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, February 27, 2010

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins (2009)

Subtitle: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. This book was the common read for our Gender and Women's Studies Department this spring.
A great, wonderful history that put the whole story together for me in a way I never could have myself. Collins is a New York Times op-ed columnist, and was able to pull up pertinent articles from the NYT for the different phases of the women's movement. She has interviewed major players and fills the book with women's stories - both famous and average - showing the variety of beliefs, approaches, life-styles in each era. It also gave me a good sense of why I think and do things the way I do. A few years make a huge difference. One woman a few years older said she had still grown up expecting to get an Mrs. degree. A lot of the battles were fought before I came of age and I took advantage of the liberties women had gained.

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)

First in a series about Percy Jackson & the Olympians. A little young, but entertaining fantasy where this kid Percy (full name Perseus) is a half-blood - half human, half god. There's a camp for these half-bloods, because those old Greek and Roman gods are still at it, creating kids with mortals. I remember loving Greek mythology back in middle school, but I have to admit I have forgotten a lot of the gods and their traits, especially the smaller gods. So this is an entertaining lesson in mythology, but with a modern day twist. Percy just has weird things happening around him, not realizing that there are gods and their minions out to get him. I love that Mt. Olympus is on the 600th floor of the Empire State building. Don't know if I'll read more of this series, but it was fun.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

South of Broad by Pat Conroy (2009)

I ended up liking this book, though the writing jarred me in the beginning. It is obviously a love letter to Charleston, South Carolina, a term I found others have used too.

To get the jarring things out of the way. Conroy made a statement at the very beginning of the book that made me think things were going to go a lot worse than they did, and I kept being surprised that many things went well: "If I knew then what I have come to learn, I would never have made a batch of cookies for the new family across the street, never uttered a single word to the orphans, and never introduced myself to the two students who were kicked out of Porter-Gaud School and quickly enrolled at my own Peninsula High for their senior year." After finishing the book, I still don't know what the narrator Leo meant by this sentence. The people he met on that one day became his best friends for life. Sure there were problems, and tragedies, but these kids bonded within months of that first day of meeting and went through thick and thin throughout their lives.

I was looking for some examples of the overly creative writing that distracted me unpleasantly from the flow of the story. In the very beginning he writes: "I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissuedmollusk. My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen." Now that I have read the book, those sentences actually make sense (e.g. Charleston is on a peninsula), but in the beginning I just thought "what the ?" Here's another sentence that just seemed too much: "She could freeze me with a gaze that made the dead of winter seem like the best time for planting."

Otherwise, it was a story of a group of kids that were misfits each in their own way, but grew to be tight friends, a friendship that has lasted for years and lets them live through some difficult times together. Leo the narrator writes for a newspaper. One is a movie star, one a musician, one becomes the first black chief of police, his wife also on the force, one a lawyer. The guys all played football together. Three were rich kids that landed in public school for indiscretions. Three sets of brother and sister. Eight of the friends intermarry and stay in Charleston, one of the brother-sister teams goes off to California, but ends up coming home, at least for a while. Bottom line - pretty good book, not one I am going to gift further.

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Night Tales by Nora Roberts (2010)

I forget that the short Silhouette books are just not as good. These two reprints are more along the lines of JD Robb, with much more murder mystery or cop thriller in them. These are also tied, about two sisters Cilla and Deb, whose parents are killed when they are young - mom a cop, dad was just there at the wrong time. They both fall in love with these macho cop type guys, who also happen to be rich.

Night Shift (1990)
One of these days I will have to make a spreadsheet of all of the professions of Nora Roberts' heroines, because she does cover quite a range, and gives some insight into the job of each. Cilla is a radio DJ in 'denver into rock and roll, also putting her little sister through college. Cilla starts getting threatening phone calls during her call-in radio hour, and is assigned Boyd, a laid-back cowboy of a cop. Cilla has a sexy voice and is better at relating to people over the airwaves that face to face. I liked that Cilla smokes and Boyd has just kicked the habit. I like that Roberts addresses the fact that some people have lousy first experiences with love making and don't know how to enjoy it until someone teaches them otherwise. All in all, this one was OK, though I wasn't quite looking for the creepy stalker piece and I don't see why Boyd had to inherit wealth from a grandmother and be from an extremely rich family.

Night Shadow (1991)
Deborah is the little sister that has gotten her law degree and is now a D.A. in Urbana, which I am assuming is the one in Illinois, though there was very little other descriptive stuff to place the town. OK, so Deb is brilliant and gorgeous, but also amazingly stupid. I understand people wanting to take walks in the night, but apparently she is taking them in unsafe neighborhoods and going after bad guys without telling anyone where she is going. I don't care how confident a woman is, this is just plain stupid. And it is not like she is a great karate expert or carrying a weapon she knows how to use. OK, so she is going after bad guys, and her witnesses get killed, and she is following leads, and when she gets in a pickle in the middle of the night she is saved by Nemesis- a masked stranger, who is the town's vigilante. She also meets rich guy Gage, who takes an interest in her. You know the story - they work together to find the bad guys and fall in love in the process with a few bumps along the way. But this story did bother me. First of all, Nemesis has a magical aspect to him - he can disappear. In this otherwise logical world, not only does his body disappear, but this power extends to the clothes he is wearing, which seems too much for me. Then this Gage guy is extremely rich again, and the explanation on his wealth doesn't sit well with me. He is orphaned, raised by aunt and uncle, he chooses to be a cop, he and his buddy go undercover, his buddy is killed and he gets seriously injured and is a coma for quite a while. When he wakes up and rehabs, he finds he can disappear (weird, but OK), and that his aunt and uncle have died and left him quite a bit of money. Then in four years he multiplies that wealth many times over, buys up half the town, lives in incredible, tastefully decorated house, learns Roarke style computer skills, and searches for the real man behind the drug deals and his partner's killer. Sorry, too much there for me. Also, when Eve Dallas and Roarke use computers to find something, there is some explanation on what they are looking for. I could not follow the logic of what Gage and Deb were searching for to solve their mystery.

Enough griping. It was a needed break between work and Latvian stuff.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)

A gift from Maria on my birthday, this brought up a very disturbing idea. What if we could "unwind" the kids that we didn't like? If they didn't behave or live up to our expectations, a family could choose to "unwind" a child before their 17th birthday. Not killing them, but using their body parts for others that were ill or had lost a limb or organ. So three kids that are ready to be unwound find themselves running away and find a place for similar youngsters. At times creepy, but some unique ideas being floated.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2009)

Great stories reflecting Bengali immigrant life in the Boston area. If you switched out the food and customs, you could almost be talking about Latvian Americans. Lahiri has a beautiful style, though all her stories end quite sadly. There is a Latvian term "saldserigs" meaning sweet and melancholy at the same time.