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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (2007)

Interesting premise - if gods are immortal, that means they must still be living among us. How would they function in our world today? Well, if they continue to be as catty as they are in the Greek mythologies, then I guess Phillips' view of them could be a possibility. I just wasn't up for reading about these self-centered, lazy, perverse god characters. I gave up after one CD - not worth the effort.

Used World by Haven Kimmel (2007)

I am sorry I found this book to be tedious and I completed it only by inertia, as I just kept putting in the next CD hoping it would get better. I read one review on Amazon (where real people review books) that found the characters and descriptions so lackluster, that she didn't even finish the book. I too found the descriptions of this small Indiana town unappealing. It's not that I dislike small towns - I've lived in one and somebody like Jan Karon does them great justice. Kimmel's main three characters - women who work together in an antique store (hence the title) - and who are fighting various painful pasts - just did not inspire me. Her descriptions were so slow, that I would lose track of things - maybe it was partly because I listened instead of read it. (spoiler alert) I didn't understand till the very end that Hazel's mother had been doing illegal abortions. I caught on sooner that Claudia's problem was she was too tall, though in actually getting the book from the library I realized that was mentioned in the first sentence of the book about the mirror being too short. Beckah was the totally out of it, raised in a conservative religious cult girl, that worked hard to get out of her destructive home, but it was hard to read her story. Hazel was the crazy old hippie lady that I would usually love, but I just didn't. I didn't get where Kimmel was going with her religious passages either. Everyone's story does get tied together by the end of the book in sort of interesting ways, but the road there was not interesting enough for me to try anything else by this author.

First Test by Tamora Pierce (1999)

I picked this up at the audio book store, because the author was recommended by one of my former Latvian school students as a good young adult fantasy author. It was a nice story with a strong young female character Keladry, who struggles to prove herself in the otherwise all male knighthood training program at the castle. After all the heavy and often unappealing adult stuff I've been reading, this was great.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

This book was a Christmas present from a colleague, given to me because it is about Eastern Europe and it deals with libraries and archives. And these are the things I really loved about the book. The three generations of characters are constantly looking for clues in primary documents in libraries and archives. And the book itself, though labeled a novel, has an engagingly realistic Note to the Reader, explaining that this was all compiled by the author from letters and notes in her possession, as if she herself were a middle aged scholar, and the events described were from her youth, and that of her father and his teacher. I loved the map of Europe on the end papers of the book. Novels rarely have this touch of reality, especially when they are describing real places and buildings. Their travels through Eastern Europe were both fascinating, and at times a bit familiar - when dealing with travel restrictions in the former Soviet Union. Istanbul seemed exotic to me.

I liked the basic story too. A motherless girl lives and travels around the world with her father. Then he takes off on a trip without her, and she feels she has to follow him, as he is searching for something relating to Dracula, following old paths he trod before looking for his professor, who had disappeared mysteriously. On that long ago venture he was with Helen, the professor's daughter, who travels with him through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Anyway, there is enough suspense, romance, and all good things a novel needs.

What I did find disconcerting at times, was the juxtaposition of these academic, research focused characters in this mystical world of vampires. I didn't mind that one of the librarians turned evil, and I believe in a little bit of mysticism - the power of mind over body, of good spirits, maybe even guardian angels of sorts, and I know there is evil in the world, mostly created by us mortals, though I do not understand the depths of it at times, but vampires just don't fit into my world view.

In the middle of reading this book I couldn't resist looking up Dracula and vampires in the Wikipedia. The Dracula entry is on Bram Stoker's 1897 book, though it links to many other related articles. It is interesting where Stoker got his inspirations - a bit from folklore, a bit from Romanian history, though it is not clear that he knew much about Vlad Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler from the 15th century. But what I also found interesting, having never read the original Dracula, was that it consists of journal entries, letters and news clippings, a technique also used by Kostova. I will have to read the original to see. Another book that used this method of telling the story was Myla Goldberg's Wickett's Remedy.

Looks like many different cultures have had some type of myth about vampire-like creatures. I don't think the Latvians do. Their evil never gets that evil - it is mostly an expansion of negative human traits like laziness, dishonesty, cruelty. Even the devil is a not too bright trickster. So maybe that is why these really deep evil creatures are so repulsive to me and I do not enjoy horror movies or books, and keep wondering how I keep stumbling into books on this theme.

This time it was worth it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Everybody into the Pool by Beth Lisick (2005)

An unexpected gift from Andris in Washington with the statement that I will probably like it better than he did. Probably true. I mostly enjoyed this funny and edgy collection of true stories from a San Franciscoan. I especially appreciated the setting, since San Francisco was where I was going to go and live after college, though life landed me solidly in the Midwest. I have lost my yearning for the West Coast, though I still love to visit it. In some ways I felt some similarities with the author - we both were raised in solid families, but tended to find friends and adventures in the more edgy world - though I never got anywhere near as edgy as Lisick.

I loved some of the early stories the best, like the one where she become a prom princess, and when a cute older guy hit on her, she learned to avoid "people who were suave, classically attractive, and socially adept." And her obsession of ferreting out phonies stuck with her. The ladies tea story was funny too and I enjoyed her flirtation with bi-sexuality. I also liked the last story with her take on raising a baby. In the middle, her life in the world of drug addicts was less appealing, but still a good description of these various groups in our culture. I thought she was remembering a lot of the same things as I did from my younger days, but at some point, I realized she was talking about the 90's and must be quite a bit younger than me. I just went on an exploratory mission and found she 13 years younger. Lisick has a new book Helping Me Help Myself, as she takes a year to work on different aspects of herself each month (Is there a theme going? See Eat, Pray, Love.) I think I'm going to find this book and read it - I seem to be in a similar stage.

I brought this with me to Latvia in March as a gift for someone, but my friend Inta was desperate for something American to read, so she read most of it before I had to pass it on. She mostly liked it too, but found the prom chapter too long. I believe she just couldn't relate to the American high school scene, which I found so funny because I do remember it that way.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts (2007)

I found a new way of reading. I had been listening to this book in my car, was almost done with it, just a couple of more chapters, but I needed to go away to a conference. So in my hour and a half layover in Detroit, I found this book was one of the few books in all the newsstands. I felt uncomfortable standing at any one of the newsstands reading for too long, and since every other store in the airport is a newsstand, I had plenty of places to stop. I walked from newsstand to newsstand found the book and read a few pages until I was done.

Another interesting phenomenon at the airport newsstand was that the books were "Rent to Read." That means you can return them to a participating airport newsstand for half off your next book. Good idea!

The book itself? This is the first in Roberts' latest trilogies. Another perfect matching of three best friends with three women (this does get old), brought together by mysterious phenomenon that occur in Hastings Hallow, MD every 7 years. I don't like the premise, but the characters are OK. Cal runs the local hangout - the bowling alley - in this small town. Fox was raised by hippie parents, but turned small town lawyer. Gage had a rough childhood, now he wanders the globe playing poker. Quinn is a writer that investigates unexplained phenomenon. Layla works in a boutique, and I'm not sure what Cybil does, but she might be an interesting character.

The setting is not that important this time, as is the mystical phenomenon. And that is what I enjoy the least. Again, I'm reading an interesting combination of books - listening to this and reading Historian - a fiction book about people looking into the "true" history of Dracula and vampires. Blood Brothers has an evil being that was confined hundreds of years ago by a good guy. The three friends released this evil energy, and it is wreaking havoc in the town. I have liked Roberts putting in whiffs of magic in her stories, but this is major evil that I don't like. I know there is evil energy in the world, I just don't think it manifests in these ways, so this reduced my enjoyment of this book.