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.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah (2005)

I love coming across good reads randomly. I had to show someone how to use MeLCat, the Michigan wide interlibrary loan system and was looking for these Chinese Cinderella books, so I had to "submit" to see if the system was working properly. I decided to go ahead and read this young adult book and found I learned something new. I know nothing about the situation in China during World War II, actually I've never understood much about the Japanese - Chinese relationship. This is another good example of historical fiction, where children are the heroes during an important historic event. CC (Chinese Cinderella) is a Chinese girl in Shanghai that is thrown out of her house after a fight with her stepmother and finds shelter in a martial arts academy. Along with three boys of mixed races they participate in the rescue of American airmen, whose plane crashed after bombing Japan in 1942. I somehow had missed that the coast of China was invaded by Japan, though they mostly left the European settlements alone. I liked that the author gave a few pages of history after the story, and included a glossary of Chinese words and sayings, and an overview of the Chinese year. I also liked that she had included documents in the story - real letters written home by the soldiers that were executed by the Japanese. One more book for my ethnic - American young adult book list.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini (2006)

I didn't realize this was one of the latest in a series of books about Elm Creek quilters. Elm Creek is an old mansion in the Pennsylvania woods that has been opened up as a camp/workshop place for quilters, and it is a privilege to become one of the resident quilters. The storyline of this book is about five different people applying for the job of being one of the quilters. It is a patchwork quilt of people, giving the story of each of the applicants, how they got into quilting, and the stage they have reached in their lives, where a position at Elm Creek Quilts seems very appealing. Though I have never quilted, the details about quilting were so appealing, that I am actually tempted to try it myself. I have never been able to piece cloth together cleanly, but I see it is a skill that could be acquired. I know how soothing knitting is, maybe it could be a new meditative hobby. I am not sure I will read or listen to any more of these Elm Creek Quilt books, as I was a bit frustrated with the writing. Chiaverini sometimes wrote her characters into such a pathetic state, with only quilting saving them that it was hard to listen to. It was interesting to see a review from Publisher's Weekly on the Quilter's Legacy (2003) that said: "Chiaverini's storytelling skills have noticeably improved. She approaches but never succumbs to sentimentality... She remains a keener observer of subtleties in quilts than in people..." I'm not sure I'd call it sentimentality, but something bothers me there. On the other hand, I really liked the details about quilting history and how it has evolved.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)

An oldie, but goodie saved from the dumpster. I must have read this in high school. I forgot that Vonnegut mixed science fiction with his comments on life. This was a future, where machines have taken over almost everyone's job, only the engineers and managers remain. People are despondent with nothing to do. Paul Proteus is one of the top engineers, but he too is no longer satisfied. There are great characters, like the Shah of Bratpuhr, who is being shown around America by Dr. Ewing Halyard. The Shah sees similarities with his own country and Halyard has the hardest time explaining that the people are not slaves. My favorite detail in the book is when the machines find out that Halyard didn't complete his physical fitness requirement at Cornell, so his degree could be invalidated. I had friends who had to finish up PE requirements to get their degrees from Cornell. Since Vonnegut attended CU, I feel a connection with him and appreciate all the references to local places and things. I enjoyed the book, but not as much as when I was younger. It is still funny, but the machines have taken over our universe in a much different way than Vonnegut imagined.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh (2006)

I almost forgot to list this book, as I never finished it, and I think there is a place for books I have started and not finished. The premise was quite fascinating – the story takes place in the ninth century when people sailed from Iceland to Greenland, both very harsh lands – I even looked them up on Google Maps to see how much was actually livable and how much was snow covered. I usually like these historical fiction books, and there was an interesting thread of Christianity coming into the lives of these people and competing with the Norse gods. I listened to over half of the book, but I found I had no sympathy for any of the three main characters – Thorbjorg the seer, Katla the thrall (slave), and Katla’s daughter, the voiceless Bibrau, who becomes an apprentice to Thorbjorg. I know their lives were harsh, but they were all so negative, I didn’t much care how it would all turn out. I also could not get into the mind-space of either the worship of the Norse gods or the Christian faith as presented here. There was much bloody sacrificing and the gods talked to these women. I believe that people can be guided by some larger force or inner voice, but these made no sense to me.

I later went back to look for reviews. It turns out that Lindbergh researched this for years and it is considered a great book about those times, and about Christian ideas taking root in these cultures. I also read some reviews by regular people on Amazon, and found many who agreed with me that it was a hard read, with unsympathetic characters.

The Divide by Nicholas Evans (2005)

This book is set mostly in Wyoming, and part of it actually happens around Sheridan, where we were on vacation. Inta recommended it and I am assuming my cousin recommended it to her. The book is mostly about relationships - focused on watching one family fall apart, while some relationships blossom. I thought the inner dialogs while Sarah and Ben were drifting apart were very realistic. A large part of the book is about the country. The book starts with an exhilarating climb by a father and son into the Wyoming mountains in early spring, to ski down undisturbed snow. A Wyoming dude ranch is another important place, where the family vacations for a number of years, the kids grow up and find first loves. Abbie, the daughter, decides to go to college in Montana and becomes an environmentalist. We see some of the issues around the environmentalist movement and their protest of the WTO in Seattle. I think this is the first novel where I've seen 9-11 as an event affecting the lives of the characters. Though we are exposed to some very awful human situations, the thing that horrified me the most was the description of the land that was destroyed while drilling for coalbed methane gas. This is happening in the area right now - a new cheap way has been discovered for getting at this gas, and since most landowners don't have the mineral rights to their properties, gas companies can come in and destroy the surface while getting at what is "theirs." The rancher in the book tries to protest, but his horse ranch is overrun with equipment, the fields and streams demolished, and he ends up having a stroke. Because of this new "gold-rush" there is a lot of money in the area for some, and large houses are going up in Big Horn, but my relatives assure me after each boom, there is always a bust in Wyoming. Plus, there is a nasty haze in the valley from all this activity, at times wells will catch fire and spew smoke into the air.

Seduction in Death by J.D. Robb (2001)

I don't know why, but every once in a while I can use a dose of Lt. Eve Dallas of the New York City Police Department of the future. The cast of characters never cease to amuse - Peabody, her assistant, Roarke, her rich husband, etc. As I don't read these books in any particular order, the relationship issues go back and forth, but I don't mind. This was about the dangers of meeting someone on the Internet. The killer makes contact in some poetry discussion group and then asks the woman out on a date, drugs her, seduces her... I'm always fascinated by all the information they can access via computer, often not exactly by the most legal means - but all for a good cause. I'm surprised my privacy rights hackles don't rise higher. A good listen for those late night drives on vacation.

Dangerous by Nora Roberts

A bit of light reading on vacation, this is a compilation of three earlier mystery romances. They are all kind of formulaic, but Roberts still tells a good story, gives the place and characters some depth, the women are always strong independent types, and she just writes decently - like a description of a dog getting tangled around someone's legs made me really visualize it and smile.

Risky Business (1986)
Setting: Cozumel island in the Mexican Caribbean
Female lead: Liz - runs her own business
Profession: boat tours and diving equipment rental
Mystery: Who killed Liz's employee and why
Male lead: Jonas, brother of killed man
Romance: Liz has run away from painful experience so not interested in love. Jonas comes to find answers, but finds not only answers, but love.

Storm Warning (1989)
Setting: Pine View Inn - Blue Ridge Mountains
Female lead: Autumn, the niece of the owner of the inn
Profession: photographer - some info about shoots and darkrooms
Male lead: Lucas, rugged, arrogant writer
Mystery: Very Agatha Christie. Everyone at the Inn is shut off from the world during a storm. One of the guests gets killed and almost everyone has a motive.
Romance: Lucas dumped Autumn a few years ago, she has tried to forget him...

The Welcoming (1989)
Setting: Whale Watch Inn - Puget Sound, WA
Female lead: Charity, owner of inn
Profession: runs business - employee issues, maintenance, kitchen, cleaning, booking, accounting
Male lead: Roman, investigating scam at inn
Mystery: Who are the scammers and is Charity involved?
Romance: Charity hasn't had time for love and hasn't met anyone special, but is almost instantly drawn to Roman. Roman has had so many losses in his life he has always wandered and mistrusted love.