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, January 27, 2011

Jame O'Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie DePaola (1992)

This Irish Tale retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola was just the right break I needed in a long work day. Jamie O'Rourke is the laziest man in Ireland, he catches a leprauchaun, grows a big potato that feeds the whole town, but they get sick of it and promise to provide Jamie and his family with food if he promises not to grow any more huge potatoes. I've always loved these tales and wonderful illustrations by DePaola.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Golem by David Wisniewski (1996)

My brain was fried at work, so I went up to the children's section and picked up one of the Caldecott Award winning books I had not read. Golem was about a time in the 16th century in Prague, when the Jews were being put in a ghetto and persecuted. A rabbi decided to invoke a golem - making him out of clay and bringing life into him - as long as the Jews were persecuted. I was thinking that was forever, but there seemed to come a point in the story where the Jews felt safe(r) and the golem went back to being clay. Actually not so light hearted for a kids book, but the illustrations were great - often layers of cut paper creating all sorts of neat effects.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline (2010)

I remember liking the Killer Smile by Scottoline, so I thought I would try another one. It is rare that I want a book to be over, but this was one. The main character in this book wasn't Mary DiNunzio, who I really liked, but her boss at the law firm Rosato & Associates - Bennie Rosato, who is a much less likable character. Then Bennie has a twin, Alice, who is as brilliant as Bennie, but much more wild and evil. I kept being frustrated, that Bennie was turning evil, and Alice was easily taking Bennie's place at the law firm and with ex-boyfriend Grady, and that no one except Mary's crazy Italian aunt and friend Julie had any suspicions. Turns out in the author interview after the book was read, Scottoline explained that she was looking into the phenomenon of twins and how much is DNA and how much is circumstance and environment. I believe the character Bennie realizes too, that she has kept herself so closed off, even to close friends and associates, that they did not know her well enough to not recognize Alice in her place. Sooo - redeemed and I will not give up on Scottoline books. The story was quite a thriller. Alice burries Bennie alive and tries to get at her substantial funds.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hieroglyphic Tales by Horace Walpole (1785)

This literary delight came to me completely serendipitously. The power went out in our library for 40 minutes. A student was looking for The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. With no computer to look for a call number in the catalog, I ventured to use my librarian skills in still locating this book. Sooo... Walpole was a British author from the 18th century (looked that up in the print version of the Dictionary of Literary Biography), so in the early part of the PR's. I guess I could have looked up the call number range in the PR section of the cataloging classification books, but this student seemed to be in a hurry, so we just went wandering in the PR's.  I knew it had to be an early range of PR's, but probably not in the same range as Shakespeare, and I knew approximately where he was (turns out Walpole was in PR3291-3785 - 17th and 18th centuries)  So I tried a few sections, following the alphabet until I got to W's. Now mind you, it was dark in the shelves that were not close to windows, so we used the light of our cell phones. Walpole was in a dark section of the shelves, so I had to pull out handfuls of books and take them to the one emergency light in the area. I found Walpole, but not Castle of Otranto. (The name Otranto seems familiar to me. It took me a while, but then I remembered that a Latvian poetry book had that name. Had to look up the author - Andrejs Eglitis. Will have to look up the book and see if it refers to Walpole or the city in Italy.) Though I didn't find the book for the student, I was proud I found the right area. And there among Walpole's books, mostly books about Walpole, was this delightful little book, printed in 1993 and whimsically illustrated by Jill McElmurry.

This book is appropriately prefaced by a quote from Monty Python's Flying Circus. It contains seven absurd tales that the author himself describes as: "...they are mere whimsical trifles, written chiefly for private entertainment, and for private amusement half a dozen copies only are printed. They deserve at most to be considered as an attempt to vary the stale and beaten class of stories and novels, which, though works of invention, are almost always devoid of imagination....that there should have been so little fancy, so little variety, and so little novelty, in writings which the imagination is fettered by no rules, and by no obligation of speaking truth. There is infinitely more invention in history, which has no merit if devoid of truth, than in romances and novels, which pretend to none." (from the author's postscript) There was also a substantial editor's note at the beginning explaining Walpole and his effect on literature. His Castle of Otranto is considered the first gothic novel, so I will have to check that out.

Not all the tales caught my fancy, nor did I really understand them all, as they were full of absurd names, references that there was no way I would understand, but mostly I found them fun. "A New Arabian Night's Entertainment" was a variation on the spinning a good tale to save one's life story. "The Peach in Brandy - A Milesian Tale"was quite gruesome, but was written for friends, so maybe they thought it was funny. I think my favorite was "Mi Li. A Chinese Fairy Tale" where it is foretold that a prince will be unhappy unless he marries a princess whose name is the same as her father's dominions. The conditions of the foretelling are muddled over the years, so the prince goes looking for the wrong bride all over the world. The tales are full of little commentaries, like in this one: "...for it is death in China to mislead the heir of the crown through ignorance. To do it knowingly is no crime, any more than in other countries." or "What could She do? Nothing but what a Woman always does in critical cases -- that is nothing." (OK sexist, but could apply to anyone.) I also really like "A True Love Story" - with a twist, of course.

I love being a librarian!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

In the Company of Others by Jan Karon (2010)

Jan Karon and her Mitford books with Father Tim Kavanagh and eventually his wife Cynthia and their adopted son Dooley were a balm to my mother and my own soul during my mother's illness. They were suggested by a bookstore worker in Rochester, MN, while I was waiting for Mom to recover at Mayo Clinic. I would usually quickly turn away from a Christian focused "religious" book, but for some reason Tim Kavanagh's (or more accurately Jan Karon's) brand of religion did not raise my hackles, but soothed instead. Though this particular book had nothing to do with Christmas, it felt good to be reading it at Christmas time - instead of some murder mystery. Father Tim and Cynthia go to Ireland for vacation, but of course get totally enmeshed in the people's lives with which they are staying. As in the Mitford stories, the cast of characters is large and diverse and interrelated in complex ways. Plus there are numerous references to those at home - most of which I remember, though it has been a while since I read about them - all before 2005, when I started this blog. Liam and Anna Conor run the B&B they stay at. There is an unhappy daughter, a nasty mother in a castle next door, problems from the past. And then to make things more confusing, but also interesting, Tim and Cynthia start reading a family journal, that no one else has had the patience to read, of a 19th century ancestor, who built the castle. So there are a lot of stories going on. I actually like this, because other books bother me when all you see is a few people and it sounds like they have no connection with all the people that have been in their lives before. Plus Father Tim believes that people can change and heal with the help of God and prayer to God. The way Karon describes prayer, it makes sense to me, and I am almost willing to try it myself.

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Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (2003)

I wanted to check out other things by Suzanne Collins, as I loved her Hunger Games. Gregor and his baby sister Boots fall through a hole in the laundry room into an underground world populated by humans, roaches, bats, rats, and spiders, though all the animals are human sized and do not all play well together. Gregor is asked to take up a quest, which he does. I liked the world that Collins created, though the character was a bit young for me (12). I am not sure I will look up the rest of these books, but listening to one was fine.

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The Lies that Bind by Kate Carlisle (2010)

I picked this up because it said "A Bibliophile Mystery." The main character is Brooklyn Wainwright - named after the place where she was conceived during the intermission of a Grateful Dead show. She restores old books and teaches bookbinding at the Bay Area Book Arts Center. (This had me looking up classes at our local book arts center.) But, she keeps stumbling onto dead and injured bodies. For a while it just seemed too much, but then the victims were tied together nicely in the end. Some of the characters were a bit over the top - the bitchy, sexy director of BABA, the hunky security guy that Brooklyn almost has a relationship with, the lesbian artist neighbors, the hippie parents, but the mix actually worked. And I loved the details on bookbinding and rare books. I will have to read the rest.

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2010 in Review

I feel this has been another good book reading year. By numbers it looks like I read a few less than last year, though I have to add in a few that I finished over vacation. Some of my favorite authors had new books out this year. I enjoyed Allende's Island Beneath the Sea, Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, Kostova's Swan Thieves (OK, only her 2nd book), Sue Monk Kidd's Traveling with Pomegranates, Larsson's Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Mankell's Man from Beijing. The last two are Swedish authors I have been reading, though Larrson has died and will be writing no more. I didn't overdo it with Nora Roberts - just six this year including the two J.D. Robb books, and a few Janet Evanovich. Baldacci continues to be one of my favorite thriller authors, tough I thought Deliver us From Evil was too gruesome. I found a few new authors I liked - Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridge (Hungarian Jews in WWII), Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation, and Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand wasn't bad either. The last two were about immigrants - Chinese in New York, Pakistani people in Britain. I kept reading young adult and a few children's books. Neil Gaimon still a favorite, discovered Rick Riordan's series based on Greek gods, Unwind by Neal Shusterman was interesting. Read very few non fiction books (those for work don't get into this list). When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 6o the Present helped me put myself into the chronology of the women's movement. It looks like I only read one classic - by Somerset Maugham. I hope to devote more time to rereading, or reading for the first time, some of the classics. Got to work on the BBC 100 best books list.

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