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, November 27, 2010

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (1992, translation 2001)

This was a good book to read on the plane, and somewhat appropriate for a trip to Europe. Mankell is the Swedish mystery writer with his trusted cop character Kurt Wallender. The interesting part of this book is that it happens in Latvia in early 1991, when the fate of Latvia was unclear and when Riga was still a dark and bleak city. Mankell does a great job of describing that. I remember how weird it was for me to pull into Riga on the eve of December 23, 1987 and find just three pathetic blue stars hanging above the main boulevard - the only Christmas decorations or lights of any kind besides wan street lights.

The story? A life raft with two well dressed dead guys comes ashore in Sweden and Wallender is responsible for finding out what happened. Once they make the search world wide, they find these are two Latvian drug smugglers, and a detective from Latvia gets involved. When the case is returned to Latvia, the Latvian detective is killed and Wallender is asked to come over to Latvia. Here he meets the detective's wife Baiba Liepa, who appears in at least one further Wallender novel. The Latvian police seem to work under alternative procedures and supposedly find the guilty party, so Wallender can go home. Something doesn't feel right to him and some Latvians in the Swedish emigre community help Wallendeer out, though those names no longer sounded Latvian. I thought the smugglers were were meant to be ethnic Russians had very Latvian names - but those are just minor details. This story had more chill to it than the others if I recall correctly, but I definitely intend to read more of his work. I guess there was some controversy in Latvia about the way Latvia was portrayed, but the police really were corrupt, the city really was bleak, and the fate of the country was definitely unclear, so I think he got all those points down. And Hotel Latvia was a weird place to stay - I can attest to that.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (2010)

Amazing book, one of my books of the year for 2010. Heavy, but always with a ray of hope. The book begins in 1938 (I think), just at the bring of World War II, when Andras Levi from Hungary, gets the opportunity to study architecture in Paris. (Since I am leaving for Paris in a few days, this just seemed more than a coincidence.) He meets a wonderful woman - Klara, a ballet instructor from Hungary - and falls in love. Luckily the first half of the book is about this fairly pleasant time in Paris, the trials of studying architecture, the friendships of Andres with three other Jewish men, the love story.  We slowly see the growth of antisemitism, and when the war breaks out, Andras and Klara are forced to return to Hungary, where the Jewish men are forced to work in work brigades. We keep seeing the evolution of the Nazi war against the Jews - taking away one privilege after another, executing them, hoarding them into ghettos, sending them off to concentration camps. This was very hard to listen to, and there were times when I just had to stop the book. I even listened to another book in between, this got too heavy for me. I kept trying to remember the exact dates of various parts of the war, and kept hoping the calendar would speed up, so that Germany would be defeated and our heroes be OK. But time kept dragging - not the book itself, it just took its time showing us the various aspects of the Jewish and the general population's suffering in Hungary, how some tried to escape to Palestine, a bit about German officers and some of their proclivities, the corruption. The work in the woods and elsewhere was difficult, the food meager. My parents did not suffer to that extent, but my mother did work in the woods of Germany after the war, and they all suffered major food shortages. I wonder if anyone has written a novel about the Jews in Latvia. I was glad to learn a bit more about Hungary and Budpest and some of the surrounding areas, but it would also be interesting to hear a novelized version of the same time frame in Latvia from a Jewish perspective. I am sure there would be many similarities.

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Heat Wave by Richard Castle (2010)

This was a good idea, so I picked it up, but was so poorly executed, I didn't get more than a quarter of the way through.

Richard Castle is a character on the TV show Castle, which I enjoy. On the show, he is a well know mystery novel writer, who got permission to tail Detective Kate Beckett of the NY Police Department. Of course sparks fly between them, they actually work pretty well together, but the relationship doesn't get beyond that, just as between Brennan and Boothe in Bones. Out of the things Castle sees, he gets ideas for more books and publishes one called Heat Wave, where Nikki Heat is a thinly disguised Kate Beckett. Much of the subplot revolves around the publishing of the book, whether Beckett will read it or not, Castle's fame, etc. So, someone had the brilliant idea to actually publish a book called Heat Wave supposedly by Richard Castle. The idea was good, the execution of it very poor. If he was such a famous author, I would hope he would also be a decent writer. This was written like a parody of one of the TV scripts for the series. Nathan Fillion can give one look that says it all, but when they try to put it in words, it comes out all wrong. It might have been better if Fillion had been the one reading the audio book, as he could put some of the feeling into it, but the reader just makes it sound cheap. The other thing I miss is the richness of character. I especially miss Castle's scenes at home with his daughter and mother. He always learns something from them that he can apply to the case at hand. Maybe they showed up later in the book, but I didn't have the energy to go any further with it.