falls in love. He is a very large man, but Gemma likes that, as she has been tutoring the football players and other athletes in her college. Another piece I really liked, was that she discovered that they would fall asleep during her tutoring after practice, so she practiced with them and taught while they exercised - getting her in great shape as a side benefit. The Heartwishes stone story was a bit much - a family heirloom lost over the years that granted Fraziers one heartfelt wish in their life. There's also an old girlfriend, mysterious thefts, and a cozy community. In the end, Gemma finds the hidden papers that explain the family mystery, which brought it full circle 

Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso (2010)

I just grabbed this one day as I was passing the graphic novel section in the library. Maybe the fault lay in the fact that I didn't read this straight through, or I am getting old and don't know how to follow a story in images anymore, but I felt lost in this book, had a hard time keeping track of the characters. I liked the artichoke heads, but had to look very hard to differentiate them. It has been a while since I did read this, so I don't remember any details, but there was some romance, power hungry folks, war, some industrialized, some rural parts of this imaginary world, in conflict. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Tsunami Quilt by Anthony Fredericks (2007)

Subtitle: Grandfather's Story.

I love these real life stories for kids. I fantasized about writing my father's or mother's story in a kid book form for my child. But... 

In 1946 Hawaii was hit by a tsunami, and a whole school was wiped out on a peninsula. This boy's grandfather saved himself by climbing up high early, but lost a lot of his classmates. There now is a tsunami museum in Hawaii and a quilt for all those that were lost from this one area.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Ship Who Searched by Anne McCaffrey & Mercedes Lackey (1992)

This was one of the books I found from my science fiction reading days and I

thought I would try rereading it. At some point I remembered what the final outcome was going to be, but it was still fun to get to that point. I ready quite a bit by McCaffrey and Lackey in my day, and I like these combined authorship books.

Seven-year old Tia lives with her archaeologist parents on a world that they are digging, when she feels ill with some virus that even the advanced medicine of the day cannot cure and leaves her paralyzed. She is considered too old to be transferred into a brainship to be its brain, but she is such a bright, flexible, adaptive child, that they do build her into a ship, and she becomes a brilliant, intuitive ship. She does need a human partner or brawn, and she finds a compatible partner in Alex. They supply archaeological digs and are especially adept at dealing with plague situations. A really intriguing and touching book. Remember liking it back when it came out and liked it again.